Thursday, March 29, 2018

Orchards Community Park

Back in high school and college I kept a little journal of quotes, mostly song lyrics but also lines from books I had read.  I obsessed over them, doodling Kerouac quotes and Bad Religion songs in the margins of my class notes, engraving my favorites into the back covers of my notebooks.  I don't do this much anymore but the lines will still pop in my head at random times.


When I first pulled into a parking spot at Orchards Community Park a line from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment appeared in my brain, written down back in 1997 or 98 while sharing a dorm room in Boston with one of my best friends, Carrie.  Carrie had to read Crime and Punishment for class, and to be obnoxious and avoid my own homework, I decided to read it faster.  This did not pan out because that Carrie can read so damn quickly (she's now an English teacher) but I ended up really enjoying the book.  This is the line:


Arriving at this random 5-mile radius spot nestled in a corner where the interstate meets busy Fourth Plain Blvd I was intrigued.  I got out of the car and instantly liked the place even though the highway noise was annoying, it was raining, and I was staring at a big lawn.  But.  A Brown Creeper was singing and if your first bird at a spot is a Brown Creeper, how could it be bad?


I took the trail past the restroom into the trees and then a little side trail where I started to notice trillium.  Lots of it.  More than I have seen in any other park in Vancouver.  At this point my walk became as much about the plants as the birds.

 Trillium-lined trail

I ended up returning the next (drier) day with Jacob's 100mm macro lens so I could get some better shots of the plants, and this post will be a combo of the two trips.


 Along with the trillium were lots of other plants, some of which I recognized and some I have tried to look up.  Wild ginger in particular was ridiculously abundant.


My favorite little plant in the area was a small white violet, that may or may not be the actual plant called "small white violet", Viola macloskeyi.


One of the violets had a little insect inside, and its neighbor plant had another little insect.


And more plants...

Miner's lettuce (I think)

 I should know this one 

 Hmm.

Let's take a break from plants, because plants without flowers are hard to identify.  How about a few birds?  In addition to the nonstop creeper sounds there were the expected Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Pacific Wrens, Steller's Jays, and so on.

Wren in a fern

 Towhee next to a fern

One small flock of birds contained a pair of Bushtits that were collecting nesting material from under some moss.



They weren't the only ones working on a nest either.  Crows were flying overhead constantly with their bills stuffed with sticks.


One of the main reasons I chose this spot to visit was because it seemed like ideal habitat for a Hutton's Vireo which I needed for my 5MR.  Indeed, I had one calling on my first visit but never managed a photo.  Here is one from a spot in my old 5MR last week, where they are year round residents:


Not far from the Bushtits on the northern edge of the park I found what I think is old coyote poop, full of little bones.


That skull on the bottom was pretty neat, and unlike the usual rodent skulls I find in pellets.



The teeth are distinctive and point to the skull belonging to a mole.  Not surprising given the mole hills in the main field. 

The sun came out towards the end of my walk so I decided to check out the random giant patch of Oregon grape planted near the main parking area.  Buzzing insects were enjoying the blooms.




Overall this is an awesome little park, only 2.6 miles from home.  Aside from the interstate noise on the west side of the park, it's extremely pleasant.  There is a lack of water which is maybe why I couldn't find any owls?  I don't know.  Good thing I found one last week.

Former 5MR saw-whet!

SO GOOD.  Now I must find one in my new 5MR.  Orchards Community Park is probably not a good spot for them, but that's okay because it's good in so many other ways!  Suggest as hotspot?  Yes please!  Good times!!!

Friday, March 16, 2018

The 5MR Revolution.

Lately I've been thinking about the hierarchy of birds, for example how a new Clark County bird is often more exciting to me than a life bird in another state.  A new yard bird better than a new state bird.  A new state bird seen in the yard?  Even better.  The reward is higher for me when I'm closer to home.


Creating a 5MR list keeps the fun going by factoring another level in the hierarchy, one that is high on the scale of reward.


It seems other birders appreciate the hierarchy as well since there has been a 5MR EXPLOSION on eBird, with piles of California 5MR's (thanks to blog-lurker Kevin L in SoCal), not to mention an Olympia one and a Florida one (yay, Caroline!). 

This attention combined with the recent public endorsement of 5MR's by famous bird blogger Seagull Steve, I figured it was time to dust off my own 5MR and work on my local patches.  I've hit Meadowbrook Marsh on foot a couple times recently which picked me up six motorless year birds, including a couple that would be leaving soon.

Common Goldeneye, a one morning wonder

 White-throated Sparrow (singing!)

Freshly arrived Cinnamon Teals were new birds for my 5MR (#166).


Other new additions to my 2018 5MR list here were Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Wilson's Snipe and American Coot.  House Finch was not a new addition but this fellow was singing in the sunshine, looking like a million bucks.


Steller's Jays are one of the most conspicuous birds in the area yet they rarely pose for photos.


Yesterday morning I went out to Jacob's patch, the segment of the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail that is adjacent to Meadowbrook Marsh.  I was hoping for more 5MR birds and I picked up Varied Thrush and Northern Pintail for the year.  There was a pair of pintails, the female begging for snacks.  This is not my usual interaction with pintails.

Male keeping its distance

 Female beggin

 What!  Look at that bill!

Everyone knows that your yard can play a big factor in your listing success, sitting at that small tippy top of the bird hierarchy.  One year I reported my motorless list to the list serv only to find out someone had a year yard list of the same size.  A good yard can be a game changer.

Getting a county state bird in your yard?  Well, that's almost as good as it gets. 

Last night Jacob and I experienced exactly that. We were outside a bit after 8:00 for the mutts' last potty break when we heard a ridiculously loud two-syllable bird call, repeating several times over the next couple minutes.  We usually only hear Killdeer and the occasional Great Horned at night, not this bizarre pterodactyl call.  Once inside I was repeating the sound to myself when a bird popped into my brain.  I opened the Sibley app and ran through the calls of the Long-billed Curlew.  Jacob looked up as I played the one at the top of the list.  "That's it!  What is that?"  The exact sound we heard is the first one on the Sibley app, or the second on the Audubon site here ("curlee & other calls").

Since I have nothing to show for this new state/county/motorless/yard (but sadly/weirdly not 5MR) bird, I offer you the cutest damn mouse I ever saw, caught in our live rat trap yesterday.


I think it's a deer mouse.  Look at this video of it bathing before being released.  Watch for the adorable crossed arm tummy rubs.



5MR mouse!


That's all the 5MR news for now.  Good times!!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Coyote Wall

Super popular hikes aren't often appealing to me and I've driven through the gorge enough times to know that the Coyote Wall trailhead is usually packed with cars.  Almost as bad as Dog Mountain, another gorge hike I've managed to avoid for the almost 16.5 years I've lived here.  But this week Jacob and I had a brisk and rainy weekday off together so it seemed like the best possible time to try a popular hike. We arrived just before 9 and were the first to park at the trailhead.  Good start.


This area is popular for a few reasons including the stunning views of the gorge, the wildflower scene, the mountain biking action, and the general Instagram-friendly look to the place.  Douglas' grass widow was the most conspicuous flower blooming on our hike.


Western Meadowlarks were singing and Bald Eagles soared low over our heads as we gained elevation.  Our plan was a shorter loop involving the Moab and Little Maui Trails, but we got a little confused and took a longer route.  It was great though!  The weather cleared up and the sun came out.

 Jolly green giants

Nonstop scenery

We even had some first-of-year birds like Western Bluebirds in the oaks, visiting a potential nest hole.




We were admiring the view up the gorge when another eagle came into view, this time a Golden!


At our feet, prairie stars and desert parsley were getting into the swing of things.

Lithophragma parviflorum

We found our first Say's Phoebe of the year catching bugs from one of the barbed wire fences.


Eventually we ended up on the loop we had intended to follow.



The whole area is thick with geological features that I will not pretend to understand, but I do know that these are basalt cliffs:


And this is a waterfall:


On the way down there were tons of ground squirrels and Jacob made me take pictures of all of them.


Back at the beginning of the trail I tried to take a panorama phone pic to show the whole wall, but it made part of the wall (on the left) look super tiny. 


It ended up being a pretty great hike at a little over six miles.  Beers and grub at Red Bluff Taphouse in Stevenson rounded out the day perfectly.  Good times!!!