Saturday, January 28, 2017

Raptor Runs

It has been challenging working in our two raptor routes in January, between icy roads, illness, and out-of-state trips. We finally had two days, back to back, with reasonably cooperative weather when we were both home and not coughing: Jan. 24 and 25.

We did the Grand Ronde route the first day. That route extends from a few miles west of Grand Ronde to Sheridan, with lots of side road excursions. I had both cameras with me since I've learned that some of those distant accipiters, in particular, are very hard to tell apart. A photo zoomed up on the computer is a great help. However, taking photos slows things down and we had to skip one usual side trip in order to finish before dark. Happily, the owners of that property were home and reported to me what they saw that day. Another cooperator reported a Great Horned Owl heard at her place that night. I love my route cooperators!

The first distant bird that I spent too much time photographing, I admit, was not an unknown. It was White Wing, the mostly white Red-tailed Hawk that has hung out in the Grand Ronde area for many, many years. I don't know how long but the first time I saved an email about it was in 2005. Here it was on Jan. 24, 2017. I wish I could have had a photo from the back, showing the white wings and red tail. Maybe next time...

We were happy to see the two White-tailed Kites still at Shenk Wetlands. I was afraid our long spell of freezing, snowy weather would have driven them off. Hopefully, they'll nest in the area this year as they have in the past. But for the first time in several years, we missed seeing Red-shouldered Hawks anywhere on the route. Hopefully, they did not leave during the cold weather.

The most exciting find was a Merlin right in Willamina. I snapped a quick photo and then it flew. My shot does not show the white line over the eye well, but if you look closely you can see the narrow white bars between wide dark bars in the tail. I'm still hoping for a decent photo of a Merlin someday. They don't tend to sit for long in one spot and when they fly, they disappear in an instant. Falcons are fast!

There is a large elk herd in the Sheridan area, reportedly 120 strong. We saw them, or some of them, resting on a hillside as we scanned for raptors.

The Rough-legged Hawk we had seen the month before just west of Sheridan was in almost the same spot again this day. Naturally, I took a photo.

 Below is the photo I took the month before on the route...

 The next day, Wednesday, Jan. 25, we headed east for our North Santiam route that starts in Salem where Highway 22 crosses I5 and extends to Gates with roads both north and south of 22. It started out well with more than the usual Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels, but soon fell back to its ordinary, low numbers.

In Mehama/Lyons, we buy lunches-to-go at the Dragon Gate restaurant and take them to John Neal/Lyons City park to eat them while we watch for raptors. Then I hike around the ponds looking for Red-shouldered Hawks that we used to see there. No luck for the last several years on those birds, but I did find two accipiters and lots of waterfowl.

These Gadwalls are always here.

This time, they were joined by lots and lots of Northern Shovelers.

But the most exciting find of the day was an otter.

It did not see me taking photos until after it had slipped into the water and been fishing for a time. When it spotted me, it followed me along the bank, growling. This is just what the otters that occasionally visit our farm pond do. They are very feisty critters.

Oh, and those distant raptors. This one was *really* distant... and behind branches. I used my Nikon Coolpix P900 with the super zoom to bring it up closer.

Sometimes, with Accipiters, I find the tail the most helpful id point. Cooper's have shorter feathers on the outside of their tails, giving the tails a rounded appearance. In contrast, Sharpshins often show a notch in their tail.

 Rounded tail on this bird made me call it a Cooper's. The other accipiter flew in as I was scoping the above bird... much closer. It was the size of a Sharpshin and flew with the rapid wingbeats of a Sharpie.
Our route ends where it began in Salem. We then go to a restaurant for supper, usually Mina's in South Salem, for their delicious Pho. This time,  I talked Johnny into driving home after supper via River Rd. and across the bridge to Independence instead of going through Salem. It's a long way around but scenic. Instead of cutting over to Hwy 99 at Independence, I always drive on to Rogers Rd. and take it to 99. This time a Short-eared Owl appeared at dusk over the field beside the road. A great ending to a long day.

February looks to be as crowded with out-of-state trips as January, so who knows when our next raptor routes will be. It is always interesting to see what we find whenever we go.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Johnny's Birthday Blog

Johnny's birthday happened to be the day of the biggest protest march in U.S. history. I considered joining other women in McMinnville or Salem but the lure of driving up into the woods to survey Dippers and generally enjoy the quiet and the beauty of the forest and stream with Johnny was too tempting. I am grateful to all the women who did march for equality and decency in the U.S. and around the world. It gave both Johnny and me hope after our disgust and dismay over the U.S. election results.

Up in the woods, all cares disappear. Johnny peered down The Chutes with his binoculars, looking for Dippers. Agency Creek is running high and fast and no Dippers were in view while we were there, although I'm sure they were somewhere within their mile long territory. We know of seven separate territories along this stream where Dippers nest annually.

Our next stop was the "Railroad Bridge". Johnny is peering through the slats at an old nest that the Dippers no longer use. But they do nest under the bridge, close to this former site. However, they were off feeding somewhere else while we were there.

 The next bridge that Dippers nest under is what Johnny calls Sharkey's Bridge. No birds in sight there either. However we did hear one a bit farther upstream.

This time of year, with no leaves on the trees, the creek is visible most all the way along the road and Johnny looked out his window most of the time. I just hoped he stayed on the road.

We saw a Dipper on a rock but it disappeared too quickly for me to get a photo.  Johnny is looking at the fork in the creek where we almost always see Dippers during the nesting season, as they nest very close to this point. They were not there this day, though.

A Red-tailed Hawk was our consolation prize, hunting its way along the road.

After all that searching, it was time to stop at Asinine Bridge and have lunch. Here Johnny starts his lunch with chips and salsa. We did not see the resident Dippers here, either, but on the way back, the pair were a bit downstream. Again they disappeared before I could get a photo.

 The only bird besides the Red-tail who cooperated, sort of, for photos was this Gray Jay. We saw quite a few of them moving about the alders both on our way up and our way down. We also saw two Ruffed Grouse that quickly flew out of sight, a Kingfisher, Flicker, lots of Varied Thrushes, and a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. And, of course, Dippers-that-refused-to-stay-for-photos.

I should have taken photos of the snow we ran into on the road when I had the not-so-smart idea to head upward to the FS 14 road and North Lake. We made it to the 14, barely, but since Johnny had taken off the snow tires two days before, we were forced to turn around before we could reach North Lake. Back down in the snow-free zone, Johnny caught sight of a deer on the hillside above us.

And then noticed there were two deer...

No, three!

When we returned to the rock pit with its still frozen pond, I decided to hike down to Three Stumps to see if any Dippers were in that favorite swimming hole area (a favorite of local children, not me. Agency Creek is icy cold all year!) I found no Dippers but took photos anyway because it is a lovely spot. In the first photo you can barely see a leaning tree on the right with wood steps hammered into it. Those steps go up, way up beyond what is visible in this photo, to a ledge where crazy local youth jump or dive off into the freezing water below. I guess they trust it is deep enough since generations of youth have been diving in there. A few generations earlier, there were three stumps on the far side of the creek from that tree that the kids dive from now. Only one stump remains but the name persists.

Back home, I made pizza for Johnny's birthday dinner. I took a photo of the pizza but it doesn't look too appetizing in the photo. In fact, it wasn't too appetizing. Hopefully, the beans and cornbread I started yesterday for tonight will be tastier. It's a good thing that Johnny isn't a picky eater.

Before evening chores, we finished up his 74th birthday with a few more episodes of the Big Bang Theory, grandson Ian's gift to Johnny for Christmas. It's a brainy, wacky romp.

January 21 was a good day for women of the world...  and a relaxing day for Johnny and me, filled with the serenity of woods and stream. And we did see a few of our target birds, American Dippers, although they refused to be photographed. There is always, presuming humankind learns to take care of the earth, a next time...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

From Oregon to California for Cedrus' Birthday

 The day before I was to fly out for California and Cedrus' 8th birthday, Johnny and I and Willow Kitty hiked around the snowy farm. Johnny took photos. It was *cold*.

That evening I could not find Willow Kitty. Johnny had last seen her on our hike by the culvert. She did not follow us into the south horse field. So I walked down the lane and crawled through the fence by the machine shed, calling to her. And she answered! She must have been afraid to go past Mister McCoy because he is loose at night. However, I had not turned him out yet because I wanted to find Kitty first and get her safely into the shop. And I did. She was very glad to be home and fed. Silly kitty for following us all through the snowy woods.

The next morning very early I drove to the Portland airport. It was still very snowy in Portland and I had to drive over big humps of snow in the parking lot. But the day and the flight were clear and beautiful. I took many photos with Johnny's camera out the plane window.

Mt. St. Helens in the left distance

As we climbed higher, more mountains came into view, and lots of snowy hills below.

Mt. Adams, I think

I'm guessing Mt. Jefferson in the photo above and below.

Farther south another mountain came into sight all by itself. Thielsen? Shasta?

And then we were flying over what I think must be the Trinity Alps of California. They are not as high as the Cascades and so have trees on top. They were so beautiful I could not stop taking photos.

At last we descended into the Bay area. California has had lots of rain lately and reservoirs that were empty in their drought are now full to overflowing.

It was foggy below, but I could see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge beyond.

Steve picked me up at the airport in lovely sunshine. My first day in the south Bay area of California was snow and rain free. We all hiked the park near their house, Eaton Park. What a lovely day! It was cool for them but what a change for me from our frozen, snowy farm. We tried to key out tracks in the little bits of mud on the trail. We saw many dog tracks and possibly squirrel tracks. Cedrus discovered an Anna's Hummingbird doing a dramatic display dive over and over again for us. Lots of birds fluttered through the trees around us. It felt like spring.

A view all the way to the Bay.

These Toyon (Christmas Berry) trees were full of  beautiful red berries.

I wanted a stair-step photo of the four of them. Steve turned to face me, which made a nice photo but not what I wanted... so I made them do it over later

They live on Eaton Ave. We were less than half a mile from home at this sign.

The boys have lots of areas in this park that they call "gyms". They do balancing acts in them.

Here is my stair-step photo. Each one fits under the other... but Kestrel is growing so fast that the order of the stair step may soon change!

Cedrus' school class has a tortoise that goes home with one student or another every weekend. This weekend was Cedrus' turn to babysit "Ellen". She gets to walk outdoors for fifteen minutes or so a day. Otherwise she has a big box with food to live in inside the warm house. Ellen enjoyed finding grass and weeds to eat in their back yard.

Cedrus and Ellen
Cedrus demonstrated their zip line... many times. I tried it once but dragged in the grass toward the end. I didn't realize I had to pick my legs up.

That evening Cedrus had a tap dancing class. The teacher let me sit in and watch. She was an amazing teacher and the kids amazing learners! Cedrus is a very good dancer and loves it. The next day he gave me a tap lesson on the stage they built in the back yard.

The next day was Cedrus' 8th birthday. The boys stayed home from school. We played charades, had a dance party... and a scavenger hunt. Every birthday Steve takes photos of clue locations and the helper kid (whose birthday it is not) hides them around the house. Cedrus tore from one photo clue to the next until he found his gift from Kestrel.

Dad Steve stayed up late making the birthday decorations. Oops. He must have been a little too tired...

Munazza cooked wonderful favorite meals for Cedrus and made his favorite dessert. Here he blows out the candles.
But before supper, both boys had more dance classes! And music lessons! Again I was allowed to watch Kestrel and Cedrus in a jazz class. Then Kestrel in a Hip Hop class. And I got to watch Kestrel's guitar lesson and Cedrus' keyboard lesson. They have improved a great deal since the last time I sat in on those classes. They both know more about chords than I do. I could not even understand what Kestrel and his guitar teacher were talking about.

Kestrel and Cedrus are now in Junior Production with their dance classes... which means they get to perform in competitions with other dance studios. Johnny and I will be eager to see the videos that we hope Steve and Munazza will take. The kids both are amazing dancers... and love it.

It was a great trip... although the homeward bound portion the day after Cedrus' birthday was a little strange. Torrential rain and wind had hit San Francisco and delayed all the flights... several hours. I preferred to wait it out at the airport so Steve took me at the regular time. That was good because I ran into various problems. First of all every monitor on the wall had my flight leaving at a different time... and even from different gates! Flights were so backed up and coming in so late that gates had to be changed as planes came and left at all different times than scheduled.

But eventually I arrived at the security checkpoint for the Alaska Airlines flight I was to be on... The boarding pass Steve had printed for me on his computer did not make the little grid thingie big enough and the security guy's machine would not read it. He tried another machine. No luck. He was apparently tired of this whole scene as he said, "Oh, just go on through." So I did. And hit another problem. As I walked through the scanner the bell went off. But instead of patting me down as has happened to me in the past, they called someone else who came and sprayed my hands with something and said "Wait here 20 seconds." So I waited with my hands outstretched until he hollered from a distance, "Okay, you can go through." I had no idea what that was about but Johnny says they can spray something on your hands that will glow if you have been handling bomb making materials. Good grief.

I then proceeded to walk a mile or two to gate A12, down several flights of stairs at the end of the long A concourse. But A12 said it was a Jet Blue flight to somewhere else.  And it was not boarding yet because it had not arrived yet. Everything was a mess. Several hours and many long walks up and down the stairs later, Jet Blue was gone and our flight was due in. The lady over the intercom explained that the delays were caused by weather and because the air traffic controllers were having a difficult time getting all the planes in and out. "It's like a parking lot out there," she said. And, sure enough, when our plane finally arrived and we finally got on, the pilot told us we were tenth in line to take off. However, there were who-knows-how-many planes that needed to land before any plane could take off. As I looked out the window of the plane, I counted at least 20 planes lined up in a coil behind us. And everywhere were other planes idling... all waiting to either take off, or have room at a gate to dock. What a mess. Those are the times that try the souls of air traffic controllers.

Eventually we did take off through very bumpy air. Most of the flight was bumpy. No grand vistas below this time, just lots of clouds. Then a bumpy descent through those clouds to Portland's airport... and snow. It looked just like when I left. However the excitement was not over. I was seated in the second to last row on the right side of the plane. I had no seat mates. One man was seated behind me in the very last row. Across the aisle from me was one woman in the last row of seats on that side of the plane. So, naturally, we were going to be the last ones out of the plane. We sat and waited while those ahead of us stood and pulled their carry-ons out of the overhead bins. They finally started to move forward and out of the plane. We stood and suddenly the loudspeaker came on and told the stewardess at the back of the plane, near us, to not let us go! She talked into her radio and said, "But there are only 4 of us back here. Is that okay?" The guy said yes. I had no idea what was happening but apparently she had explained to the man behind me that if everyone moved to the front of the plane at the same time, the nose would drop down and damage the aircraft. The passenger sitting behind me called a pilot friend of his and asked about it. The pilot said, "Oh yeah, if that's a 900." The stewardess concurred that it was a Boeing 737-900. Apparently, this is a known problem with that jet.  So the four of us were ballast to keep the nose from tipping downward! We all found that hilariously funny. After it was safe, the voice told her we could go. That is the first time I've been ballast on a huge jet aircraft.

The drive home was dark and rainy and much less fun even than a bumpy airplane ride. But when I got home, our snow had melted! Yeah! And although we have no blooming flowers or beautifully berried Toyon trees, as there were in California in January, at least there is green grass again and no frozen water to thaw for the goats and horses. A very satisfying conclusion to a fun birthday trip.