Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

On Thursday morning, we packed our supplies for dinned and drove east to meet Sarah's family.

Our first stop was the Portland Zoo, which offered free admission to those willing to brave the drizzle.

We met the new baby elephant and fed some hungry lorikeets.

Sister-in-law Greta made an excellent perch.

After the zoo, we went to Sarah's grandparents where we assembled our side dishes like the mixed greens salad, delicata squash spread,

and shredded brussel sprouts tossed with toasted hazelnuts.

We enjoyed a great evening with many family members and a few uninvited guests. At least four raccoons tried to steal some food cooling near the back door. We moved the food, took a few pictures, and the troop moved on.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Week Activities

I have not posted for a while, so here is a run-down of recent events.

On Saturday morning, we took a walk around Rood Bridge Park, the confluence of Rock Creek and the Tualatin River in Hillsboro.

It was a great day to be a mushroom,

or a slug.

That night we watched Oklahoma blow out Texas Tech 65-21. I had been dreading this game all season because Tech beat the Sooners last year, but Coach Stoops and the boys made us all proud. With this win, Oklahoma is still alive in the national title race.

On Sunday, we volunteered at the Wild Art's Festival, a fundraiser for Portland Audubon. All of the 6 x 6 inch canvasses painted by local artists were printed together on a display. My scrub jays are in the bottom corner, but my favorite was the South Park-style turkey legs towards the middle of the board.

Last night, Sarah and I spotted a barred owl in our neighborhood while walking Andie. I did not have my camera, so I returned this morning to the site of the sighting and took a picture of the small tree in which it was perched. This was the first barred owl I had seen in the state.

Today I drove through the rainy hills north of us to pick up a special Thanksgiving pack of food from our CSA.

We can now make some great vegetarian side dishes for Thursday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Good Gull Day

Today I took a quick trip to Hillsboro Stadium and its surrounding wetlands to look for gulls and geese.

I found group of 14 gulls on one of the baseball fields. Although they are small and out of focus, the gulls above can be identified as glaucous-winged gulls due to their gray wingtips. Three ring-billed gulls were also in the field.

As I approached the fence, they flew to the other side of the field. Apparently they did not trust my intentions. Glaucous-wings nest on the coast of Washington north to Alaska, while the ring-bills nest inland to the east and north of us. Gulls are another great example of how birds converge on Oregon from different directions each winter.

There are several ponds near the stadium.

This one had a flock of Canada geese,

The larger ponds were empty, but this small one was crowded with ducks.

I spotted mallards, green-winged teal, gadwalls, and hooded mergansers.

Later in the day, I returned to the field south of the apartment.
I did not get any pictures, but I found some California gulls, juvenile glaucous-wings, a juvenile mew gull, and a potential juvenile Thayer's gull. A great day for gulls and waterfowl!

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Goose of Our Own

As you may have noticed in previous posts, I have been interested in geese lately, especially the cackling geese that spend their winters in western Oregon. This is probably one of the most poorly known birds species in North America because cackling geese were recently split as a species from larger Canada geese.

Cacklers are further divided into four subspecies, three of which winter in my part of the world. The smallest and easiest subspecies to identify (in my opinion) has been redundantly named the cackling cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii minima). The two larger subspecies are the Taverner's cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii taverni) and the Aleutian cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii leucoparia).

Cacklers resemble Canada geese but are only slightly larger than mallard ducks. To me, they look like large footballs with short necks and small heads.

Alaska FWS

Adult cackling cackling geese have dark purplish-brown breasts, while juveniles are lighter in color. Some have white rings at the base of their necks, but most do not.

The cackling cackling goose population nests on the northern coast of Alaska and migrates south in the fall. Their wintering range was mostly in California until the subspecies declined to endangered status. The population has since since recovered, but now primarily winters in the Willamette and Columbia Valleys of Oregon. Those of us who live here are therefore among the only people in the world that have a chance to view this small goose. The cackling cackling goose is therefore a subspecies of our own.

While birders and hunters may welcome these geese each winter, some farmers and ranchers here may wish cacklers would return to California for good. I recently noticed how a flock of cacklers can descend on a field and remove much of its cover with army ant-like efficiency.

Here is the freshly planted grass field south of our apartment last Friday when I first noticed a flock of geese.

This is how the same field looked the next Monday morning. I hope the landowner does not mind the grass removal.

You can see here where the geese stepped on the grass, knocking away the dew, and proceeded north, picking the young grass leaves along the way.

The right side of the patch had geese, while the left side did not.

It seems that managing population growth while minimizing crop damage by this and other cackling geese subspecies will be a challenge. I hope that the flocks can find enough conflict-free food in our valleys so they will return for many winters to come.

Fernhill Visit

On Saturday, Sarah, Andie, and I visited Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove. While enjoying a walk in the sun, we saw 36 species of birds including newly arrived great egrets (above), tundra swans, pintail flocks, and mew gulls.

We also found some shorebird tracks,

an old robin nest in a cottonwood,

and a woolly bear moth larva.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bad Waterfowl Photos

This morning I took a walk through a field that has been recently been planted with grass and I found a huge flock of cackling and Canada geese.

The Canada geese, on the left, were twice the size of the cackling geese on the right.

There were at least two subspecies of cackling geese in the flock and you can kinda make out variation in their colors in this photo. These little guys spend much of the year on the stormy tundra, so it seems today's sunny weather would be a welcome change for them.

I also found six buffleheads in the pond at the end of the field. The white-headed males were quite brilliant in the full sun. A few usually hang out in the pond during the winter and spring months.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Branches, Leaves, and Nests

It is now is one of my favorite times of the year because trees, such as these Oregon white oaks, are busy losing their leaves.

I dig the forms of the bare branches and I like to paint their silhouettes against gray skies, capturing variation within and among species.

The fallen leaves are impressive as well. These huge black cottonwood leaves are held near the dog's nose for scale.

Andie enjoys sniffing and running through the newly fallen litter.

Now that many trees have lost their leaves, I have been relocating nests from this summer, such as this robin nest,

an American goldfinch nest,

and this cedar waxwing nest I helped build.

At Dawson Creek, I spotted another nest high in an aspen.

Upon closer inspection, it is an old wasp or hornet nest that probably would have terrified park-goers had the leaves not hidden it while it was active.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pelicans and Other Beach Creatures

This weekend, Pacific City was taken over by pelicans.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of the large birds were roosting on the beaches, on Haystack Rock, and in the Nestucca River.

While surveying dead birds, we found this unfortunate juvenile. It was probably killed and eaten by a predator.

Its belly was full of small anchovies, so it probably did not starve to death like many of the birds we find.

On another part of the beach, we found a dead shark. It was about one meter in length and very chubby. Its stomach was pulled out by scavengers who probably ate the contents. Any shark experts recognize the species?

After finishing our surveys, we explored the Salmon River Estuary south of Neskowin. I quickly learned why this is a revered part of the coast. As we watched three river otters frolic near the mouth, we heard a commotion upstream.

A bald eagle stirred up a huge flock of gulls that had been fishing alongside a pack of harbor seals while another bald eagle dined on a fish.

As we prepared to leave, a western gull, one of my favorite bird species, chattered on a nearby rock.