My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Baby Time at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Nesting has started to heat up and some babies are already growing.  Some Canada geese have almost grown children. The red-tailed hawks and golden eagles are almost grown. Avocets, black-necked stilts, and killdeer are sitting on their nests as are mallards, cinnamon teal and some of the other species.Sandhill crane pairs are appearing with their single orange colts.

This pair was about 400 yards away on a misty day, hence the softness
 Yesterday, as I was driving down to Double-O to pick up my bee traps and harvest the bees, I saw a Pronghorn Antelope running towards me, between the road and a fence, with a tiny baby, probably only a day or so old. She tried to get away from me by getting in the field behind the fence but they can't jump fences like deer, and it was a four-strand fence and she must not have thought she could get under it.

Suddenly, she veered across the road while her baby just disappeared.  It seemed to dive into the earth and be swallowed up.  I stopped the car and got out to look.  Even though I thought I knew where it had disappeared, I had to look for a minute to find it.  It was laying flattened to the ground in grass about eight inches high. I took a picture and quickly left so mom could circle around and collect it. The pronghorns go off and have their babies alone and stay alone until the baby is able to run with the herd.

The new-born pronghorn - I didn't take time to change my zoom but I was not near it. 

Last Friday I was driving three ladies on a tour. As we were driving slowly along the road, we flushed a black-necked stilt off her nest in the ditch, only about four feet away from our tires. I grabbed a shot of the eggs.

Black-necked stilt eggs

While I was collecting bees at Double-O, the intern who lives there came back and visited with me.  He said that that there were several avocet nests right along the road, past the turn to the house. So, I went back and found three avocet nests and one killdeer nest.  The killdeer nest was at the very edge of the road, using the gravel from the road.  The avocets were on the grassy verge and in a slightly safer place.

The killdeer was off her eggs and then came back and sat on them will the car was almost next to them.  Two of the avocets remained on there nests while I drove by twice. (I went past them and turned around and came back for the light and to have them on the driver's side.)  I found one nest unnoccupied - the avocets were feeding in the pond behind the nests and got pictures of their eggs. All these pictures were taken from the car to avoid stressing the birds.

One of many avocets nesting on Double - O Ranch

Avocet Eggs

Killdeer on nest
Killdeer eggs
Great Horned Owl on May 6.  It fledged sometime last week.

Golden eagle chick on May 11 - it is still in the nest

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Outdoor School

:Last week, Carla, one of my favorite staffers and the person who made my Power Point show possible, asked me to go with her to Outdoor School.  This is a day, offered every two years, when all the 5th and 6th graders from Grant County come to a place in Malheur National Forest for outdoor education.  The children move from one station to another, for a total of ten stations, and learn about the Northern Paiutes that lived here, and how they gathered food, made baskets and rope, and used the baskets to haul water and as cooking pots. They also learned about the throwing sticks and got to practice throwing them. Other stations talked about forestry, the importance of fire to aspen groves, the invertebrates and mammals of the area, the parts of a tree and were able to core a tree and find out its age. 

Carla had corporal tunnel surgery earlier this week and is not supposed to drive.  So I was the chauffeur and the hauler of stuff.  She left me directions to her house in Burns and her keys.  I needed to bring a lunch and dress warmly because this place is up in the mountains about 50 miles north of Burns. I was glad I had on my long john bottoms under my nylon pants when our first job was to get the snow off the tarp and get it high enough to use. (The site had had a light snow storm last night.) We couldn't lift the tarps so we just backed under the places where the snow had accumulated and lifted the tarps while we backed to the tarp edge.  Then I realized the negative part of this - the falling snow landed right on our posteriors, giving us a refreshing snow shower. 

Our day consisted of giving 9 talks about the plants the Northern Paiutes used for food, shoes, mats, and ropes. I gave the last talk after learning all about the materials we shared with the kids from listening to Carla. We had one short but heavy snow storm during the day but we managed to get in our cars and on the way home before another short but heavier storm hit.  The kids had fun but  the last two groups were very tired.  The sites were scattered throughout the woods and the buses parked a little ways down the road. The kids ate lunch in the buses since it was too cold and wet to sit on the ground.  So they had to both walk to all the stations and walk from one of the stations to the buses, then back.  With roughhousing while waiting for the classes to start, they probably walked more than two miles and then stood around for each presentation. They also had to chase their throwing sticks for more exercise. 

Our table with the artifacts we used in our talks.

One of the four busloads of kids arriving
Carla setting the stage for what life was like about 500 years ago
 After lunch, Carla suggested that I take a walk around and see what was happening at the other stations. Part of the time, we were on lunch break, but I caught a little action at some stations. 
Kids taking turns turning the tree corer in and out
Beautiful spring violets I found between stations

These guys were talking about forestry and warming everyone up.  They also had the only seats in town.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

R & R at Delintment Lake

I've been needing to take a little camping trip for a long time and finally got a large enough block of time to make it worth while.

After finishing loading up all the stuff I thought I'd need, I headed up into Malheur National Forest after making a few stops in Burns. By mid afternoon, I had found solitude on the shores of the little Lake Delintment.

The first thing I did was to hang my hammock and take a nap to the sounds of birdsong and breeze. Then I set up camp, made supper and checked out my area. I was the only tent camper around, although there were two trailers about a quarter of a mile away. I had lots of robins but couldn't find the calling birds in the tall Ponderosa pines. Cut chipmunks raced away with their tails up or popped up on a rock or stump to check me out.

Camp under Ponderosa Pines
I ate supper, read a while, and then went to sleep listening to the frog chorus. All too soon, the sky was lightening and birds were singing. 
Dawn View

View over my table
 I got up and fixed breakfast and then drove off to explore the area. In a few miles, I found a gurgling creek with blooming shrubs - they looked like some kind of berry with bell-shaped blooms - covered with several species of bees.  I had brought my bee net and kill jars with me, as well as enough materials to run one 14 cup transect. I caught 7 bees and found I had 6 species. I also set up my cups and  left them while I did further explorations and then back to camp for lunch.  I also pinned my netted bees.  I think I have at least one new species and perhaps two. I took several logging roads and found some beautiful scenery and a little wildlife.

Curious golden-mantled ground squirrel

A curious pronghorn antelope watched me run the bee transect

Coyote Willow Catkins
Yellow flowers
Part of a huge boulder outcropping
 My afternoon was drowsy with reading and dozing. In the evening, I retrieved my drowned bees and stored them in ethanol in my cooler before cooking supper, which included a piece of carp. Three deer visited my camp and one ate my apple core. After another short walk, I was ready for bed.

This morning I was cleaning out my tent and hanging out all my stuff to dry or air out by 5:15.  Then I made breakfast and finished breaking camp. I even had time to read a while before taking a hike around the lake. It was a lovely walk with lots of birds.  I got to see a pair of Canada geese with downy yellow babies, as well as ring-necked ducks, mallards, ruddy ducks, and coots.  There were a few red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, a hairy woodpecker, 6 spotted sandpipers, one of which had a red bill and sang a song that sounded like he was calling his dog. I saw a few juncos, heard chickadees and several birds I couldn't identify and couldn't locate in the tall trees.  There were several kinds of wildflowers, most just getting ready to bloom. After walking four miles, I still didn't have any aerobic miles so did another quick mile around the camp before heading out.

Pink flowering shrub that drew lots of bees, flies, and butterflies
More spring flowers
 I came back via a different route and enjoyed views of Emigrant Creek and more open spaces as I left the forest.
Roadside View

Emigrant Creek
New Leaves and flowers (Manonia repans)
Out of the forest

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Bounty of Bees

I'm now deep into collecting bees and  processing them. I still haven't learned the vocabulary of their structures to begin to identify them.  They will eventually get to an expert who will do the identifying.

I set up a transect that I will redo every two weeks. We discussed 12 sites but I can't easily get to several of them and  I am finding that there are so many bees and flies on each site, that it takes me several hours to process each site. So I think I'm going to do 11 all the time and will take my bee collecting supplies and GPS and do one-time collecting when I'm off camping. (I'm about to set off camping today.)

Once I drive in a stake and take a set it up as a way point so I have the coordinates of that point, I put out 14 little cups, full of soapy water,  about 5 meters apart. I also have to label 2 each of 3 kinds of shrubs  and write up the data on where they are in their life cycle, i.e. new leaves, buds, blooms, spent blooms, etc. Then I come back in about 24 hours and collect everything from all the cups into one sample. I rinse the sample with clean water, then put it into  a little bag and cover the sample with ethyl alcohol. . I bring them home and store them in the freezer until I'm ready to pin them. If I can find bees on flowers, I tray to catch several of them, trying for different looking ones so I get samples of different species.

When I'm ready to process the bees, I strain the bees out of the ethyl alcohol, and save it.  Then I wash the bees in soapy water in a closed container which I have to shake to get the pollen of the bees. Then I pour them back into a net and rinse them thoroughly.  I shake off as much water as I can and then dip the bees and net into a bowl of ethyl alcohol.

The bees are then drained on a paper towel and patted with another one.  After sorting out the flies and butterflies/moths, I dry them with a hair dryer and finally pin them. Since most of the bees are less than 1/4 inch long, this is the hardest part.

 I also have a butterfly net and kill bottles to use to capture bees and kill them that way.  When they drown in the soapy water, they pull in their mouth parts, which are required for ID in some cases. I'm also trying to get pictures of live bees.  Eventually we plan to collect and dry plants bees are using, then glue some of our bees on the flowers. We'll also have pictures of bees. in our display of pollinators.  I plan to also pin some butterflies to use in our display.

This is our most common bumble bee.It has a central orange stripe. I've found it all across Malheur NWR

Next, I dump the sample onto a paper towel, gently spread theinsects out, and remove flies and butterflies. Flies have two wings and bees have 4.  This gets hard to see when the bees/flies are less than one-eigth of an inch long. I'm awed by how many bees I'm getting from some sites.  I have between 50 and 100 from a couple of sites and the season is just starting.

My last step is to pour the bees into a container and dry them with a hair dryer for about 5 minutes.  Then I'm ready to pin them and try to pull out all their legs and wings so they can be seen.  I have to finish this last step the following day.

Finished bees from three sites. I'm getting 4 to over 120 from a site.
 I haven't pinned all the bees from any sites because I haven't had a microscope or lens and can't distinguish tiny bees from flies.  I can put these bees back into a bag of ethanol and keep them for later.

This bumble bee is all yellow.  I've only collected two specimens

This bee has a gorgeous rusty orange on it's thorax. It's about the size of a honey bee. 
 I expect bees to be fuzzy but many of my bees are metallic and blue or green.  One is the color of my favorite childhood dress, it is emerald green with turquoise and bright blue highlights.
This bee is tiny and metallic blue

This bee is about the size of a honey bee and has a metallic abdomen

This bee has metallic colors from emerald to blue

This is my largest species of metallic green bees - skinny but almost as long as a honey bee.
Next, I dump the sample onto a paper towel, gently flatten it out, and remove flies and butterflies. Flies have two wings and bees have 4.  This gets hard to see when the bees/flies are less than one-eigth of an inch long. I'm awed by how many bees I'm getting from some sites.  I have between 50 and 100 from a couple of sites and the season is just starting. I haven't pinned all the bees from any sites because I haven't had a microscope or lens and can't distinguish tiny bees from flies.  I can put these bees back into a bag of ethanol and keep them for later.

This is the most fascinating job I've gotten to do. I'm about to go camping and I plan to take along my bee catching supplies and my GPS and collect a sample of bees in Malheur National Forest.

And yesterday, I got a digital microscope with a camera lens.  I'll be able to capture close-up pictures of the mouth parts, eyes, etc, of the bees. I'm going to learn how to use it next week.  I also have a system of camera mount and lights that I'm going to use to take pictures of some of my pinned bees. So little time and so many bees.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Maco Malheur

I decided to take my macro lens along with me and search out any small landscapes. This is the result of a couple of days of hunting. Malheur is so huge and has such a limited number of plants, that most of us tend to only see the big plants and the birds.

First the golden willows in bloom - beautiful and most enticing to lots of pollinators.

 I started finding dandelions blooming and had to lie down along the side of the road and work on getting a picture of this bee. Fortunately, no other cars came along while I was laying there. 

This butterfly was the first one to appear this spring.  I haven't had time to figure it out but it is one of the cabbage butterflies.

Coyote willows are just starting to leaf out and have no signs of blooms.

This is golden current in bloom.  It is a large shrub that grows along the Central Patrol Road and in along many of our waterways. It really brings in the pollinators and I have one of my bee collecting transects under a row of them. (More on my bee project later.)  It also has a wonderful scent.

This is another lovely little wildflower I found while running my bee transects by Krumbo Reservoir. This would make a lovely ground cover.

My newest project it to collect bees from 12 sites, process them, and finally pin them. I have to sort them out from the flies I also catch. I'll write more on it later.

And yesterday I spent most of the day helping  deploy a buoy,  pull in nets to catch native fish for a study, and set out the nets in new spots. A lot of hauling and heavy paddling.  But we caught a huge carp that I carried straight up to the ice chest and then filleted.  Had my first carp meal last night.  Really delicious. Have 5 more meals in the freezer.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Harney Countys Most Numerous Residents

Harney County, with 10, 228 square miles,  is one of the largest counties in the country. However it only has around 7500 people.  The main industry here is dryland ranching.  So cows,  numbering over 113,000 head, are the most numerous residents of Harney County. And since,I've been here, the population has been rapidly increasing with new calves showing up starting in March and continuing through April.

In the summer, the cattle are mostly free-ranging - over 60% of the county belongs to the government and is managed by the BLM or the Forest Service.  Ranchers pay $1.35 per month for each cow/calf unit to run their cows on public lands. What a deal!

As you drive, you often cross cattle guards in the roads. These keep the cows on certain fields. In the summer, they eat grasses and in the winter, they eat hay.  The cows are usually in their home ranches during the winter.

A nurse cow with her charges
The Tuesday before the local Bird Festival began, I was busy finishing up some edits and additions to my Power Point show and showing it to my boss and some of the people who will be in charge of running it when I'm off driving birding tours. Then my boss had me go to Burns to deliver handouts to the elementary school, telling kids about the fun things to come do at the Bird Festival on Saturday.  I had to rush off because I needed to get to Burns before the school personnel left. But rushing was not in the cards when I got to the Narrows, where Highway 205 crosses between Mud and Malheur Lakes.

Cows  on Highway between two lakes with no place to go
Almost all the cows had calves trudging or stumbling behind them, some that looked to be only a week old. Several cows had lost their calves and were standing in the road bawling or turning back to look for them.  One mother stopped in front of me and her baby immediately lay down in the road, almost on the center line. When the mother was pushed on, the baby didn't get up.  The mother realized this and turned back and nuzzled it to get it moving again. 

When I finally got to the back of the line, the ranchers were using one horse and a couple of 4-wheelers to herd the cows along. They also had two large trucks which they used to block the road from the back. One lady on a 4-wheeler had all the lost calves with her.

These cows were going to their summer pasture on BLM or Forest Service Lands.

Cow in the sagebrush - one of their main summer foods

Hay is fed to the cows all winter and is a large feature in the landscape
The best cow picture is the one I missed. I  had gone to Burns and didn't take my camera.  On the way home, I saw a cow standing near the fence holding an empty feedbag in her mouth.  She was nodding her head up and down and waving the bag.  I thought she was saying, "Hey, do you see this is empty?  More food already!"  

I'm sort of hanging out until I do an extra day of work and run some water samples to Bend.  I get to go shopping and get my hair cut so it is going to be another hard day's work. The biggest problem is that I can't leave until 9:00A. M. Hopefully the light rain will stop and I can bird the grounds while I'm waiting to leave. We are getting new species of passerines every day.

Yesterday I got the protocols and most of the equipment to set up 12 bee collecting stations. I'm also supposed to net them and put them in a killing jar before preserving .  We are sending some of them to a regional F&W scientist for identification.  I think there are over 400 species of bees in the region. I'm also going to help get up a pollinator display, and will be collecting some of the plant material that the bees are using to preserve it. Then we are going to make bee dioramas for a pollinator exhibit.  I'm really excited about getting to work on it.