Monday, June 29, 2009

Growing Things

Last year my subdivision Homeowners' Association sent me a letter saying that they disapproved of my yard. They really were not any more specific than that, so I had to guess what was on their mind. I trimmed some branches, took out one dead cherry bush, and patched some brown spots in the lawn.

But there was a strip between my house and my neighbor's house that was very narrow and difficult to keep watered. It was rather brown and could have been the cause of the letter. Who knows.

So, I dug all the grass out and put in some plants that might be tolerant of less water, and covered the area with landscaping cloth and bark to try to keep in some moisture.

This is what it looked like last October.

And, this spring ... in May.

And, today! The orange Day Lily plant will bloom soon. The tall grass is a native bunchgrass called Great Basin Wild Rye.

A bit obsessed with my landscaping, you say? I have to be. It's the law.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Birds of California

I birded in two areas of Northern California on my recent vacation, the coast near Crescent City, and the Modoc Plateau (Clear Lake, Tule Lake, and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges).

I went to the coast first, so I'll show some coastal birds first. This big sea stack has 25,000 Common Murres, nesting in a colony. They're just salt and pepper specks in this photo, because the rock is offshore, to protect them from predators. The strange noise coming from that rock sounded like the Penguin colony in those BBC documentaries I watched.

The Black Oystercatcher has a vividly orange bill, and it picks and probes about near the water line looking for food.

Whimbrel. They can be seen in Idaho, but I've yet to make the distinction in Idaho between this bird and the Long-billed Curlew. Both have downcurved bills, though the Curlew bill is much longer.

Now we'll look at birds from the Modoc Plateau. There are large lakes in the area, right on the migration route of water birds, and this Marsh Wren obviously enjoys the cattail habitat.

The habitat around the lakes is mostly Juniper, with some sagebrush. This is the Sage Thrasher. You might notice some insects flying in some of these photos. It was thick with insects.

And, the Juniper Titmouse. This is the very westernmost extent of its range. Closer to the coast lives the Oak Titmouse. They look so similar, they used to be considered the same species, and were called the Plain Titmouse.

I'll show two tern species, and you can see how easy it is to tell them apart. The Forster's Tern has a long, graceful swallowtail and a relatively smaller orange bill.

The Caspian Tern, by comparison, has a more squared tail, and a thick red bill.

This is the nicest photo I've managed to obtain of the Northern Pintail.

Two American White Pelicans in flight. They seem to fly very gracefully, rarely flapping, often following a leader to take advantage of the decreased wind resistance.

Common Nighthawk ... and they do catch insects in broad daylight, not just in the evening. Their bold white markings look like some World War II aircraft.

I've been trying for a long time to get a close photo of an Eared Grebe, and I sure got my fill of opportunities on this trip. I must have seen hundreds of them. This one is wet, as it just came up for air.

I had never seen an Ash-throated Flycatcher before this trip, and now I've seen quite a few, and I even recognize their call, which sounds like "come here."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Birds of the Ashland - Medford area of Oregon

I saw some new and interesting birds when visiting my sister in Oregon. She lives in Medford and works in Ashland, and I stopped at Crater Lake National Park on the way there. I was also taken on a very nice birding outing led by the Klamath Bird Observatory.

I saw the Oak Titmouse for the first time.

The Scrub Jay are everywhere.

Here's a female Western Wood-pewee on her nest.

The Acorn Woodpecker looks like it is ready for a clown festival, with an oddly-patterned face.

This Black-backed Woodpecker was flaking off bark at Crater Lake National Park.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rock Art

This is the graffiti left on rocks by humans thousands of years ago, in what is now the Lava Beds National Monument. The rock on which they are carved was long ago an island in the center of Tule Lake, accessible only by canoe. Since nobody knows for sure what they mean, I won't offer my opinions. But you can look at them and see if they stir any thoughts or seem to hold significance for you.

One day Kamookumpts was resting on the east shore of Tule Lake. Looking around, he realized that there was nothing anywhere except the lake. He decided to make land. He dug some mud from the lake bottom and made a hill. He used the mud from the hill to create land and mountains. He also created rivers, streams, plants, and animals. Creating everything was tiring work, so Kamookumpts dug a hole in which to sleep under Tule Lake. He left the hill he had made to mark the spot. As the mud dried the hill became rock and is still visible today.

-- Modoc creation story

And there it is, the smaller, lower hill on the right in this image. The sheer cliffs you see at the left side of the hill are where the petroglyphs are. Tule Lake has been reduced to about 25% of its former size. The Bureau of Reclamation has built high dikes, to keep the water in smaller areas, leaving much land to be farmed. This is rich, volcanic soil and I'm sure it produces valuable crops. But long ago, and even not so long ago, it was home to the Modoc people. Under the leadership of a young chief, they resisted settlement on a reservation and returned to this land, killed a few more than a dozen settlers and subsequently canoed across the lake to seek shelter in the rough volcanic terrain. There a band of 60 men, women and children held off 600 US Cavalry troops for five months. As you can see, it is no longer a lake. No longer do people in canoes made of native materials ply the waters to hunt and fish.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A hike with Jennifer

My sister took very good care of me on my visit to her home in Medford, Oregon. She set me up with a birding outing on Saturday morning, took me to a couple of plays, drove me to Mt. Ashland for a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, and paddled a canoe with me in the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

I'll just show a few pictures from the hike on the PCT. That's Jennifer with her dog Faye.

The PCT is a National Scenic Trail, and the view of Mt. Shasta was impressive, though there was a layer of clouds around the volcano's peak.

This is Faye, and as you can see, there is still snow up in the mountains. Faye also found a leg of a deer. Good job, Faye. Now, put it down.

I liked to see the wildflowers, like this Trillium.

This is the Yellow-rumped Warbler, and because of the yellow throat as well, it is the Audubon's subspecies.

And a Lazuli Bunting.

This field of leaves was sprouting in a wet meadow. False Hellebore (Veratrum viride).

A gorgeous yellow lily. In fact, flowers used to be my passion, now it is birds. So, I can understand when someone just accepts birds as a beautiful part of the natural world, and don't feel the need to stop in their tracks and identify every one. Nature can be appreciated on many levels, and there's nothing wrong with just experiencing it.

After I wrote this I got curious and had to look it up ... perhaps it is Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum). I found this description on Wikipedia: "Erythronium grandiflorum is a species of flowering plant in the lily family which is known by several common names, including yellow avalanche lily, glacier lily, and dogtooth fawn lily."

One knows one is at elevation when the heather (genus Erica, family Ericaceae) can be seen. OK, this one I could never forget the Latin name. I think both Heather and Erica are beautiful names, and they are both the name of this alpine plant.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Redwoods NP Photo Shoot

Imagine the silence of the mist swirling past stately Redwood trunks. The occasional ethereal drawn-out note of a Varied Thrush haunts the forest and a hummingbird hovers next to brilliant Rhododendron blossoms. A snail slowly creeps across the trail.

I'm standing rock steady, watching the light change and the mist thicken and thin. It's dark under the tall trees on this overcast day and when I do press the shutter the slightest movement will blur the photo. I pretend I'm a biathlete and slow my breathing and heart rate. The fog lifts just a bit and the dark trunks appear like ghosts in the air behind the overhanging flower-filled branches.

I begin to squeeze the shutter, concentrating on the tiny rectangle in the viewfinder, to be sure that the camera is held level. The shutter clicks and I lower my tired arms. There's a person in a red raincoat by the side of the trail. It was so dark, and the viewfinder image so small, I never noticed him arrive. He had seen I was taking a picture, and stepped to the side of the trail, but still shows a bit at the edge.

He has a camera on a tripod so I signal him I'm done, and he sets up for a few photos of his own. Another person comes into view in the distance in a yellow coat. Then one with a white coat, all with cameras and tripods.

"This wouldn't be a photo workshop, by any chance?" I inquire.

It was fun to meet Gordon, from
Adventure Photography who is leading this tour with his wife Cathy. He kindly ushers the others out of the shot so I can take one more picture without people. I go ahead and snap a picture, but the fog is thicker, and there are no trunks behind the flowers anymore. I hang around and watch for birds and eventually the group has moved on past this magical place.

The light and mist return to their sublime prime for another brief instant, and I capture the image I had been waiting for.

Then I head back down the trail, to the car, the coast, and my tent set up on a headland overlooking the mouth of the Klamath River.

This is the view from the north side of the Klamath River, and my campsite is on the south side, across the way, up in the clouds.

The fog seems to be grounding some flights, and this Rufous Hummingbird is taking a break, watching me photograph the ocean.

Here's the trail to my tent ... an end to another successful day of enjoying nature and trying my best to distill my sensations, feelings and emotions into tiny pixels so that I might never forget this magical moist green place.

Good to be Home

One of the nice things about going on vacation is coming back home! The spring rains had caused my gardens to grow into a colorful jungle. What a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two Birds with One Shot

I'm home from an adventure-filled week of birding in southern Oregon and northern California. I now have to edit a lot of photos, which is fun, but time-consuming. Some birds I saw for the first time in my life, but never got a single photo. On the other hand, I have some photos which I'll be scrutinizing for some time, trying to figure out if that is a Juniper Titmouse or Oak Titmouse ... in the past they were just called the Plain Titmouse and their range overlaps in one tiny place ... the place I visited.

Can you imagine my surprise when I looked through the photos and found this one! I admit I was trying to photograph the Great Egret in flight, which was no easy feat to begin with. Then some darned Red-winged Blackbird horned into the photo shoot.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Black Tern

Today I went on a canoe trek to the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. My sister Jennifer helped angle the canoe just so, to get the best possible photos. Some birds seemed to put up with a canoe in their midst rather well.

The Black Tern fly in a beautiful aerobatic way, but since they're highly maneuverable (and can pluck fish from the water on the wing) I was delighted to discover that sometimes they not only hold still, but actually seem to pose for a photo.