Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back to New Mexico

Last week I visited to New Mexico for a small amount of field work. I flew into Albuquerque Monday afternoon and picked up my rental vehicle, which was much larger than I had requested. From there I drove four hours to Silver City, the most isolated college town I have ever visited.

I spent the next two days visiting field sites in the beautiful Cliff-Gila Valley.

During the last year, I have been comparing data I collected along the Middle Rio Grande with data collected by colleagues along the much smaller Upper Gila River. Last week was the first time I had seen this stretch of the river, so I was quite interested in the composition of its riparian trees.

Like the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque, huge cottonwoods are found along the Gila.

Unlike the Rio Grande, the Gila also supports large sycamores like the ones above.

And boxelders, members of the maple family that grow in a variety of sizes and shapes. Boxelder forms a dense sub-canopy in the riparian forests, making the upper Gila area one of the most productive habitats for the endangered southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

I also hiked upstream of the valley in the Gila Wilderness Area. This area is so large and remote that wildfires are often allowed to burn unchecked, further diversifying the habitat.

Numerous monsoon thunderstorms moved through the area during my stay, possibly sparking new fires.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Evening on the Willamette

Earlier in the week, Sarah and I were invited to join a Saturday evening Sternwheeler cruise along the Willamette River and serve as assistant naturalists (in other words, birdwatch and share our observations with others). I have not had the chance spent as much time on this river as I would like, so I was happy to accept the invitation.

Here are some scenes from the cruise:

Portland's downtown skyline and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry's submarine

Birding off the bow

Ross Island's lagoon, full of waterskiers having way too much fun

Bald Eagle on Ross Island

Osprey nest on tower near Oaks Bottom

Cozy house boats on the river

Canada Goose flock

Fancy waterfront condos

Toe Island

Ross Island Bridge at sunset

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Beach House Visitors

Sarah and I have spent five of the last six weekends at her parents' beach house. The house has been a great escape from our hectic summer schedules and frequently high temperatures in the Portland area.

Our apartment has been somewhat neglected in the process, so we are staying home this week for a long overdue cleaning and organizing session.

During the last few weeks, some mothers and their offspring have also been visiting the beach house property.

Blacktail does and their spotted fawns stop by daily to nibble small patches of grass and pluck evergreen huckleberries from the shrubs.

Two weeks ago we had quite a surprise. I had flushed small groups of quail in previous weekends. Without getting a good look, I assumed were relatively common California Quail.

One day, however, Sarah glanced out the window and saw a hen with some mid-sized chicks. We quickly realized they were Mountain Quail, which are much rarer and usually found at higher elevations.

Unlike California Quail, that have plumes curling forward, Mountain quail have plumes that stick straight up or sweep slightly backward. This female was protecting four active chicks that did not hold still long enough for a photo. Some Mountain Quail females lay two clutches of eggs, one to be incubated by the female and the by her mate.

Because this is a declining species, it was great to see that they are successfully breeding in Pacific City.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sitka Weekend

Last spring, I received tuition for a workshop at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology as a birthday present. I chose a landscape watercolor class, which was held this weekend. It was quite nice to leave my work at home for three days to paint the coastal scenery at Cascade Head.

On Friday morning I drove from Hillsboro to Sitka, which is a few miles south of Pacific City, for the first day of the workshop, lead by Molly Hashimoto.

Our first project involved painting a view of Cascade Head from the Sitka campus.

We began the paintings outside and touched them up in the studio. Under Molly's instruction, I painted the negative space to create alder trunks and darkened areas to separate individual alder canopies.

On Saturday, we began the day at the Salmon River Estuary.

I painted two panels capturing the conifer forest, spit, three offshore rocks, and the headland.

In the afternoon, we painted in the forest behind the Sitka studios.

I focused on pairs of Sitka spruces, red alders, and red elderberries.

On our final morning, we painted Proposal Rock at Neskowin Beach.

I hiked up the beach so I could capture the rock and the headland.

I then walked closer to the rock to do a quick painting of a keyhole on its east side.

At the end of the day, workshop participants shared aspects our favorite paintings and admired each others work. We all left the weekend with a new way of seeing the forests, beaches and rocks of the coast.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


This spring I planted my first ever summer squash, a white pattypan variety. I usually prefer more flavorful winter squash than summer squash, but I have been using create ways to "sneak" pattypan fruits into our meals.

Unlike winter squashes, which produce fruits off of trailing vines, the pattypan has been growing vertically in a shrub-like form.

The fruits begin growing facing up, then droop to the ground when they are ready to harvest.

This morning, bumblebees were slow to warm after a cool night.

This one must have covered herself in pattypan pollen before it became to cold to fly, forcing her to spend the night on the leaf.

This bumblebee camped out near the stamen of a male squash flower.

Female pattypan flowers are just as bright as the males.

The have a branched stigma that collects the pollen from the bees.

Before they open, females can be identified by the small fruit at the base of the petals. The squash shrub shows no sign of slowing down, so we will probably be eating its fruits for weeks.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tomatoes are Ripening!

For the first time in 10 days, the high in Portland will be less than 90 degrees. While many Portlanders suffered from the heatwave, it did good things for our garden vegetables.

Three Belle Star tomatoes ripened over the weekend and I will incorporate them into dinner tonight.

Another nightshade, this Czech Black pepper is producing beautiful purple flowers.

Hungarian wax peppers are almost ready to pick.

Our squashes are thriving as well. I picked my first Pattypan summer squash of the season, above.

We have to wait longer to eat our winter squashes. When I planted the vine above, I thought it was a butternut, but the shape and size of the fruit suggests it will grow into a Pink Banana variety.

This football-shaped Blue Hubbard fruit looks much larger each time I visit the garden.

The squash blossoms continue to feed dozens, if not hundreds of bees.

This flower is packed with honeybees.

Yellow-faced bumblebees have crowded into this one. It's good to see our garden benefiting our six-legged friends.