Monday, June 30, 2008

How about them Orioles?

For three summers in a row, Bullock’s orioles have nested in the low droopy branches of one of pair of huge, isolated Doug fir tree in Orchard Park.

The trees are near the basket of the fourth hole of the disc golf course.

The nests from the last two years can still be seen to the left of the current nest.

While playing a quick round on Friday, I watched the female enter the nest to feed her loud nestlings.

Two years ago, Sarah and I were walking through the park and she noticed material in the tree. She suggested that it was the beginning of an oriole nest, but I, being the bird expert that I am, dismissed it as debris that had blown up there on its own. Besides, I said, orioles don’t even nest in western Oregon. A couple weeks later I made her day by telling her that I had seen the adults feeding nestlings in what had become a nice hanging nest.

Each nest has blue plastic tarp fibers worked into the material. It seems that adding a little color to the nest would create unwanted advertisement about the contents. Then again, orioles are all about advertising with colors, so maybe they want to apply the practice to their nests as well.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ag Weekend

This weekend, Sarah and I braved triple-digit temperatures to learn more about the places that produce our favorite foods and drink.

On Saturday, we attended a potluck picnic and tour at our CSA (community supported agriculture) farms. Steve and Mish, who are about our age, lease land for their program, Abundant Harvest, at two farms a few miles north of our apartment. Both farm properties are owned by great families who joined us for the picnic and tour. The picnic was held at the Dos Sequoias Farm, and the namesake trees provided lifesaving shade as we ate. The CSA families brought amazing dishes and we even shared a table with fellow biologists.

After eating, Steve led us on a tour of the Dos Sequoias property. We saw the rows and rows of tomato plants and other crops.

We took a look inside a mid-century barn that has a hypnotic pattern of beams and sheet-metal.

We walked past a greenhouse that must have been unbearably hot inside. Thanks to this structure, however, we received plenty of greens during the chilly weeks of late-spring.

We then caravaned up the hill to New Earth Farm.

This was a beautiful piece of land with a nice patch of forest and views of Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson to the east.

To maximize the number of crops grown in a relatively small space, Steve plants crops like broccoli and parsley right next to each other. It amazes me that they can supply sixty families and several restaurants with so much produce from two little plots of land.

We also checked out New Earth's industrial scale compost operation. As a compost enthusiast, I was quite impressed.

Steve supplements the compost with bags of coffee bean husks provided by a local roaster.

The last stop on the tour was a look at New Earth's worm composting bin. It is fifteen feet long and four feet deep. Thousands of red wiggler worms lurked just below the surface and tiny mites crawled over the debris. I could have stared into the bin for hours!

Sunday was our wine club pickup day. We visited Apolloni Vineyards, twenty miles west of Hillsboro, to get our wines and tour the vineyard.

They set up an outdoor tasting area among their small pear grove.

We were invited to return in the fall to pick as many as we like.

Alfredo the owner pulled us on a trailer with his tractor through the vineyards and orchards to teach us about the argicultural history and practices of the place.

The wine industry is very young in Oregon, the oldest vineyards were planted in the 1970s. Before then, much of the land was logged and planted with walnut and hazelnut orchards. The thin hillside soils turned out to be less than ideal for these crops, which are giving way to grapes such as pinot noir and pinot gris that do much better in the soil.

I am a big fan of wineries. Not only do they make a great product, but most are certified sustainable and they often have many acres of forested land on their properties. In addition, grapes require little to no irrigation and can be easily grown without pesticides or herbicides.

Now that we have gained an even greater appreciation for our food and wine growers, we look forward to enjoying their goods throughout the summer.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer of the Swallows (and other birds)

Though it is officially early summer, we are late into the nesting season of western Oregon's birds. Year-round residents such as American robins and dark-eyed juncos are tending their second broods, while the early nests of migrants like black-headed grosbeaks have already fledged.

Near the apartment, I have found mourning doves and American robins nesting on man-made structures with varying amounts of success.

This robin nest nest near the management office already had a huge nestling inside when I found it.

This robin nest was nicely nestled on top of a vine-covered pillar, but it appears to have failed, as I only saw the female on the nest on one occasion.

Another species that gets a boost from humans is the barn swallow. I have never seen a barn swallow nest built on a natural substrate, such as a cliff or cave wall.

Instead, the nests I find are built under awnings,

on top of light fixtures,

and, of course, in barns.

Around here, barn swallows usually put there nests in buildings near open areas such as grassy parks were they fly low and skim insects from the top of the turf.

As I have mentioned earlier, I rarely find an unsuccessful barn swallow nest. Perhaps their pre-euroamerican populations were limited by nest sites and not nest predation, unlike other open cup-nesting birds. We are not swimming in barn swallows, so some other mechanism may have stepped up to limit population size. My guess is that there is high mortality of adults or juveniles during the post-nesting, migration, or winter seasons due to competition for resources such as flying insects.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's Summer Already?

Time seems to have flown by since I returned from New Mexico two weeks ago. Summer is officially here and so our usual summer activities have begun.

Last week week, we picked strawberries on opening day at the nearby farm just north of highway 26. Sometimes I wish that I lived among the hipsters in the more "cool" parts of Portland, but on days like this I am happy to be right where I am.

If you look closely, you can see Mount Jefferson, our second highest peak to the right of the silo.

Though most of the strawberries were picked over, we were able to get a pretty good stack of Peugeot reliants. Other berry seasons should start soon!

Today is the first day of summer camp at the Audubon Society of Portland. Sarah is the camp director, so she is in charge of a handful of camp instructors (myself included), three college student interns, twenty high school camp councilors, and dozens of children who come to Audubon every weekday in search of adventure. She reassures nervous parents, fixes whatever inevitable problems arise, and does her best to make sure each camper has a great time.

Needless to say, it is a busy job and we plan our summer schedule around it. I now wake up and start work an hour early and keep myself busy until Sarah returns home by five and let her rest while I start on dinner. Since my work day is longer in the summer, I give myself more time for longer walks.

This should make Andie the dog happy, as long as it is not too hot outside.

Today I am also mourning the loss of George Carlin. My parents did all they could to keep me away from his routines when I was young, but I can't say that I blame them. Now that I can handle the swear words, I know that few comics, or anyone else for that matter could give such insights into absurdities of the use of language and arbitrary norms used to keep free thinkers in line by the powers that be. A routine of his seen here shows how ahead-of-the-curve he was, voicing criticisms of the first Iraq war when everyone else was busy flag-waving and ribbon-tying.
I miss him already.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Postcards from New Mexico

A few months ago, I bought a packet of postcard-shaped watercolor pages.

You can paint your image on one side, address the other, and send them off. I had not found inspiration to use them in Oregon, so I brought them with me to New Mexico.

New Mexico has incredible natural and human-made features that have been inspiring artists for centuries, if not millennia.

The light there is incomparable to anywhere else, especially at sunrise and sunset. I find it nearly impossible to sleep in , afraid I'll miss another great sunrise.

I had no trouble finding subjects to paint. I painted in my rental vehicle, on benches at wildlife refuges, and at my friend's house in Bosque Farms.

Flowering cacti at Bosque Del Apache

Bosque at sunset from Herp Tech

Cliff swallow in nest at Bosque Del Apache

While visiting one of my study sites, I collected some deep red soil that is probably derived from Abo Formation shale.

I stained some of the postcards with the soil, to capture one of the dominant regional colors.

I experimented with painting over the soil and adding the soil to cards already painted. Here are the results:

Hot air balloon from Petroglyphs National Monument, watercolor painted on paper previously stained with soil.

Building in Old Town Plaza, Albuquerque, ink on paper later stained with soil, then painted with watercolor

Kachina in Old Town watercolor on paper, later stained with soil

Black-chinned hummingbird at Herp Tech, watercolor on paper previously stained with soil

Mazano Mountains from Airport, watercolor on paper previously stained with soil

I touched up my paintings in the Albuquerque airport before boarding my departing flight. I sent a few away to Sarah and my parents, but I will keep the rest for myself as reminders of a great trip..

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Good Times at Herp Tech

While in New Mexico last week, I spent my nights at an institution called Herp Tech. Herp Tech in the nickname of the house where my friends Geoff and Aaron live in Bosque Farms, south of Albuquerque. Bosque Farms is a quirky little village on the edge of the Isleta Pueblo.

Like the rest of Valencia County, Bosque Farms residents include farmers, ranchers, and artists. Geoff and Aaron are artists themselves but above all, herpetologists. Geoff's niece Katie recently moved in and has much improved the order of the place.

Geoff was a big help during my thesis research. He gave me a place to stay and store my gear, space to build my cicada traps, and entertainment at countless barbeques. Herp Tech has provided refuge for many a weary field biologist during the long summer seasons and winter off-seasons.

A variety of animals also make their homes at Herp Tech and, as the name suggests, most are reptiles or amphibians.

On this last trip I counted four dogs,

four cats, one nervous hamster, three exotic tortoises,

five rattlesnakes in a securely closed terrarium, one Great Plains kingsnake, one blue-tongued skink, one gecko, several frogs, countless tropical fish,

several painted turtles, a red-eared slider, a snapping turtle, a collared lizard, and at least one green iguana.

The property lies right next to the bosque where I conduct my field work.

The bosque makes for a great yard list of birds, but this spring it also makes for a large number of mosquitoes because due to flooding. Though I lost a lot of blood, I had a great stay at the Tech last week, catching up with old friends and cooking a lot of good food. Everyone seems to have mellowed a bit with age, which is probably a good thing. I hope to return for another stay next year.