Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Here's a Halloween factoid I just heard on Science Friday: Researchers at Cornell observed captive vampire bats snuggling up to chickens, fooling them into thinking the bats were their own chicks. As the hen nestled over the bats to keep them warm, they enjoyed a tasty blood meal from the unknowing bird.

How beautiful is that?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Last Pickup

Yesterday we picked up our last share of the year from our CSA farm. It has been a great season
and we now have a lot of food stocked up for the coming months.

I could go on and on about how great it has been to buy food from a hard-working family as opposed to a large company, but you've probably heard it all before.

This season, we have learned a lot about vegetable farming and we are putting it to use in our borrowed garden space.

Our tomatillo plants are still producing like crazy and a few tomatoes are hanging in there. The tomatoes are not ripening like the used to, but I will still cook them down for sauce. The purple bush beans and arugula are still growing and I'm hoping to harvest them into the winter.

Our old-growth kale patch will definitely last until spring.

Last night I carved my CSA pumpkin to look like a painting in the Frontier Cafe in Albuquerque.

In the dark, it looks like a Space Invaders character!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Microprocessors and Aphidprocessors

Late last night, among the chatter of our neighbors, Sarah and I heard a pair of great-horned owls hooting to each other. For a moment, at least, it felt like we were out camping. A few hours later, I was partially awakened by a chorus of coyotes. At first glance, our neighborhood may not look like owl and coyote habitat, but a local business provides plenty of space for these and other wild species.

If you can read this post, then you have probably bought one of this companies products and indirectly subsidized our local owls and coyotes. The company is Intel and I guess they are not exactly local, but they do have four large campuses in Hillsboro and they probably employ most of the people in our apartment complex.

Their huge Ronler Acres campus is the closest one to our apartment and it contains several wetland and grassland patches just blocks from our window.

One one occasion, I spotted a coyote strolling through a grassy spot alongside employees out for a walk break. When driving at night, we sometimes see owls flying across the road to the campus.

While walking near the campus today, I spotted a young accipiter hawk perching on a street light. I think it was a Cooper's hawk, but without my binoculars I could not be sure. I almost always see red-tailed hawks and kestrels hunting the campus grounds.

Huge coprprations usually give me the creeps, but I am glad Intel is here to keep some good land from being strip-malled.

A few blocks later, I found a small maple tree with some interesting insects clinging to the trunk.

This spikey little guy is a ladybird beetle (ladybug) larva which, like adults, is a voracious aphid predator. I often find larvae on the leaves of ornamental trees gobbling up the tiny plantsuckers.

This pale item appears to be a larva that has attached its rear to the trunk and is begining to pupate.

This darker pupa is farther along.

After pupating, these beetles will overwinter as adults, eager to consume next year's batch of aphids.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Winter Squash Heaven

Eager for some physical labor, I spent the early part of Friday helping with the winter squash harvest at our CSA farm.

Steve's helper Stewart, and I used a wheel barrow to haul several varieties from a squash patch to a processing station where they were cleaned, dried and packed in plastic tubs.

We started with pie pumpkins,

moved on to Acorn squash,

then gathered Sweet Dumplings,


and Butternuts.

We then moved on to a few massive varieties.

Hubbard and Sweet Meat squashes are similar in color but differently shaped.

Farmer Steve was proud of his largest Sweet Meat.

These Cheese Wheel squashes look like flattened pumpkins.

This Pink Banana was the catch of the day!

These beautiful red, pumpkin-like squashes have a french name that I do not remember.

When I was little, I could not stand squash. In fact, I was nearly banned from my grandparent's house after I spit squash all over my plate at a dinner party. Nowadays, however, I can't get enough of it. Winter squashes make great centerpieces, taste great, and can be stored all winter if you can find the space.

Looks like there will be plenty of squash for everyone this year.

Monday, October 20, 2008

October Coast Weekend

We spent the weekend at the beach to survey dead birds and enjoy some coastal views. While we walked our mile of beach north of Sand Lake, we were accompanied by several hundred brown pelicans and Heerman's gulls.

These species nest during the winter and spring in southern California and Mexico. They spend their summers and fall with us in the north where we usually see them flying over the water. Surprisingly, they stood on the beach and allowed us to walk right by them as we searched for birds.

We only found a few birds, much fewer than last month, and the most iteresting was an intact black oystercatcher.

We occasionally see these guys hunting invertebrates on intertidal rocks, but we have never seen one this close. Though oystercatchers are large shorebirds, they look like they were constructed with leftover parts of woodpeckers, crows, and chickens.

The chicken-like feet had thick nails, used to cling to slippery, waver-battered rocks.

The beautiful orange bill was abraded from prying snails and limpets out of their nooks and crannies. I could have stayed and admired the oystercatcher for much longer, but we had to move on.

After the survey, we drove to the Nestucca River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge has been around for a few year, but a portion was opened to the public last week.

The refuge was established to provide winter habitat for rare subspecies of Canada and cackling geese, but they had not arrived yet, so we enjoyed the views from the top of the hill.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Now that Jack Frost has arrived in Hillsboro, we've been picking all our peppers in the garden and we received a huge bundle of them from our CSA. Let this be a warning to anyone eating my cooking: expect some heat.

We have also had an influx of geese in our sky.

They often fly in the traditional V pattern

But they soon start to fall out of formation.

The flocks often end up bow-shaped.

Or resemble a wavy line.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cool Paper of the Week

What do sea otters have to do with ptarmigan survival? Ask the eagles.

(Newport Aquarium)

For several decades, researchers in the Aleutian Islands have been documenting the major role sea otters play in structuring marine environments. They have found the sea otters eat a lot of sea urchins, which eat a lot of kelp. Where sea otters are present, underwater kelp forests thrive and create habitat for a variety of fish and invertebrates. When sea otters were extirpated during the previous century, the kelp forests and animals that depended on them disappeared. When sea otters returned, so did the kelp forests.

In their recently published paper in Ecology, Robert G. Anthony and others studied populations of bald eagles before and after a sea otter decline. They expected that the breeding population of eagles would decline as well because much of their nestlings’ diet is sea otters and other animals found in kelp forests.

Instead, they found that the breeding population remained stable and nest success did not decrease. Instead of declining, the eagles changed their diets. They responded to loss of kelp forests by hunting non-kelp fish and increasing the number of birds fed to their nestlings.


The two species of birds that saw the greatest increase in eagle predation were glaucous-winged gulls and rock ptarmigan. A great example of how changes to the population of one species can cascade up and down to other trophic levels and indirectly affect other species.

So save an otter, save a ptarmigan!

Work cited: Anthony, R. G., J. A. Estes, M. A. Ricca, A. K Miles, and E. D. Foresman. 2008. Bald eagles and sea otters in the Aleutian Archipelago: indirect effects of trophic cascades. Ecology 89(10): 2725-2735.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Welcome Back Cacklers

On Friday afternoon, Sarah, Andie, and I took a walk around Dawson Creek Park to enjoy the crisp fall weather.

We discovered 30 cackling geese, recent arrivals from the arctic, floating in a pond by the library.

Note their stubby little bills and necks.

For a nice comparison, we spotted Canada geese loafing in the next pond over.

Their bills and necks were clearly longer than those of their cackling cousins. Unlike cackling geese, Canadas can be seen year 'round at the park. The two species were split a few years ago and can usually be distinguished by size, though some subspecies can overlap and cause headaches.

We had a great view of a dark red-tailed hawk...

and we watched a merlin chew on a large insect high in a snag (you'll have to take my word for it).

College Football Update:

Congratulations to the Texas Longhorns for surviving an ugly game to beat my Sooners 45-35. Better luck next year OU!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Happenings

During the last few days the temperatures in western Oregon have dropped and we are flirting with frost each morning. The sun now rises from the southeast, lighting up the view from my window.

This time of year, the light and shadows on the building remind me of an Edward Hopper painting.

With one day to go until the big Oklahoma-Texas football game, I wear my OU visor in unity with my fellow Sooners. Though I moved from Oklahoma three years ago, I still officially work for the University (long story) and my Sooner Pride has not faded.

To get my mind off of the game, I took Andie for a walk through the cloverfield south of the apartment.

The usual winter inhabitants have returned to the field to resume their typical behaviors.

American wigeons were whistling in the pond.

And a heron was stalking rodents in the stubble. Last year I watched one gulp down a wriggling gray-tailed vole just a few feet away from me.

Last year, a red-tailed hawk and an American kestrel continuously battled for Clover Field hunting rights. The kestrel was usually the aggressor and it appears to be at it again.

The female kestrel chased the red-tail until it perched on the corner of this elementary school.

A few minutes later, I heard the kestrel calling loudly as she passed overhead. I looked up and saw two tiny feet dangling from her belly, it appeared she was carrying a rodent and warning everyone to stay away.

She perched on this street light and began to pick apart the rodent. I did not want to get too close and scare her off, since no one likes to be interrupted during lunch.