Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring got sprung on me

Hello again, my friends, furry faces, and winged compatriots,

It's that magical time of year again in the Pacific NW. Flowers and trees are riotously in bloom, there seem to be four to five weather patterns in every day, practically guaranteeing you a view of a rainbow if you're just patient. And most glorious of all to me is the rain. The gentle drizzles, the ominous torrential downpours, the sudden pelt of hail bringing everything to a standstill. But the mere fact of it; the rain. And that's saying a lot this year: the mere fact of rain!  

The last five years of moderate weather patterns have seen a steady decrease in monthly, seasonal and annual rainfall. Resulting in a decrease of mountain snowpack in the Cascades, whose rivers and run-off affect a great portion of agricultural irrigation water in the eastern half of the state. And a dreaded increase in forest fires. But this winter has brought us a lot of rain, with this year's El Nino being one of the three strongest since 1950. Typically an average El Nino winter is like the past five, mild and drier. But the stronger the El Nino, the wetter it can be in the PNW and this April is predicted to get about 90% of the average three inches. The pattern is supposed to dissipate by early summer and then this fall apparently has the potential to shift to a La Nina pattern, which would mean more rain and snow next year, which again, I'll take!  I know we all want less forest fires in the eastern half of the state, and it would be nice to keep our native fish populations alive for another generation or two. Warming shallow streams are not the best place to raise a family. Sigh, but how I digress into environmental malaise.. What was I talking about?  Ah yes, the joys of rain in the springtime.  

Springtime is also what I wanted to discuss, as I seem to have overlooked the date entirely this year. Quite hilarious and forgivable I suppose, but I do tend to rely on the date itself to remind me that it's my dear friend Ronni's birthday each year. But this year, I completely had my head up my ass. I saw but did not process another friend's post on Facebook regarding the spring equinox. And then with my head swimming with dates and adventure plans coming up this April and May, I decided to head out to Sauvie Island and see if I could find anything fun in the Ruby wetlands.  I had a fun and wet couple of hours spelunking around in the muck and mire, and then as I delighted to see my first Osprey of the season fly overhead, I had a thought. This Osprey is definitely my first of year but was it my first of spring? And as a matter of fact, wait a minute, what day was it?  Ok, the date I'm seeing on my phone is March 21st, so that means it's spring!  And it also makes me a completely crap friend who was then frantically explaining to Ronni's voicemail that I'm an idiot and happy birthday. Sigh. A word of advice, you can't win them all, so don't sweat the small stuff.

But anyways, since I brought it up, here's some pics from Sauvie, a couple from the last day of leap year because we went out to find the visiting Northern Mockingbird, and a few from my first day of spring jaunt around Ruby wetlands.

 Northern mockingbird safe with it's very own food supply

Northern mockingbird

Snow geese and Cackling geese hanging out 

 parent and sibling eagle coming over to hang out with Droopy

the world's wettest and most dejected teenage eagle ever

Black-capped chickadee

 Ruby wetlands

I also had a good outing on St. Paddy's day with my friend Chris. I had mentioned to him about wanting to check out the Bald eagle roost in Tangent, OR before they left for the season. I heard about it from my new birding friend Kayla, and remembered I'd been told about this years ago; or maybe seen it on Grant's Getaways or Oregon Field Guide. And then Chris had amazing ebird postings of at least four different owls in the immediate area; Burrowing, Short-eared, Screech and Western if I remember correctly. We popped into Basket Slough on the way down, which was fairly quiet, but had a few winged friends. And a bunny.  Did my favorite chasing of mystery bird with orange coloring around the head and chin, while looking like a sparrow with the exception of needle like pointy bill. I took some decent pictures of it and threw myself at OBOL's mercy last night.  At 1am I was rewarded with "female red-winged blackbird" from the benevolant Caleb Centanni.  Sadly, this is not the first but hopefully the last time I will mis-ID this bird. I have to remember that it's all about context. 

 the female red-winged blackbird that continue to mystify me

 slightly out of focus Western Meadowlark singing it's lungs out

 bun bun, you know cause it's almost Easter

 red-winged blackbird

I like the color of the yellow tree mold

We left Baskett Slough and drove down through the rolling green farmlands just west of highway 99. I love that neck of the woods, the Willamette Valley is a beautiful place to drive, with the low hills rolling up on each side, and the Willamette river winding through.. We saw random redtails, but not much else.  About two hours before sunset, we parked about four miles from the roost and walked the roads looking for any signs of owls. Nothing, nada, zilch.  More red winged's, this time the males.
We drove up as close as we could to the roost and then figured out where they were.  The eagles didn't seem to be flying in over the fields in front of us.  Instead they seemed to be arriving from the other side of the roost, probably flying in from over the Calapooia River. Might be a better spot somewhere on that side. We counted about 46 at most. Neither of us had a scope so were relying on bins rested on the top of the truck. I'd err on five more or less than our number, but was still a lot of them. We waited until the sun had completely set and the moon was high as we drove out the way we had come.

 Bald eagle roost, you might need to click on this to see it larger, eagles are small black shapes


 intersection we were camped out at..

 black birds were the overarching bird of the day

Hoping for some owl activity now, we pulled over to look at some bird boxes that I assumed were for owls as the boxes and holes were large and low to the ground.  A local pickup pulled in next to us to check that we weren't the local thief who had been making the rounds. We explained we were looking for owls, and the farmer assured us he sees at least two a night just sitting on the side of the road as he drives home.  And that he has a huge Barn owl (not great gray, my bad) in his barn that's eaten some of his cats. Good lord! He told us the boxes were actually for hawks which was interesting. We said our goodnights, and drove on, to see of course, no owls at all. Jinxed!

I had the good fortune to catch an invigorating hike with my friend Carli and the inimitable Saul, her four legged beastie, at Latourell Falls two weeks ago.  It reminded me that I was long overdue for a visit to my favorite hike on the Washington side of the Gorge, Little Maui/Labyrinth. I love this place and try to make it there at least twice a year, usually once on my own in the winter, and almost always dragging a friend who has never been in the springtime. Once it gets too hot and the wildflowers dry up, and the amount of poison oak becomes alarming, I no longer enjoy being out there and gladly leave it to the overzealous mountain bikers who have reclaimed this trail in recent years. 

I had the good fortune to run into only two of them this time around, just at the end of my hike.  What is the deal with bro's and any outdoor gear and the resultant tone/volume of voice? I mean, I know it's nice to be able to be loud once in a while, but you're on a public trail, with other people and wildlife, not a skate ramp or a basketball court. This was the subtext I heard from nearest dude, "Hey there hiker, I'm on a  mountain bike! So therefore, I'm going to need to yell loudly at my friend who is also on his bike about fifteen feet away, and explain to him in detailed mountain bike trail terminology how to navigate the ten feet of gravel I just covered."  I avert my gaze, pick up the pace, muttering acidic, snippy comments to myself as I cover the last 150 yards of the trail. 

And I don't intend to be sexist here, women can suck it just as much as bro dudes.. My favorite are the pairs of power walking women in their neon gym clothes, catching each other up on their lives; their piercing conversation drifting for hundreds of feet, disturbing birds and quieting wildlife. I am having serious issues with all the happy, outdoorsy people who keep moving to Oregon and utilizing the same trails and parks I do.  I feel that I am crossing those places I see as physical and spiritual refuges off my list one by one, as spaces I can no longer go to and enjoy without getting in line, or wincing at all of the extra trash and bags of dog poop everywhere. I know, I know, I sound bitter and slightly nuts, but hey man, that's my choice, right? I see myself retiring to live in a prefab cabin with a shotgun, warning people to get the hell off my property. That is actually how I was raised as a little girl, when we lived in a a cabin in the woods in Virginia, so it's just really me coming full circle.

But let's celebrate how I spent 98% of the trail bike free, and look at some pretty pictures.  I was thrilled to see two different Western bluebirds,which I immediately decided were Lazuli buntings, until bird pal Jen set me straight. Also saw two Say's Phoebe's and a whole mess of Audubon warblers.  And just a silly amount of wildflowers, almost none of which I could ID. I spent until two in the morning last night looking those up, and still have a couple missing. Was too early for lupine although I did see a few leaves starting.  The only balsamroot was at the foot of the trail, but none up on the hills yet. I actually went to the top of the ridge and then decided  to come back down the same way, instead of heading east through the oak forest and coming down next to Coyote Wall.  There were huge thunderhead clouds building up and it started to sprinkle and I didn't want to get soaked up there heading into the wind.  And I'm glad I did because I might not have seen the Western bluebirds if I'd gone the other way. Anywho, here are the best of the pics, and the whole bunch are on my Flickr page, just click on the link and away you go.

 Turkey vulture perhaps wondering why I'm talking to it; and what's up with it's tail feathers?!

 Grass widow

 Poet's shooting star


 Audubon's warbler, putting the yellow in 'yellow-rumped'

 Audubon's warbler

 Gray's desert parsley

 Say's phoebe

 Sarah's orange tip butterfly

Ball-head waterleaf

 Columbia desert parsley

 yellow Mission bells

 Say's phoebe

 raven making some crazy calls

 unknown wildflower

 Nuttall's toothwort; not the most attractive name for a flower, thanks Thomas

 Audubon's warbler

Western bluebird, not lazuli bunting as I had previously noted, whoops! thanks Jen.

 Western bluebird

 Small-flowered Prairie star

 unknown wildflower

 Upland or common larkspur


 dead deer, probably got hit on 14 and wandered up here to die

three generations of Subaru in the parking lot, the car I love to hate for some reason..

So that's all for now my dear ones, I'm hopefully going to do some birding in town and an overnight on the John Day river soon, and then Sauvie Island lakes are open on April 16, so you know what that means.. kayaks and mud and general shenanigans. I hope that you are all enjoying the beginning of your springs and have a chance to get outside and move and see what there is to see.  Breathe deep, fill those lungs, move those legs, and open those eyes. Open your heart and fill your soul. Til next time, happy trails!