Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Late Summer Odds and Ends

As summer winds down, there are several signs that fall approaches. Mornings are darker and colder, and the birds have just about finished their nesting season. This is also the last week of summer camp at Portland Audubon. Sarah and her staff have done another great job and, since Sarah does not need to go to work as early during non-camp times, we look forward to another hour of sleep starting next week.

Around the apartment, we are finding numerous spiders and their webs. They seem to increase in abundance each year during the late summer and early fall.

Last year, Sarah suggested that they spin their webs in anticipation of the annual emergence of Pacific dampwood termites like this one that was successfully captured near our door.

There is also an increasing number of funnel-shaped webs built atop the manicured shrubs that line the apartment property.

Their occupants hide in a hole and run out to catch whatever gets stuck.

This slug is probably a bit large to be a meal. This time of year, I tend to find more interesting insects than birds on my walks around the neighborhood.

Back at the apartment, I celebrated a multivariate statistical milestone! I ran my first ever Principal Component Analyses on vegetation data from New Mexico. This technique is a great way to compress a lot of data into a few values that represent the trends shared by many variables. I could go on, but I don't want to put anyone to sleep.

In more exciting news, as you may have noticed from the counter at the right, college football season starts this weekend and I can't wait to cheer on the University of Oklahoma Sooners. I became infected with Sooner madness while a graduate student at OU and three years in Oregon have not diluted the effects, though I do cheer for the Oregon Ducks as well. Unfortunately, the Sooners play the small school of Chattanooga on Saturday, which does not warrant national TV coverage, so I will have to wait for another weekend to watch them play. I predict that Oklahoma will face off with tradtional powerhouse USC in the National Championship in January.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nightshade Season

My favorite crops to grow and eat are members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae). This family includes tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, eggplants, and, most of all, chili peppers. Chilies fascinate me because they seemed to have evolved their spice as a way to deter mammalian frugivory and encourage consumption and seed dispersal by birds, who do not detect the heat. Some mammals, like myself, are not as easily deterred by the peppers' defenses and like to push their limits of capsacium tolerance. I have learned that one must be careful with hot chillies such as habaneros, however, after simulating the effect of pepper spray by cooking them in the apartment.

Nightshades are primarily tropical plants and it is just warm enough for them to grow here. A few of our peppers were struggling for a while, but the latest heat wave seems to have suited them.

We received a few tomatillo starts from our CSA farm and they have taken off in our garden.

They resemble tomato plants but are a bit sturdier.

The fruits grow surrounded by a husk that is formed by the sepals of the flower. When the husk starts peeling away, it is time to pick the fruit! This is the first time I have tried to grow tomatillos and I will definitely plant them again.

After months of waiting, I finally harvested a small bunch of nightshades from our garden. I picked several sungold tomatoes, purple and green tomatillos, and a yellow mushroom pepper. As more fruits ripen, I plan to cook and blend the beauties into salsas which I will freeze and use for enchiladas to keep us warm during the winter.

In other food news, Sarah and I pickled our first cucumbers last week. We picked several pickling cucumbers that were overflowing from Fred's garden.

We filled the jars with brine and gave them all a nice hot water bath. This was our first attempt to pickle cucumbers, so we will open them in a few months and hope for the best.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cool Weather and Cooler Birds

This weekend, we escaped the triple digit heat of the Willamette Valley by driving to the coast.

The temperatures were magically 30 to 40 degrees cooler and there were even a few thunderstorms over Tillamook Bay.

As usual, these rocks were covered by pelagic cormorants, brown pelicans, and pigeon guillemots.

We spent several nights in Pacific City and we conducted our monthly dead bird surveys at our two beaches.

On Sunday, we surveyed the beach at Sand Lake. The morning was really foggy and cool, and once we hit the beach we could see a fairly large bird standing upright near the mouth of Sand Lake.

As we walked closer, we realized it was a juvenile peregrine falcon plucking another bird. We left the falcon to its plucking and completed the rest of the survey.

When we returned to the kill site, the falcon flew across the lake and waited while we quickly processed the bird.

It turned out that the falcon had captured a male northern pintail in transitional plumage.

The falcon had spent about an hour plucking the prey and had just started to consume it when we scared it off. After measuring and photographing the pintail, we walked away as fast as we could so the peregrine could resume its breakfast. Our survey finished, we returned to Pacific City to get our own breakfast at the Grateful Bread, our favorite restaurant in town.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Leaving the Nest

The nesting season is winding down and life continues to return to normal in the apartment. Yesterday morning there were three cedar waxwing nestlings in the nest near the base of our stairs.

In the afternoon, one had climbed out on a branch, while the other two stayed in the nest. By the evening, the strayer had returned to be fed by the parents. Today the nest is empty, but I can still hear the high-pitched calls of the family flitting around the maples.

As you may recall, the waxwings started building the nest, with a little help, about five weeks ago. Since then, we have been greeted with thin, high call notes every morning indicating that the nest was still active.

The nest is well concealed, so I could not see the nestlings until just a few days ago when they resembled their parents but had smaller crests and grayer plumage.

The waxwing nesting attempt is complete, but we still have another nesting neighbor.

Each summer, there is one cliff swallow nest built near the top of the apartment. This is somewhat unusual behavior for the species, because they usually nest in large colonies, often near water. This pair seems to be doing just fine out of their usual element, as several hungry nestlings can be heard calling from the nest, even at night. One nestling poked its head out and it looks like they should fledge soon.

Speaking of leaving, our friends Randy and Amy just departed for the airport to return to Oklahoma. They stayed here during the last week while Randy and I attended the AOU meetings. Randy and Amy are avid cyclists and were instantly taken with Portland's bike scene. I get the feeling that, if our apartment was a two-bedroom, they would have offered to split the rent indefinitely.

Yesterday, I took Randy to Dawson Creek Park to show him the acorn woodpecker colony.

Randy had no idea the species could be found here and the colony was the avian highlight of his week. He tried to sneak up to get a few photos, but had to settle for some distant woodpecker profiles. The park was otherwise quiet, typical of most birding areas this time of the year.

While Randy and Amy were here, we had a great time listening to stories about Oklahoma, where Sarah and I met. It was also fun to show off our area, to which I am sure they will return.

Monday, August 11, 2008

AOU-Blogger Links

It's a small world, especially at the AOU meetings. While checking the website of a fellow Northwest blogger, I found a link to another blog by a former graduate instructor of mine. If you scroll down to Wednesday's post, you can see a a few pictures of me standing with my poster (I'm the one wearing shorts).

In other news, the waxwing nest that was constructed with materials on our deck is about to fledge three large, streaky nestlings. I'll try to post a photo soon.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

AOU Meeting's Aftermath

The AOU meeting ended on Friday. During the week I attended dozens of fifteen-minute talks covering a range of species and scientific topics. Some talks were great, some are hard to remember, but all were useful. Here are ten things I learned from some of the better talks and posters:

1. Free-roaming cats are bad news for gray catbirds

2. Lead and trash are trouble for California condors

3. Wood thrushes can successfully defend their nests from blue jays

4. West Nile Virus is hammering sage grouse and coal bed methane drilling is helping the mosquitoes spread

5. Kirtland's warblers are doing well in their Upper Midwest breeding grounds and their Bahamanian wintering areas

6. Not all wildfire sites are good for black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers

7. Rusty blackbirds are essentially small wading birds that require shallow ponds where they forage on aquatic insects.

8. Warbling vireos can grasp cowbird eggs in their bill to eject them from their nests

9. Dickcissels can fledge up to 5 cowbird chicks from one nest!

10. I need to go to Sabino Canyon in southern Mexico to see military macaws

Though tired from the long week, Sarah and I decided to drive to Pacific City and spend the rest of the weekend at the beach. My in-laws' beach house is coming together nicely and will soon be fully operational.

The stairway to the loft has been assembled, so we can now take in views of haystack rock to the west,

and the Nestucca River to the east.

Around the house, a small family of deer roamed the streets

and monstrous manroot vines are growing prickly friuts, the only gourds native to the coast.
After a few days of doing little more than eating, napping, and beach walking I am now ready to get back to the data analyses and paper-writing.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

AOU Dispatch

Today is the the fourth day of the American Ornithologists' Union Meeting in Portland. Overall, it's been a great meeting. I have reconnected with many friends and I have been able to place many faces with names I have read for years.

Last night, I presented a poster detailing the hummingbird and dove work that has kept me busy during the last year. Many people checked it out and a few even stopped to chat.

I spent much of the night checking out other posters, however, like this one displaying the reproductive ecology of chestnut-capped brushfinches in Venezuela. I was there during the first year of the project, so it was great to see the data compiled.

The best part of the meetings has been talking with friends I met nine years ago during my first summer as a field assistant in Arizona. Many biologists cut there teeth on that project and we all have stories to tell. Back then we bragged about high school and college adventures and were really excited to be paid a tiny stipend to spend our summer outdoors. Now, we chat about our families, discuss our graduate work, and complain that today's undergraduate assistants are much lazier and more demanding than we ever were.

Today I will see some talks given by friends and colleagues, then have my former adviser over for dinner. Friday is the last day of talks. We'll see if I have any energy left to attend.