Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Challenges of BLOY Monitoring

So... in my last Black Oystercatcher post, I mentioned that the pair of BLOY that nest in the Cliff Creek Falls cove on Cascade Head were wandering around looking for places to nest and I would go back the next week and check to see if they had settled on a nesting site. I did. They had not. They were still wandering around. Then they flew away. Frustrated, I asked Elise, my BLOY guru, what she thought. She thought I should go back again. So I did the following week. And waited for an hour without ever seeing or hearing an Oystercatcher. I gave up and did not go back the next week... or the next. It's a long hike and what's the point if the birds are gone?

Fast forward a few more weeks. Both the nests at Road's End failed, apparently. The South Rock birds took up nesting in a totally different spot. The Middle Rock birds hung out one week on the opposite side of the rock from where they usually nest, the east side where I could watch them. The following week they were gone, although I waited for more than two hours. But...

The week after the Middle Rock birds were no shows, a scan of their rock when I arrived found, to my surprise, a bird nesting within plain sight (although at a great distance). Look closely and you may see two eggs under her (him?).

Hmm... Might the Cliff Creek Falls birds have come back and started nesting? I did not think so after so many weeks of goofing around and then disappearing. But I went back anyway for one more check, just to make sure.

And found them nesting. It's an even longer look than Road's End's Middle Rock but with binoculars I could see a bird on the nest. And when she/he stood to rearrange things, I glimpsed at least one egg.

In the space of two weeks, I had gone from one nest to monitor... at Road's End (South Rock)... to three nests to monitor... two at Road's End and one at Cliff Creek Falls. That made me wonder about the rest of my apparently abandoned nest sites.

So this past Tuesday, July 12, I made the long difficult trek to another site where I have seen no BLOY all season, also on Cascade Head, at the north end of Penacle Cove. I again saw no BLOY... there...but... looking south across the cove to a distant sea stack at the south side, with my binoculars I could just make out a tiny black bird foraging on a tidal flat. Alas, I did not have my superzoom Nikon P900 with me... so I took photos with my Panasonic.

 That tiny spot in the water is the sea stack where I spotted a BLOY, believe it or not.

And here it is a little closer...

A tiny black spot in the tide flat in the center of the photo was a black bird with a red bill.

  Soon I saw two BLOY on the ridge line. Back home, I put the photos on the computer and zoomed them in.

There had been two BLOY, not one, on the tidal flats. Was one smaller than the other? A fledgling perhaps?

 When they later disappeared from the tidal area and appeared on the ridge line, were those the same two birds? Was it a pair? Or was the one on the tidal flat smaller than the one to its right in the above photo and perhaps a different bird from either on the ridge line?

Well, I'll never know because I can't tell from the photos. I went back two days later with my scope and the super zoom Nikon. There were no BLOY on that island sea stack that day. Next spring, I will have to spend more time searching the Penacle Cove and 073.1 area for tiny black birds with red bills. And what about the North Cascade Head nest area, where the last bird I saw there was a Turkey Vulture? I may have to check that one again next week...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Our Final Breeding Bird Survey

We ran our tenth and last Breeding Bird Survey on the last weekend in June. It has become too much for us to do evening chores early, drive 2 1/2 hours to our camping area, get up at 4 the next morning to eat breakfast and hike into our first stop where we must begin our three minute count at 4:58 a.m., then scurry to finish all 50 stops located approximately one-half mile apart, ideally by 10 a.m., (we never quite make it), then drive home and do "morning" chores... in early afternoon.

It has been an adventure. Some years more of an adventure than others. One year our pickup sprang a leak in the transmission fluid on our scouting trip a week before the actual count. Some kind passers by gave us a ride to Dallas. Theirs was the only car we had seen all day. It is not a well-traveled road. Our mechanic friend and neighbor towed the pickup out.  It got a new transmission that year.

Another year we drove through open gates on our way up but found one closed on our way back early the next morning. Fortunately, it was closed but not locked. There is no cell phone service up there and it would have been a very, very long walk out.

One year when Johnny's back kept him from joining me on the early morning hike to our first stop, I wandered off the "trail" and fell into a hole left by a giant root wad. Fortunately, I did not break anything and was able to scramble out of the hole with nothing more than a few scratches.

This year we discovered on our scouting trip two weeks before the actual survey that a huge old growth fir had fallen across our camping area, totally blocking our access to the trail to Stop #1. However, it was sort of climbable and Johnny assured me he would park the van right next to the log and we could climb up the van's ladder and onto the log. Splits in the log on the other side provided steps of a sort to get down.

One happy discovery was that on the other side of that huge downed log, the trail to our first stop had been cut open by Marbled Murrelet surveyors who had a survey site just beyond our Stop #1. So instead of our usual hour of bushwhacking our way in on this scouting trip, we had only to hike to our spot and clip a few stray branches. There was another downed log to climb over enroute but not as huge as the one at our campsite. That left us time to hike the "real" trail from the Valley of the Giants kiosk (our Stop # 5).

Sean Burgett accompanied us on this scouting trip. He had responded to my plea on the bird email lists to take over this route starting next year. He is a perfect fit... grew up in the area, has cruised timber and surveyed owls nearby, knows and loves the area... and knows the birds! Together, we marveled at the size of these old growth trees along the trail in the Valley of the Giants.

 The following two photos were taken by Sean's phone...


Because of other obligations, it was two weeks before Johnny and I could run the actual route. We arrived in gathering darkness at our campsite. Johnny parked as close as he could to the downed log and I practiced climbing up on the back bumper, then the ladder of the van, then to the top of the log and carefully down the other side. At 4:30 in the morning, it is usually very dark and I did not want to break a leg on my final BBS. As it turned out, luck was with us as a moon came up and gave us light in the morning.., plus it helped that the huge old growth fir was down on the ground instead of up blocking the night sky. We still needed flashlights, but between the moon and the pre-cleared trail, it was by far our easiest trip in to Stop #1.

I heard an owl the night before that I could not identify. Plus a different one at Stop #1 in the morning that I also wasn't sure of. I have sent descriptions to the BLM biologist who is in charge of monitoring owls in that area and he is checking it out. I heard a for-sure Barred Owl at Stop #4 (Who Cooks for You?) and Marbled Murrelets at several stops. With just 3 minutes to listen at each stop, there is no time for deliberation. Then we tear off over the washboard gravel road to the next stop.

Although there is no time for photos on the route, I couldn't resist taking a minute to photograph a Common Yellowthroat bringing insects to its chick in a marshy area on one of our stops.

And this Cedar Waxwing sitting up in plain view in another stop begged for a photo. This was the only Cedar Waxwing I saw this day. Johnny said he saw two of them, but, as per BBS rules, I can only log what I see and hear.

The weather was dry and clear most of the morning, although fog moved in at several stops dampening the birds' enthusiasm for singing. That's okay as at most stops the Swainson's Thrushes, in particular, are so many and so noisy it's hard to hear anything else. A dawn chorus of Varied and Swainson's Thrushes, Pacific Slope Flycatchers, Pacific Wrens, Warbling Vireos and others is a mite overwhelming to sort out.

By the time we reach stop #50, I'm always hungry and cranky. We ate our lunch quickly and then headed home to some also very hungry horses and impatient goats.

Here is Johnny at the last stop of the day on our last Breeding Bird Survey.

 It has been an interesting ten years and I'm glad to have helped document the waxing and waning of some species that need old growth forests, plus the changes as forests go from clear cuts to young trees to older trees. Our route, although all timbered, has many steps in the succession and each age of forest harbors different species of birds.

I look forward to hearing about Sean's adventures in the coming years... while I sit comfortably at home.