Locks on Rideau Canal

Locks on Rideau Canal
Locks on Rideau Canal

Sunday, August 24, 2014

First Impressions of Ottawa, Canada

Last year, my best Christmas present was a plane ticket to Ottawa, Canada from my oldest daughter.  She and my son-in -law moved to Canada a few years ago and are now permanent residents.  I hadn't seen them since the move.  Then my youngest daughter gave me my passport for my birthday.

When I negotiated my summer work, I got permission to move my stuff to National Bison Range before flying from Missoula to Ottawa for a two-week visit.  Jason, a wonderful intern, offered to shuttle me to and from Missoula so I didn't even have to pay for parking.

I had the best time in the airport and on the flight that I've ever had.  Justin, the intern, and I ate breakfast together at the airport before he left.  Then I asked a guy using his computer if he would mind letting me plug into the socket by him. We started up a conversation and found we were both from Houston. He is a chiropractor there.

Both seats were empty when I reached my seat. But just before the plane left, a young man, dressed in the same kind of pants I had on, and carrying hiking boots took the other seat.  We both worked to get his stuff stowed and then I asked him if he had been hiking.  He replied that he had been on a college credit course that involved hiking, learning about conservation and doing environmental activities while in Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Yellowstone and other nearby areas. I replied that I had just completed a volunteer stint at Red Rock Lakes and remembered seeing his group.

After that, we were best buds and talked animatedly and incessantly the entire trip, so much so, that the hostess came back to find out how such strangers were having so much fun together.   He  recommended some books and movies that were relevant to conservation in that area.

I can definitely recommend one of those books, The Big Wild . I am almost through reading it on my Kindle Fire. It is about the idea of hooking up all the public lands, from the Yellowstone to the Yukon, with corridors so animals can move freely among them, and thus maintain places for them to go when disaster strikes on one area, and to keep biological diversity high.  This is one antidote to extinction, which has already happened in some of the smaller, isolated national lands.  This idea was the start of Y2Y by the author and other like-minded visionary people.

My first impression of Ottawa was of extreme cleanliness.  The airport was pristine everywhere I looked. And so far, the city is also very clean. Then there is their respect of history with lots of old buildings among the still dynamic building of new ones. And the population is diverse and seems to have lots of people involved in walking, water sports, and biking.

Karen gave me a bus pass and a map and I'm starting to explore.  She took me on a long walk - even all the way over to Quebec, across the Ottawa River, the second evening I was here. Now I'm figuring out other places to visit each day.

Here are a few pictures from our first walk.  We took the bus downtown, but I've since walked there.  It is so lovely to get to use our feet or public transportation.


This  "face" on the Parliament building cracked me up

Ottawa View

Ottawa River where Rideau Canal Comes Out

Looking back at locks on the Rideau  Canal from bridge over Ottawa River

Maman (sculpture), giant spider by Louise Bourgeois

The pedestrian/bike boardwalk on bridge across Ottawa River

View  of parliament hill from bridge over Ottawa River

Recreation on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River

Downtown View-The glass top is in the shape of tulips 

Statue of  Samuel de Champlain - This was past the museum with all the
glass in previous picture - seen from bridge

View looking east on Rideau Canal

Murel on stairs

Looking across Ottawa River to Quebec side

My ribs are finally showing signs of recovery. I've had two more disasters while here: my computer broke down and one of my readers froze. But I'm now the proud owner of and Apple - and am struggling to learn its filing system and how to use a new picture editing program.  But it is so blazingly fast, I'll have plenty of extra time to learn the applications. Amazon has sent me a new reader.  And of course, I'm having a great time with my kids. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Personal Search for the End of the Endless Missouri

Lewis and Clark played a tremendous role in mapping out the rivers of the west as they followed the Missouri River to its tributaries and looked for a passage to the Pacific. Today, there are hundreds of places that commemorate their explorations.  Many of them are in Montana and a vacation or series of vacations could be built around visiting these sites, just in this state.

Last year I got interested in seeing some of the places discovered by them. I accidently stumbled over the marvelous Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls.  And Bob and I came across Camp Fortunate last year while on the way to check out Red Rock Lakes NWR.  This is the camp where Sacagawea was reunited with her brother and where the Expedition obtained horses.

Me in a copy of one of the boats used in the Lewis and Clark Expedition

As I rode  east out of the refuge with Steve and Cheri, on the way to the rodeo at Ennis, we passed a sign where little creek crossed the road. (See the sign below) Steve said that the Hell Roaring Creek flowed  from  Browers Spring, named for the man who discovered it. This is the ultimate source of the Missouri River. That piqued my interest and I started researching this story and also started plotting to visit Browers Spring.

The sign that peaked my interest

Lewis and other members of the Discovery Corps. thought they had discovered the source of he Missouri in the Beaverhead Mountains at the highest reaches of a little creek now known as Trail Creek. Lewis later wrote,  he "thanked his god that he had lived to bestride the mighty and heretofore deemed endless Missouri.

But almost 100 years later,  Jacob  V. Brower, the man who confirmed  the source of the Mississippi River, and urged the the state of Minnesota to preserve it as Itasca State Park, decided to search for it. Lewis and Clark had named the three rivers who come together to form the Missouri as the Galatin,  the Madison, and the Jefferson.  The longest of the three rivers is the Jefferson, so Browers came up this river to where it was called the Beaverhead, then on up through Red Rock Creek and Hell Roaring Creek.  He hiked, along with some local up along Hell Roaring Creek until he found where it ouzed out the the Mountain, about a hundred more miles further away from the place where the waterway is called the Missouri.  This point is about 100 miles further upstream that was the point on Trail Creek.  At 2,341 miles, the Missouri is the longest river in the United States, but is not quite endless.

One of three branches of Hell Roaring Creek which fills the roadside ditch
before going through one culvert on its way to Red Rock Creek

I learned that the spring was about five miles upstream from this sign. Then I learned that the actual way to reach it was to go up Sawtell Mountain and hike the Sawtell Trail to it.  I put this near the top of the things I wanted to do while at Red Rock Lakes. The last weekend before I left, I realized that I had to do this or forget about it for this year.  I finally got myself organized to hike there. I did a little research and found the coordinates listed in Wikipedia. Dave, the Deputy Project Leader, had hiked up there a week or so before and told me I only had to hike about two miles.

Sawtell Mountain

The road to Sawtell Mountain looked more like a bowl of spaghetti
 than a road. Cam you see another piece of road in the center of the picture. 

View from Sawtell Mountain

I first visited the top of Sawtell mountain, of course stopping frequently to take pictures as I drove up the tight switchbacks,  then drove back down to the trailhead and began my hike.  My GPS beeped to tell me I had arrived at Brower Springs when I reached the top of Sawtell Mountain.  I planned to get the true coordinates and edit Wikipedia so others could have the correct coordinates.  And I even had the forethought to take the coordinates for the trailhead.

The day was gorgeous and I was walking on or close to the Continental Divide. The trailhead had no maps but I  thought the trail I was on was going to end at Hell Roaring Creek.  Soon I was spending as much time taking pictures as I was walking. I was walking through flowering meadows, amid the sounds of buzzing bees, watching dancing butterflies and darting little birds. Lots of sparrows and American goldfinches were active in spots.  I was on the spine of the Continental Divide where water could run either to the Gulf or to the Pacific, depending on just a few feet of difference.

Many species of wildflowers grew riotously  

One of many species of butterflies

There were lots of different flowers 

Bees on larkspur

View down to Henry's Lake, on the Pacific side of the divide

The trail was well defined but very narrow

Chipping sparrow

When I didn't see the spring, I just kept on walking missed  it entirely, but walked to the end of the trail. So instead of a four mile hike, I ended up walking almost ten miles.  I wasn't in physical shape for that long a walk, and I ran out of water. Then I tripped over my hiking pole and took a really hard fall on top of my camera. The camera survived but my ribs didn't. I'm still taking painkillers and moving slowly.

Trail View

An interesting mountain face

I think this is the remains of  caldera

The end of the trail

Brower's Spring by Jophn9546 - what I didn't see

Currently I'm having a great visit with my daughter and son-in-law in Ottawa, Canada. More about that in the next blog. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Duck Roundup at Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Last Monday was the first day of a five-day baby lesser scaup roundup so the ducklings can be banded.  This is part of a decade-long study to try and figure out what environmental changes are impacting scaup numbers. And returned band data from ducks taken by hunters will show what, if any effect hunting has on the duck population.

The baby ducks live in large multifamily creches with one or more hens.  The babies may move from one group of ducks to another over time. So we can capture them without worrying about getting them back in the same group of ducks.

Getting on the water

First a team of researchers and volunteers  set up  made of small gauge wire circular trap  with long mesh nets extending out of it in a wide V. The trap has an opening  with "gates" of  extra wire which a worker will hold closed as soon as the ducks enter the trap. These are diving ducks and they will try to escape by either diving back under our boats or diving under the trap or the nets that lead to it. So the first job of the day, was to push the bottom of nets which were  strung on a lead wire, into the mud.

Nick and Sarah waling back after using their paddles to get the bottom of the trap pushed into the muc

Then the drivers, which consist of staff and volunteers, in paddle craft, work to drive the ducklings into the nets and then down the isle created by the nets. We start maybe a quarter of a mile away, but we paddle out and around the pathway we plan to drive them.  Cody deployed various members of the group at spaces between islands of bulrushes to prevent the birds from sneaking back around and escaping. The last of us were the drivers, but the others joined us as we passed their positions.  Lower Red Rock Lake is a big duck hatchery and is closed to recreational paddling during the spring and summer, so getting to see if from a canoe was another perk.

Paddlers deploying along the route to stop the ducks from escaping

Group of ducks and grebes being pushed - soon only the ducklings will remain

 When all are in the pen, workers scoop them up in dip nets and put them in special, ventilated cardboard boxes and bring them to shore.

Cody and Jeff are scooping up ducklings while Nic holds the box

We did two drives on Tuesday, the day I worked. Three of the paddlers turned into banders and worked that batch of about twenty-five ducks, while the rest of up gathered up another batch.  (I only paddled and took pictures since most moments hurt.)  The winds built to an uncomfortable level in the afternoon.  I was in a little canoe, borrowed from Steve, and started having trouble holding my point.  Then when we got to the trap, we saw three sections of net with the bottoms out and blowing in the wind.  Steve and Cody raced to that section and headed the ducklings off it.  Cody jumped into the water and blocked that exit with his canoe while the rest of us splashed our paddles to make the ducklings swim into the trap. I was so glad to see that we got most of them trapped after thinking we would lose them all.

But it was a wild time, getting the birds out of the trap as fast as possible.  The ducks repeatedly dive and can get hypothermic under these conditions. The workers, grab them with their hands and scoop them up with large dip nets. Finally they have to feel all around the trap for submerged ducklings.  The birds are put into vented cardboard boxes.  We had previously put pads on the bottom so the ducklings could drain and dry off. As soon as we had all the ducklings in boxes, we hauled them to shore.

There we first sexed them  and split them into  boxes of  just males or females.

Cody demonstrating how to sex - this takes a lot of practice to get the sex parts visible

This one is a male

 Then two teams of helpers got to work, one banding each sex. A band is put on each bird that is big enough.  Birds who are so small that they could pull their foot through the band are tagged with web clips. These are temporary and when this banding is done again in September, all birds with web tags will get a permanent band.

New bands this year are marine grade aluminum and are much harder to use but
 should last the life of the bird

Small duckling getting a web tag

 Measurements are taken of the bill to back-of-the head length and the length of the tarsus -  the bone between the foot and the "knee".

Measuring head-bill length - this got to be my job during banding

Measuring the tarsus

Then they are weighed by hooking a little scale right into the band. or, they are dropped into a little cone that is hooked to the scale.

Weighing the duckling as soon as he gets still
One or the most important jobs is to get all the data on each duckling recorded in the proper place on the data form and to write legibly enough to be able to read it when it is put into the database.

Then they are ready to be taken back to the general area where they were captured, and released.

Nick and Sarah hauling the ducklings back to the trap area to release them

Lesser scaup will live up to seven years in the wild. Hunters who kill a bird with a band are asked give the information on the duck bands to the Bird Banding Laboratory by phone or on-line. The information is then sent back to the banding entity, so the refuge can start to document the effect of hunting on this population of lesser scaup. And some birds get recaptured, giving more information about their lives.

The pictures of the actual banding operation are from Monday.   The banding group only got nine birds so Cody, the master's candidate who is doing research on lesser scaup, had lots of time to teach us how to do each part of the job to get the birds sexed,  marked with bands or web tags, measured, and weighed. I knew I would be too busy, getting covered in duckling poop while helping to sex them, then measuring the tarsus when we had our work station set up.

The duck roundup gave me another present.  While at Science Wednesday, eating potluck, a guy said, "Marilyn, what are you doing here?" I looked up to see Joe, my favorite bunkmate at Sacramento NWR. He is doing field work in Idaho and has friends who got him involved with the roundup. That's what I love about being a hobo - I get to see my old friends in new places. But I was too sore to get to work with him the following day.

I had taken a hard fall while hiking two days earlier.  I fell on my camera which survived,  but I did serious damage to my ribs. I wasn't hurting badly enough not to paddle, but I've been hurting much more ever since. The slightest movement still hurts and it takes me several seconds to retrieve anything I drop.  I had to pack up and move to the Bison Range last Friday and ended up needing help to load and unload my car. But I did get permission to leave my trailer un vacuumed, so all was not lost.

 I'll be leaving  for a visit to my daughter and son-in-law in Ottawa, as this blog comes out, and hope to get to catch up on blogs and also recover.  Oh yes, I get to go back to Red Rock Lakes NWR next summer. I plan to bring my canoe so I'll get to do lots more paddling. Hopefully I'll also get in several visits to Yellowstone.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Teri and I spent most of the time together birding. Teri is a marvelous birder and is way more patient and dedicated than am I.  I learned a lot from her. We did an impromptu survey of several areas of the refuge and then spent Sunday helping with the raptor survey of the Centennial Valley, which took most of the day Sunday and involved two hundred miles of driving, 107 of that on the actual count.

But we took a break to go to West Yellowstone to check out the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center one drizzly afternoon.  We only had to stop once on the way to enjoy a few Scottish Highlander cows. Don't they have the most amazing faces?

The Center is easy to find - it is next to the Yellowstone Imax Movie House.

The center has been established to educate the public about bears and wolves and help us learn how to coexist with them.  They take in animals that can't be released to the wild and use them in their educational programs. They also have interesting movies and displays, as well as the live animals.

I was disappointed to find that they have several bears but only put one bear in a display enclosure at a time. But it was interesting to learn that these bears are used to test garbage cans and bear spray and they certify the garbage cans that bears cannot break into, after the staff shuts some really enticing food inside. They also certify bear sprays that stop the bears at a safe distance from people.  I found the display of the failed garbage cans quite amusing but didn't want to use my camera in the rain, so I can't share the display with you.

This facility does not do the kind of basic bear research that the North American Bear Center does, but it still made for a fun few hours. (And do check out the North American Bear Website.  You can see a bear sleeping in its den, and perhaps a birth of baby bears.)

We were shunted through the gif shop on the way out.  I had to get Teri's picture on the bear couch.

We found this bison wandering in the parking lot as we were leaving. 

On a personal front, I'm in that really wild time when I'm trying to make good on my various promises to do jobs.  I still have maybe fifty or more hours of data entry, one more visit to my bluebirds, and I need to get my car cleaned out and packed up by next Thursday night.  So I may be skipping a few  blogs.  I'll get to the National Bison Range a week from this Friday, the will fly to Ottawa, Canada on Sunday to visit my eldest daughter a few weeks.

Then I'll be working at the Bison Range for about six weeks. There, I'll get to help with roundup of the bison, and put on a Big Sit.  Hopefully, while visiting my daughter, I'll get my fall and winter schedule of set up.  So far there is a meetup at Caddo Lake in northeast Texas, a bird festival in the Valley, and a Kayak Festival in Corpus Christi.  I also need to get my first two surgeries scheduled.