Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Harvest Time

During the last few weeks, we have been getting great shipments of produce from our CSA farm. Judging from the eggplants, purple tomatillos, purple pole beans, purple majesty potatoes, and purple bell peppers, our farmer Steve seems to have an inordinate fondness for a certain color, but we'll take any whatever vegetables he's offering.

This weekend, we attended the annual harvest party at the farm, which involved a huge potluck feast, fresh-pressed apple cider, a scavenger hunt, and a square dance.

These goats were thrilled to have so many people around to feed them green beans.

There is only a month of farm pickups left, but there appears to be enough tomatoes and other crops to last the rest of the year.

These peppers and marigolds complement each other well.

I've been busy revising a paper (awful work) so I had not been to our borrowed garden for some time.

This morning I found tomatoes such as these Belle Starrs pulling their vines down to the ground.

While others are climbing for the sky.

I picked a good load of tomatoes, beans, tomatillos, and my first-ever winter squash (top left). I dont know if I should eat it or display it as art.

This week, we will be making more tomato and tomatillo sauce for winter storage. At least our freezer economy is in good shape.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Nest Season Roundup

With the arrival of fall and some beautiful gray clouds, my informal nest monitoring season has drawn to a close.

This year, I checked out 118 nests, about twenty fewer than last year. These nests were built by 39 species of birds, and, as usual, the three most common species were American robin (26 nests), bushtit (18 nests), and barn swallow (9 nests).

In February, I found the first nests of the year which were built by great horned owls (with nestlings pictured above) and great blue herons. I found a few bushtit nests in March and many robin nests in April.

In mid April, I was able to view and paint an Anna's hummingbird nest built in a small oak tree a few blocks away.

In May, I viewed my first-ever cinammon teal and black-headed grosbeak nests.

As in previous summers, the latest nesting species was the barn swallow. The last active nest of which I found built above the door of an outhouse along Tillamook Bay.

I was able to determine the fates of only 39 nests. Of these, 23 were successful.

Sixteen nests, including this dove's, were not.

Of robin nests with known fates, five nests, like the one above, were successful while seven failed.

I had a hard time determining the fates of bushtit nests, because their contents are encased in a sock-like mass of lichen and spiderwebs.

Douglas fir trees were the substrates in which most nests were built (18), followed by buildings (16), cedars (9), snags (4), and ash trees (4).

I find that nests are the clearest windows into the biology of wild animals, so I am already looking forward to next year's crop. Until then I have plenty of gull, cloud, and college football watching to keep me busy!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Neverending Surveys

This weekend, we surveyed our two beaches for washed-up seabirds. The surveys lasted for several hours each, as we found 48 birds between the two beaches.

We found this pair of wings at Bob Straub State Park in Pacific City. The wing cord was 18.5 cm and it looks like they belonged to a cinnamon or blue-winged teal, but we are not sure which. Anyone know how to tell the two apart? The wings had a light blue patch between the elbow and the wrist, white spots on the secondary coverts, and some green coloring on the secondary coverts.

The most common birds by far were juvenile common murres that fledged during the last few months. The carcasses were near adult size, but their measurements were a little short of adult averages.

The sternums of the birds were mostly cartilage, in various stages of ossification progressing from the anterior end downward. In previous years, the dieoff occurred when fledglings were much younger, so it was interesting to see them in this stage of development.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

News Fast! ..and Spiders Too

I have decided to implement a "News Fast" from now until November to prevent the Election Anxiety Syndrome from which I suffered in 2004. After feeling quite ill during the later part of that year, I realized that I get too emotionally invested in my candidates of choice that I get overly angry at media coverage. I end up wasting time composing letters to the editor in my head, as well at fuming over what the opposition has to say.

After spending way too much time watching and reading about this year's conventions, I decided enough is enough. For the rest of the election period, I plan to take it easy and try to avoid polls and analyses that really have no importance to me at this point. The hardest part of the News Fast will be cutting out NPR, which I usually listen to for up to seven hours a day. Anyone who has spent any time driving with me in the mornings will know how difficult this will be.

To fill the voids, I plan to listen to more music and read about sports online instead of politics. Any other suggestions are welcome. I have already started the detox process and I will post updates on my progress as the month progresses.

In local nature news, our spiders are still feasting in their webs.

Near our parking lot, two spiders that appear to be different species have constructed webs in a great location.

Honeybees have been buzzing all over the flowers of this ornamental shrub, and each spider was processing their prey as I walked past this afternoon.

As someone who has spent a lot of time trying to capture birds in mist nets (often unsuccessfully), I can appreciate the spiders' knack for choosing the right location.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Woodpecker Quest

Central Oregon is woodpecker country. A visitor to the Bend area has the remote possibility of seeing 12 woodpecker species in the nearby forests of the eastern Cascades.

What explains this diversity? I believe that these forests contain a unique set of habitat features that create a woodpecker paradise.

First, the east Cascade forests have unique tree communities that change with the elevation. This provides numerous foraging sites, allowing species to coexist.

Second, many large snags (dead trees) can be found throughout the forest. Woodpeckers excavate nesting cavities in snags and some species use cavities previously carved by other species.

Third, there are many quaking aspen trees in the wetter parts of the forests. These trees have relatively soft wood and some woodpecker species can excavate cavities in live aspens.

Fourth, large and abundant ponderosa pines provide nesting and foraging sites when they are live or dead. Some woodpeckers, such as the Williamson’s sapsucker and white-headed woodpecker, rarely occur outside ponderosa forests.

Finally, central Oregon has frequently occurring wildfires, which benefit woodpeckers, perhaps more than any other group of birds. Research has shown that many species of woodpeckers reach their highest abundances in burned forests and have greater nesting success in wildfire sites than in unburned sites. Individuals of one species, the black-backed woodpecker, spend nearly all of there time in wildfire sites and rarely nest anywhere else.

With all of this in mind, Sarah and I were eager to spot as many woodpeckers as possible during our vacation last week. We have seen most of the woodpecker species before, but I have never seen a three-toed woodpecker and Sarah had never seen a Williamson’s sapsucker, a three-toed, or a black-backed woodpecker. We were happy to see any species, but these three were at the top of our list.

Also high on our list was the white-headed woodpecker (photo above from the Washington State website), a mime-looking, declining species whose range is largely confined to central Oregon, Washington, and California.

As we set up our camp at Cold Springs Campground, we heard the distinctive, rattling call of a white-headed woodpecker. We soon spotted one on the trunk of a skinny ponderosa sapling.

After a chilly night, I heard more woodpecker calls serving as a natural alarm clock. As I walked Andie the Dog, I heard the rattle again and spotted a pair of white-headeds on side-by-side saplings. I also spotted a brownish, silent woodpecker on an adjacent tree. I ran back to the tent to get Sarah and we relocated the bird and identified it as a juvenile female Williamson’s sapsucker. The plumages of males and females of this species are so different that they were once considered separate species. The individual we saw looked like a tiny flicker due to the barring on the back.

A few days later, we found an adult male at Shevlin Park in Bend.

We looked for more species along the Metolius River, where I once spotted a pair of black-backs,. We saw only a few hairy woodpeckers, good birds in their own right.

The color of the spring-fed Metolius was amazing, as always. This dipper was enjoying the light show under a bridge.

We drove to a wildfire site hoping to find more species, especially three-toeds and balck-backs. The nice folks at the US Forest Service Station in Sisters told us where to find a site that burned last year.

It did not take us long to hear tapping and we spotted the source: a red-breasted sapsucker. We see this species fairly often at low elevations in western Oregon, so it was a bit of a surprise to see one high in a wildfire site.

It was hard at work carving wells in this subalpine fir tree.

In all, we spotted six species of woodpeckers, including a new species for Sarah. I did not get any photos of the birds because I was too busy enjoying them and our camera has no zoom. Since we left a few species begind, we have good reason to return to this great part of the state.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Volcanic Vacation

Last week, Sarah, Andie, and I were in central Oregon enjoying our summer vacation. I never get tired of looking at Cascade volcanoes, so I love visiting this part of the state where so many conical beauties seem to have popped up in every direction.

Here are a few photos of our trip.

Mount Bachelor, the skiable volcano.

Broken Top from Sparks Lake, an eroded and likely extinct volcano.

South Sister, a very much alive volcano, hiding behind some trees at sparks lake.

Three-fingered Jack, another gnarly extinct peak.

In addition to volcano viewing, we birded the forests and sampled beers at local breweries, sometimes simultaneously.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Food Prep Season

With our garden and CSA farm both producing great yields, I have been busy preparing much the food for storage.

Apart from occasionally eating out, I hope we can survive solely on what we put up during our extended Oregon harvest.

We never know how much we will get of each item from week to week, so it can be a struggle to preserve the produce that arrives in abundance.

We have no shortage of basil, which I have been grinding with olive oil and freezing for future pasta dishes.

Now that tomatoes are growing and ripening faster than we can eat them all, I have also started cooking them down to tomato sauce.

Last night, I made a pot of beautiful orange-colored sauce that I froze for future pizzas.

We still have a fridge full of pole beans and summer squash. Way too much for us to eat now, so I am planning to blanch, puree, and freeze like crazy while watching college football tomorrow.

If you have not noticed, I am keeping tally of the records of my three teams throughout the season. In addition to Oklahoma, my graduate school, I follow the University of Oregon (Sarah's undergraduate school) and the University of Montana (my undergrad school). Since the three teams will not be playing each other this season, there should be no conflicts of interest.

I hope all three teams remain undefeated when the time comes to eat this winter squash.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

End of the Hike

The last phase of our Bob Straub hike took place in a large, inter-dune area containing sedge meadows, stunted spruce and pine trees, and patches of open sand. We had hiked through this area once before and were impressed with arthropods we found. Once again, we found many interesting creatures. I was able to photograph a few of them.

In the open sandy areas, there were many spiders and grasshoppers that were perfectly colored to match their background.

Tiger beetles are some of my favorite insects and we rarely see them in western Oregon. They are usually found in open, sandy areas which are plentiful in this part of the park. These beetles are ferocious predators that fly close to the ground like bees and they can be pretty hard to capture. Luckily, I spotted one that could not or would not fly and I was able to get some pictures before turning it loose.

Check out the terrifying jaws!

After hiking several miles in the sun, we passed through a nice wooded area then returned to the parking lot. It had been a great hike with a lot to take in.

Later that night, we enjoyed a nice sunset over Haystack Rock, a fitting end to a great day.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bob Straub Hike

On Sunday, Sarah, Andie, and I hiked the length of Bob Straub State Park.

Bob Straub is a sandy, cleaver-shaped peninsula, also known as a spit, wedged between Nestucca Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Sarah and I were married on the ocean side two years ago, and we count dead birds there every month, but we had never walked to the end of the spit to see where the bay and ocean meet.

We started on the ocean side, with nice weather and great views. Soon, we spotted a big gray cloud that we thought would pass us by. Intead, it parked over our heads and dumped rain on us for the last mile of beach walking.

We did not pack rain jackets, so we were pretty much soaked by the time we reached the mouth of the bay. It was too wet to take pictures of the mouth, but it was a pretty site. At low tide the water of the bay gets flushed through a narrow passage squeezed against basaltic cliffs. During incoming tides, the water passes in the opposite direction.

As we turned the corner and walked along the bay, the sun returned and started to dry us out.

After passing a few crab boats and picnicers, we had the bay to ourselves. We spotted a small flock of semipalmated sandpipers, a red-necked phalarope, and the first mew gulls of the year mixed in with western and California gulls.

We tried to get Andie into the bay, but she was soaked enough from the rain and did not care for a swim.

We turned inland from the bay and continued to hike through another spectacular part of the park. More on that later.