Spring comes in fits and starts to western Oregon. The daffodils are fading, yet we’ve had more frosty mornings in March than all of January and February. Today spring is everywhere. The sun won its war with fog by noon, birds are full of l’amour, and everywhere spring flowers are greeting the new season. Late morning Dale and I pick up our good friend, Eleanor, and head out.
A glossy raven sits high in an oak snag, one which serves as an acorn woodpecker granary. This granary still holds a decent supply of acorns stored last fall in the holes painstakingly hammered out by the woodpeckers. A second raven lands on a lower branch and walks his (?) way closer to the first. He offers a large gob of cream colored food, but the female (?) is unimpressed. She rears back, as if finding the offering disdainful. Since his offering is refused, the male caches it instead. Much to our surprise he picks a large crack on the underside of a horizontal branch … he actually hangs upside down while he wedges it in. Once it is safely tucked, he pauses, releases one leg and hangs by just one foot as he looks about. He looks very comfortable in that odd position, and stays for about a minute before flying off to retrieve another treat.
The second offering is small and dark. The female quivers and accepts it.
What a toadie! The raven is stealing one of the woodpecker’s acorns. The two woodpecker in the tree are not happy about sharing their acorn supply, but ravens are big, very big. The acorn woodpeckers call and fly from one branch to another. One even dive bombs the raven.
The raven takes the acorn to the end of a large broken off branch. He wedges it in and pounds away. The second raven looks hopeful. Another offering? No. When the raven finally cracks the nut, he proceeds to eat it himself. Then sits and preens.
Eleanor lives in the country. We head back to her house early enough to talk advantage of a countryside walk before returning to town. Shooting stars and buttercups are in full bloom and wild strawberries have just started. A farm pond comes up tight to the road and Eleanor comments that she is surprised there aren’t any ducks on the pond.
Only about eight feet from me I suddenly realize I’m looking at a mallard hen on her nest. The nest is nearly hidden in long grass and blackberry canes. I can see her head, half her back, and a few of the downy feathers she has pulled from her breast to line her nest. One photograph and we quietly move off. She sits tight. I can’t remember ever seeing a mallard on her nest, much less being so close I feel as though we are breathing the same air. I amazed I even saw it tucked in the tangle.
Before we leave Eleanor, she takes us to another little pond, just down slope from her cabin. Our intension was to walk a little farther, but little tiny red critters catch our attention. Eleanor already knows what they are – copepods. Copepods are crustaceans, about 1/8 inch long. They are busy swimming about near the surface, some just barely near enough for me to scoop one up. The bank is just steep enough for me to be a little careful. I empty my shirt pocket, unstrap my binoculars, kneel down and reach out. Success. I scoop up three copepods and a tiny tadpole. At first I thought the tadpole was a newly hatched minnow, but with a hand lens I don’t see any gills or fins. He is all eyes and tail. He doesn’t even have much of a belly yet. Eleanor smiles, and says she doesn’t know of anyone else who would so enjoy sharing such treasures with her.