My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Weekend of Birds

I've driven over 200 miles this weekend, just doing my job as wandering docent. That mostly means, I drive around slowly and take lots of pictures.

New birds are pouring into the refuge, with lots of reports of warblers.  I saw my first Malheur yellow warbler and common yellowthroat yesterday and was able to tell some other visitors how to find them. And today I saw my first California gull and Wilson's phaloropes at this refuge.

I took time to take the burrowing owl's picture.  The good news is that I could walk up to the fence and shoot in the spaces. The bad news is that the gnats were having a great feed on my face while I waited for the owl to stand up fully. He pops into his burrow when he feels threatened and then comes back up in a couple of minutes. However I was too late to get the picture of the great horned owl which is nesting under the bridge at the Narrows. I need to be there about 6:30 P.M. to get light on the nest and it was 7:30 when I finished birding Ruh- Red Road. There I had to tell a man that Fish and Wildlife does not rescue animals. He wanted us to rescue a pelican with a broken wing. But we have around 500 healthy pelicans on the refuge now. 

I "worked" about twenty-two hours this weekend and now have another hour's of work to enter my bird counts into ebird.  If you don't do this when you go birding, I hope you'll consider it.  The more of us that enter our data, the more scientists can figure out what is happening to birds. And it is a great way to confirm the birds you may not be sure of. If you enter a bird that is unusual for the area, you will get an automatic filter questioning you.  Then a real person will review the data and question you.  Sometimes, they will even be able to tell you which bird you actually saw, especially if you send pictures.

Least sandpipers are just starting to move through here

Eared grebes breed here and are paired up

First California gull I've identified here

We are overrun with yellow-headed blackbirds. The females came in today.

Long-billed curlews breed here

As do avocets

White-faced ibis are here by the hundreds and come to Malheur Lake to roost by the hundreds

This is the burrowing owl I send everyone to see.  If they are lucky, they get two owls sharing this burrow
Barn and tree sparrows posed for me yesterday and today

The sound of the bittern is much more common than a view of him.

Tree swallows are fighting over these houses. I get to watch them in my yard and along the auto tour I saw the female go inside this house. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Good Week's Work

I've really gotten to do a lot of fun and interesting things here at the refuge this week. I did a wondering docent job Saturday and Sunday, went to Boise on Monday, then got my stuff together to plant willow saplings on Tuesday and cut sixty-five of them.  I stopped early so I could go into town and get the fixings for Cajun Slaw to bring to our Wednesday luncheon to recognize all the volunteers and interns.  I made the slaw on Tuesday night so it could have lots of time to marinate.  So Wednesday, I had to plant the trees. Then, after eating until I was ready to burst,  I finished planting the trees. 

I cut willow branches around three feet long and trimmed any top branches

The tip of a willow slip

I took a broken bulb planter and had maintenance cut it to just a rod and T, then made holes with it

Then added the slip and closed up the hole while listening to an audio book

I stopped for the Volunteer Luncheon and enjoyed fish and a hamburger and other great food
 The luncheon was delicious and all the volunteers got recognized.  I was most happy to hear a letter sent to Tim Bodeen that mentioned how much the writers had enjoyed my Power Point show about Malheur NWR.

As  I was staggering home after having to plant about thirty trees on a full stomach, Linda, the fish biologist, asked me if I would like to go collect bees with her.  Of course, I perked right up and we jumped into her truck and took off. The refuge collects bees in an attempt to figure out all the species that live here. They are keeping a couple of each species for a future educational exhibit and sending others to a bee researcher who works in the refuge system. But this day was not going to be a bee collecting day.  Almost as soon as we started out, the clouds got dark.  Linda decided to just give me a tour on dirt roads around Mud and Harney Lakes. That was fun and got a little exciting a few times when she had to work hard to keep us from getting stuck in the mud after we ran into a couple of rain showers. We didn't get back to my house until around 6:00 P.M.. I volunteered to both collect and pin bees. And on the trip, I volunteered to help her technician, Kris - same guy that lost the keys to his truck in Boise - set out fish traps. They had 20 square nylon nets that needed to be attached to fence posts driven into the Headquarters Pond for an experiment.

So Thursday, I got to haul the posts and traps while Kris got to drive the posts and attach the nets and  lids. We started around 8:30 A.M. by collecting 60 fence posts.  We both were in chest waders. Then we stopped and both struggled with a big box of nets and lids and hauled everything to the pond.  After Kris figured out the best places to stake out the nets,  I hauled two loads of fence posts - I could only carry three at a time - and then a load of two lids and two nets. After several loads, I realized I didn't need to be in waders so went back to land clothes. We got twelve done before we broke for lunch which was leftovers from Wednesday's luncheon..  Linda got back from her dentist appointment just in time to eat lunch with us.  She volunteered to help us but I told her she would have to find another person, as well as other equipment  because I could stay ahead of Kris, unless she started helping him.  Then I would need someone to help me or everyone would be standing around. So she did other work while Kris and I finished up. We got caught in the rain for the second time of the day but this time we got wetter. And the temperature dropped several degrees during the storm. We sat it out in the truck, running the heater.  But we were still wet when we went back out into a howling cold wind. Within  minutes I felt frozen through.  I had all the hauling done but I should have picked up our mess and other trash stuff.  But I was so cold, I had to come home where I jumped under lots of covers for a couple of hours.  Hopefully Kris fared a little better.  But he probably needed another layer or two on the top. And he had to work at least another half hour after I quit.

The finished trap set-up. This will be used to learn whether various native fish eat carp eggs

Kris and I were going to set fish traps today to catch the fish needed for the experiment.  But he called last night to say he was taking today off. So I may not get to help with putting the fish in the traps since I'll be working for Carey the next four days. But 'll keep up with this project and let you know more about it as it progresses. It would have been a really cold job to set the traps as the morning temperature was 21 with a wind chill of 13. And we had a little snow last night and winds up to 32mph. Winter is definitely hanging around.

Krumbo Reservoir opens at dawn tomorrow. I'm going there really early to look for birds and walk the short trail. Then I'll hang around and see if people need any information. I've also asked Carey to give me a list of FAQ and answers since I know NOTHING about state fishing regulations and our special regulations.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Imprumpto Trip

After spending the weekend counting birds and doing a little chatting with visitors, I decided I really needed to do some real work and  the time had come to plant some willow sticks to build a screen out of willows along the planned path to the headquarter pond.

So I came in to work at 7A and did a little quick research on how to cut and plant the willows .  But, just before my boss arrived, with whom I planned to discuss today's work, the Project Manager, Tim Bodeen popped his head into my work station and asked if I wanted to drive to Boise.  Of course I did.

Our newest hire, Kris, had been to Boise for a motorboat course. Then he stayed on with relatives and his wife brought his son over for a birthday party.  When he went to load up his truck and come home he could find the keys nowhere.  So my task was to go over with him and drive the car back.

I grabbed my camera, binoculars, a  book, water, and my bin of muffins - the muffins because I figured he was upset enough not to have bothered to eat breakfast. (I was right and he enjoyed two of them, while I had one for a snack.)

We got to Boise just at noon our time but an hour later their time. Chris wanted to go eat sushi, since we can't find that food around here. I was in complete agreement. On the way into Boise, to the restaurant, he pointed out the Sierra Trading Post, Cabella's, and REI.  AND he is going to give me the waypoints for some of his secret camping spots in the national forests near there. I'm planning to spend a little time shopping and camping there soon. I won't get in very much trouble.

I had left my phone at home so didn't want to hang out and then have something happen with no one to rescue me.  Chris planned to leave about an hour after I did, so I had time to stop and take some pictures of the spectacular views.

I was almost out of gas when I got to Burns, so got two gallons to get me home.  I also spent several minutes scrubbing bugs off the windshield. We have bugs so think here now, that they sound like rain hitting the windshield and can almost completely cover it every fifteen minutes or so. The windshield washer will only get a few of them off.

Then a storm blew in and I realized I REALLY had to go to the bathroom.  So I pulled off at a gravel storage place along the way and hid out behind a pile of gravel.  I opened two doors and was going between them. Before I had my pants back up, a big white truck pulled in and tried to come over to the driver's side. I realized it was Chris checking up on me and did manage to get my pants up before telling him thanks for checking on me.

But the scenery was beautiful and Idaho was surprising.  I was expecting to climb into a forest but after we climbed out of Haney Basin, we mostly were going down 2000 feet. And we were in farmland, not a forest.  But there is forest just a little north of Boise and  I'm looking forward to hanging my hammock there soon.

A few miles west of Boise

A closer view

Cattle and horses live in the drier areas

A fork of the Malheur and a couple of other streams share the valley with the road

Just another roadside view - I'm in Oregon now

Some hills seemed to be made of volcanic ash

View of Eastern Oregon

Some hills looked more like dunes or a mixture of ash and sand

I love these soft-looking hills

This is on the north fork of the Malheur River

This was a lake about thirty miles from Burns

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spring? Just Maybe!

We Texans,  we like to think we are a big, macho state. And our weather is pretty much the same way, at least spring and summer.  Winter has a hard time squeezing in between fall and spring and fall is usually quiet, and relatively cool time of year. But about the third weekend in February,  our spring comes bounding in like a big-footed Labrador puppy, knocking down every visage of winter and kick-starting  all the grass and flowers to grow at once. It's as though flowers burst out of every footprint of the wild running puppy. Our winds start shifting to the south, and if we're real unlucky, stay there, blowing the migrating songbirds right over us.  Our wintering geese, ducks, and raptors rush off almost in mas, and within a few weeks are gone altogether. 
By March we are in shorts and most of us will wear them until November while the hardiest among us never wear long pants. Our wildflowers start blooming in late January and peak early in April. By late April or early May, we are complaining about the summer heat which lasts into October.

Texas Hill Country  Roadside View in mid-April

But up here in Oregon, spring is coming in on tiptoe, and keeps getting scared and rushing off to hide. I expected it arrive later, but had no idea it would be such a little wimp. I knew spring would never get here in February, but started looking in all the places I passed for just a little glimpse of spring. I looked in vain all of March and then in April, almost gave up hope of seeing Spring at all. On April 4, I woke up to see four inches of snow. 

But a few hours later, the sun came out and by noon, most of the snow was gone. And the Clark's and western grebes showed up.  They must think spring is here. But I still didn't take off my long Johns.

By April 9, I still couldn't find any flowers.  But a week later, I saw little marks of spring. The grass sent up green stalks. I saw some jonquils in town. And then  came the last four days of warm to hot weather. Several trees budded out and some produced their blooms.

 And this morning, I saw that we had fully blooming trees here at headquarters.


 But some trees are still cynics and aren't planning on putting out tender leaves anytime soon.

 Daffodils have popped into bloom. 

And for the last two days, I haven't had to wear a jacket.  I've been out of long Johns for over a week.  Yesterday, I drove with the window down and got sunburn on my left arm. Owls, golden eagles, and red-tailed hawks are sitting on eggs. Today the first western kingbird showed up. And a huge flock of brown-headed cowbirds were hogging several bird feeders.

So I think spring is tiptoeing  into the Oregon High Desert. Ah, Spring.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Extreme Birding

Extreme Birding [Formerly Sunrise to Sunset]:

The goal of this tour is to view 100 plus species across the Harney Basin. Friday tour participants will have the added bonus of an evening multi-media review of species, including photo highlights of the day during a no host dinner. Travel plans include visiting habitats of ponderosa pine, western juniper, sagebrush, agricultural fields, wetlands, sewage ponds and backyards from Idlewild Campground through the Silvies River floodplain, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Frenchglen. Everyone gets a window seat on this tour! Local biologists will serve as your tour guides for this jam packed day of birding. Bring snacks, drinks and lunch.Birding Intensity III
Friday - 6:00 to 6:00; 12 hours. Fee: $95
Saturday - 6:00 to 4:00; 9 hours. Fee: $80

This is  the description of the trip for which I drove one of the vans on Friday, April 13.  It was a most lucky day, in spite of the bad luck associated with this date. The worst luck I had was in setting two alarm clocks WRONG and then waking up about 20 minutes before I had to leave.  But I had my coffee ready to turn on, and lunch made so I was at the pickup site early.

We first traveled to a site in Malheur National Forest where we saw several white-headed woodpeckers, including getting to watch two of them copulating. We also found a pygmy owl calling with western bluebirds and chickadees harassing it. Then we came back to Hines/Burns - our two adjacent towns and stopped at a yard where there are lots of shrubs, bushes, trees, feeders, and a pond for the birds. We got American and lesser goldfinches there as well as Cassin's finch and house finch. They also have rosy finches, but I didn't see any.

Then we  went to the wet fields around Burns and saw most of the ducks - we only missed blue-winged teal - all the geese, snows, Ross's, white-fronted and Canada, black-necked stilts, avocets, long-billed curlews and sage thrashers. Here is a picture of what we think are a pair of nesting long-billed curlews.

We went on the refuge and on the way stopped to see a golden eagle on the nest which was the size of a Volkswagon sitting on a cliff. We also saw Forrester terns, Clark's, western, and eared grebes.

We saw a few sparrows and a common loon. Also lots of raptors, including Swainson's hawk, red-tailed hawks, rough-legged hawks, a Cooper's, several kestrels and harriers and a bald eagle. And owls- at noon we were watching a short-eared flying and landing on a tiny strip of grass in Malheur lake.  We saw two nests of great horned owls, one built on the underpinnings of the bridge over the Narrows - the strip of water that connects Malheur and Mud  Lakes.  And late this evening, we saw several night herons and two burrowing owls as well as several hundred pelicans.

 A well spent sixteen hours.  The refuge really likes that I don't stop working at 32 hours a week and I really love getting to go on these free tours.

This is Howard, our tour guide and a National Forest employee. The tour had two vans, but we got separated at this point. 

NEWS FLASH!  I just spent 2 hours with a SNOWY OWL  and met two new friends.  The snowy owl is only a couple of miles north of the refuge.  It stayed in one spot the whole time we watched it.  But we did get to watch two short-eared owls flying around several times. This was a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hopefully it will stay here.  Kelly, one half of the couple I met, had collected thirty-some of the pellets of the snowy owl that was here this winter and knew everything it had eaten.  That bird was about another twelve miles away and they don't think this is the same bird that disappeared late this past January. And the couple were native east Texans so we had fun chatting while waiting for the owl to fly, which it never did before it was too dark to see it. 

 I came home really tired and was struggling to finish this blog. Then I decided to go look for the snowy owl one more time - it was first seen at 7:20 A.M. and I took my tour past its location on the way to our destination and on the way back to town. I left my blog pictures loading. But after finding the owls - did I mention I also saw three burrowing owls today, one three times? - I feel totally energized again.

 Oh yes, our group saw over 107 species.  I personally only saw about 90. But sometimes I had to drive and couldn't look backwards. The group in the  other van saw species we didn't and we saw some species they didn't. This was a record number of birds for this tour. And several groups saw the snowy owl before the tour ended so he ended up in the festival count.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Visit to Malheur National Forest

I needed to get some groceries.  Next week is going to be crazy and I won't get any time off.  Of course "on" time includes two birding trips - one worth $95.00, free attendance at a banquet, getting to present my  Introduction to Malheur NWR Power Point show many times, and getting to run the kids activities on Saturday afternoon  - all this connected with the John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival- that happens all around Burns and out to the refuge.

But this was an off day, so I needed to have a little adventure. I decided to both check out the birds at Ruh-Red road and to go visit another birding site, the Idlewild Campground in Malheur National Forest which is only about 18 miles north of Burns.

Soon I was climbing and seeing lots of rimrock.  I also saw awesome boulders, weathered into fantastic shapes.

Soon I had left the sagebrush desert behind and was seeing more and more Ponderosa pines.

A few minutes later I was in the Ponderosa forest.  I was at around an altitude 6000 feet and there was still snow on the ground.  The secondary roads were still closed and full of snow.

I soon turned into Idlewild Campground in the Malheur National Forest. This place charges $10 a night to camp here. Seniors get to  camp for $5 each night - a price I think I can afford.  There were chemical toilets but no water.  The water was cut off for the winter and I think will be turned back on May 1. It also has a group shelter that can be reserved. 

 I walked around looking and listening for birds. The place was pretty quiet.  I could hear woodpeckers - there are white-headed ones here - a warbling call, and not much else. I stopped and pished and immediately a white-breasted nuthatch flew in to a tree near me and started feeding on it.  I was so transfixed, I didn't even turn my camera on until he was too high in the tree to photograph.

Later I stumbled on another trail and took it for about a mile, before turning around.  Almost as soon as I got on it, I was surrounded by mountain chickadees.  They were feeding along  branches, on the trunks of trees, and on the ground. They flew within ten feet of me, but I was frozen with joy, just watching them.  As soon as I came to myself and turned on the camera, they were off.

I keep hearing that spring is here. Here in the Oregon High Dessert and surrounging mountains, not so much.  But I did found a species of wildflower blooming along the trail as I crunched through snow or walked softly on pine needles. Then I noticed a really strange thing. Could that be.....SAGEBRUSH?   I had to take a good smell but yes, that IS sagebrush growing in the shade of a Ponderosa forest. These sure weren't like the California Ponderosa forests.

I also fell in love with the bright, yellow-green color of the moss that grew on the dead limbs of Ponderosa pines.  Up close, it also has lots of texture.

 I loved this wood-burned and painted map of the area.  I live at the very bottom just to the right of the road that runs between between Malheur (east side) and Mud (west side) lakes. Burns is about 32 miles from my house and is the closest place to buy groceries or much of anything else.

 Soon my feet were telling me that it was time to stop already and get back to Burns and get groceries while they still had a few steps left in them.  But I had to stop once more to get this picture of an aspen grove along the road.

Today I'm busy cooking up pea soup, chicken stew, and fish something or the other. I took my last package of Carp, then found I didn't have the ingredients for any recipe so made a sort of fish soup, with brown rice in it. But I figure all this food will be tasting just fine for some of my lunches and suppers next week.

And I'm about to take the long way to the office area and then see if I have solved my problem of my music running too long. Otherwise, that will be the problem of the day tomorrow. Then from Tuesday on, we'll be giving the show to people coming to take the self-guided tour of Malheur NWR. Friday I'll be the driver for the Extreme Birding Tour.  I have to take the van in to Burns by 5:45A. . Saturday, I'll run the children's activities, then change and go to the Festival Banquet.  Then  I have to get up Sunday and drive in to Burns and pick up another van full of people and take it to the Narrows, where I'll pick up the tour guide.  We'll be touring the Double O Ranch that day.  I'll be done and back home about 4:00P.  I was scheduled to work next Monday but I told my boss I needed a sleep day.

I probably won't have time for any posts until after next week.  But I'll be back with all the fun stuff I did at the Festival.