Sunday, May 31, 2009

Beach Creatures and Dinner

During the previous two weekends, we came across many interesting invertebrates along the beaches near Pacific City. Here are a few examples

These volcano-shaped barnacles have been stained by the iron deposits in the rocks at Cape Kiawanda.

Mole crabs are egg-shaped crustaceans that burrow into the sand at the water's edge. They have been molting all over the beach and pieces of their shells are everywhere in the wet sand. The crab on the left, about and inch and a half long, just emerged from its old shell on the right.

We found a large, dead dungenous crab in a pool near the mouth of sand lake. When I picked it up to inspect it, I found a tiny, translucent fish hiding in the seaweed that was growing on top of the shell.

In another pool, we found worm-like tracks in the sand. We followed one set of tracks and found their maker, an olive snail. The ornate little gastropod crawled around on my hand while I held it for a picture.

Before leaving Hillsboro on Friday, we packed our cooler with big bags of greens recently harvested from our garden and CSA farm. We made chard and black bean tacos with lettuce and mustard green salad on the side. We stocked up on hot sauce as well because condiment diversity is the key to a great meal.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Gull

Sarah and I took a much-needed break from our respective Spring Busy Seasons this weekend at Pacific City. During the weekend, Sarah's parents hosted their first family get-together at their nearly completed beach house, which has served as the base of beach explorations for several months now. We had some big meals, took some beach walks, and caught up on some reading.

Yesterday, we stopped at Netarts Bay on the way home. We found a nice beach near the north end of the bay and walked towards its mouth. We were rewarded with a great view of a breeding plumage Bonaparte's gull picking food out of the wrack. We usually see Bonaparte's in their winter plumage, which lacks the striking black cap seen below, so it was nice to see this individual.

I left our camera at the beach house, so this borrowed image will have to do. I guess I won't be able to post new photos until we return from our next beach trip.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Field and Farm Work

During the last week, I was able to spend a lot of time in rural Washington County, which nowadays feels like the greenest place on Earth.

I spent two mornings at Killin Wetlands, prepping for bird surveys.

The place was alive with breeding birds and I found two marsh wren nests, including the one above which is the dark spot near the grass in the center. Both nests were large spheres with small entrances in the side and were still under construction.

On saturday, I joined a tomato planting party at Dos Sequoias Farm.

We planted tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in a recently tilled and limed field. We then strung drip-irrigation tubes along each row.

We covered the peppers and eggplants, which are sensitive to nighttime temperatures, with white sheeting.

While we were planting, many interesting birds flew over, including an osprey and a pair of Bullock's orioles. We will pick up our first share of greens from the farm this week, but I can hardly wait for tomato harvest season.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Spring Gardening

Now that is mid-spring, rhododendrons and other woody shrubs are in full bloom and it is time to get our gardens in order.

At one end of our raised bed, the winter lettuce is salad-ready and the snap peas are flowering.

We tilled the other end, pulled out the bolting arugula, and planted a few tomato starts. We are also trying to grow a few different veggies from seed this year such as beets, carrots, and dill.

To save room for other plants in the bed, we planted two more tomato starts in containers.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Festival of the Birds

Yesterday, Sarah and I helped out at the Festival of the Birds, which is organized by Portland Audubon and several other organizations. Bird enthusiasts of all ages visited Sellwood Park to learn about birds and enjoy the sunny weather. Here are some highlights:

A rehabilitated sharp-shinned hawk was released into the park as a baseball game was played.

During one of our walks, a red-tailed hawk plunged to the ground, but would not fly off with its prey while we watched.

As in previous years, a pair of osprey nested on top of this power pole. The nest is extremely flat and difficult to see without binoculars.

Sarah and I picked up a boxful of tiles donated by the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Using stencils and help from Audubon volunteers, visiting children created some nice works of art.

2009 Festival of the Birds List:

Vaux’s Swift
Turkey Vulture
American Crow
Steller’s Jay
Red-tailed Hawk
American Goldfinch
Bald Eagle
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Flicker (nest)
Cooper’s Hawk
Canada Goose
Western Kingbird
Ring-necked Duck
Green-winged Teal
Osprey (nest)
Anna’s Hummingbird
Western Scrub Jay
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Bushtit (nest)
Black-capped Chickadee
Brown Creeper
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Wilson’s Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Spotted Towhee
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Western Wood-pewee
Pine Siskin
Violet-green Swallow
Great Blue Heron
American Robin
Western Tanager
Warbling Vireo
Lesser Goldfinch (nest)
House Finch
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Bewick’s Wren
Hutton’s Vireo
Wood Duck
Sharp-shinned Hawk (released!)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday in the Park

After quick trip the vet, Andie and I took a quick walk around Noble Woods Park. Though the weather has not shown it, the plants and animals reminded us that summer is fast approaching.

Black-headed grosbeaks were singing from the tops of Oregon ashes like the one above, spotted towhees were all over the place, carrying food for hungry nestlings, and I saw my first western tanager pair of the year.

Alders are almost fully leafed out,

and big leaf maples now have flowers, seed pods and leaves growing from their branch tips.

The vine maples have leafed as well and are just starting to flower.

Rock creek was high and muddy from the recent rain. I look forward to a sunny weekend before the rain returns to keep us green a little while longer.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Birdathon '09

Below is my report for last Saturday's Birdathon trip:

On Saturday, May 2nd, “The Murre the Merrier” Birdathon team spent thirteen hours seeking as many species of birds as possible while traveling from Hillsboro to the Coast and back. It rained during much of the day and the species total was smaller than that of the previous year, but the number of "exciting" species was high and everyone had a great time. We began the day at Dawson Creek Park, where we found reliable birds such as Acorn Woodpeckers and Ring-necked Ducks, in addition to Anna’s Hummingbird and Lesser Goldfinch, which had been missed on our previous Birdathons.
After loading into our vehicles, we entered the coast range and stopped at a rest area near the Nehalem River. As we walked along a forest trail, we listened to singing Varied Thrushes and Black-throated Gray Warblers. We “enticed” one of the warblers in for a closer view before moving on to the next stop. After a pause at Klootchy Creek, we arrived in Cannon Beach and marched straight for Haystack Rock.

We quickly spotted Tufted Puffins near their nesting burrows. A small flock of Brown Pelicans passed by and we moved to the other side of the rock in search of Harlequin Ducks.

Photo by Jill Neson-DeBord

We saw plenty of Common Murres and Pelagic Cormorants, but no Harlequins, so we prepared to move on to our other stops. As were about to leave, Sarah spotted six ducks at the base of the rock.

They turned out to be five male Harlequins chasing around a single hen! The males were in brilliant breeding plumage and made for the most memorable sighting of the day.
We moved on to the Cannon Beach Settling Ponds where we spent a few minutes spotting ducks and listening to singing Marsh Wrens and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Our next stop was the Nehalem treatment ponds which held flocks of Northern Shovelers and Red-necked Phalaropes swimming in circles to stir up food. As the sun emerged, a Bald Eagle chased a pair of Osprey and a Northern Harrier hunted a field east of the ponds. We ate lunch at Wheeler, then moved on to Tillamook Bay. We pulled off of the road at a cluster of rocks known as the Three Graces.

The rain had resumed, but we found several new birds including Purple Finches, Brandt’s Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots, Common Loons, and, most surprising of all, a Red-throated Loon in breeding plumage.
We found Black Turnstones and Western Tanagers at the Pacific Oyster Company dock, stopped for coffee in Tillamook, then birded Bayocean Spit. The tide was low and the birds were far from shore, but we were able to find a few Northern Pintails and a single Brant in the bay. We drove uphill to Cape Meares and were greeted by wind gusts that threatened to blow us back down to the bay. Cliff-nesting birds, such as pelagic cormorants hugged the rocks for protection from the wind.

Photo by Jill Neson-DeBord

After a quick walk to the lighthouse, we returned to the parking lot and drove down to Netarts Bay. We picked up Red-breasted Mergansers and an immature Barrow’s Goldeneye as we drove along the bay. At Whalen Island, we located a Brown-Headed Cowbird in its usual spot, but found few other birds, so we drove to Sarah’s parents’ beach house in Pacific City. After some searching, we found an Orange-crowned Warbler behind the house and a Red Crossbill perched on a spruce tree across the street.
As it neared 7:00 pm, we began the drive home. We stopped at the Tillamook River rest area where we found our 100th bird the year before. We added a Brown Creeper to our list and later spotted some Common Mergansers along the Wilson River. At our last stop, we topped off our species list at 86 with a flock of Cliff Swallows east of Banks. Those who finished the trip at Hillsboro said their goodbyes and we look forward to seeing each other again at the Birdathon banquet next month.

Birds seen or heard:

Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Harlequin Duck
Barrow's Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Black Oystercatcher
Western Sandpiper
Red-necked Phalarope
Black Turnstone
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Tufted Puffin
Rock Dove
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Brown Creeper
Bewick's Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Varied Thrush
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warblers
Wilson's Warbler
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
Red Crossbill
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Friday, May 1, 2009

Obtaining Owls and Finding Flycatchers

Today I found a great video on Science Friday's website showing the tedious nature of capturing cavity-nesting birds.

This video brings back a lot of memories from a project I worked on in a similar forest in Arizona where I saw my first and only, flammulated owl nesting in an aspen cavity.

Speaking of bird work, it looks like I will be conducting extended field work on birds this summer for the first time in four years.

Once the mountain of paperwork and logistics is cleared, I will have a grant from the state to investigate nesting habitat use of willow flycatchers in response to restoration of Geyer willow in Killin Wetlands, where I have been conducting volunteer bird counts for the last few summers.

This will be like a part-time job to supplement my Forest Service work, which does not get me outside very often. Full-time research biology work is nearly impossible to find in the Portland area, so I have had to piece together a position of my own design,which has worked out so far. A larger salary and job security would be nice, but these days I can't complain.