Sunday, August 23, 2015


As I write I see only the barest shadows in my backyard.  Shadows are growing long but just faint stripes across the yard.  Sunlight is way too yellow.  There is even a haze between the house and the back shed. 

On the other side of the house we’ve almost lost Mt. Nebo – rather a fancy name for just a ridge.  The ridge is about a mile away and borders my town to the south.  Usually I can look up and see the hillside full of madrones and oaks.   Today I can just make out its outline.  A few days ago it actually disappeared for a few hours. 

The West is in the middle of a harsh wildfire season.  I’m in no danger.  The fires aren’t near town, at least none right now.  A grassy field caught fire late yesterday less than two miles from me, but fortunately the fire department was close and soon had it out.  The nearest serious fire is at least 25 miles from me.  Most of this smoke is coming from the horrendous fires to the north, much of it 200 miles away in Washington State.   Most days the westerly winds blow the smoke farther east, but today the Pacific Northwest currently has an inversion, trapping wildfire smoke and putting us all into a dull grey fog. 
We drove to the coast yesterday to get away from the smoke.  Half way home the air was already smoky – unusual.  While driving along the Coquille Valley I spotted this crow flying near the roadway.  His blackness popped out against the soft haze in the distance.  I grabbed a little sketchbook and painted this mostly on my lap in the car.

Long before the sun set, it glowed red, and fuzzy red again this morning.  It’ll be red again this evening. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Watching Tadpoles

Osprey Landing, Umpqua River, Oregon, USA
I’m sitting on a warm boulder, my feet resting on another just inches above the surface of a warm backwater along the Umpqua River.  It’s sunny and warm.  Across the river a family of osprey chick call incessantly.  Keeping up with their adolescent appetites must be a challenge. 

When I sat down I spooked at least fifty tadpoles, mostly big ones two to five inches long.  Those must be bullfrog tadpoles; but there is also a smaller, more golden species too – a medium sized tadpole.  Only half a dozen of the tadpoles stayed put.  Most skedaddle to deeper water.  I didn’t disturb their water, but just seeing me hunkering nearby is enough to send them hurrying.  Gradually they relax and work their way back.  Then I hear a loud splash just to my right.  Algae swirls and the rest of my tadpoles come scurrying back into the shallow water of my little bay.  There are small-mouth bass in the river.  I suspect a large one triggered the splash. 

Soon my eight foot wide bay is again full of activity.

The river here is covered with cobbles and boulders.  Everything underwater is covered with dull green algae, about the same color as the bullfrog tadpoles.  It is scummy stuff.  If I tried wading on these cobbles, I’d have to be very careful not to slip.  But the tadpoles like it.  They eat it.  When a tadpole feeds, his nose is to the rock, his tail waving to keep him in place, or to move him on.  At this stage a frog’s mouth is quite small.  Later he’ll have a huge gape – better to throw his tongue out to catch flies … and dragonflies…. and even ducklings. 

So nice sitting here, even if it is a bit warm.  I sketch, paint and write.  The tadpoles feed; some rest; and a few wiggle on to a new spot.  Those that are still are ever so gently rocked by the very slight ripple in the water.  Every so often one suddenly zooms to the surface for a quick gulp of air.  If I had more patience I’d keep my eyes glued on just one tadpole and time how often it rises to the surface …. Every ten minutes?  Twenty minutes?  Not often.  A young tadpole gets most of its oxygen by using gills and through its skin.  Gradually its lungs become more important.   

I’d also like to observe one individual every day from the day it hatches out of its egg until it is a full grown frog.  Today I’m watching a snippet of that process, but at least I have tadpoles in various stages.  Most have a lot of tail and no legs.  A few have tiny back legs, and a few are losing their tails and have bigger hind legs.  Shortly before adulthood they’ll have four legs, hardly any tail, big mouths….
.... and big eyes.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Osprey Fledglings

Ospreys have been here since early spring .... and now is my favorite time of year to watch them.  Some have already fledged and spend hours in the sky hollering for their dinner.  Soon they'll be on their own, but for awhile they continue to beg. 
Other nests are ready to fledge.  Last week we spent a couple of hours parked near one of these.  Dale photographed while I sketched.  The youngsters seemed very ready for dinner.  At least they hollered most of the time.  One of the adults joined them for awhile and joined in the hollering when another osprey flew nearby. I suspect it was the female on the nest and she was trying to hurry up her mate.  Female osprey do the incubating. When the chicks are small the male brings the food to the nest, but it's the female who rips it up for the chicks.   These chicks are large enough to rip up their own fish, but not ready to do their own fishing.  
Soon the adult left and the two youngsters were alone again.  One stretched out its long wings and started flapping ..... more and more.  The second chick lay flat, trying to keep out of the way.  We watched the young osprey lift off and float a few feet above the nest.  All was under control.  He soon dropped down onto the nest again.