Monday, May 26, 2008


Like many others, we elected to stay home this extended weekend. During the last two years, we spent Memorial day weekend in Camp Sherman, on the east slopes of the Cascades with Sarah's family. This year, Sarah's family did not go, so we made our own plans. I miss that ponderosa pine country, but I will soon get my dryland fix in New Mexico.

On Saturday, we went to the Beaverton Farmer's Market and defrosted a freezer at Sarah's parents house. We need the extra freezer space for all the produce we expect from our CSA.
Sarah and her friend shopped on Sunday and I caught up on some Forest Service work.

On Monday, we took a small tour of the Washington County wineries.

We live in the middle of a great and growing wine region that specializes in Pinot Noir, the varietal made famous by the movie Sideways.

We visited five wineries in five hours. We tried some wines, spotted some birds, and enjoyed the views.
The most interesting tasting room was at Shafer Vineyards west of Forest Grove.

This quirky operation sells wines, jellies, and Christmas decorations. The Christmas items were mostly nutcrackers and smokers. I had not seen smokers before and was intrigued. They are apparently traditional decorations in Germany and represent whimsical figures exhaling after taking a pull off of their pipes. An incense cone is placed inside and smoke emerges from the mouth.

My favorite was this German football fan, complete with the national team jersey.

Our favorite wine tasting occured at Apalloni Vineyards.

They gave us tastes straight from the barrels and we were so impressed we signed up for their wine club. We considered it similar to joining a CSA for wine drinkers. Four times a year, we can pick up a few bottles of special releases and enjoy VIP tours of the vineyard. I spent a few days working in their fields two years ago, so I look forward to returning to the grounds.

We finished the trip at Helvatia Vineyards north of Hillsboro. They had planned outdoor fiddle music, but the weather forced the players inside.

Sarah and I made a new friend and enjoyed tasting the wines.

Outside of the tasting rooms, we spotted California quail, western bluebirds, and chipping sparrows, birds we don't usually see in the Orenco Lowlands. We also spotted adorable alpacas,

both woolly

and recently shorn.

We returned to the apartment ready for a four day work week and plenty of other projects ahead.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

CSA Day!

After a dew days of blazing heat, the usual spring weather pattern of clouds, wind, light rain, and sunbreaks returned. At least it's not too hot to sleep at night.

Sarah and I have been looking forward to today for several months. In late winter, we registered to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We sent a few checks to a small farm called Dos Sequoias and waited for the harvest to begin. Every Wednesday from now until October, we will drive a few miles north and fill our bags with whatever produce is available to shareholders. It is a bit of a risk to pay up front without knowing what the season will produce, but judging from today's pickup, I think we will get our money's worth.

After Sarah returned from work, we finally made the drive through the beautiful Washington County farmland and arrived at a small barn where we met the couple that is leasing the land.

Like many liberal idealists, I dream of such a lifestyle. The sacrifices would be big, but I think of a place like this as my own personal paradise where I could grow real food and conduct ecological research to my heart's content.

But back to reality....We did not expect much due to the cold weather this spring, so we were surprised by the amount of greens we were allowed to bag and bring home. We will be eating plenty of salad and cooking loads of greens with every meal this week.

We also grabbed a few bok choys, oregano stems, and mint sprigs, then drove home to begin the washing and salad spinning proccess.

Be sure to check Sarah's food blog to see what we do with our veggies.

Speaking of veggies, things are progressing nicely at our borrowed garden bed.

The kale are growing,

bushbeans have sprouted,

our small tomatoes have little blossoms,

and Andie approves of the snap peas' growth.

Sarah's grandfather Fred will soon till some extra space where we plant more tomatoes, winter squash, and whatever else we can fit.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Spring Emergences

Last week, the sky turned a different color and I felt a strange sensation while riding my bike - warmth! It was nearly 90 degrees outside and it seemed to many that western Oregon skipped over spring this year, transitioning directly from winter to summer.

Before the heat wave, Sarah and I spotted another Anna's Hummingbird nest in another small oak.

Two days later, I spotted one of the nestlings a few inches from the nest.

Today the rain returned and I noticed the annual arrival of European starling fledglings.

For weeks, we could hear begging nestlings calling from the nooks and crannies in houses and other buildings. Now, small brown fledglings follow their parents, begging for whatever food items they pull out of the grass. Like my beloved cicadas, the starlings seem to perfectly synchronize the emergence of their young.

Biologists believe that cicadas, seen above, emerge en masse to swamp predators and decrease an individual's likelihood of being eaten. Perhaps starlings evolved their synchronicity for the same purpose. One lone, naive fledgling probably has a greater chance of being picked off than one mixed into a flock of fledglings and adults that can better spot and confuse the predator with their escape flights.

Another advantage starling fledglings have is a long, three week nestling period that allows greater development prior to fledging. Unlike other altricial birds, starling fledglings appear to fly as well as their parents. With these adaptations, it's no wonder this species is so successful in its expanded range!

During the rest of the year, I tend to ignore or get annoyed by starlings. During baby starling season, however, I am fascinated by the biology of this neighborhood invader.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Big Weekend

It has been a busy weekend of volunteering for the Audubon Society of Portland. Sleeping-in was not an option, but I work at home and can nap when I please, so no worries!

On Saturday, Sarah and I helped out at the Festival of the Birds, a celebration of Migratory Bird Day cosponsored by Portland Audubon, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and City of Portland.

I led several birdwalks through Oaks Bottom Urban Wildlife Refuge, Sarah coordinated many events and led a birdwalk of her own, and Andie helped greet guests at the birdwalk registration tent.

Audubon's educational bird celebrities Julio the great horned owl and Jack the American kestrel were there as well.

We tried to limit birdwalk participants to twelve per walk, but my last group somehow swelled to 30 people by the time we reached the wetland.

As we walked along narrow trails, I raced back and forth to make sure everyone could see and identify the birds. Most people had never been birding and were amazed that birds such as great blue herons could exist within city limits!
By the end of the day, we had accumulated an impressive bird list.

Sarah's group had a particularly productive walk, spotting a peregrine falcon and a pair of western kingbirds, which are rare this side of the Cascades.

After a long day of introducing the public to the joys of birding, the three of us celebrated with a pitcher of IPA and sandwiches at the Lucky Lab Tavern.

On Sunday (Happy Mother's Day, Mom) I woke early to lead a field trip at Noble Park for Portland Audubon. I had been looking forward to leading a trip here since I rediscovered the park in February, but the forceast called for rain, so I was unsure if anyone would arrive. The weather was better than expected, and I had a nice group of four to join me in a walk around the park. The birds were pretty slow to wake up, but a few came around. Robins were the only singers to be heard at first, but they were eventually joined by the newly-arrived black-headed grosbeak. Their songs are similar to the robins' but more whistled, less complex, and eager in quality. It seems as if they are saying "Hey! look at me, listen to how fast I can sing!" After a few minutes of singing, grosbeak flew into view with its orange and yellow colors glowing in the sun. This great look was the highlight of the walk.

Down the trail, I showed everyone a nice bushtit nest under construction in a grand fir.

The pair has been working on the nest for about three weeks. Quite a long construction process for such a small bird. We watched the parents bring material into the nest and the walls wiggled as they were reinforced from the inside. As we completed the loop, we spotted a few more birds and everyone was happy to see that a such a great forested park could be maintained within such a rapidly growing metro area.

Birds seen or heard at Noble Woods:

Mourning Dove
Vaux's Swift
Rufous Hummingbird
Northern Flicker
Pacific Slope Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bewick's Wren
Brown Creeper
Red-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
Song Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Finch

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Painting Nests

I finally put the finishing touches on a watercolor of the Annas’s hummingbird nest that fledged several weeks ago.

I think it captures the mood of early spring nesting in Oregon. I will hang it near my corner office as a reminder of this year's chilly spring.

After a year of watercoloring I have learned a few things about myself

1. It is hard to know when to stop. I keep finding little things I want to change or add.

2. It is easy to paint profiles of birds, but difficult to paint other poses. I have gained great respect for artists such as Debbie Kaspari who excel at painting birds in life-like positions.

3. I love painting gray clouds as a background. Good thing I live in western Oregon!

A few weeks ago, I painted a wedding card for a family friend.

I was happy with the poses of the ospreys, but I had a hard time with the bills. Raptor bills look cool, but they are the hardest types to sketch or paint. I think that the background and action take some focus off of the details of their faces, so I am happy with the finished product.

I would like to paint a few more of the nests I’ve seen recently, especially the great horned owls in the previous post, but upcoming commitments are piling up, such as Audubon events, volunteer bird surveys, a mini-field season in New Mexico, and research paper deadlines. Here’s to never feeling bored!

Monday, May 5, 2008


On Saturday, Sarah and I led a Birdathon team called The Murre The Merrier. Birdathon is the Audubon Society of Portland's largest fund raising event of the year and this was our second year as trip leaders.

In twelve hours, we traveled 200 miles through two counties and identified exactly 100 species of birds!

The day started at 7:00 in the parking lot of the Hillsboro Public Library. After a brief introduction, we began by birding Dawson Creek Park, which is adjacent to the library. The day’s first birds included Bushtits, Western Scrub Jays, and American Kestrels. Red-winged Blackbirds displayed near the ponds and a pair of Canada Geese swam by with their newly hatched brood of goslings.

Great Blue Herons were still perched in their evening roost tree near a small flock of Cedar Waxwings. The participants made their way to a bluff above Dawson Creek where they viewed an Acorn Woodpecker colony.

On top of the bluff, I aimed my scope on a broken tree housing a Great Horned Owl nest.

As expected, two downy nestlings stared back at us with their big yellow eyes. The rest of the birders oohed and awed as they had their looks at the growing owlets. A few Western Tanagers and a Western Wood Pewee were spotted in nearby trees, ending the visit on a great note.

Pleased with the the 33 species observed at Dawson Creek, everyone loaded into the van and proceeded to Killin Wetlands, west of Banks. Common Yellowthroats and Marsh Wrens sang loudly as we listened for American Bitterns and Virginia Rails. A couple of birders were lucky enough to hear a bittern and a few more caught a quick glimpse of a rail. On the way back to the van, the group had a few good looks at Yellow-rumped, Wilson’s, and Yellow Warblers. They listened for a few more species, then loaded up and headed into the Coast Range.

After a quick detour for gas station Cliff Swallows, the next stop was the Tillamook Forest Center.

The group was treated to a pair of American Dippers nesting under a footbridge crossing the Wilson River.

Atop the bridge, several participants viewed Chestnut-backed Chickadees and a Common Merganser flyby.

The group drove through a few rain showers as they exited the Coast Range and entered the Tillamook Valley. By the time the van stopped at Tillamook Bay, the rain was replaced by gusting winds.

Undeterred, everyone put on their wind-breakers, gloves, and hats and walked along the Bayocean spit. A large group of shorebirds could be seen in the mudlfats, but only a few species, Semipalmated Plover, Black Turnstone, and Dunlin could be identified. From the spit, the group could also see a flock of Brant, an immature Bald Eagle, and several species of dabbling ducks.

The wind slowed by the time we finished lunch at Cape Meares. The trip lived up to its name when we found thousands of Common Murres preparing to nest on island tops and ledges below the viewing areas.

Pelagic Cormorants were sitting on their platform nests and a few Pigeon Guillemots could be seen floating in the waves. A Peregrine Falcon made a brief, crowd pleasing appearance, flying up and down the cliff walls where it usually nests. After the falcon disappeared, the group hiked down to the lighthouse and saw an amazing number of birds from the southern side of the cape.

Thousands of murres were floating in rafts and a steady stream of Pacific Loons flew northward just above their heads. Sarah spotted a lone Red-necked Grebe and a few chattery Black Oystercatchers passed by. A small group of Brown Pelicans flew into view and sat on the water near floating Surf Scoters.

As the sun reappeared, the crew reluctantly left Cape Meares and drove south to Netarts Bay. The water in the bay was choppy and few birds could be seen, so the van proceeded on to Sand Lake, a saltwater estuary north of Pacific City. Sarah and I led everyone through a small forest on Whalen Island and onto a tidal flat.

When scopes were set up, participants could see a small flock of White-fronted Geese, several Whimbrels, and huge flock of small shorebirds across the water. Our tripods and feet began sinking into the mud, so everyone retreated to higher ground. Before loading in the van, we noticed a singing female Purple Finch and a calling male Brown-headed Cowbird.

The last stop on the coast was Pacific City. Everyone had thirty minutes to walk the beach or visit the local coffee shop. Most opted for coffee, then returned to the beach. Those that stayed on the beach were treated to views of Bonaparte’s Gulls in black-headed breeding plumage fluttering tern-like above the heads of surfing humans.

As everyone loaded into the van, Sarah counted up the list of birds seen so far and reported that the total had reached 98. Everyone agreed that we could not return to Hillsboro short of 100. A few brief listening stops near the Nestucca River did not produce any new species. A few miles later, I pulled the van into a rest area along the Tillamook River. The weather was as nice as it had been all day and the birds seemed inspired to get active. Among many previously identified warblers, I spotted a Warbling Vireo that remained in view long enough for many to see. With one more bird to go, everyone was eager to spot a new species. A silent Empidonax flycatcher perched above us, but we lacked the confidence to identify its species. A few minutes later, Sarah spotted some motion through the trees and realized it was a Spotted Sandpiper walking along the stream. A few more people confirmed it, and the group realized that they had reached 100!

The Murre The Merrier Bunch headed home with the satisfaction of reaching their 100 species goal. Everyone had a great time raising money fro a great cause, learning about bird, and getting to know one another.

As the sun began to set, participants unloaded the van, ready to get some sleep and start planning next year’s trip to find the species that got away.

Birds found:
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Red-necked Grebe
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Greater White-fronted Goose
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Virginia Rail
Semipalmated Plover
Black Oystercatcher
Spotted Sandpiper
Black Turnstone
Western Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Bonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Rock Dove
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Rufous Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee
Warbling Vireo
Steller’s Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Brown Creeper
Bewick’s Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
American Dipper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s Warbler
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Birds that got away (to be found next year)
Pied-billed Grebe
Brandt’s Cormorant
Great Egret
California Quail
Common Snipe
Tufted Puffin
Vaux’s Swift
Anna’s Hummingbird
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Pacific Slope Flycatcher
Hutton’s Vireo
Gary Jay
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Western Bluebird
Swainson’s Thrush
Orange-crowned Warbler
Black-headed Grosbeak
Red Crossbill

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Gardening 101

Today I needed a break from my computers, so I brought some papers for reading and editing to My grandparents in law's house. While there, Andie and I spent time preparing a raised bed that Fred is loaning us in his garden.

With a little instruction, I tilled the bed while Andie grazed nearby. We think she is part cattle dog, after all.

Fred has one bed stocked with raspberries, lettuce, and onions.

The rest of the garden will be tilled with a heavy-duty rig in preparation for dozens of tomato starts.

Fred assures us that we can plant our own tomatoes in any unused space. Fred grew up on a tomato farm in the Okanagan Valley, so I could not ask for a better garden mentor. I can't wait until we have boxes of tomatoes to preserve and garnish every meal.

When Sarah finished work, we planted some starts that had been sitting on our deck during the past two weeks.

Now that they are in the ground, we are thinking about what seeds and starts to plant in the remaining space.