Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tis The Season...

...for Christmas Bird Counts. Johnny and I did three of them this week.

On Monday was "our" count, the Upper Nestucca. This was the 32nd year it has been run, but just the 12th since Don Albright and I resurrected it after BLM dropped it... when the Spotted Owls disappeared from the coast range where the count takes place. I love this count as it is up in the hills above our farm in scenic forest land with lots of creeks and waterfalls (especially this year) and few if any other vehicles.

We scouted last Friday to see if there were trees down across the roads or any other impediments. Johnny chainsawed one tree off but another, on the road where I see most of the birds in my pretty-but-mostly-birdless sector, had a huge fir down that had pulled several smaller alders with it and created a mudslide. I would have to walk that road. And on Monday I did... to the everlasting regret of my legs. On my way back, I called Johnny on our radios (cell phones don't work up there) and told him my knees were aching. He kindly backed the van the three-tenths of a mile to the fallen tree to pick me up. That is an uphill .3 and I was very grateful.

Johnny on the downhill side of the roadblock

the uphill side

We ate lunch in the van at the junction of that road (the 2283) and the 14 road which is the main one through our sector. It had been alternating rain and snow but the snow was not sticking on the road.

Then, as we ate lunch, the snow became more persistent. Johnny told me to take a photo because the flakes were big and lovely.

We headed west toward the end of our sector, about three miles uphill. The snow soon was covering the road. I took photos at the gravel pit where someone had put a couple of jack o lanterns to shoot at.

It was shortly above that where we began to slide. Alas, there is no place to turn around until you get to the top so Johnny just kept going with the van's nose pointed to the left to correct for the sliding rear wheels. I held onto my seat and hoped for the best. Fortunately, we made it without going off the mountainside. Now it was snowing heavily and I wanted to head right back down... The snow was beautiful, but... soon we would not be able to make it out. And no birds with any sense would be out in that weather anyway.

looking west out of our sector

our van in the turn-around spot

looking east the way we had come
With snow falling heavily and the road growing steadily more treacherous, Johnny said, "I want to make a snowman first." Yes, he really said that. And he did it.

On the way down we saw that our rear tracks were not in the same groove as our front tracks .... Johnny said that was called "crabbing" in aviation talk. I suppose it is sort of a travers in dressage lingo. Friend Randy told us later it was "dog-legging". Whatever it was, it was scary.

Back at the 2283/14 junction, the road was again clear of snow and stayed that way for the rest of our trip. I walked a few other short roads... with a walking stick... slowly. One road I had never walked before had a lovely surprise at the point where I turned around... a pond we did not know existed in our sector. Of course, in drier years, it may not.

We saw a grand total of six species on this all day count and none of my photos are any good... moving birds in rain do not make good photo subjects. Gray Jays, Hermit Thrushes, and Pacific Wrens were the most abundant.

But the part of this count we look forward to all day... Johnny especially likes this part the best... is the count down at the end in Linda and Dave Leavitt's warm house. Linda fixes a huge buffet for all of us. We eat, tell our tales of the day, and tally species seen. I thought I would have the scariest tale this year but my sliding snow story was bested by Craig and Joel's harrowing stuck-in-the-snow tale, with wheels two inches from going over the cliff. They winched themselves out, fortunately.

My favorite not-scary story was from the John/George/Mike and Kay team. They watched an American Dipper swim across a lake. "Just like a tiny duck, diving for food, then popping up and swimming." I guess when there are no rocks available to hunt from and your creek is a raging, muddy torrent, you adapt... if you're a Dipper.

The buffet and some of the happily fed birders

The next day, Tuesday, my legs were somewhat better and we had promised to help out with the Lincoln City count. And so we did. First we hiked around the old Pixieland, now a restored part of the Salmon River estuary. It was a drippy, misty, foggy day but we saw a good number of birds including a Virginia Rail that I almost stepped on... at least, the clattering alarm it sounded made it seem like the bird thought I was about to step on it. It quickly disappeared in the marsh grass. We saw 17 species there. No photos as it was too wet.

Next we drove to Road's End and hiked The Thumb, as I do weekly in the summer when monitoring Black Oystercatcher nests. Thanks to my legs, it was a very slow climb. Although it was a dark and drippy day, I did get a few photos of the roiling ocean.

Wizard Island

Cascade Head

The Thumb (I lightened this photo to make it a bit more visible)

The cove where Oystercatchers nest in the summer

Camp Westwind beach

A Subadult Bald Eagle perched on a scraggly tree

On this hike, we saw 14 species.

And then came the count today, Thursday, Dec. 17. We picked up friend Marilyn at Hillside Retirement Center and drove for a few miles and two hours around the area where Marilyn used to walk and bird. It was very rainy today but we saw more birds than anticipated. It was definitely too rainy for my camera this time. Only those very close to the car were even marginally acceptable. Like this Eurasian-collared Dove...

 And these Pine Siskins on someone's front yard feeder...

However, my camera helped identify distant ducks on a pond. I could tell some were Green-winged Teal but until I looked at my photos on the computer, I didn't realize that all 16 waterfowl on the far side of the pond were the same... all teal.

And this Pied-billed Grebe I could not identify until I saw the photos with it brought up closer.

 We all recognized this Red-breasted Sapsucker on a power pole next to the road, but my photos through the rain are blurry.

We also saw lots and lots of deer... much bigger and easier to photograph than birds.

On this rainy day, with just two hours of looking, we found 25 species of birds... and about the same number of deer.

Marilyn then treated us to a tasty lunch at Hillside. It was the easiest count of the week... no hiking... and we saw the most birds. We'll definitely beg Marilyn to do it again with us next year!

And, of course, we'll do the Upper Nestucca again because I love that high country... and some years we get twice as many species (twelve instead of six)... when the weather cooperates.

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