Saturday, May 27, 2017

Barn Owls

As I write this, I can hear fledgling Barn Owls outside my window practicing their Halloween screeches and every other weird noise they can try out. They sound like teenaged boys whose voices are breaking. The owls fledged a week ago, but keep coming back to the barn loft to beg or just hang out.

It has been an eventful season for this batch of owlets. First there was the one that tumbled out of the nest box when it was still very young. I carried it back up. Then there was the leg banding fiasco wherein I learned to listen to my instincts in the future... and make sure a bander has a scientific reason for banding and not just so his grandkids can hold baby owls.  The owlets and I were unduly stressed but we all survived.

That was followed two weeks later by a windstorm and one owlet blown off the ledge into the goat field. The baby was apparently unhurt and all five owlets eventually fledged. We had a fledging party for them attended by only three of the fifty plus people who receive my owlet updates throughout the season. They had a good show of baby and adult owls flying around and sitting in the loft opening.

Here is a progression of photos from the first day mama was out of the box after the babies hatched... March 21.

The next time mama left the nest so I could take a photo of the fluffy owlets was on April 14...

On April 29, the two oldest were outgrowing the others and taking up all the room...

By May, 3 of the owlets were coming out on the ledge outside the box at night to beg. This photo of the adventurers was taken on May 2nd.

 On the afternoon of May 4th, one of them was blown off the ledge during a dramatic wind storm and out into the goat yard.

It looked very sleepy and out of place. I carried the light and fluffy, but with a surprising number of feathers under all that fluff, owlet back up the ladder and it hopped right back into the box. A week later, I checked and all five were in the box, so this fluffy, scruffy owlet survived its adventure.

It became difficult soon after that to feed hay to the goats at night because the baby owls that had lost most of their baby fluff were flying about the loft and I worried they would try to fly out before they were ready. By the middle of May they had lost all their baby fluff and were fully feathered. I was only seeing three. As it turned out the oldest two had apparently fledged before we held a fledging party on the evening of May 20.

On May 22, I took this photo at 4:46 p.m. of an adult on the loft branch.

On that same day, May 22, I went back up at 8 p.m. and the adult was gone, replaced by two youngsters.

Since then, sometimes the owlets are in the loft when I go up to feed hay in the morning. If they are I wait to make sure they hop into the box and not out the window. Daytime is dangerous time for Barn Owls. They get mobbed by jays and crows.

As soon as the young owls are no longer returning to the loft, we will burn their old, filthy and tattered, cardboard nest box and give them a new one. Some years, the Barn Owls raise a second clutch. They deserve a clean start.

We love having Barn Owls residing in our loft, catching lots of voles and mice... and the occasional starling that nests up there, too. I even like their other-worldly sounds... even though those sounds set the livestock guardian dog barking... as he is doing non-stop as I type this late at night on the 26th... while the owls ignore him and continue to beg and screech. Ah, quiet night time on the farm...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Marathon Oystercatcher Surveys

After a week of weeding, working in the greenhouse, and working on my third book in the Goat Lane series when too heavy rain kept me indoors, the weather cleared and I headed for the coast to try to catch up on Black Oystercatcher (BLOY) surveys. Three days in a row I hiked many miles while surveying. On the third day, Johnny, who had been working hard on building raised beds, among other projects, joined me.

Tuesday, May 17, I surveyed Cascade Head and Cliff Creek Falls, both long hikes... and both with no BLOY to be seen on that day. But there was plenty of other wildlife...

Some seemed as interested in me as I in them...

Others, not so much...

Everywhere there was beautiful scenery...

The next day, Thursday the 18th, I surveyed Road's End and North Cascade Head. This time, I saw BLOY... a pair nesting on the South Rock, as I had suspected last week, and now a pair also nesting on North Rock. That pair was not on a nest when I first saw them, but rather one flew off to forage while the other stayed behind and hung out on a rock... a rather odd situation. But I finally realized why... Check out the bird in the bottom center of this photo...

 After the eagle flew off, the BLOY that had been sitting and standing in view of its nest (a nest I had not seen) went down off its rock perch and covered what appeared to be, from my great distance, two eggs.

The island off the shore was covered in white guano, as usual, but when I looked through the scope, I saw it was covered in something else, too...

Can you see the pelicans? Lots of them, well camouflaged.

Today, Friday, May 19, Johnny joined me for the long Cape Lookout hike. This proved to be the most spectacular day of all.

The cape trail starts out deceptively civilized... (that's Johnny way ahead)

But soon deteriorates into mud and bare roots to navigate. I neglected to take a photo of the mud and root holes but here's a smallish area to give you an idea...

 However, the views make it all worthwhile.

Way off in the distance, looking south, Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda seem tiny, with Cascade Head looming high behind them.

Our first OP (Observation Point) for BLOY spotting is a beautiful cove on the north side.

We scanned for half an hour but I saw nothing but two pairs of mama and baby seals, resting on the sand. Well, this baby was doing a lot of squirming instead of resting.

 Johnny thought he saw a pair of BLOY on the spit but they looked like dark rocks to me.

However, Johnny was right... The rocks flew, calling loudly. Then circled back and landed again. They are in the center of the photo below. Pretty hard to pick out! Johnny got a gold star for this sighting.

Johnny earned more stars at the end of the cape when he spotted two pair of BLOY flying past, calling loudly.

But that was not nearly so exciting as the whales. Lots of whales. Some with calves. They seemed to be hanging around close to shore on the south side of the cape.

The whale sightings rejuvenated us for the long walk back to the car. We drove on to Cape Lookout State Park for another view of the cape and our last OP. It was as clear today as it ever gets but it is still a long look to the north side of the cape where we have seen BLOY in the past.

I did find one foraging along the rocky shore this day. But it was way too far for a photograph and soon disappeared behind the outcropping. Here is the spit where it had been with the camera zoomed up as far as it will go.

It was more fun to watch the hang gliders, floating in the air above us.

And, of course, the view. Looking north we could see the sea stacks off Oceanside.

We enjoyed as nice a day as could be asked for on the Oregon coast... no wind, pleasant temperature, clear skies...  then we drove up to Pacific City on our way home and ate supper at the Mexican restaurant.

It was a very good day.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Never a Dull Moment

On Tuesday, May 9, a preschool group came to the farm for a tour. Years ago we had many school groups coming here. It was fun but exhausting. Usually we have baby goats for the children to cuddle and sometimes bottle feed. But my does are not due until the end of this month and the big goats were terrified of all those little people. The horses were not, however. And the swallows were absolutely delighted.

Each child was given a bag of feathers to throw up one by one for the swallows to catch and take to their gourd nests. Well, that's the theory. Before we ever made our way to the swallow field, the swallows were swooping down over the children and chattering excitedly, as though to say, "The feather people are coming! The feather people are coming!" And so they were.

What has not happened with older groups was that the children did not quite envision the game the way the swallows and I did. Some kids threw the feathers and watched. But most took a more active stance: they threw the feathers up then ran to pick them back off the grass, since they only went a few feet. Then they threw them again and immediately ran to retrieve them. The swallows soon figured out they needed to be really fast to beat the kids to the feathers. It was pretty funny to watch a swallow swooping down to grab a feather off the grass seconds before the small child who threw it arrived to claim it. Johnny took photos of the children and their parents in his group. I just stood around and laughed at and with my group.

The feather's in the air but the little one is looking to throw another one.

Another technique was just to hold the feathers up and hope the swallows take them.

Another popular method was blowing.

Besides horses and swallows, there was a chicken "station". Neighbor Irv brought his tame rooster for the kids to pet. We also had tiny new chicks in a cage with their mama hen for children to see. Mama hen was not happy about all that company. The rooster, on the other hand, was fine with the children.

Besides rooster and horse petting and the swallow feather game, the kids were able to pet Mister McCoy, the night guardian dog, through the fence. He was happy for attention from the children. He would have been even happier if I had let him out to bounce and play and knock everybody down.

After the excitement of the pre-school tour, we headed to the coast the next day for the first of the annual, May, Black Oystercatcher (BLOY) surveys. We hiked up The Thumb north of Lincoln City in lovely warm sunshine.

And enjoyed a view of Cascade Head north of us...

An eagle keeping watch at the north end of Road's End...

The Cascade Head Marine Reserve area...

The blooming meadow enroute to our observation point...

Also enjoying the sunshine were several, colorful garter snakes...

We saw just one of the target birds (3 pairs usually nest in the area) apparently standing guard near a nest site... Time will tell if they are really nesting... and if the other two area pairs show up. We are supposed to conduct a survey once a week at each site, weather permitting.

single BLOY on lookout perch

From Road's End, we hurried to another BLOY survey site at the north side of Cascade Head. I got lost hiking in and had to start over, eventually reaching this pretty cove... but no BLOY.

Even though I saw none of our target birds, I did see an eagle on its nest.

Gotta love these modern cameras that zoom in on distant subjects...

Johnny, meanwhile, watched Refusal Rock at Neskowin and finally saw a pair appear on the rock for a few minutes. When I finally returned, I saw no BLOY, just Johnny resting in the sunshine. That's Refusal Rock beyond him.

Our reward after a long day was supper at the Mexican restaurant in Pacific City. We then sat in our car at Cape Kiwanda for a little while, watching hundreds of gulls and cormorants milling about above Haystack Rock while a couple of sub-adult Bald Eagles did aerial maneuvers. The eagles did not appear to be interested in nabbing dinner, but the sea birds were apparently not willing to sit on top of the rock in case the eagles changed their minds.

It was a good, but exhausting day, and now I'm happy to have the rain return... to water in the Silverberry bush and the Kiwi plants that arrived and I planted today.

Never a dull moment on the farm.