Blue Friday

Choosing to boycott the rampant consumerism known as Black Friday, we visited Steigerwald NWR for the first time on Friday.

We were rewarded with blue skies, a wonderful stroll along paths strewn with leaves of every color and views of many birds.   Northern Harriers dipped through the meadows, a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks seemed to be playing together in the sky as they circled each other.

The pond closest to the main trail was alive with many water birds, including Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, Great Blue Herons and Canada Geese.   A Tundra Swan was visible in the far pond.  We had a good look through the binos but too far away to photograph.

Blue Sky and Cottonwoods

Harrier on Post

Cottonwoods at Steigerwald NWR

American Coots

Texture

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Bewick’s Wren

We don’t see a lot of Bewick’s Wrens around our home for some reason.

But this one has been hanging around the past few weeks.

I first noticed it checking out both the roost and nest boxes on the front porch.

Lately, it’s been a regular visitor to the suet feeder.  I don’t recall ever having a Bewick’s Wren visit a suet feeder before.  At this home or the one we lived in previously.

I hope it sticks around but avoids the Cooper’s Hawk that also likes to visit the suet feeder.

Bewick's Wren

Cooper's Hawk and Suet

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The Clearing

On a visit to our native plant nursery last spring,  Bosky Dell Natives, we admired a small grove of aspens planted on the property.   Walking into this small stand of trees just off the main path, it felt like we were in a secret garden.  We knew we wanted to recreate this space in our own backyard.

We have been busy the past few weeks planting large, 15 foot aspens in the field just beyond our property line.   A section of our fence will be replaced with a gate to allow access to the field where we hope to continue adding native plants and augmenting the habitat for the wildlife who call this place home.

Here’s a few pics of the work in progress.  We have a number of hawks who have put our yard on their daily fly by.  I think this one is a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk who is perched on the lumber in the clearing looking for lunch.

The Clearing

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

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Junco Mysteries

We know it’s truly fall when Juncos reappear in our yard after being gone all spring and summer.   Once they arrive, they will be steady visitors to the yard until spring begins again next year.

Juncos Bathing

Why they leave our little piece of the world each spring has always puzzled me. Yet, three miles from home (and at a lower elevation) where I work, Junco’s hang about all spring and summer. We surprise them in the bushes near the front door when we come and go for lunch, I see them hopping along the window outside my office, jumping up to snatch an occasional bug off the glass. A friend of mine had a pair use a hanging basket to nest in this spring. She lives about 3 or 4 miles away, too.

I’m not sure why they disappear from our yard and the field behind our home and yet I see them in other common places I frequent but I am always happy to welcome them home.

Juncos Bathing

Junco in the Tray Feeder

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Secret Friends

Anyone who has fed birds for any length of time knows that if you don’t clean up regularly, you can draw unwanted visitors to the debris that falls under the feeders.    Rats.

I used to hate rats.  My notions of rats included words like dirty, diseased, disgusting. We lived in a little rental house when our kids were small where rats chewed a hole behind the kitchen sink and had a nest under our dishwasher.  If I walked out of the kitchen for a few minutes and came back quietly, I could hear them poking around the paper trash bag under the sink.  Sometimes in the morning, the fuzzy kitchen rug near the sink was pulled askew.  Later, when we figured out what was going on, we found pieces of that fuzzy rug in their nest under the dishwasher.

What happened next is what had to happen, I suppose, but I’m not proud of it.  We promptly put an end to those rats by pretty much standard rat-killing methods.  I don’t even like to remember it.  I justify it in my head to this day by rationalizing that we had small kids and needed to get rid of the problem.

The experience above was not related to bird-feeding but to a neighbor across the street that I think today would probably be considered a hoarder although I have had issues over the years with bird-feeder related rats and haven’t always been so kind toward them.  The last few years I decided the best approach is to try to put out a minimal amount of food, no more than can be consumed that day and to be diligent about clean up.

So when my daughter announced almost two years ago that she wanted to keep rats as pets, I resisted.  Big time.  I was adamant that I was not going to live with rats and that she could just wait until she had her own place someday and then she could do what she wanted.   She worked me for weeks until I was pretty much worn down.

I have been living with two little secret rat friends for almost two years.  I don’t tell most people about them because of the stigma that the word RAT carries. And I love them dearly.  They are curious, sociable, gentle and sweet.  They want to be with us and if I come within eye-shot of their cage, they jump out of their hammock and cling to the door hoping to be taken out. This is a huge step-up from the hamsters we had during our kids childhoods. We had plenty of hamsters. They put up with us and being handled but they were indifferent towards us at best. The rats like us and like to spend time with us.

Jill is moving out this weekend to her own apartment and taking these little guys with her.  I will surely miss them and my opinion of rats over the last two years has evolved because of them. These little guys are really the driving force behind me keeping the area around our feeders clean and not putting out too much food. I don’t want to have to be faced with making a choice about having to “control” outside rat populations in my yard.

Striper and Shy Guy

Teatime

 

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Late September

I love this time of year.   Cool, cloudy mornings that give way to sunshiney afternoons that hit a manageable 80 or 82 degrees,  leaves that are just beginning to change color and drop but not so much that I feel inundated with yard work, rain storms that last a few hours and then give way to big, puffy white clouds and a little bit of sunshine.  That’s the kind of day that Sunday was last weekend when we decided to take a few hours and visit Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s just about a 10 minute drive from home and easy to squeeze in on one of those weekends that are filled with more mundane tasks like catching up on laundry, grocery shopping and household chores.

The Common Yellowthroats and Savannah Sparrows that were out in force on our last visit were absent,  most of the grasses that lined the walk along the back forty of the refuge had changed from green to beautiful muted shades of brown.

Late September Grasses

Some of the loveliest creatures on our mid-morning walk around the refuge were on the ground.  We had to watch carefully where we walked because these little guys were scurrying across the path by the hundreds.

Wooly Bear Caterpillar

Grasshoppers were everywhere. Our every step was echoed by the hops of dozens of grasshoppers. They were little guys that looked white as they hopped but brown when stationary.

Grasshopper

Western Bluebirds were moving about the refuge in groups of three or more, probably adults with their young, Turkey Vultures looped over our heads looking for a meal, White-Crowned and Golden-Crowned Sparrows were busy in the thickets and large groups of geese were coming in for a rest in the far pond.

The gunshots I usually hear in the distance this time of year when I visit the refuge were present, too, and I always find it disturbing.  I’ve had to learn to harden my heart to it because I know things will never change and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Still, we had a good morning and raced back to the car with where we ate our lunch just as the rain started coming down hard.

Western Bluebird Pair

Golden Crowned Sparrow

Coming in for a Landing

Juvenile Robin

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Not to be Missed

I don’t think there are words to describe Crater Lake that haven’t already been written.

It is as stunning and beautiful as I’d imagined. Standing at the top of the rim and looking down really puts your own small human life in perspective and makes you appreciate even more the power of nature and marvel at the cataclysmic events that took place here 7,700 years ago.

Although the area around the lodge was brimming with people, once you head away from the lodge and up a trail, you leave the crowds behind and find yourself feeling almost like you have the place to yourself.

Having been born and raised here in Oregon, neither of us had ever visited Oregon’s only national park and while this wasn’t really a birding trip, we did spend time enjoying the birds with whom we shared the trail. Juncos, Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees, Clark Nutcracker’s and Red Crossbills made themselves the most evident.

I wished we’d had more time to spend here.  Two days is not enough.   Alas, life and the call of jury duty later in the week (which was cancelled the night before as I suspected it would be) had us heading for home before we were ready.

 

View from Garfield Peak

The Pinnacles

Forest Fire in the Distance

Red Crossbill, Crater Lake

Fritillary at Crater Lake

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Welcome to Prospect

We spent two nights in this wonderful old hotel.

Prospect Hotel

Listed on the National Register of Historic places, the hotel has hosted such notables as Teddy Roosevelt and Zane Grey. Back in the old days when it took two days via horse-drawn wagon from Medford to Crater Lake, the hotel was a popular stopping place.

The little town of Prospect is about 30 miles from Crater Lake National Park.  It has a small post office, library, school, gas station and a restaurant called The Trophy Room, complete with a stuffed cougar on the wall.

Just down the street and an easy walk from the hotel are two waterfalls and a local curiosity called the Avenue of the Boulders.   Fun to climb on or to find a spot to sit and watch the river go by, the boulders are huge and a reminder of how much geologic history Oregon has.

While I wouldn’t recommend the dinner house at the hotel, the banana-walnut pancakes at breakfast were great.  We heard the waitress in the hotel dining room holler into the kitchen when we arrived, “the two no-meats are here”.  For the rest of the trip, we two oddball no meat eaters referred to ourselves as Mr. and Mrs. No Meat.

If you are travelling to Crater Lake, the hotel is worth a stay just for the history of the place.  As I looked out the window from our room and paused at the historical pictures of the place lining the hotel hallways,  I imagined what it was like to stay here 100 years ago and how much of a respite it must have been after making the journey over a dirt road.

Pearsoney Falls, Prospect OR

Avenue of the Boulders

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Worth Every Penny

I have an issue with shoes.

Actually, the issue is my feet.  An Andre the Giant sized second toe and an abnormally diminutive pinky toe make fitting shoes really difficult.   No matter how many shoes I’ve tried over the years for running or hiking,  nothing has been quite right. I always end up with 10 bruised toe tips from any run, walk or hike that involves any elevation change.

My freakish toes bang into the ends of my shoes so badly, I dread exercising or hiking.  Which is really a shame because while I don’t particularly love to get on the treadmill, I really love to get outside and hike.    Things had gotten so bad that for my last hike a few weeks ago, I wore my Teva sandals and felt a bit foolish.  But at least I didn’t have sore toes at the end.

After hearing about these shoes and having a friend personally recommend them for hiking, I sprung for a pair.

I just finished my first hike at Crater Lake with them and they performed exactly as I’d hoped they would.  No sore toes, good traction.  Happy feet at the end of the day.

DSC08728

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Cooper’s Hawk at the Feeders

We had a Cooper’s Hawk last fall and winter that was very good at ambushing birds at our feeders.  It seemed to show up on the rainiest, most miserable weather days.  It usually looked so bedraggled and wet that I felt sorry for it and hoped it would find a meal.  I just didn’t want to see it happen and if it needed to hunt and eat, literally in our backyard, I hoped it would snag one of the dozen or so House Sparrows out in the field rather than a Downy or Towhee or Song Sparrow.

I don’t know if it’s the sudden transition from summer-like weather only a week ago to cooler, rainier weather this weekend, but the hawk is back.  It slammed into our family room window in pursuit of something on Friday morning and flew off.  It made several stops on Saturday, scattering birds and causing general panic in our yard and the field beyond.  I haven’t seen it catch anything yet but I know it’s only a matter of time.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

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