Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Gilliam County

Thanks to our wild weather this winter I have only made it out to Gilliam to run raptor surveys twice, once in November and finally once last week.  The only thing my surveys had in common was that both times I counted exactly 26 birds, which includes hawks, eagles, falcons, and owls.  November was sunny and warmish, and began with a lovely sunrise.

A deer that may have been in Sherman County paused to look at me, as I paused to check out its antler accessory. 

Pronghorn were the first Gilliam mammals I encountered.

On the descent into Buttermilk Canyon I skidded in the gravel to stop for a Ferruginous Hawk perched at the top of a tree. 

See ya.

Gilliam is often thick with Mountain Bluebirds though last week I had zero. 

The road that ascends out of Lone Rock offers amazing views and I can never drive it without stopping and breathing in its sage-scented beauty. 

There was also a dead porcupine to poke.  The pads on their feet are my favorite.  Farther along the road I had my only Rough-legged Hawk of the day, as opposed to the eight I had last week.  Better than my bad photos of the porcupine and RLHA are my photos of the scenery along either Ramsey Canyon or Wehrli Canyon. 

Fall perfection.
I stopped to walk the dogs here and was immediately distracted by bees.  Remember bees?  I really cannot wait for insects to be abundant again. 

Towards the end of my route I descended down the usually spectacular Devils Butte Road/Mikkalo Road and was so sad to see the extent of wildfire damage to the area.  The hills were all black.  There had been a house, not sure if anyone lived there, but it was gone with some metal pieces left behind.  At the bottom of the road I pulled over to walk the dogs and take in the overwhelming destruction.  I got my state badger in this area and it really made me sad to think of what became of all the wildlife. 

Thankfully as I was mourning a place that I really only barely knew, a Golden Eagle appeared, blending in with the burned hills behind it.  It soared around and around and gave me that little bit of hope that "maybe everything that dies someday comes back."  It gained height and soared out of sight.

Now for my raptor survey last week...

Little different.  Cold, cloudy, foggy, still covered in snow.  At times it was confusing where the land ended and the sky began.


There were a few coyotes throughout the day and this one seemed the least healthy.

I also had a few shrikes throughout the day.

Rough-legged Hawks were appropriately abundant.

I always stop at the Four Mile Historic Site to walk the dogs and on this occasion there was part of a skull sitting on the top of the snow as if placed gently.  Strange, as there were no tracks (human or otherwise) near it. 

Middle Rock Creek Lane often hosts more birds than other areas and on this occasion Black-billed Magpies and California Quail kept things interesting.  Year birds are good birds.

After this section of my route visibility turned to shit and the slushy/icy/muddy roads became exciting (not in a good way). 

Turning around to take the proper muddy turnoff 

For over fifteen miles I felt I couldn't stop for fear of getting stuck, and with all the fog there was no point in stopping anyway.  Fun fun.  Eventually I finished the route and made it back to Highway 19 to head home. 

Fingers crossed that February is kinder to us all, but looking at this week's forecast has me doubting that.  And yes, that could be a metaphor.  Ugh. 

On a lighter note, enjoy these answers to your bird problems as published in a 60's pamphlet cleverly called Solving Your Bird Problems.  My coworker received it as a gift from a friend, and now it is a gift to us all.

Good times!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Last week's birds.

On my days off last week the snow was thawing, turning white fields into soup, and I was finally able to take the dogs out for a long walk.  I opted to check out the scene along Lower River Road in Vancouver.

Frenchman's Bar Park was closed, and as I turned around I noticed a couple of Ring-necked Pheasants on the side of the road.  They kept wandering into the street, dodging hunters' trucks at the last second.

I parked in the only unlocked lot near Vancouver Lake, and walked the mutts from there all the way back to Frenchman's Bar.  The sun peeked out here and there and I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of Snow Geese, Sandhill Cranes, and Cackling Geese. 

Sandhill Cranes would occasionally fly into the center of things...

I love a good spectacle.

In one of the photos I noticed a goose that looked like it was wearing a watch. 

It's not a normal neck band, but what is it?  Radio collar?  Tumor?  I couldn't find it in other photos so this is only angle I have.  Intriguing.

As we approached Frenchman's Bar the clouds began to do interesting things.

We walked into the park and were thankfully the only people around so the mutts got to run around the snowy field and then pose by the river.

As we walked back out of the park I noticed a lone Snow Goose near the trees by the entrance.  After seeing the hundreds (thousands?) it was weird to see a single one, and unfortunately I realized it had some issues.

It was walking around fine but would constantly open its mouth like it was panting. 

On the walk back to the car we passed more Sandhill Cranes that were occasionally getting fired up.

Always fun to see.  Later that afternoon I went out to Blue Lake Park to see if the water had melted yet. 

There were patches of open water but it was still mostly ice.  The wetlands area is technically closed because of all the ice storm damage but I took a quick peek at some icy tracks:

The only bird of interest was my year Hutton's Vireo working its way deeper into a shrub.

The mammals of interest are not interesting on their own, but when located inside a garbage can they become hilarious.

Lastly, some of you might recall that I researched the previous owners of my house and learned that the wife was a well-known poet in Portland, Vi Gale.  When I moved in there was a lot of random stuff left behind, including a big envelope containing prints of one of her poems with some original artwork.  I framed one for my house and gave away the rest to friends and family.  Lines from the poem kept popping in my head this month, so here it is for you all to enjoy. 

The photo was found in my basement, and I'm not sure if it's her or someone else, but I stuck it in the frame anyway.  Enjoy the thaw, everyone.  Good times!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Broughton and Tabor in the snow.

Surprise!  Our predicted 1-4" of snow Tuesday night turned out to be closer to a foot, which is almost unheard of in Portland.  The best thing to have when this sort of thing happens is a friend that doesn't mind driving in it.  Lucky for me, Jacob wanted to go out in it Wednesday morning and we set off for Broughton Beach.

Was that a Road Closed sign?  Hmm, no I don't think so.  (Marine Drive @ PDX)

The snow was still falling when we arrived and continued to do so for most of the morning.  A flock of Horned Larks stood out:

We hiked out towards the rocks hoping for owls and Jacob immediately pointed out a dot in the distance.  A Short-eared!  It was perched up on a rock as if hunting.  Then we noticed the coyote.

The coyote had also noticed the owl.  The owl hopped down and vanished from sight, but was obviously still in the same area.  The coyote crept up close and boom, the owl flushed from its roost.

 We thought that was the end of it but then the owl turned around and took a couple dives at the coyote.  Such a badass.

The coyote had become more concerned with us by then, and trotted off towards the bike path.  We kept going hoping for another owl glimpse, which we got when I accidentally flushed it.

The owl flew east right into the path of a Peregrine and a brief scuffle ensued, ending with the owl flying back west past us.

 So lovely

We turned around soon after and did everything we could to not flush the owl again.  But it flew anyway.

A second one erupted from the rocks that we had no idea was even there.  Argh.  We carried on, enjoying the snowy landscape.

PDX and Marine Drive

We explored all the way to the end of the parking lot and found more good birds like a Lincoln's Sparrow, a cowbird, and a pair of Downys.  I tripped over a rock in the only place not covered in snow and faceplanted onto the beach.  

This kind person did not even laugh at me. 

After Broughton Beach we searched for food and then continued our snow day fun day with some sledding at Glendoveer Golf Course.  On one of my last walks up the hill a Golden-crowned Kinglet appeared out of nowhere and landed on the snow in front of me.  It was magical.  A perfect snow day.

Yesterday the snow was still here and it was about 25° outside.  This did not stop me from finally shoveling out my car and braving the ridiculous road conditions to look for a reported Bohemian Waxwing at Mount Tabor.

I headed straight for the hawthorne trees where I correctly assumed the birds were hanging out.  Among hundreds and hundreds of robins were at least a hundred Cedar Waxwings.  The birds were using every tree along that side of the reservoir and I knew the hunt for the BOWA might take awhile.

The frozen reservoirs looked so cool.

 About an hour into my search I decided I liked searching this tree and the ones near it because it meant I got sun on me to keep me warm.  Then I noticed one of the waxwings looked gray and shot off a few photos.   

Look!  A Bohemian Waxwing!  ...is what I should have said.  Instead I looked down at the camera screen (in bright sunlight) and thought, that undertail isn't red.  I looked up and the bird was gone.  I decided to keep searching.  Dummy.

Robin-CEWA combo

 Forty-five minutes later I had found another sunny spot to stand in and noticed the waxwings were all flying up to the conifers nearby.  I scanned and scanned and boom, found it!

County bird!  Year bird!  5MR bird!  Woohoo!   Worth the sketchy drive for sure.  The day turned out to be a pretty great Friday the 13th!!!  Good times!!