Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spring Birdwalks at Salemtowne

A higher than normal volume of rain in the Willamette Valley continues to attempt to cramp our style of living. However, we are not defeated easily and try to get in a bird walk every day. I've been leading weekly spring birdwalks at Salemtowne during this month of April.  This mornings rain dampened the number of participants, but eight brave people showed up anyway. We have met every Sunday at 8:00am for an hour and have had as many as eighteen people.  We have walked a variety of routes and seen a good number of bird species.  Todays number was our highest at twenty six species. You can check out today's observation list here. It's been a good social event and I hope to repeat next Spring.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Columbia River Gorge - Then & Now

We have just returned from a trip of four days in the Columbia River Gorge.  It's an area that holds many memories for Jeanette and me, starting with our Honeymoon Bicycle Tour in May of 1993.  We  returned there many times in the following years on bike tours, day hikes, and backpacks.  Spring is our favorite time to be there and enjoy the fantastic wild flowers. 

Horsetheif Lake Campground - May 1993

Horsetheif Lake Campground - April 2017
Times have changed, in 1993 our transportation was bicycles and we had the campground to ourselves. It was very quiet.  This year we traveled in luxury in our RV, the campground was full by night fall and our neighbors with an alcohol fueled party where up chopping wood until 1:30am in the morning.

In March of 2006, we took Buster on one of his longest hikes on The Dalles Riverfront Trail.
This year a greying older Buster, a little braver, hiked a total of four miles. Spring is a little late this year, maybe as much as a month.  Snow banks still can be seen along I-84 near Multnoma Falls, and the major wild flowers have yet to bloom. Guess we will just have to return again.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Return of the Osprey

The Osprey have made their annual return to the West Salem area.  I was made aware of their presence on Thusday by email and photos that my neighbor Lou Nelson sent me. She happens to drive by the nesting site on Murlark Avenue several times a week, and Thursday March 23rd was her first sighting of this season.  Last year Jeanette saw them for the first time on March 20th, and the year before I noticed them on March 25th.

I went by the nest site this morning and took this photo.  I was lucky enough to be there at the time the male brought in a stick to the platform.  When I first got there the female, which is the larger one on the right, was alone on the nest and crying out loudly.  Suddenly the male, which is the smaller one on the left, appeared and flew down to the nest with a large stick.  If you look closely at the photo (clicking on the image will enlarge it) you can see the stick that is on the top, and also notice the scrutiny in the look of the female.  This is a ritual they will preform many times in this next week or so as they build an acceptable crude network of sticks for their nest.

I checked out all six nesting sites that I keep track of in West Salem this morning.  Of the six, three where occupied, but only the one on Murlark is to the building stage.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Recap of our Winter Escape

Cooper Creek Reservoir

We arrived back home in Salem Oregon yesterday afternoon, Thursday March the 23rd.  One of the stops we made on our route back to do some birding was Cooper Creek Reservoir just outside of Sutherlin Oregon two days ago. My thoughts over the last few days has been of the statistical nature, thinking  about all the states and counties we have birded in since leaving home on January 10th.  If you are not much in to statistics, you might want to move on to something else, but if you are interested, read on.  Birding kind of drove our trip, and we made it a point to walk and seek out some birds every day. To recap our birding experience: We were gone for 73 days in our attempt to seek some sunshine and escape the Oregon rain, and turned in 114 bird observation lists in 30 different counties.  This involved the four states of Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona. We discovered many new places and revisited many old favorites. In all we enjoyed the combination of the RV life style and the birding experience. I'm sure there are many more trips in our future.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Mystery of San Lorenzo

We arrived here at San Lorenzo Regional Park on Saturday, and by the time we leave on Friday we will have been here a full week. We first found this park in November of 2010. Fleeing the crazy congestion of the Bay Area, we stopped for a night, and stayed for a week. It's an easy place to camp.  At 100 camping sites, there's certainly one to fit any ones taste.  Pull through sites with full hook-ups, sites with water and electricity only, or just plain tent sites.  Rest rooms with showers,  a group meeting building, even a 24 hour laundry. Towering trees provide shade if wanted, open areas provide sun. Miles of trails to stroll or get in some exercise, or in our case, specifically to go birding.  At least three museums provide displays of the agriculture and history of the area.  A train depot with track and train car, farm tractors of every description are spread out through the large day use area, there is no reason to be bored here. This Monterey County Park is huge, in spite of being squeezed between busy Highway 101, the Salinas River and the town of King City, it has the relaxed feeling of being apart from civilization.  Here is the mystery, with the exception of a large group than came in yesterday, we have practically had the park to ourselves. Only a half dozen other sites have been occupied in this 100 site campground.  Why is it the park not full?  We have enjoyed perfect weather with temps in the 70s and 80s.  The rates are very economical.  The little town of King City is convenient for groceries, fuel, or almost any necesiteies. Access is easy off of Highway 101. It's a mystery I continue to ponder, against a backdrop of desert parks in Arizona and other areas of California where campgrounds are crowded to the point of making reservations a necessity.  In addition to campers being a scarcity here, so are volunteers. The mystery of San Lorenzo deepens and continues.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Pleasant Time In Pleasanton

Today we arrived in Pleasanton California and are expecting a pleasant couple of days with my sister-in-law Mary Sites.  Mary's dog Hollie, and our dog Buster always have a good time together. The weather is a perfect 70 degrees, without wind or rain, a very pleasant day. Mary took us on a bird-walk this afternoon at the near-by Kottinger Park.  Here is a link to our observation list. Based on the weather conditions in Oregon, and on the advice of friends there, it sounds like we should stay in sunny Calfornia a while longer.

Picture of Jeanette and I taken by Mary

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

RV Traveling Tips

Since last posting we have driven from the far southern border of Arizona, across the Colorado River, and the Mojave Desert, and up into Central California.  On long days of driving I often reflect on the marvels of traveling in this high tech age, and how much we depend on our iPhones.  In many ways, a smart phone may be your most valuable piece of traveling equipment.  It is an indispensable aid for us and here is why.

WEATHER:  We check the weather on our phone daily, as well as the weather in several locations. The above photo, taken at Davis Camp on the Colorado River, illustrates its value.  Traveling from the Phoenix area out towards the Mojave Desert, I was clued in to high winds with gusts over 50mph.  That is not the conditions I want to be driving in an RV.  So, we settled into the protection of a camping site at Davis Camp for another day, and then continued on with normal driving conditions.

NAVIGATION:  On this trip we have relied on our iPhone almost exclusively to plan our driving route. I has been indispensable in figuring mileage and guiding us though unknown locations. And of course we use it to find locations for fuel, groceries and miscellaneous shopping needs.

BREAKS:  We have found taking breaks during the day along our route is paramount to our sanity.  And here is where we use our iPhone to access eBird and locate birding Hot Spots to stop, get in a walk, count some birds, take some photos, and bring down our level of stress from driving. During the past two days we have made stops in cities along our route in Baker, Tehachapi and Delano with city parks that were unknown to us in spite of have traveled this route many times over the years.

OVERNIGHT STOPS: Jeanette found an app that has proven to be one of our most valued tools on this trip,  It shows us immediately where we are and all the nearby locations for free overnight parking.  And we can look ahead at any area and plan accordingly. Although we blend in stops at campgrounds with hook-ups, being self contained, we often just need a place to park for the night.

STAYING CONNECTED:  Using our iPhones allows us the luxury of travel to new and unexplored areas seeking good weather, and still be connected to family and friends although many miles away.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Patagonia Lake State Park Grand Finale

Green Kingfisher

Jeanette's sharp eyes spotted this female Green Kingfisher this morning. Smaller than our common Belted Kingfisher, and with a larger bill in proportion to the body.  It is listed as a rare bird here in the South West and found only in a small area of Southern Arizona. This was our last morning of birding here at Patagonia Lake State Park, and we took once again the Birding Trail. Here is our observation list. The Green Kingfisher is the 5th new spices I have added to my Life List while here at Patagonia Lake. This marks the end of the birding blitz we have been on here in South-Eastern Arizona, and one that has us hoping for a return next winter. Tomorrow we turn our route north and drive to Sun City to visit family, brother Mark & sister Kathy, then we make our way back through California with stops with more family and then on to home in Oregon. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Full Day of Birding

Buster & Jeanette birding from the paddle boat

Yesterday was rather questionable weather wise all day,  with overcast skies, cool temps and high winds.  Today with good weather in the forecast we planned to make a long bird walk on the Patagonia Lake State Park Birding Trail.  We had been told by a volunteer that the trail was where we would find the most birds.  We were out the door before 8:00am dispite the fact the temps were still in the 30s.  We took pitty on Buster and let him stay in the motor home.  The trail starts on the other side of the campgrounds, so we got a fast walk in to the trailhead.  We discovered it was indeed a fantastic area to bird and racked up a observation list of 47 species, which included a Rufous-winged Sparrow, another new addition to our Life Lists. Back to the motorhome, we took Buster for a short walk, had lunch and then rented a paddle boat to try out, and Jeanette made up another list. The two photos below were taken from the paddle boat.  After that excusion we drug our tired bodies back to the motor home and spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to recoup.

 Pied-bill Grebe

Cinnamon Teal

Monday, February 27, 2017

Patagonia Lake State Park

Broad-billed Hummingbird

 Fifteen minutes after backing into our camping site this afternoon, not even taking time to hook up the water and electricity, we were out the door and walking to the Visitor's Center were I took this photo of a male Broad-billed Hummingbird.  We had no idea what kind of a hummingbird it was.  Lucky for us a park volunteer came walking by and told us it was a Broad-billed.  Score one more for our Life Lists!  Patagonia Lake State Park is the top birding site in Arizona, and we decided almost spur of the moment while in Yuma a couple of weeks ago, that we would make the effort this year to get to Patagonia Lake. In the past it has seemed too far to travel, but now that we are here, we think it is going to be worth the extra driving.  We have reservations here until Friday the 3rd.  The weather is supposed to take a turn to the worse tomorrow with high winds and a chance of rain, so we made an effort to get in some birding time this afternoon.  You can look at our observation list here. The weather started deteriorating with over cast skies and wind this afternoon, but by Wednesday when the weather turns back to good, we plan on turning in a better list. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is primarily about wintering Sandhill Cranes, and we are talking thousands of these large birds. Arizona State Game and Fish Department counted 13,522 on January 6th 2017. Early in the morning flights of cranes take off and leave to fly to nearby corn fields to feed on the left- overs from harvest.  Mid-day they return to the wildlife area to rest and congregate for the night, and this is when the spectacular scene occurs, flight after flight coming in to land in the wetlands.  We arrived here yesterday at 10:00am and birdered for an hour or so, as the number of cranes grew from a few to more than it was possible to count.  By then the crowd of folks who were coming to watch the incoming cranes were starting to fill to full capacity.  All kinds of folks, birders, cowboys, old folks and young folks, walked, ambled, and limped to the pond's edge to point and gawk, and photograph.  It reminded me of the state fair.  We were happy to return to the quietness of our motor home in a parking lot where RVs are allowed to park for up to three days for free. In our ramblings around Arizona this winter several people have recommended Whitewater Draw, and we made time in our schedule to stop here. We love the combination of free camping and bird watching at the same location.  It was interesting and we enjoyed it, but once is probably enough.  The highlight of our stop actually occurred in the evening when friends Dan and Elaine Scott made a stop here for the night.  They are from the Seattle area, and have also been traveling around the south-west this winter, including a short venture across the border into Mexico.  It was great to get got up with them and talk RVs.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Dankworth Pond

Today we had the great good fortune of meeting the top birder in Graham County, Jeff Coker.   We left the campground at Roper Lake, early and traveled a few miles south to Dankworth Pond, a Arizona State Park Day Use Area.  Jeanette and I had a successful hour of birding, around the 15-acre pond and had just returned to the motorhome for a break, when a person came over and asked if he could look at the inside of our motorhome as he was interested in possibly purchasing one in a couple of years.  As we started to talk, he suddenly asked, "Are you Jim and Jeanette Scott"?  He had been watching our input on birding lists in eBird and guessed who we were.  He was here at Dankworth Pond to scout out the birds in preperation to lead a bird walk here tomorrow morning.  He invited us to come along on his morning scouting trip.  For the next two hours we were completely enmeshed in birding in general and the birds of Dankworth Pond in particular.  We have high hopes of keeping in touch as he shops for a van and we continue our birding passion.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

More on Roper Lake State Park

We are enjoying our stay at Roper Lake State Park so much.  Everyday we have explored a new area. Of course we love it for the birding.  Yesterday we turned in a list of 41 different species.  But other people appear to come here for an assortment of other reasons, the scenery, fishing, kayaking, biking, or just the camping experience. Below are four photos that I am sharing to try to give you and idea of the beauty of this park.

--and on the last day we found the outdoor hot tub.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Roper Lake State Park

Once again it appears we have fallen into a pot of jam.  We are loving it here at Roper Lake State Park.  While at Gilbert Ray Campground I was shearching for good birding spots where we could camp, when I stumbled on Roper Lake State Park. Not a place I knew anything about, but it did have a good number of observed species birds.  Driving here we learned it is located in the barren desert on the east side of Arizona, at the foot of Graham Mountain (shown in the background), and most importantly for birds and campers, it has the attraction of water--the man-made Roper Lake. The small town of Stafford lies six miles north in the Gila Valley. In campgrounds like this its easy to meet like minded new friends, which is our experience here.  Camping next to us was Doug Boser, who asked if he could tag aloung with us on our morning bird walk.  He was a great addition, a curious person, full of good questions that made our morning a delight. In the photo above, Doug is shown with Jeanette, looking for birds on one of the many trails we took. For our list of birds and photos click here.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Birds of Tucson Mountain Park

Looks like we have survived the storms of rain and wind of the last two days here in the Gilbert Ray Campgound in Tucson Mountain Park. We did bird every day of our four day stay, and although the birds are not numerous, we were able to identify 22 different species.  That's not a very high number for us considering the effort we put into it, but it is after all a desert without any water, and we did get in our daily exercise. The following photos are representive of what we saw.

male Costa's Hummingbird

male Gila Woodpecker

female American Kestrel

Cactus Wren

Northern Mockingbird

female Phaninopepla

Our next destination is Roper Lake State Park, with reservations from 2/21 to 2/24.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gilbert Ray Campground

This past week I have been worrying about how to avoid the predicted storm of rain and high winds coming this weekend. There seemed to be no place to hide in California or Arizona, however Tuscon looked to have a lower percentage of wind and rain.  Our goal became getting to a campground where we could hunker down for a few days and avoid having to drive during the time of predicted 40 miles gusts. Early yesterday morning we left Yuma and fled across the Arizona desert to the Gilbert Ray Campground, south-west of Tucson.  We spent the whole morning driving with-out stopping to look for any birds.  Arriving at Gilbert Ray at noon we were extremely lucky to get one of the last four remaining camping sites out of 134, site #36 as shown above.  The other sites filled while we were setting up. We have fond memories of camping here ten years ago, so already know we will enjoy hiking and birding here. The campground is well maintained in a natural desert setting and a bargain at 20 dollars a night. We paid for four nights, and can stay an additional three.  The weather is starting to turn today, and the major wind and rain will be tomorrow, Saturday. We are happy to be able to just stay put.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gila Woodpecker in the Sunset

For the past two days we have been the guests of our gracious hosts Ed and Joyce Dart at their winter place in The Foothills in Yuma.  They have a double lot with hook-ups, so it's been an easy place to park. They are long time friends that I grew up with in Lebanon, Oregon. Also living in the winter at The Foothills are Duane and Gwen Christiansen, another set of long time friends from Lebanon.  It's been great getting together and trying to remember other friends from the past.  The birds have been rather sparse, but tonight, which is our last night here, we got in a nice bird walk and found a birdy area and I was able to get this photo of a Gila Woodpecker in a palm tree lit by the orange light of a sunset.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Golden Acorn Casino

We left Dos Picos Park yesterday morning with the plan of traveling to another San Diego County Park, Lake Morena for a stay of a day or two.  However when we arrived we were surprised to find we had no cell phone service.  We checked with the Ranger Station, and there is only AT&T coverage.  No cell service is a deal breaker for us.  We depend on cell service for a major part of our daily life.  We use the Internet to log our daily bird observations, for posting my blog, our planning for RV destinations, route finding, the weather, the news, and contact with family and friends.  So, we decided to travel on. We had loaded fresh water before leaving Dos Picos and dumped the black and grey tanks, so we were good to explore, but we did need fuel.  We were told the best place for fuel was a the nearby Gold Acorn Casino on I-8.  Casinos mean a free place to park.  After getting fuel we looked over the parking lot and discovered there was space aplenty. Some casino lots are crowded and busy.  As you can see this one had lots of space and proved to be very quiet.  Being completely self contained its pretty easy to just park and relax for the afternoon and evening.  I thought I would take my valentine out for a prime rib dinner as advertised, but when she checked the reviews, she decided she would rather make dinner in the motor home.

 Even in a casino parking lot there are opportunities to observe birds. Here are some that I enjoyed.

 Common Ravin

California Thrasher

California Scrub-Jay

Monday, February 13, 2017

Dos Picos County Park

Dos Picos in Spanish means two peaks, but it's hard to decide what two peaks they might be referring to as this campground is surrounded by many rocky peaks. In the last five nights we have stayed in three different San Deigo county parks.  Because of the vast size and great geographical variety of the county we have been able to chose our campground based on the weather and temperature we wanted. A pretty unique experience and one that we hope to repeat. The campgound at Dos Picos has 64 spaces and is well maintained with lots of trees and shrubs. The placement of sites are well thought out to allow for a variety of camping choices. There are trails to hike and explore, but the magnet for us and the birds is a small pond, which for its size holds a surprising amount of water fowl. Yesterday we turned in an amazing list of 38 species of birds during our morning of birding.  Click here for the list.

One of our favorite photos of the morning was this beautiful pair of Gadwall.

Beside birds we also enjoyed watching turtles like this adult and baby Red-Eared Slider.

Yesterday's birding effort was so successful, but draining, that today we sort of felt that we needed a day off and are doing a travel day.  More on that tomorrow.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

William Heise County Park

Jeanette deserves the credit for this well composed shot of our campsite in William Heise County Park where we moved on Friday afternoon to escape a crowd gathering in our original campsite of Thursday night. We became surrounded with campers in the #1 camping circle, here at #2 we had it all to ourselves. We had left Vallecito Stage Station County Park on Thursday morning in the Anza Borrego Desert area in order to avoid the heat that was coming in the high eighties. The choice of William Heise Park at 4200' was an easy one, in fact we were here two years ago on the very same day for the very same reason, that of escaping the heat.  We have appreciated the lush vegetation and pine and oak trees on both trips, and we have also enjoyed great birding with lots of hiking opportunities. On this Saturday morning a big weather change brought in rain and with temps expected to cool into the 30's, so we fled down the mountain this morning to the lower elevations of the town of Ramona to do laundry and buy groceries and camp at Dos Picos County Park, elevation 1500'.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Vallencito Stage Station County Park

As you can see we are starting to get into a little more relaxed mode with our RV life style.  Today we are camped at the historic Vallencito Stage Station in the Anza Borrego Desert.  In fact, we are the only ones camped here.  There are 44 sites, in this San Diego County Park, and ours is the only occupied site.  We were sitting here this afternoon relaxing in the shade of our motor home, when a large dove flew in.  It was a White-winged Dove, a species never seen before by Jeanette or I--a new addition to our Life List, #300! This was after a pretty good morning of birding where we added #299, a Sage Thrasher.

White-winged Dove

Sage Thrasher

Tomorrow we move up to Julian and the William Heise County Park to escape the heat here in the desert for a couple of days.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Salton Sea State Recreation Area

We left Lake Tamarisk Desert Resort yesterday morning, driving west through the desert, then dropping down through picturesque Box Canyon and out to the expanse of the Salton Sea area.  Our first stop was the Visitor Center of the Salton Sea State Recreation Area.  To be honest, I have to admit because of all the bad publicity regarding the Salton Sea, I have been rather reluctant to admit it was one of our destinations. But we were pleasantly surprised at our positive first reactions.  No stench coming off the lake, lots of camping sites available, perfect weather, and few visitors.

Buster was anxious to get out of the RV and explore.  So we set off to see what we could find.  Birds were scarce right at the visitors center, but soon as we started to look a little closer we began to find a great assortment. You can see our bird list here.

American White Pelican

After birding and a break for lunch, (one of the joys of RVing is you always have food and shelter available all the time), we sought out a camping site.  We settled on Salt Creek Beach, where eight dollars bought us parking, a picnic table, port-potti, and garbage can.

early morning view of our site

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Lake Tamarisk Desert Resort

I was originally drawn to stop at Lake Tamarisk Desert Resort because of the unusually high number of species of birds that have been seen here.  It is located out in the middle of a hundred mile stretch of desert halfway between the California towns of Indio and Blyth. It turned out to be an interesting place with an interesting history. It is fairly typical of many "snow bird" parks to be found throughout southern California and Arizona. There is a vibrant sense of community, with all kinds of interaction and events, yet a very relaxed feeling of schedule. We sensed it right away and instead of one night we stayed two.  The uniqueness of the history here is what sets it apart from other parks.  The lake, golf course and homes where originally built by Henry J. Kaiser to house his management personnel at the nearby Eagle Mountain Mine. I think it must of been a kind of country club just out side of the community of Desert Center on what is now Interstate 10.  As a side note, earlier a doctor had set up a clinic in Desert Center to provide medical services for the 5,000 men working on the Colorado River Aqueduct, but he was going broke.  Henry J. Kaiser, who also owned the company digging the aqueduct, stepped in and set up a plan to doc his workers a nickel a day  so that they could have a pre-paid medical plan.  This was the beginning of Kaiser Permanente, the largest private medical plan in the world. Today the mine is closed, the town is in shambles with only the post office open, but Lake Tamarisk is still operating with an RV park that fills each winter with happy souls seeking warmth and sunshine, maybe a little golf, and for the passing birder an oasis for birds. 

Northern Mockingbird

American Wigeon