Tuesday, August 25, 2009

weekend birding

I went camping with my friend Cyndi last weekend, at about 7,200 feet elevation in the mountains of central Idaho. On the way there we stopped at a couple of spots to look for birds. At the first place, a Red-eyed Vireo had been heard calling earlier in the year, but today there were dozens of Black-billed Magpies talking among themselves in a most unusual voice.

At the second stop Great Gray Owls had been heard and seen at dusk, but it was nowhere near dusk when we stopped and no owls were around. There was a Swainson's Hawk circling overhead, and he dove down to the nearby field, but took off again empty-handed to search for rodents elsewhere.

Our camping destination was Summit Lake, in Valley County, Idaho. We found there had been forest fires in recent years past, so the area had a most unusual appearance at the boundary of the green unburned forest and the gray and black moonscape that was slowly being revegetated with seedlings and wildflowers.

I did swim in this lake, and for a mountain lake the water was fairly warm.

I knew that in an area burned by fire, the peeling bark provides insect-rich environments sought out by two kinds of woodpeckers, the Black-backed and American Three-toed. When I saw this bird, I incorrectly assumed it was a Hairy Woodpecker, but after looking at the photo I see it has a speckled chest suggesting it is an American Three-toed Woodpecker.

I was fascinated by the beauty of the sunset light on the water and the wind created ripples that reminded me of impressionist paintings.

Pearly Everlasting seemed to be one of the first flowers to return to the burned area.

This graceful grass was found near the edge of Summit Lake.

Goldenrod was in bloom there, too.

The ground cover was composed of many Grouse Whortleberries. I was told these were food for grouse, which is how they came by their name. They're tasty to humans, too, but rather small.

It was getting toward dusk, and the light was nearly gone as we headed back to the campsite. By the side of the trail this grouse sat quietly. I tried to hand-hold the camera for a one-second exposure, which by all measures would be considered impossible. I did try to wedge it against a tree, but even the movement of the bird became a factor.

The bright red above the eye suggests this is a Spruce Grouse ... the first member of this species I have ever seen. I turned on the camera's flash and sat down on the ground.

As Cyndi photographed it, the bird grazed its way right past me, almost close enough to touch. I don't know that I can convince myself that grouse hunting is in any way "sporting." I imagine it must be a lot like hunting chickens.

The next morning, in the same area, we found four more grouse, a mother (in back) and three young ones. Again, hunting them would not have been difficult. I presumed these were more Spruce Grouse, but one person suggested they are Dusky Grouse. Any comments are welcomed. The females and young are harder to identify than the adult males.

That night as the campfire died out and the air grew chilly I felt a sudden breeze in the still night air. "Did you see that," asked Cyndi. I thought maybe there was a dust devil or something ... but it was very dark and I had seen nothing. An owl had just flown over my head and was now breaking twigs overhead as it moved about in the evergreen tree. Though we looked with flashlights, no owl could be seen, so what kind it was will remain a mystery.

I stayed up too late talking, and it might have been nice to sleep in, but the loud knocking of a woodpecker roused me at daybreak. Who can sleep with that racket ... and with the possibility of an American Three-toed Woodpecker overhead?

It was a hazy day, but a wonderful temperature as we sat on a log by the stream and drank hot coffee. A mixed flock of chickadees, nuthatches and warblers moved through the area and we were surrounded by the wonderful calls and colors of this mass of birds. I saw three kinds of warblers: Townsend's, Macgillivray's and Wilson's in their bright yellow colors. I could hardly focus either the camera or binoculars before they hopped to another branch and my neck was soon sore from staring upward as the birds stared down at me.

This is the Townsend's Warbler. The light was dim, so the image is rather soft, but still the best photo I've been able to get so far (and only the second time I've seen them).
The Mountain Chickadee made up the majority of this "gang" of birds, and there were dozens in the trees and shrubs.

There were both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and the young ones were foraging with the flock. It was neat to see the cute, fuzzy young kinglets growing into their adult feathers.

A silent flock of five Gray Jays glided through the campground and then moved on.

The Red-breasted Nuthatches were plentiful and curious.

I was about to delete this photo, below, of the nuthatch. After all, the one above is so much nicer ... better light, more colorful, fancier face. Say, why is this one so drab? Is it a female or juvenile? I looked it up, and both male and female Red-breasted Nuthatches have the white supercillium (line above the eye). But, the Pygmy Nuthatch looks exactly like this little bird!
I'm so glad I didn't quickly delete this photo. It is the final nuthatch species I had been seeking!

Here's another perspective. Things are really looking up now.

What a very nice weekend. Swimming, camping, a cookout over the fire, and three new Life Birds with photos of them all. (And, I didn't even know about two of them until I looked at my photos ... the little guys can be far away and very active ... so the camera really helps with learning about birds.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

the sound of wind

this is a photo

of the sound

of wind in the fir trees.

you can remember it

if you try.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Seep

When I awoke on the first morning in the Steens Mountains I was greeted by a Brewer's Sparrow who was obviously bringing food to her young. Over and over she landed on a nearby fence with insects or grubs in her bill, then disappeared into the same sagebrush with the treat.

After a very slow, relaxing morning and a tasty hot dog roasted over a campfire and then an afternoon nap (the warm sun and cool breeze made me think I was at the ocean when I closed my eyes ... it was very relaxing) we set off downhill to a spot of green. I have always found the place where water appears at the surface of the land in the mountains to be a very magical place. I can see how they came up with stories of elves and fairies and pixies in Ireland where there are so many green rivulets on the hillsides.

As we approached we could see False Hellebore in flower over all, and bluebells in pink and blue by the seep. White-crowned sparrows were in the bushes at the edge of the moist grassy area.

Monk's Hood grew among the Hellebore.

White Bog Orchids grew in the saturated areas.

Within just a few hundred feet the soggy land turned to trickling surface water, and then a little channel meandering through the lush alpine Timothy. Monkeyflower grew in profusion by the stream.

There were both the magenta Lewis's Monkeyflower and the tiny yellow Dwarf Monkeyflower.

Another hundred yards and the stream was a waterfall, cascading over some harder rock that had not yet eroded. Ferns grew on the shady side of the stream, just feet away from the dry sagebrush land through which this water flowed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

a big rock

I've been meaning to complete two more posts from my Steens trip, but the weather has been so wonderful that I've been spending much time outdoors bicycling and gardening. (OK, and playing the Vampire computer game I found on Facebook.) But, I do intend to finish my story about the Steens Mountains campout. This post is all about a big rock I spotted near our campsite. See it, up there on the ridge? It was a big boulder, out of place in a location where there were no big boulders. I wondered if it might have been placed there by glaciers (and there were many signs of glaciation), or did erosion just leave this massive rock?

On the way to the rock, there were many wildflowers! Here is a mix of Lupine and Paintbrush.

And, nearby, some Stonecrop growing out of the sparse, rocky soil.

The boulder was perched with only one point touching the earth ... two other smaller rocks provided support for it. How amazing is that?

The color and variety of lichens suggested it had resided there undisturbed for a very long time.

Birds like this rock wren (which was actually photographed elsewhere ... but there were rock wrens and other birds on this boulder as I approached) used the boulder as a vantage point. You can see the signs of their visitation in the image below the wren.

The Sulphur Buckwheat grows nearby.

And, watching over it all, from the highest point, a Prairie Falcon (and Violet-green Swallow in the background). The swallows had plenty to eat as the mosquitoes and other insects were abundant.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Though I still have more photos to share from the Steens Mountains trip, I've been catching up on my gardening since I returned, and wanted to share some photos of the garden and my efforts at food storage.

Last year Rita and I installed a trellis, but it was not a very moist spring, and we did not get anything established to climb on it. This year I started some Morning Glory seeds inside, and moved them outside during our rainy spring. They've sure colonized that area. I expect there will be blooms soon.

This is the corner of the garden where I planted a hill of pumpkin seeds. I was trying "square foot" gardening. A pumpkin patch does not confine itself to a square foot, but fortunately I had already harvested the lettuce, broccoli and beets that it overran. It is beginning to climb the corn in the back of the garden now, and there's even a pumpkin forming about two feet off the ground. There are about a half dozen pumpkins the size of basketballs. They seem very happy there ... and on my lawn.

There's one of the pumpkins now, and a few more pumpkin flowers. We're supposed to get some rain as the week goes on, so I imagine that there will be pumpkins everywhere soon.

Today I steamed a mixture of zucchini and yellow squash, and put it in the freezer in Ziploc bags. It will be good in soup this winter.

Last fall Rita taught me how to can things ... like pickled beets. I love pickled beets. This year I tried it all by myself. They sure look pretty. And, I imagine they will be tasty, as well.

For a while, when I was first learning to garden, I was very goal-oriented and pragmatic. A flower was not something I would plant. Even a shade tree was an effort beyond my comprehension. I'm pleased with the fruit trees I planted, but now I can take pride in the evergreens, too. These lotus finally bloomed after repeated attacks by some predator that ate every last goldfish in my pond ... breaking the roots and stems of the pond lilies in the process. And, Black-eyed Susan are one of my favorite flowers. There are also a couple of types of thyme in the photo; creeping thyme making a mat, and some other kind standing up taller.

Flowers are worth some effort after all.