My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hectic Times

I'm finding it hard to believe that I'll be leaving Malheur National Wildlife Refuge August 7 or 8. And I don't see how I can get all my projects finished. I'm still drying flowers and need to catch and mount butterflies and more bees for my pollinator display. And I have to put together another hour's worth of activities for the Indian kids. And I have at least twenty to thirty hours of pinning bees left to do. I'm even further behind because I spent four days barely able to walk and with a swollen, painful knee. But I'm seeing a chiropractor and am most of the the way better. 

So the blog has had to go to the back burner.  Then, while I'm traveling and playing, in August and September,  I won't have much Internet access so the blogs will be pretty spotty until October, when I return here for a final month.

The hummers are migrating and we are getting lots of them around -rufus and black-chinned

Right now, things are really quiet. Baby birds and mammals are spending more time away from their parents. Many birds have disappeared as the area gets dryer and dryer. The twin fawns are starting to graze and play away from their mother while the bucks are growing their velvet covered antlers. The days are bring and the colors of the vegetation is fading. Most of the wildflowers are finished blooming and it seems that all of nature has swung almost through summer and is pausing  before starting its swing back into fall.

Twin fawns eating their bedtime snack
One of the staff members told me that October is his favorite month and that the vegetation colors will brighten up again, while the birds begin to stop here to fuel up for flights further south.  Indeed, the fall migration of the hummers has already started and I had to put up two feeders which almost have hummers and the resident Bullock oriole family.The red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds are starting to form flocks as our our tree, barn, and cliff swallows. We have to slow down coming across the bridges on Sodhouse Lane to avoid hitting them since they love to sit on the pavement.

One of my assignments was to take Jo, the new volunteer, on a tour of the refuge.  That has taken part of three days but we finished it this morning. We saw the most ducks on Buena Vista Pond that we have seen in a while. And we got to enjoy a raccoon who was still out fishing about eight o'clock this morning.

Deer on the Upper Central Patrol Road

A raccoon was still fishing on the Blitzen River
Smartweed, an important duck food, in the morning light
 I haven't been able to post my pictures to this blog for three days. Finally I tried to post my pictures to Picassa and then import them to the blog from there.   It seems the more I have to do, the harder it is to get it done. 

Back to the third batch of bees I've done today.  I'm pinning them while watching the Olympics. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Exploring Malheur National Forest

One of the neatest benefits of the western states is the amount of land that is in the public domain. Here in Harney/Grant counties, the government owns the majority of the land.  The Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife all have huge parcels of land here.

Last weekend, the original plan I had with two of the interns was for me to go up SteensMountain, where I'm collecting wildflowers to dry for my bee display, on Friday and pay for a site for all of us. Then the interns would to up that evening and I would join them after I finished work on Saturday.  They would go back to the Refuge Sunday night and I'd come back on Monday night.

But plans changed and only Eric was able to go camping. So we decided to go explore Malheur National Forest. We did a little research and knew where some official camping sites were and also were some identified trails were.  I had to rush to get my clothes clean and my food box repacked.  It was tough, only having two working days between camping trips.

I decided to take off on Saturday - which means I'll work at least part of Monday and Tuesday instead. Eric and I got off about 7:30 A.M. and we drove to Burns and then started north. We headed to the eastern part of the forest. I put in the GPS locations of one of the sites we wanted to visit and and we were soon going from little road to another. We stopped for a little hike and for lots of wildflowers. Then we saw a sign to a fire tower and decided to got to it. The road soon became too rutted for the little Honda Fit and I had to back down the hill with Eric directing me around the washouts I couldn't see behind me. As soon as we go turned around, we noticed a field of wildflowers that were hosting a huge butterfly party. Even though the light was too bright, we couldn't resist taking lots of pictures.

One of the fantastic rock formations along Hwy 395
A  beautiful tiny tussy mussy made out of rosy everlasting, then abandoned on a bench along a trail
The first columbines I've seen in Oregon
Two pollinators

We stopped for a lunch of Mississippi Caviar in pita pockets that we ate while sitting on a shady log.  Soon after that our GPS directed us down a tiny road.  We soon decided that this was not going to go well for us and turned around and started back.  I checked my GPS settings and found that I had the "avoid unpaved roads" selected. Eric who is a computer expert, thought the computer didn't have data on the little unpaved roads so was taking us off the unpaved roads that were in its database.

A tiger swallowtail lapping up columbine nector
Finally after a very fun journey, we got to some of the campgrounds we had researched. We thought we could do better and kept driving.  At about an hour after hammock time, we came across a hunting camp on a little gurgling creek that went through a little meadow. We had plenty of trees for shade and a place to hang my hammock, so we quickly stopped and I hung the hammock and got a late start on my hammock time.

Our free camp site
This creek was a few feet downhill from my hammock and provided water music to the entire camp

We had to take each other's picture in this wonderful tall chair carved from a stump in the camp across the street from ours - it was a really comfortable seat

I could take a nap here
Then I set up my tent and we had a supper of redband trout, which had been given to us by Refuge researchers, and tabbouleh salad made ahead of time by me. By this time, the light was beautiful so we went off exploring again. We missed the unmarked turn to the Malheur River but finally found it.  On the other side were several people in tents and trailers.  There were also horses there. We started to cross the low water crossing but decided it was too deep for our car.  We saw the light would be beautiful in the morning so returned the following morning for pictures.

Oregon checkered mallow, Sidalcea oregana
A high view of the Malheur River
The next morning we packed up our camp, then had buckwheat pancakes and sausage before leaving for another day of exploring.  We both wanted to hike so we kept turning down smaller and smaller roads until we found a pretty place to hike.  I suggested that Eric go ahead as a tall, young guy is going to need to walk a lot faster than on old, short lady to have the same aerobic benefit. We ended up going to different places. He to a high, wet meadow where he found bog orchids and I to a meadow on a mountain top where I could look into the neighboring valley and watch the storm clouds filling it.
 We continued  home by a different route but still came through Burns where we picked up a few groceries.  Another great weekend.

On the current home front, the fire that started last weekend is still burning and is only about 30% contained. The temperatures are dropping and we have a twenty per cent chance of rain so I think the humidity is up a little as well.  But just as I was starting supper, the electricity went off so I got my camp stove out.  Just then Eric came over to tell me the electricity was out.  Apparently I have the only stove in town, so I ended up cooking supper for him and Barry, who is staying up here tonight. I had just precooked one sweet potato and had it sliced to bake.  I started by sauteing it and we each had a few pieces as a first course. Eric was about to make a frittata and had carrots and onions chopped.  So I sauteed them and then added a few frozen stir-fried vegetables and leftover rice plus an egg and seasonings. That turned out really good. Then I cooked one piece of redfin trout and three pieces of carp.  The wind came up and blew the frying pan off the stove twice while I was cooking the last two pieces. We scraped them off the deck and finished cooking them and they were delicious as well.  The electricity came back on as I was cooking the fish.

The boys will be back in the morning to eat buckwheat pancakes that have yeast in them along with breakfast sausages.

I've worked all day on processing bees and have two full boxes plus a pile of tiny bees that will take me about two hours to process in the morning.  I'm also hoping to collect more flowers and get them drying for the pollinator display and possibly to catch some butterflies and bees for the display as well.  There is a slight possibility that   I can get to the top of Steens Mountain tomorrow or Monday.  The last coyote willow is blooming up there but the fire has prevented me from getting up there. Willow blooms are extremely important to all the fly and bee pollinators and these in turn, feed the migrating warblers and vireos. So we really want it in the display.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Exploring the Painted Hills

One of the three sections of the John Day Fossil  Beds National Monument is the Painted Hills Unit.  It is west of the Sheep Rock Unit on Highway 26. I had heard that the place was really fantastic and best seen at sunset, so, after visiting the Sheep Rock Unit, I stopped for a quick look on the way to my campsite. I was blown away by the colors and patterns there, even in the harsh mid-afternoon light so I hurried to get my camp set up and eat an early supper before rushing back.

This is a relatively small area, only 3,132 acres but it is where most of the fossils of early horses, rhinoceroses and camels come from. There is only a small visitor center, which I didn't visit plus restrooms and water here.

But I was pretty speechless as I wandered from one awesome view to another.

Below is a view of part of the accessible Leaf Trail, named for the the thousands of leaf fossils found here in the 1920's and 1990's. Interpretative signs say that the red hills are bentonite clay, formed from volcanic ash from the Yellowstone Fault (which was located under this part of the world millions of years ago) and then weathering.  The colors change both with the amount of light on them and the amount of water they are holding. When dry, they look like this - up close like a bowl of popcorn - but when wet, they get shiny and change colors. 

Very few plants can grow in this heavy, dry clay. But apparently in April, some of the seams support a few wildflowers. This would be a great place to visit in April and early May.

As of today, July 13, we are very concerned about a wildfire which may, by now be on our land.  It started on July 8th, from a lightning strike, on rugged BLM land ,in the first hot spell we have had. Temperatures in the 90's, very low humidity and  and winds blowing out of different directions, as well as the remoteness of the area have made controlling it nearly impossible. During last night, the residents that live around Harney Lake were told to evacuate. Malheur Refuge owns the area under and just around Hanrey Lake and Double O Ranch is one of the places at risk. 

Yesterday, the electricity was cut off for several hours so the electric crews could burn and clear the areas under the power lines.  This affected  us and people all the way into north Nevada. If the fire burns down any part of the lines, we will be out of electricity until the lines can be rebuilt. The headquarters, where I live, is not at risk, except for lost of electricity.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Trip Back in Time to the John Day Fossil Beds. Part I - The Sheep Rock Unit

My philosophy about trips is that the journey is more important than the destination.  But I took my own edict to extremes on this Fourth of July vacation trip. First of all, I believed my GPS unit knew something I didn't, so didn't take the mapped route up a major paved road, but instead went up into the dirt roads of Malheur National Forest. There I found lots of wildflowers, including beautiful rocky fields of them.

I found little mountain lakes and beautiful views. But I didn't find the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center until late in the afternoon, after it was already closed. (When I left early in the morning, it was less than two hours away.)  I figured out the closest place to find gas  was Dayville. Then I decided to take my chances on finding a free camp site. Only a few minutes out of Dayville, I found a BLM hunters site along a big creek or little river and quickly set up camp.  I had supper and was in bed long before it got dark.

Early the next morning - that means around 4:30 AM here - I quickly packed up my tent, then went exploring.  There were lots of wildflowers here, including the first milkweed I've seen in Oregon.

Milkweed growing in the dry gravel by the creek

A camp site already taken about a mile from mine - but more scenic

The John Day River near Picture Gorge

A close-up of part of Sheep Rock
Hay field along the John Day River

The Paleontology Center didn't open until 9:00 AM, so I decided to go hiking in the Sheep Rock Unit. I didn't want to do the three mile hike - which I thought actually meant six miles - so started walking the more level hike into the unit. But I soon crossed the overlook hike, just where I wished I could be higher so I could see the wildly beautiful blue green formations.  So up I went, stopping often to shoot the trail below and the fantastic and gorgeous formations.

View within the Blue Basin
Another View
Death of a pollinator at the claws of a crab spider
Outcropping above the Overlook Trail
The informational part of the trail was the Island in Time Trail, so eventually, I retraced my steps and went to the end of it. In several places, there are casts of fossils, inside plastic domes with information signs near them.

Along the Island in Time Trail

A close-up view of the blue rock formations
 By the time I got back to the trail head, I was hungry, so had a can of cold soup with crackers at the table under a shade shelter. Then I back-tracked a couple of miles to visit the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, where, in about an hour, I was able to walk through 40 million years of the Age of Mammals. It was a mind blowing experience.  Besides, fossils of mammals, there are lots of fossils of plants.

Two highlights were a display showing the evolution of all the horse species and an exhibit about the Metasequoia, or dawn redwood.  The pictures of the dawn redwood look very much like bald cypress, to which it is related. But the most interesting fact about it is that long after it was discovered in the fossil records,  a living population was discovered in China.  Seeds were sent to the United States, and we now have some living specimens growing here again. . The display on the evolution of the modern horse showed that the species of horse the went extinct in America about 12,000 years ago was Equus lambei.  The modern horse, that developed in Eurasia. is Equus caballus.

A 45 million year old fossilized tree piece
A display of fossils against a backdrop of what life was like when they were living
The ancestral tree of the modern horse
A view into the lab where scientists work on new fossils
The entire museum was extremely interesting. The fossils are grouped by species that would have been living together. They were backed by paintings as the animals and plants might have appeared when all of them were living. And seeing fossils of  many of the trees that we know today, was also interesting. Even though the fossils are really old, this is a dynamic place with new discoveries all the time. There was a story of a young girl who discovered a fossil of a cat-like creature very near to the Paleontology Center and entirely new species are also being discovered.

By mid afternoon I was tired from trying to take in 45 million years of artifacts and information and was ready for a break. I wanted to be close to the Painted Hills Unit because it is touted as totally spectacular so I started off  towards it.  I saw the exit for it and went in to  take a quick look around. I was immediately sure I wanted to be back there by evening. I went a little more west on Highway 26 and found Ochoco Campground just past Ochoco Divide. This is a forest service camp and I think I had to pay $5.00 which is half price - you just need a senior pass to get these prices. I had time to set up my camp and eat an early supper before going back to Painted Hills.

To be continued. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Five Hundred Year Old Survivor

If had several days off the Internet, while visiting the John Day Fossil Beds. I had planned to camp and explore through today, July 5,  but decided to come home early in order to see if I could get in to see a chiropractor.  This because I had a hip problem flare up which, in turn, caused me to have knee problems accompanied by lots of pain. And I had hiked almost nine miles one day and taken several hundred pictures and needed to spend some time editing them.

So I started a leisurely trip home on July 4.  But only a few miles later, I started having car trouble which seemed to be a bad fuel problem.  I was only about forty miles from Bend, Oregon, which has a Honda dealer so I decided to head there. I didn't have much problem getting there and soon was calling them, only to find out that the repair shop was closed for the holiday. This meant I had to find a camping place near Bend so I could be there for their 7:00 A.M. opening.

I saw what looked like a road with lots of possibilities of camping and views as it had lots of lakes along it and Bachelor Mountain which loomed it's snow covered top over most of the route. But soon I realized that I was going to be camping in much colder weather than I wanted to be in, so stopped at a historic Ranger outpost station to get some ideas.

I wanted to take a shower before showing up in public again, so finally decided to go to La Pines State Park.  I got there and found that for a mere $22.00, I could have a tiny site, crammed between two RV behemoths. I was amazed that there was no tent camping here, except for a few lost souls stranded in one of three RV cities.  I had spent most of the afternoon finding this place and was tired, so I coughed up the money and stayed. But I was totally bummed about having a wonderful trip suddenly turn sour.

After putting up my tent, I grabbed my Wildfire and hammock and walked into the woods behind my site. Soon I was out of sight of the campground and barely within hearing of the road to it. I hung my hammock and read a book for a while, which did help me adjust my attitude. But the biggest attitude adjustment occurred after supper, when I went exploring to an overlook of the Deschutes River and then on to see Big Tree, a huge, five hundred year old ponderosa pine.

The river view was beautiful and so calming. I enjoyed seeing how a large ponderosa pine was hanging on to the bank, even as the river periodically watched more and more soil away from its roots. Bank swallows flew over the water. A great egret watched for fish. Other birds sung. And the river sang a quiet lullaby- this is the section below where it is an exciting white water stream. 

Then I spent a long time with the Big Tree. Just thinking about the hazards it had survived and the changes in the world that had occurred during its lifetime made my problems less than miniscule. The tree recently had lost half its top and it had more dead broken branches than healthy ones.  It also had damage to its trunk, yet it was still living and growing.

Amazing facts abut Big Tree

What a huge strong base. And the bark sections were about a square foot.
Many of its branches were broken

View of the upper parts of Big Tree
A closer view of its branches

Some of the history that has occurred in this tree's life - click here to see the bigger picture

I came back, took a long shower, and then relaxed another hour before going to bed and getting  a good night's sleep.  Then I was up, packed and leaving by 6:10 AM and reached Bend by 6:45 A.M. I knew I was going to have a really good (and huge) breakfast burrito, no matter what was wrong with the car. But the day was much better than I expected.  The car had a bad wire, which cost $0.20 to replace, along with over $200 for the labor. I also replaced a headlight bulb for a few more dollars. And I found a place to get a haircut almost next to the repair place. Then, just a few blocks away, and on the way towards home, I stopped and got a few groceries that I can't get in Burns.

So my vacation turned out pretty fine anyway.  I'll have lots of pictures of the John Day Fossil Fields, including the amazing and gorgeous Painted Hills. But it will take me several days to get around to processing them since I have to work for 16 hours and then spend another three days camping, two  of them with the interns. And I have to go back up on Steens Mountain to collect material for my bee display. Life is good.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Monument Plant, Certified by Bumblebees

Last Saturday, Eric, one of my neighbor interns, and I went off to (officially) find bees and flowers to add to the display I'm working on.  (Unofficially, we were checking to see if the Steens Mountain Loop Road was open. ) I had "hired' the guys to go with me, then got a notice that I was not to collect any more bees until I catch up on pinning them.  So I still fed both boys breakfast and then Eric came along to play with me.  We started off late, about 8:00 AM (here dawn is already happening at 4:30 AM and the beautiful light is gone by 8:00 AM) and drove the 41 miles to Frenchglen.  I stopped at Page Springs to set out bee traps for the bees  I'll use in my pollinator display and then we started up the mountain. About four miles up, we had to stop to check out a hillside of wildflowers.

Then we had to stop a few more times to enjoy wildflowers before we got to Fish Lake Campground. I wanted to see if the California corn lily was blooming there. It wasn't but is going to make a spectacular display when it does bloom. We found several species of wildflowers growing there. But there was one tall, nondescript plant that had the bumblebees in a frenzy. I got out my butterfly net and threw it over one of the plants and netted seven bumblebees of two species. One was too low n the net and managed to escape but the other six will become part of the display.

We continued up the mountain, stopping often to look for wildflowers.  I brought my silica gel and the box in which I dry flowers.  However I could only get some lupines (have to get them higher up since the lowland ones are finished blooming) and one other species of flower into the drying box.  So next week, I'll have to run up there again to try and get blooming willows and some of the other transient flowers. We finally got to Frenchglen Hotel at 2:45 PM to find that the restaurant was closed. I begged for something they had left over, and they ended up telling us we could have anything that didn't have to be grilled. So I had soup and cornbread and Eric had a sandwich and potato salad. (Now we have to return to enjoy the Steens Burger. )

Eric checking out the only chokecherry bush still in bloom

After relaxing on the front porch a few minutes, we started to backtrack to find places to take beautiful photographs.  However, it was not to be. By the time we were nearing the summit, clouds covered the sun and everything was flat. So we stopped and got a few more flower pictures and then finally made it home about 9:30 PM with  almost two hundred miles on the odometer.

On Sunday, I went back up the loop road as far as Fish Camp.  I left early enough that I still had pretty good light. I particularly wanted a picture of the blooming plant that had the bees in a frenzy. I did a whole series of pictures on it and Eric just identified it for me. (Both Eric and Barry are plant experts so enticing them to go with me gives me my own personal outdoor classroom. )  It's monument plant, Frasera speciosa.

Monument plant hosting a bee party

 This is an amazing plant.  It only blooms once, then dies. Sometimes a whole field will bloom at once, except for a few plants that don't - and no one knows why some plants do not bloom when the rest are throwing a wild party for the pollinators. And it is in the brown section of the plant guide and is fairly plain from a distance. But the plant is wildly attractive to bees and flies. And at two to seven feet tall, it is easy to find. 

Bombus huntii, our most common bumblebee

I put up the pictures of some of the other plants we saw in my Webshots album.  I'm dutifully writing this blog before leaving to play for a few days in the fossil beds areas. ( I was supposed to leave yesterday but forgot and "worked".) So I probably won't  get another post up until Friday. But I think all the interns are going camping next weekend. I'm going to join them on Saturday night and then stay over on Monday, after they come back to work.