Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Wait is Over

Fall has finally arrived!

Several chilly rainstorms have come through, putting an end to our unseasonably warm weather, at least for now. Some of the trees are losing their leaves and wintering birds such as cackling geese and glaucous-winged gulls have arrived in the metro area, further indicating a change in seasons.

We humans have responded as well. I have been stocking up on winter squash and Sarah has been collecting yarn.

I need to put in an order for woolly gloves.

Our tomato crop is winding down, but our freezer is full of sauce. We are just about ready to eat well during the soggy winter months.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Canadian Clouds

Two weeks ago, we had a great cloud show above Vancouver Island.

I find cloudy skies more interesting than blue ones, so I thoroughly enjoyed the break from our sunny weather.

It rained all morning on Wednesday, so we stayed inside to take in views of the straight from our cozy bed and breakfast room.

The white lighthouse and other buildings at the tip of the island were illuminated when the sun emerged in the afternoon.

The rain let up, but the peaks of Vancouver Island remained hidden.
A few storms are expected to hit the Portland area next week. Call me crazy, but I can hardly wait

Friday, September 25, 2009

Waiting for Fall

When Sarah and I returned from our Canadian trip last week, we were greeted by unseasonably high temperatures and a sense that summer will never end, despite the official beginning of fall earlier this week. It has been an eventful summer with a lot of travel and good times, but I look forward to cooler temperatures and a return to a more relaxed routine.

Earlier this week my fishing buddy Bill came to visit from Minnesota. On Tuesday, we sought relief from the sunny weather by hiking in shady Forest Park.

The birds were quiet, but we found some interesting animals near the stream including this cyanide millipede and some salamanders hiding under rocks.

A day later, we crossed the Columbia River to fish the Wind River of southwestern Washington.

Bill spotted some steelhead, but they were uninterested in the flies we offered them.

Despite our lack of steelhead success, we had a great time fishing a beautiful stretch of river.

After a while, I switched gears and caught a few small rainbows on dry flies. I had not been fishing in over two years (sad!), so it was a great day.

Each morning feels cooler than the last, so fall weather may be approaching after all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vancouver Island Getaway

Last week, with our respective busy seasons behind us, Sarah and I took our annual end-of-summer vacation. We spent seven days exploring the east side of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Island's east side has much milder weather and calmer seas that the west side, which more closely resembles the Oregon coast. We were therefore able to explore territory different from what we are used to.

We began the trip on a large ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, BC. As the ferry crossed the Straight of Georgia, we found four species of sea bird that were new to us: Sooty Shearwater, Pink-footed Shearwater, Parasitic Jager, and Pomarine Jager. A great start to the week!

We spent two nights in Victoria, above, then drove north to the fishing community of Campbell River.

Along one of the river's tributaries, the air smelled strongly of rotting salmon and the stream boiled with pink salmon waiting their turn to enter a hatchery.

The tall humps of the males stuck out of the water as they fought the current. Glaucous-winged gulls, Turkey Vultures, and Common Ravens waited above to clean up the fish whose life cycles were completed.

Our motel room in Campbell River looked over the Discovery Passage, a narrow body of water separating Vancouver Island from other islands and the BC mainland.

While watching the passage, we spotted mainy birds, including the migrating Bonaparte's Gulls above. We also saw a small group of orcas and plenty of fishing boats, yaughts, and cruise ships.

The tide pooling near our motel was great as well.

A few meters from our room, we had access to a cobly beach full of sea creatures at low tide.

In addition to crabs, we found many sunflower stars, which are multi-rayed, voracious predators of other aquatic invertebrates.

Though they look pretty much dead at low tide, sunflower stars move a lot faster than the more familiar five-rayed seastars.

The sunflower stars came in a variety of colors including purple, orange, and a combination of the two.

We spent our last two nights in Canada at a great bed and breakfast, also in proximity to a beach. We enjoyed a few picnic dinners while keeping an eye on the straight. We returned to Oregon Saturday afternoon, eager to get back to our usual routines.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sand Lake Conclusion

With numerous commitments piling up, Sarah and I decided to end our monthly surveys of dead birds at the beach north of Sand Lake. We will continue surveying the beach at Bob Straub, however, which will ensure us at least twelve trips to the coast per year.

The mouth of Sand Lake forms a nice broad beach that is lightly visited by humans for much of the year, perfect for excercising the dog.

We have found many interesting dead and live birds in this area, so we will return as often as possible.Now that our Sand Lake surveys are finished, I have organized data from the sites and found some interesting trends.

We conducted 40 surveys on the beach between May 2006 and August 2009.

Number of birds found per mile varied from zero to 18, with August and September being the busiest months.

We found 29 species of birds on the beach, but the birds we encountered most often were Common Murres and Northern Fulmars, two species that differ in their seasonal patterns.

We found most Common Murres, like the juvenile below, in late summer during the end of the breeding season.

Unlike murres, Northern Fulmars do not breed on the Oregon coast. Instead, they nest off of Alaska and Canada.

We found the most fulmars during fall, late winter, and spring.

We encountered several interesting species such as a Pacific Slope Flycatcher, a Short-eared Owl, and the Black Oystercatcher above. Though would rather see live than dead birds, we appreciate the opportunity to closely examine species that we would not otherwise see.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Mexico Creatures

As always, I found many interesting animals during last week's trip to New Mexico. Here are some that I was able to photograph.

A Rocky Mountain bee plant was attracting several species of hummingbirds and, of course, bees like the one above and the large, black one below

I found this large scarab beetle along the upper Gila River.

The industrious harvester ants below this mound had cleared a large area of all vegetation, with the exception of a low-growing forb.

I wonder if these plants resist the ants or if they provide a resource that encourages the ants to keep them around.

I think this is a young Woodhouse's toad.

Here are some large, out-of focus mule deer with antlers in velvet in the Gila uplands.

And, one of my favorite animal species, a female Black-chinned Hummingbird perched in my favorite tree species, Rio Grande cottonwood.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Along the Middle Rio Grande

After spending two days in the Gila country of southwestern New Mexico, I returned to the Middle Rio Grande, south of Albuquerque, where I have been studying birds, trees, and arthropods for the last six years.

As usual, I stayed with my artist/herpetologist/river guide-friend Geoff at his eclectic residence known as "Herp Tech".

At night we played darts on his very interesting board.

On Thursday, I visited several sites, including this small fire that burned last year.

As I had expected, several cottonwood seedlings sprouted in an area of the burn that had flooded last summer. I hope to use this observation in a paper I have been working on dealing with post-fire cottonwood reproduction.

I also checked in on older burns, like the one above with snags still standing against the clouds.

This burn has been colonized by invasive saltcedar, which often replaces cottonwoods and other native species

I stopped at a wildfire refuge headquarters to photograph some Black-chinned Hummingbirds, probably the most abundant bird species along the Middle Rio Grande. I used the above photo to paint a watercolor I put in the sidebar.

On Friday, I woke early for some birding at sunrise, met with some friends in Albuquerque, then flew back to Oregon. It's nice to be home, but I look forward to my next trip to the Southwest, whenever that may be.