My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Many Happenings

Sorry for the hiatus. It's been a hectic two weeks.  I've changed bosses, homes, and our Internet was down for several days.

When I came here, I was supposed to leave mid -May.  But as soon as I got here, I wanted to see the seasons in the Oregon High Dessert and get up to the top of Steen Mountai, which is still partially impassable. . So now I'm redundant with Carey but am still useful to the Fish Biologist and the Archeologist. I'm working under the Archeologist and doing the bee project for the Fish Biologist. I also changed the days of the week I work and worked straight through except for taking off to move.

I moved about 50 yards from my old house, which has since become the Intern Bunkhouse, to Carp Haven. Here I have a two bedroom house - although the 2nd bedroom is empty - and a living room and kitchen. I feel really spacious  and now have room for company.  I have my camping cot and camping pad to use as well as a comfortable couch plus a double bed. . I'll be living here until the end of the first week in August.

A leucanistic common nighthawk that shares our yards

The first intern, Tamera,  arrived early to help with the children's programs. Then last weekend, as I was moving, the two young men, Barry and Eric arrived. Barry arrived while Eric was riding almost 100 miles with me to see some of the refuge. We enjoyed hiking up on top of the rim over Page Springs Campground, just adjacent to the refuge, visiting our golden eagle chick which is almost ready to fledge, if not already gone, seeing a sandhill crane, a young buck, and getting several views of a hunting short-eared owl.

Thursday,  all the interns came over for an early  spaghetti supper and then we went to Crane Crystal Hot Springs where we hunted down the pair of burrowing owls and hung out a couple of hours in the lovely hot pond. (We are all broke so we went on the two dollar family night. We had so much fun that we plan to make it a weekly date, rotating the chef and driver.

The group taken on Tamera's camera by a kind bystander

We found the pair of burrowing owls that live in the camping area of the springs. Photo by Tamera

 One of my new duties is to prepare and take educational materials to the Paiute Indian Tribe's Summer Kid's Program.  I''ll be giving an hour program once a week.  This week we learned about the role bumblebees play in pollination and played a bumblebee relay race. I have a complete file with directions, templates and a short Power Point program, mostly so I could show U-Tube videos about a bumblebee nest, and a closeup of a bumblebee lapping up sugar water from a Q-tip. So if you can use this, I'll get it to you. Our refuge is competing against other refuges in our region to win the pollinator award by earning the most points.  Both my bee surveys and the pollinator activities will count.

And yesterday was very exciting.  I finally got six letter- boxes sized boxes of labeled bees off to Portland. I have sixteen more bags of bees to process in my "playtime" and also one transect to run this weekend. When I go out to Double-O to run the transect, I'm taking two of the interns with me to show them Double-O Ranch and hopefully lots of baby birds.

Today, Saturday, I worked on planting trees, then on processing bees and then too the Eric and Tamera with me to Double O Ranch so I could run a bee transect. Then we birded on Rhu-Red Road until sunset and also got to see a whole family of burrowing owls - four  kids and two parents - and the feruginous hawk nest. We got back after nine and Eric offered to cook some of the carp Tamera had brought home and which I had helped Barry learn how to filet.  Tamera and I co-made the salad with veggies  from both our kitchens.

And to think I get to do all this again tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kids Rule

All refuges offer an educational component that may include visits to classrooms, a reading contest where children read books about nature, special events with educational activities, and field trips for classes where part of the time spent on the refuge is spent doing active learning.

Staffer Kris with his first group, getting ready to learn about the fish at Malheur
 We sponsored a field trip day last Monday for the two third grade classes from an elementary school in Burns, Oregon.   I didn't get to find out much about what the other volunteers and staff were doing, but we had four stations and the kids spend thirty minutes at each station.  So each volunteer or staff person presented the same activity four times. These  field trips are a lot of fun for the kids and I love helping with them.
My current volunteer housemate, Teri, visits with a student while waiting to collect her first class
The kids received field journals with a couple of pages devoted to each activity
At my station, the kids learned about different bird beaks and feet.  We talked about what a bird looks like and about different beak types. Then they got to go into the George Benson Memorial Museum and search for birds that eat different kinds of food, seeds, mammals, insects, etc. While they were in the museum, they also drew a bird, in their journals, paying special attention to it's beak and feet.

"Birds" collecting food with their "beaks"
The kids really got into this activity.
Then they came back out to the picnic tables and became birds. They all used their "beaks" - tweezers, clothespins, spoons, or scissors- to pick up various "foods".  Finally we counted up all the foods they were able to get with their beaks and discussed which beaks were best suited to each food.
The final part of the day was a tree planting to commemorate the day and to give the kids another incentive to come back.

The tree was a tiny cottonwood started from a cutting last year
The kids, their teachers, parent aids, and the instructors all had a wonderful time and hopefully all of us learned something about the environment and our role in protecting our native plants and animals.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Giving Tree

One of the hardest things for me to do without are trees.  I think I still have genetic memories of living in a tree, and while I love looking at prairies and deserts, I just don't feel as secure as I when I'm in a  nice stand of trees.

Here at Coyote House, in Malheur NWR, we only have one tree in our yard, a really beat-up willow that is over half dead. (Actually is is four stems in one hole which functions as a single tree.) But it is the most interesting  thing to watch from the picture window of our living room, the site of the desk where I spend a lot of time reading and writing off my computer and also pinning bees, because it offers  food and shelter to so much wildlife and constant entertainment to the residents of Coyote Hollow. 

As I'm writing, a deer just jumped over our front fence to stretch up for a snack of willow leaves. Two or three black-chinned hummers spend a lot of time visiting two hummingbird feeders in the tree. . The female Bullock's oriole just came by for a bite of grape jelly.  The Niger seed feeder used to feed lesser and American goldfinches. Then  I got so many red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds that I tried to cut the perches WAY back to prevent them from hogging all the seed.  Now only the most agile and athletic yellow-headed blackbirds can use them, which have to flutter in place to get the seeds. Very entertaining. The red-winged blackbirds can still fit on the perches so shortening them didn't really work.

I think I can reach those leaves.

 A western kingbird often uses it as a perch, while Bullock's orioles and western tanagers come regularly to eat oranges and grape jelly. California quail come to eat seeds under it and the lookout quail is often seen sitting up in the tree. I saw my first black-headed grosbeak sitting on the grape jelly feeder.The Bullock orioles, first seen here,  also were lifers. Yellow warblers stop by to forage for bugs.  And yellow-rumped warblers sometimes are found using the tree for a perch from which to sally out after flying insects. Red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, Brewer's blackbirds, and brown-headed cowbirds are often found resting here in single or mixed flocks. Yellow-billed magpie's come to check the suet feeder and eat the peanut-butter mix if it's out there. One just came and sampled an orange. The second eastern kingbird I've seen in the region flew in here a few days ago. Hopefully the birds can also catch the bugs attracted to the sugar and jelly.

"Can't you see we need more grape jelly!" says the western tanager
 I found I could train Belding's ground squirrels to climb the tree to eat the peanut butter/lard mix I make and spread into the bark. And one of then learned how to reach an orange that I had on a stub close to the trunk and ate most of that half.

Bellding's ground squirrels will eat the seeds that fall to the ground and climb for oranges and peanut butter mix
 A western kingbird often uses it as a perch while Bullock's orioles and western tanagers come regularly to eat oranges and grape jelly. California quail come to eat seeds under it and the lookout quail is often seen sitting up in the tree. I saw my first black-headed grosbeak sitting on the  grape jelly feeder and also the Bullock orioles were lifers. Yellow warblers stop by to forage for bugs.  And yellow-rumped warblers sometimes are found in this tree, hawking insects.  Red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, Brewer's blackbirds, and brown-headed cowbirds are often found here in single or mixed flocks. Magpie's come to check the suet feeder and eat the peanut-butter mix if it's out there.

Black-headed grossbeak on jelly feeder - a recycled butter tub
Black-chinned hummers are the first and last feeders here
 I'm hoping to get more trees started in this yard, but I understand that, because there is an  archeological  site below the houses, there was a gravelly fill put in before the houses were moved here and there is too  much drainage to get trees to grow. I'm going to see if I can get them to grow in a little depression, hopefully with a little excavation  and an addition of water holding materials.

In this mostly treeless area, trees are super magnets for birds and social gatherings for the resident volunteers. If you have room in your yard, plant a local species of willow.  They are huge bird magnets and also feed the pollinators early in the spring. They attract a lot of insects that bring in the passerines during migration. And many species of birds will build nests in them.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wildflowers at Krumbo Reservoir, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

As part of my bee study, I'm also trying to document all the wildflowers that are blooming near the places I trap bees. And I'm trying to get pictures of bees and butterflies on wildflowers.

The hardest part is finding out their names. I've spent a couple of hours today trying to find out the name of an Erigeron and think I'll have to go get more pictures of it to finally get to the species.

Here are the plants I found on the hillside above Krumbo Reservoir May 22, 2012.

Tidytips  Layia glandulosa

Desert paintbrush  (Castilleja chromosa)

             Basalt milkvetch  (Astragalus filipes)

Yellow Desert Paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa)

A fern I haven't identified growing on a rocky hill
 I learned that one often has to see the seeds of this genus to get to the species.That is true for this genus.
Microseris sp

Arrowleaf Balsamroot  (Balsamorhiza sagittata)

The biologist didn't know this flower.  It is currently under discussion in the Oregon Native Plant Society list.  I'm going to get better close-up pictures.  The name is correct to genus but maybe not to species.

Yellow desert fleabane (Erigeron linearis?)

I think this plant is probably the desert fleabane. But I'd love feedback on this plant as well.
This is much more common and grows in small to medium patches.  I think these are two different plant with the first one having succulent leaves.  

Yellow desert daisy (Erigeron linearis?)

Common Larkspur Delphinium nuttallianum

Stemless mock goldenweed,Stenotus acaul

Spiny phlox, Phlox hoodii

Spring is in definitely heating up.  But I'll be able to find spring flowers all summer by driving about 50 miles to the upper parts of Steen Mountain. And  I'm looking forward to learning all the plants that grow at Malheur NWR. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Steen Mountain, All Mine

Lilly and Fish Lakes, the rivulets, and even two entire campgrounds - mine! The partially snow covered hills and the greening valleys, mine too. The wildflowers, big and little, they are mine. Red winged blackbirds, Wilson's snipe, mountain bluebirds, yellow warblers, robins, tree swallows, sage thrashers, mallards, Wilson's phalarope, and warbling vireos displayed and sang just for me. Belding's ground squirrel, chipmunks, and deer.  Yep,  they were mine, too.

I spent two and a half days based out of Fish Lake Campground on Steen Mountain. The stretch of road between gates one and two had just opened and I was dying to visit. I found a very different habitat of meadows and quaking aspens interspersed in sagebrush. Finding a campsite that was made private by coyote willows and which had the perfect quaking aspens to hang a hammock, I soon set up my hammock, covered it with a tarp since these quaking aspens had leaves too new and small to provide shade, and soon was reading and dozing.

Campsite on Fish Lake
My most important camping items
A view of my campsite - my hammock is under the bat house
When the light got pretty for pictures, I went exploring. There was much to see. But NO people, except for a fishing couple that came for a few hours in the early evening. But my camp site was NOT quiet. From about 6:00 P.M. until 1:30 A.M., the snipe whinnied.. (That's the second sound although they used the first sound during the day.) And there were several snipe calling from all around my site right on the lake and next to a little swamp. (They actually make this sound with feathers on their wings). The second night, I managed to sleep through their calls.

Fishing pier near my campsite
Trumpet lungwort, Mertensia longiflora
Quaking aspen along Lily Lake

Deer not sharing the road
The next day, I planned to hike up to the Wild Horse Overlook. But, although the road was opened, there was a patch of snow that was too high for me to ride through in the tracks. So I parked and then hiked about two and a half miles and visited the next campground which is just at the road closure. When I got back to camp, I figured I deserved a good pasta lunch and a nap.  I spent the mid-afternoon in my hammock dozing and reading.

A view along my hike
Another hiking view
Road going up still closed due to snow
Looking down into Jackman Campground
 Then it was time to go take some pictures of the wildflowers I'd seen blooming on the way to camp.  I drove down and then wandered across a couple of fields taking pictures of wildflowers, some almost as small as a pinhead and others up to two inches across. I'll figure out what they are, and then share them with you in another post. The birds woke me Friday morning at 4:30.  By the time my alarm had gone off, I had the inside of my tent packed and was carrying stuff to the car. I had a big breakfast of refried beans, a hot dog, and a hard boiled egg before finishing my packing.

Before 6:00 A.M., I was driving off to go check out the other end of the loop road. I stopped to take a picture of the view and discovered so many wildflowers that I  spent another hour and a half photographing them and their pollinators. A truly wonderful weekend. AND I think I captured at least one new species of bee that I caught in my traps.  I also saw what appeared to be a bright yellow bumblebee but it zoomed off into the woods before I could get out my net.