Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Christmas Bird Chase and a Christmas Bird Count

Portland did not see a White Christmas this year, but Sarah and I compensated by finding a snow bunting on Christmas Day.

After brunching at her grandparents' house, we drove to the north side of the Portland Airport.

We pulled into a small parking area, rolled down our windows, and watched the Snow Bunting (possibly a Snow x McKay's Bunting hybrid) eat weed seeds for several minutes. Easiest bird chase ever! The bunting is in the lower right corner of the photo.

Two days later, we woke at 5:30 am and drove to the Willamette Valley town of Dallas, Oregon to assist their Christmas Bird Count.

With the help of a semi-local birder, Sarah and I drove our Subaru around our assigned sectors, which consisted of upland fields,

foggy hilltops,

and a few streams with nice bridges.

We found a friendly donkey and 53 species of birds. Of these species, two-thirds were songbirds.

Our songbird success pushed the overall count total above 100 species, a nice feat considering the stormy weather and relatively low number of participants.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Solstices 2011

Lately, the solstices, especially the winter one, are my favorite times of the year. I now consider holidays such as Christmas and New Year's Eve to be components of a month-long solstice celebration. I guess this makes me some sort of a Judeo-Christo-Pagan. Whatever I am, I like to watch the sun rise and set during astronomical milestones.

On June's summer solstice, I watched the sun rise while I counted birds at Killin Wetlands.

Many hours later, I watched it set from our from yard.

I missed today's winter solstice sunrise (my body insists on hibernating through the mid-morning hours), but I would not have seen the sun anyway because of the thick morning fog.

In the afternoon, the sky cleared in time to see sunset colors over the Village.

We then went out for pizza and dark beer, the perfect combination to kick off the long night.

Though only Wednesday, it has been a long week of cabin fever down in our holler. We look forward to good times with friends and family this weekend, in houses warmer than our own.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Solstice Season Prep

As the shortest day of the year approaches, we are almost ready for the celebrations that will follow.

During the last two weeks, I carved, sanded, and painted some new ornaments for our tree, inspired by creatures from Oregon and New Mexico:

a common kingsnake in the foreground and a sockeye salmon in the background

a glossy snake

a quillback rockfish

a tiger rockfish

a spawning chum salmon

This morning, I visited our local Farmers Market to pick up some contributions to holiday meals.

The winter offerings included this slice of orange-fleshed squash

and a fabulously fractal cauliflower.

Another day of gift-finding, a few more days of work, and I will be ready to cook, relax, and enjoy the season.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December skies

After many days of heavy rain, we now have clear skies in western Oregon.

Down in our holler, it is still pretty dark. This morning, a black cottonwood (the orange tree in the background) east of our yard had the sunlight all to itself.

At sunset, the cottonwood was still illuminated.

To our west, the sky was a wintry shade of purple. Welcome to December!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wild Arts Wood Duck

The Wild Arts Festival, a fundraiser for the Audubon Society of Portland, has become one of my favorite events of the year. As in previous years, I submitted a painting for the festival's 6 x 6 project.

This year, I took inspiration from the Wood Duck hens I see paddling the irrigation ditches, such as the one above, each summer at Killin Wetlands.

I cut a Wood Duck silhouette out of cedar with my new scroll saw, then painted it to resemble a hen. I made a space for her in the 6 x 6 inch canvas donated by Art Media. I removed the cloth that was stretched over a nice wood frame, which I sanded and stained. Finally, I gave her a gold-painted plate with her genus and species names.

My hen was displayed with 199 other birds. On Saturday morning, we watched as a line of eager shoppers formed for the 11:00 start of the sale. I'm happy to report that someone quickly stepped forward to give her a new home.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Commonwealth Lake Birds

On Friday, Sarah and I took a break from work at home to see who has settled into Commonwealth Lake Park for the winter. Here are a few of the species we saw:

This bright gull contrasted nicely with the colorful foliage and dark water.

The yellow legs, yellow bill, and yellow eyes indicate this is Ring-billed Gull.

A larger gull had perched at the other end of the pond.

This gull has the dark gray back and black wing tips of a Western Gull, but the fine-gray barring on the head suggest that one of its ancestors had hybridized with a Glaucous-winged Gull.

As expected, small flocks of American Wigeons have returned to dine on the grass like miniature geese.

Around here, every park seems to have at least one American Coot in winter. This is one of three that we found.
We look forward to the arrival of additional winter waterfowl in the coming weeks.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Banana slugs at the beach

Western Oregon is a world full of slugs, but we found a few at the beach this week that are worth mention.

A few days ago, this banana slug was peeking into the garage from outside . It had squeezed its eye stalks into a gap between the wall and the garage door. I wonder was it was looking for.

Earlier today, Sarah and I found the two largest banana slugs we have ever seen on a trail near the beach at Bob Straub State Park.

It is surprising that these slugs thrive so close to a huge body of saltwater.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

New Albatross on the Beach

While walking Pacific City's beaches, Sarah and I keep an eye out for beached birds, even though we ceased our volunteer monitoring last year. Earlier today we found an unexpected species.

At first we did not recognize the narrow, white and black wings, so we dug a little deeper to reveal the head.

And found the unmistakable bill of an albatross! The white feathers on the head and wings indicate that this is the body of a Laysan Albatross, less common in these parts than the Black-footed albatross, a species whose carcasses we have found on the beach in previous years.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bandon, Oregon: Home of the World's Greatest Sunset

On Thursday night, Sarah and I finished dinner in Bandon's Old Town district, on the Coquille River estuary.

Our dog Andie needed some exercise, so we drove to the beach on the south side of town.

Our timing was perfect, because the sun had just begun to set behind the sea stacks jutting from the sand and ocean waves.

It also happened to be low tide, so we were able to view Postelsia kelp (which resemble tiny palm trees), ochre sea stars, and black chitons (leathery mullosks) on the lower rocks.

It was also roosting time for hundreds of Brown Pelicans, which are staging all over the coast for their migration to winter breeding grounds in southern California and Mexico.

Could this sunset get any better? How about a rainbow and its reflection in the wet sand? It was not even raining in Bandon, but there must have been some precipitation to the north.

The sunset light was also reflecting on the sand, giving the beach a celestially tie-dyed look.

We have watched many sunsets on the Oregon coast, but this was surely the most eventful of all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Southern Oregon: Acorn Woodpecker Land and a Foodie's Paradise

Early this week, Sarah and I left for a long-planned trip to Ashland, in southern Oregon. The primary purpose of our trip was to search for Acorn Woodpeckers and other oak-woodland birds for a project of ours.

We had no problem finding the woodpeckers, who left signs of their presence, such as the acorn granary above, at each of our stops.

We found another of our favorite species, the White-headed Woodpecker on Mount Ashland.

If you click on the photo above, you can see it clinging to a boulder.

In addition to birding, we sampled some of the best food and drink produced in Oregon.

On Wednesday, we visited the Dagoba factory store to stock up on bars of my favorite dark chocolate.

The next day we proceeded north to Central Point.

This small agricultural town is home to the best cheese in the world, according to the World Cheese Awards.

We have been fans of the Rogue Creamery's blue cheeses for several years, so we could not pass up the opportunity to visit their store and factory. We bought a slice of an earthy blue cheese, which we enjoyed during a quick car picnic.

We also visited a couple of wineries, including Abacela in the Umpqua River Valley. The valley's sunny summers allow growth of big red varietals that are most often produced in other states. We bought a bottle of syrah that we plan to enjoy on Thanksgiving, if we can wait that long.

We ended our day's travels in Bandon, a beautiful town on the southern coast.

The Bandon area is full of cranberry bogs and we made sure to stop in Old Town to buy the chocolate-covered cranberry sticks that I always associate with the south coast.

We have two more days of traveling ahead of us, but the trip has been a great success.