Thursday, June 23, 2016

To the mountains.

As soon as summer hits the urge to head to the mountains increases dramatically, even when it hasn't been particularly hot.  A few nights ago I went up to Larch Mountain with Sarah and Max of Must-see Birds fame in hope of spotting a few Common Nighthawks. 

Great success!  We had four or five zipping around overhead while the amazing sunset lit them on fire.  Band-tailed Pigeons flew by also, but they were not lit up.

This seems to be the best (and only reliable) place for nighthawks in the county.  That evening the show was a good one and the second Sarah turned away one flew right over our heads. 

Tuesday I went up to Mount Hood with Audrey of Tweets and Chirps fame to hike around Mount Hood Meadows in hopes of seeing some Clark's Nutcrackers.

 Birds were abundant but not always easy to pinpoint.  Chipping Sparrows love being pinpointed though, so phew.

Western Tanager

Wildflowers were tough to come by surprisingly.  Still not sure if we were too early or too late.

Western pasqueflower, close to being completely dunzo

 Blister beetle

The trail passes under ski lifts where lazy Mountain Bluebirds were waiting for a ride.

At one point I noticed pink flowers down slope from us and we went to investigate.  I am so glad we did, even though at the time I didn't know what we were looking at.

This beauty is called Elephant's head, as became apparent when I zoomed in on photos.

SO COOL.  The Elephant's head shared this little marshy area with a bunch of shooting stars and a little blue butterfly.

 Dodecatheon jeffreyi

On the way down the trail I stopped for what I thought was a little yellow flower.  Fooled!

At the bottom of the trail by the parking lot is another marshy area with tons more shooting stars plus marsh marigolds.

Caltha leptosepala

Aside from hearing a distant one, we totally dipped on nutcrackers.  Back in the car, Leonard made a friend.

Since Timberline Lodge is generally a "reliable" spot for nutcrackers we stopped there for lunch. 

This photo makes it look like there was no one on the mountain.  This is false.  There were a billion people on the mountain.  Nutcrackers were not to be found on this day but it was a fun time nonetheless.

Yesterday evening I went back up to Larch Mountain for more nighthawking with Audrey and her bf Tomas.  We arrived with a little extra time for wandering around and found some fun stuff.  This jumping spider was pretty awesome:

 Red-backed jumping spider aka Johnson Jumper (Phidippus johnsoni)

 While I was looking at the spider Audrey called out "lizard!"  We gathered around this fellow, a Northern alligator lizard I believe.

As for birds, the clearcut had many including over 40 Band-tailed Pigeons flying by, Orange-crowned and MacGillivray's Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Pine Siskins, Bewick's and Pacific Wrens, Spotted Towhees, and juncos.

After exploring for a bit the nighthawk show began.

We had at least four birds entertaining us but probably heard more in the distance.  As we walked back to the car we experienced the grand finale, a nighthawk diving straight at us!  We stopped to watch and it did it again!  And again!  We must have been walking through some tasty insects.  Tomas caught this on video which will hopefully make its way to the internet eventually.  My phone video is barely worth sharing, but here it is anyway!

Good times!!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


My spring has been pretty great and it's not only because I've done so much traveling around the state.  I also have a sweet yard with its own set of flora and fauna that entertains me to no end.  Let me begin with a story.

I bought my house three and a half years ago, and the front yard was mostly grass with some border garden beds, a Japanese maple, and a sad dogwood tree.  My first trip to Portland Nursery as a homeowner was overwhelming but I stuck to the native section and came home with a nice little variety to add to the front.

 3.03.13  Serviceberry, osoberry, salal, ceanothus, red alder, and red osier dogwood.

I knew little about these plants, only that they were native.  The alder was maybe three feet tall, a skinny twig that cost me $7.99.

A few months later, the front yard still looking plain.

Dirt spot close to center of photo is the alder tree, three red osier dogwoods on left

It's been three years now since I planted these, and my skinny twig alder has shot up above the house with branches thick enough to climb.  This spring I did just that to hang a chickadee house.

 Alder on the right, birch on the left, ceanothus in the middle (lemon balm, cat mint, poppies, blanket flower, mint, lavender, daisies, lupine, etc. in front)

The chickadees found it almost immediately and began moving in.

The House Sparrows were not pleased with the new neighbors and were constantly bugging them, trying to get inside the house.  Thankfully I had put a metal protector around the hole so the sparrows could not fit.

Once there were audible young in the nest, the local scrub-jays also showed interest.

The chickadees were determined and never let the annoying neighbors get to them.  They made trips all day long from the suet or the compost bin (bug city!) back to their house.

Last week I noticed they weren't returning to the house anymore, but I wasn't sure if they had been successful.  On Friday when I came home from work I heard the fuzzy not-quite-right sounds of a young chickadee and I watched as one of the parents fed it some suet.  Yay!  The chickadee child tried to land on me at one point, but I ducked and it landed nearby on the fence instead.

This morning I decided to open up their house and check out their nest.

On the left is a cozy little cup of a nest, and on the right is one dead baby chickadee.  I removed the dead one and hung the house back up in case they want to go for another round.

I feel pretty good about these chickadees.  It's like watching hummingbirds visit the currant I planted, sparrows digging in the leaf litter I saved for them, or crows splashing in the bird bath I filled.  Of course with nature you can't always control who shows up for your offerings...

On Saturday I set my camera trap up facing my suet and caught this fella.  Finally!  I knew there was a rat thanks to tunnels and mounds, and the dogs certainly knew there was a rat, but I had yet to lay eyes on it.

He or she was quite comfortable up there in the cage, chowing down for over thirty minutes in the middle of the afternoon.  In addition to the rat were the more expected Bushtits, chickadees, and Downy Woodpeckers. 

Not from the camera trap

While I have a boring old rat, my parents have a far more interesting mammal visiting their yard in Massachusetts, an albino chipmunk!

Pretty cool!

Now let's talk bugs.  My yard is full of 'em and I never get tired of creeping around looking for new ones.  Here are a few of my favorites of late:

Agreeable tiger moth (Spilosoma congrua)

 Boxelder bug

Bold jumper with a dead fly

Crane fly

Ground spider

Ten-lined June beetle I think (Polyphylla sp.)

Same beetle, about to take flight 

That's it from the home front for now.  Good times!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

24 hours.

Tuesday afternoon found me done with my yard chores, done with a beer, itching to escape the stifling Portland heat.  I had the thought, if I leave now I could be on Mount Hood in an hour and surely it's cooler there.  So I packed up the car, packed up the mutts, and we headed east with the A/C cranked.

Summit Lake was deserted as expected.  I only came to know this spot (not far from Timothy Lake) thanks to someone reporting nesting American Three-toed Woodpeckers here a couple years ago and there is rarely anyone around.  The mosquitoes were relentless as I set up camp and walked the dogs around.  It grew darker and we retreated to the safety of the tent where I watched bats swoop down to the lake and listened to Common Nighthawks peenting overhead.  Then the frogs began their all night serenade. 

Perhaps the volume of the frogs is the reason no one camps here. 

After very little sleep I packed everything up and we continued on our journey to track down a state bird in Jefferson County.

 I had failed once before here so expectations were low.   The target bird, Long-eared Owl, enjoys hiding in dense willows and after much scanning I had yet to find one.  I opted to creep closer to the willows and bam, a bird flushed.  Dammit.  Another step and bam, another bird flushed.  UGH.  Not only was I not seeing the bird, but I was also becoming an asshole.  I walked in the direction the birds flew in to try to get enough of a view to verify the species, and bam, flushed again.  I shot off a couple quick photos, enough to know it was at least the right bird. 

I left this area to walk the dogs around the sage and look for more birds.

Brewer's Sparrow

 Mountain Bluebird working on her nest

 Lark Sparrows

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, one of this area's specialties

I wasn't going to post a photo of this wildflower I photographed, but then I noticed the common name for it was Cowboy toilet paper and I could not resist sharing.

After wandering this area for awhile I continued on east on 26, stopping at a pullout to view Ochoco Reservoir.  Pelicans were the most obvious birds around.

The mudflats were shared between various blackbirds, Killdeer, a Spotted Sandpiper, and geese.

East of the reservoir I pulled over for a snipe on fence post.  Some days I think snipe are in my top five, bird-wise. 

"Chip sealing" brought traffic to a halt and I was unfortunately behind a pick-up with two dogs in the back, exciting Jake and Ralph to no end.  It did not help that one dog looked much like Ralph and they seemed to stare at each other in confusion.

Once out of the road work area I pulled over to do some nerdy wildflower macros.


Sticky purple geranium

 Yellow salsify

 Elkhorns clarkia

I drove around Ochoco National Forest for awhile, stopping here and there for flowers or birds or other distractions.

Orange honeysuckle

After eating lunch I decided to start heading back out of the forest.  Thunder was rumbling and it rained for awhile, though this did not stop me from checking out more flowers.


As I drove west of Prineville I started to notice the smell of smoke and a general haze in the area.  It was still strong on the ascent out of Madras, when I finally caught sight of the source of the smoke.

It's being called the Akawana Fire.  Ugh.

The rest of the drive was smooth sailing, with Ira Glass and the mutts for company.  24 hours well spent!  Good times!!