Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ready on the Launch Pad

Our RV sits ready in our driveway this morning, ready to blast off in the morning for our next volunteer position. In fact, tomorrow starts our 15th year of volunteer hosting. It all began in the summer of 2000 when we volunteered for The Nature Conservancy in the far North East corner of Oregon at the Clear Lake Ridge Nature Preserve, where we stayed in a remote cabin.  That was followed with volunteer positions with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at several hatcheries, administrative offices, and wildlife areas.  Most winters have been spent volunteering for several Arizona State Parks, and summer jobs with different Oregon State Parks. As I look back on past years we have had an amazing variety of adventures and experiences.

Monday we begin a month’s stay at Beaver Creek State Natural Area, an Oregon State Park, on the Oregon Coast south of Newport.  This is the same location that we spent two and a half months last summer as volunteer hosts at the Welcome Center.  A good number of our readers found us there last summer, and we look forward to seeing everyone that’s able to make it again this year.    

Friday, August 29, 2014

Exploring Cox Creek

Great Blue Heron fishing Cox Creek

The stated reason for my early morning trip today to Albany was to pick up toys from niece Kristy Johnson to use to entertain grandson Bobby Turino arriving today on AMTRAK.  However, I was able to incorporate a little birding time on the way.  My friend John West had earlier this week posted a photo of a creek side trail under Pacific Blvd where it flows into Waverly Lake.  It reminded me that I had wanted to explore another trail, the Cox Creek Trail that runs from Waverly Lake to Talking Waters Gardens.  I love finding and exploring places like this trail, local places that are close by, but in general unknown and little used. Leave the birding trips to exotic destinations to others.  Same goes for most refuges and trips to reported sightings of strange and unusual species.  I’ll take the quiet ignored spots, and be surprised and treasure each species I find. Cox Creek Trail is such a place, totally unsigned, and perhaps only a half a mile in length.  To find this trail park at Waverly Lake Park off of Pacific Blvd, find your way to the northwest to a painted crossway across Salem Ave., and take the concrete walkway on the right that will take you alongside of Cox Creek to Talking Waters Gardens.

 Green Heron unexpected 40ft up in a tree

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Successful Solo Flight

Here is an update on the second juvenile Osprey I reported on yesterday. I went to the Reserve early this morning before our volunteer work party started to be able to check on the Osprey.  It was still on the nest, looking down on me in the parking lot, but then started a little crying and moved to the far side of the nest.  I walked around to the south side to get some photos from that angle, and then all of a sudden the bird was in the air. I wasn’t fast enough to catch the take off, or flight, but I did get this photo of the safe landing. During the next thirty minutes, the juvenile took three more short flights, each about five seconds long. We can now claim two successful fledglings from our nesting platform.  Credit for this nesting platform goes to Salem Electric who generously donated and installed the poll and platform, and have made repeated trips to install and repair the pilot’s perch.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Tale of Two Ospreys

This morning I went to check on the progress of the two juvenile Ospreys at the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve.  A week ago the first juvenile fledged, meaning, left the nest.  I found it today still in the area, sitting on a power pole as shown in the first photo.  The pole is about fifty yards from the nest and I got to see the bird fly, making some nice circles.  The second juvenile is still on the nest as shown in the second photo. It may be just my imagination, but I think you can see the fear in his eyes.  He spends the day crying for help. Wants to be fed and evidently doesn't want to leave the nest. Osprey chicks hatch “asynchronously”, meaning not at the same time, but anywhere from several hours to several days apart.  My guess is these guys were several days apart and the oldest juvenile who had a few days on the second one left the nest first, which is a good thing because in some cases where food is not abundant, the oldest one will kill the younger one.  I’m hoping the younger one will take advantage of his good fortune, screw up his courage, and fly off the nest soon to join his brother in learning to fend for themselves. They need to get going and practice their flying and fishing skills, because in a matter of weeks they will have to start their migration south for the winter.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Voyage of Hurlothrumbo

I was heading out on a birding trip on this sunny Sunday morning, and as I crossed the bridge into Salem, I looked over at Waterfront Park and knew I had to investigate. 

What I discovered was the Voyage of Hurlothrombo tied up at the docks. This flotilla is basically from San Francisco, and this is their second summer to drift a section of the Willamette River, this year from Corvallis to the falls at Oregon City. The fellow in the orange striped coveralls calmly answered the hundreds of questions I peppered him with.  He himself is from Eugene but spontaneously jumped on at Corvallis to lend a hand.  

This could be considered the mother ship I think.  It is actually a trailer serving as a barge with buoyancy provided from donated plastic drums. The kitchen or galley area is in the front; on the side behind the grey tarp is the stage upon which this whimsical group performs.  

The human powered Ferris Wheel sits on a second trailer/barge behind the mother ship.  Three plastic chairs allow the participants to sit and provide power to the amusement ride by pedaling.

At the very back is a home-made tug boat to aid navigation of the two barges.

This additional living quarters is called the Pine Cone.  (I did notice a pine cone sitting on a bedside table.) I guess the green kayak allows them transportation options.

This was an interesting adaption, starting with a canoe, adding a couple of inner tubes for balance, a flat platform with mosquito netting, a bamboo pole and umbrella. Add sleeping bags and you are set.  In fact when I first arrived at 8:45 there were couples sleeping here, and in the Pine Cone, and on top of the mother ship. Seemed like a simple peaceful life. Of course I was reminded of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and found myself dreaming of drifting day after day carefree down the Willamette River. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sticking My Neck Out

I took the above photo last Sunday, over a week ago, during a birding trip at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Area with my friend John West.  We had counted over a hundred Long-billed Dowitches along the distant shoreline when this bird and another one flew in and landed right in front of us.  I thought from its posture with an outstretched neck it was a Greater Yellowlegs. The Dowitchers we had seen along the shoreline were all hunched over, in typical Dowitcher posture, giving the impression of almost no neck. When I got home and downloaded the photos in the computer I was surprised to notice all the apricot splotches on the neck and breast, not a coloring for a Yellowlegs.  After some looking in my guide books I decided on a Dowitcher.  The big question then was it a Short or Long-billed Dowitcher.  Long-billed are much more common, but the plumage makes me want to think it’s a Short-billed.  I have read that their bill length is not a dependable way to differentiate between the two species.  After having this post rattle around in my brain for a week, I am going to go ahead and stick my neck out, much like the bird in the photo, and say it’s a Short-billed Dowitcher. As always, I’m open to hear from anyone with a second opinion.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chasing Plovers

We had an eventful week on the Oregon Coast this past week.  We had several reasons to be there, the main one, except for escaping the heat of the valley, was for an interview for a volunteer position for next summer. Our meeting was with Siuslaw Nation Forest personnel on Friday for a job in the Western Snowy Plover Conservation Program. It’s a unique position that includes both the Siuslaw National Forest and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Western Snowy Plover is a threatened species along the Pacific Coast on both the state and federal levels, so there is interaction with a number of different personnel from both state and federal agencies. We got to meet a good number of both state and federal people at a potluck at noon on Friday.  Everything went favorably and at this point it looks like we will be spending a good part of next summer based at a campsite in the Waxmyrtle Campground along the Siltcoos River south of Florence. This is a job we have wanted for probably the last eight years, so we are excited to see it finally coming together.  The position is from March 15 to Sept 15, but we only want to work for three of those months, so if you are interested in a volunteer experience contact us to help out.  We came back home on Saturday to find birders reporting a Semipalmated Plover at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge close by, so early Sunday morning I met my friend John West to see if we could find it, which resulted in the above photo.  All of which is to say, plovers are going to be playing a bigger part of our life in the coming year. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Escape to Harbor Vista

You guessed it, we have escaped to the coast once again to avoid the heat in the Willamette Valley. This time I picked the Florence area where we are spending a couple of nights at Lane County’s Harbor Vista Campground.  One reason I choose this location is right below the campground is an e-Bird Hot Spot, the Siuslaw River – North Jetty – Mudflats, where Jeanette is show yesterday afternoon scanning at high tide. Click here for the Trip Journal entry to read about today’s birding trip.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Least Sandpipers are Large

Least Sandpipers as shown in the photo are quite small, in fact at six inches they are the smallest in the Sandpiper family. Yesterday morning when we visited Fairview Wetlands, Least Sandpipers provided us with the largest count at about 20 birds.  This was a surprising difference from two weeks ago when we were there and Virginia Rails were the largest number at 10 birds, and yet yesterday not a one could be seen or heard even after an attempt to call them in. Least Sandpipers are quite common and normally easy to separate from other similar sized sandpipers by their yellow-greenish legs.  But these birds were a little hard to make a positive identification on because they were up to their elbows in mud so to speak.

The second largest count went to Greater Yellowlegs at seven birds for this small pond. A much larger bird, they measure fourteen inches from bill to tail.

The Killdeer count was two. They measure ten and a half inches.

A single Great Blue Heron was the biggest bird of the day by far at forty-six inches,  which under closer examination turned out to be a juvenile. Notice its total black cap.      

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Nesting Survey

Yesterday with the help of my friend John West we conducted a nesting survey during our volunteer morning at the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve.  Last winter and spring I had helped construct artificial nesting cavities in some large oak limbs that were then buried upright in the ground.  By April we had ten of these in place and began the waiting game.  During the following months we saw some interest and activity at four different nest sites, and one repeatedly was visited by a pair of Black-capped Chickadees to the point we were sure there was a nest being constructed. We have not seen any activity for a long time and I was confident that it was late enough in the season that we could open up the cavities and make an inspection without interrupting any nesting birds. What we found is as follows.  Five of the sites showed no evidence of use at all.  One site contained some bird poop and a couple of feathers suggesting that it had been used only for roosting.  Two sites had enough material to suggest that nests had been started.  Two sites had complete nests with eggs but had clearly been abandoned. In the photo above I am shown at site # 4 which had four eggs buried in the bottom of the nest, topped off with twigs, feathers and hair compacted with debris and bird poop.  The second location with eggs, which was site #10, contained four or five broken eggs.  The photo below is of the four eggs that came from sight #4.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Neskowin Birding

I selected the Neskowin area for this morning of birding.  We drove over to the coast the afternoon before, fleeing the heat of the valley, 91 degrees when we left Dallas, 67 degrees 44 miles later at Lincoln City. We took the motor home and spent the night in the free parking area of Chinook Winds Casino. In the morning it was just a short 10 mile hop over Cascade Head to Neskowin. 

We walked the beach south, wading Neskowin Creek. I had high hopes for some shore birds but we found only Crows and Western Gulls.  Defeated, we walked back to the motorhome. But deciding on a second effort, we walked through the quaint neighborhood and along the golf course.  Birding picked up considerably, adding thirteen more birds to our list. The strangest sight was this Tsunami Trail that led right through a national wildlife area with closed to the public signs on both sides of the trail.

We ended our morning with a list of 15 birds, four and a half miles of walking, and an appetite. So happens right across the street from the parking lot was the Hawk Creek Café, a perfect ending.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Siletz Bay Park

We continue to enjoy finding and exploring the 18 Lincoln City Parks and Open Spaces as a way to escape the summer heat of the ninety degree plus temperatures in the Willamette Valley. The thinking that went into yesterday’s trip to the coast was that Friday would be the last day to avoid the extra crowds before the weekend, and as low tide was at 10:00 AM, that would be the time to be on a shoreline some place to take advantage of the exposed mud flats. We put both of those ideas in place and arrived to an empty parking lot at Siletz Bay Park around ten o’clock.

This small park is located at the mouth of Schooner Creek on Siletz Bay, right off busy Highway 101. We wandered out on the mud flats of the bay as far as we could, watching large numbers of crows, numerous gulls, and a lone Caspian Tern.

We also took advantage of the low tide to walk under the bridge of Highway 101 and up Schooner Creek a short ways where we watched this Great Blue Heron fishing successfully. Numerous American Crows were upset with our presence and with a fleeing River Otter.