Friday, October 3, 2014

Where are the Pikas?

Crater Lake National Park: Sept 9, 2014. 

Pika are little mammals closely related to rabbits.  They are only about 6 inches long and have funny little rounded ears rather than long rabbit ears.  They live only in the high country where temperatures are cooler.  They are famous for harvesting large piles of grasses and forbes and drying their ‘haystack’ for winter food.  For more about Crater Lake’s pikas see my blog post:

I am in wait and watch mode, sitting on a sunny log, waiting for a pika.  I’m sure at least one sees me but I can’t see him.  I feel as though I’m hunting, but with a sketchbook and camera rather than a gun.  Sketching the scene helps me to sit still.  Last year I also came in September and sat nearby and sketched.  I suddenly heard a loud “Wheeeze” about ten feet from me.  Up popped a pika to inspect me.  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  I hope it happens again. 

I’ve heard some far off pika calls when I first arrived, but they seem subdued.  In the meantime it’s a beautiful day to be sitting on a log, far up the outer slope of Crater Lake’s caldera.   The afternoon is pleasantly warm, maybe a little warm for my furry friends.  They are seldom active when it is warmer than 70 degrees.  Biologists are already worrying about the effects of global warming on pikas.  Their range has always been limited to high elevations and now they’ll get pushed into a smaller and smaller area.

A chickaree scolded when I first arrived and now two noisy ravens fly by, paralleling the rim of the steep cliff above me.  They are enjoying the updraft that bounces into the rock wall.  Yellow-rumped warblers flit through the hemlocks near me.  I even have a yellow jacket (wasp) land on my hand; fortunately the wasp isn’t aggressive.

I paint for about an hour.  Still no pika.  I think I’ll go check on where Dale is and see if he wants to try another place.  Since I’m not hearing the little beasties, I doubt he is seeing any. 

Dale never just tells me when he was seen something good.  When I find something I just blab it out right away.  He hates to commit, but he isn’t as noncommittal as he thinks.  There is an extra twinkle in his eye as he hands me his camera so I can examine the digital screen on the back.  …… and here is what I saw!
It's a badger!
Oh my gosh!  He is beautiful!  What is a badger doing way up here?  I’ve never seen a badger in Oregon although I know they are in the high desert east of here.  Dale was walking down the road and caught sight of the badger out of the corner of his eye. 

Now that I’ve joined Dale, the badger is gone.  We wait and watch.  I catch a quick glimpse and then wait some more.  About forty minutes pass.  The pikas are quiet.  Shadows are long.  This tumbled slope has lost all sunlight but sunset is still two hours away. 
Then, there, in the greyness of a field of tumbled boulders and shadows, wanders a badger.  He is farther away, far enough that he pays no attention to us. He pokes around one boulder and under another, inspecting.  He appears to be hunting pika. 
Badger are one of my favorite animals: beautiful markings on their face; a long furry coat that makes him look like a mobile mop; and short legs encased in black stockings.  When I see one, they are usually on a mission, often busily digging a hole to China.

With a badger poking around their tumbled rock pile, no wonder the pika have been so quiet. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Day Two at Yakina Head

Field Sketch of Common Murres
August 5, 2014:  Yakina Head Ourstanding Natural Area, Newport, Oregon

Sunny!  And just a breeze!  We pick up a ‘Subway,' breakfast and head out to Yakina Head to eat.  It's a much tamer day, better for drawing and photographing, yet not as exhilarating as yesterday's wind and fog.  A little of both kinds of days is perfect. 

Yesterday I settled into drawing right away.  Today it takes me a while to focus.  We watched a whale while we ate, but then he wandered off.  I grab my camera before my sketchbook.  Dale will get lots of wonderful shots of the birds, but a few specifics catch my eye -- how sturdy certain plants are here, and
I like the young gull on a nest in the lighthouse window. 

All too soon the wind is building, but still mild compared to yesterday.  I try to record the sounds, but my little ipod microphone picks up too much wind.  Ah well.  Time to grab my sketchbook.  I put my camera in the car and pick up my scope and tripod.  I really wanted to add paint to at least one drawing yesterday, but it was too damp.  Maybe now. 

Suddenly screaming gulls interrupt the normal yammer of the colony.  A bald eagle is harassing the colony!  Hundreds and hundreds of murres take to the air, along with most of the cormorants.  The murres drop off the steep cliffs and fly low over the water.  They make no attempt to harass the eagle.  Soon the ocean is spotted with hundreds of murres.  Only the youngsters are left, those too young to jump or fly.  The eagle swoops low over the island and back again.  Gulls scream and chase.  No camera!  Where is Dale? 

After half a dozen swoops the eagle drops down on the far side of the island, out of sight.  I hustle over to tell Dale what is going on and to pick up my camera.  Three fourths of the island is now bare of birds where before they were sprinkled over the entire island top.  A few are returning.  It looks as though the excitement is over so Dale wanders off again and I start painting. 

Today the overlook has lots of visitors.  August is a busy time on the Oregon Coast.  Many people come here to enjoy the lighthouse; only a few know what a common murre is.  At least some will go home impressed by what they've seen today.  Others are just surprised to have seen 'penguins' in Oregon.
It's approaching noon when Dale comes back to check on me.  Perfect timing.  The gulls start screaming again and I watch young murres scrambling from the far side of the island to the near side, towards us.  Here comes the eagle.  He rises up and creates chaos all over again.  I suspect he has been on the back side of the island for the past hour and a half, enjoying dinner and digesting.  This time he doesn't stay long. 
With gulls close behind he heads north.  The gulls give him a good dose of scolding and they return to their island.

And so ends two wonderful half days at Yakina Head Outstanding Natural Area.
On our way home we stop at the Darlingtonia Wayside, just north of Florence, Oregon. It’s a small natural area designed to protect a small bog, surrounded by forest.  There, in a soggy, sunny opening, are hundred of Pitcher plants.  They have finished flowering, but the plants are doing just fine.  I paint them and then sketch them too.