Saturday, April 30, 2011

Time for a Break

Spring has sprung! I’m going a little crazy trying to do everything.

It is time to be outside, not pecking away on my computer. So for a little while I’m going to take a sabbatical from blogging.

I’ll be back!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Savoring the Moment

Sometimes, when life is a little quiet, it is nice to sit at a favorite spot and remember …

I’m at the east facing bench on the Lagoon Campground trail, Oregon Coast. Very quiet today. An occasional water beetle disturbs the almost still marsh waters; a frog croaks deep in the woods; a bee hums by; one sound I don’t understand – could it be a mountain quail? Yes! Far off I hear the muffled drone of the surf rolling in from the Pacific Ocean.

Bright hazy day. Damp. Just warm enough to sit still for a few minutes and savor.

Several years ago we spent nine days photographing at this site. Dale could only walk short distances. We were delighted to have found a spot where a great blue heron came to hunt for salamanders and Dale could spend hours photographing him from this bench. There was a lot of waiting, but well rewarded when the heron came in. During the quiet times he still had wrentits, towhees, mallards, nutria and marsh wrens to keep him company.

We were fascinated because the heron was nabbing one salamander after another. From shore we could only find toxic, rough-skinned newts. Did he ever catch one of these? The photos would tell.

The great blue was hunting the oxbow that loops around Lagoon Campground. Much of the oxbow is filled with, choked with aquatic vegetation. Carefully, very carefully the great blue walked about on floating, matted water weeds. He often paused to stare intently into peeks of dark water. His footing was rather precarious. Slowly he’d sink, sometimes ending up belly deep.

Over the period of a couple of hours the great blue might catch 6 – 8 salamanders. Most were about six inches long – about newt size, but never a newt. He’d flick off any waterweeds that happened to come up with the salamander, the gulp it down as easily as a raw oyster. Once in a while he caught a much larger salamander, a Pacific Giant Salamander. These big monsters were a mouthful! He’d flip it and make sure it would go down head first, and then we watched the lump work its way down the heron’s long neck. Once the giant salamander was swallowed, the heron always took a drink of water and then ruffled his feathers, as if to say, “Yuck … Ugh!”

It is nice sitting here on the bench. The vegetation has grown up a lot in the passing years. Dale wouldn’t have very good visibility if he tried for herons here today. But, no matter. With two new hips Dale is walking again and has lots of options as to where to photograph.

Note: the drawings all come from my 1996 journal and were drawn during those nine days.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Playing in the Wind - Ravens

Gusty, blustery day. Twenty or more ravens are seems to be playing in the breezes. Tipping and turning. Often in pairs. Two swoop up and up until they loose momentum, then tuck and dive like dropping stones. Oh the sheer joy of being a raven on the wing.

Blustery winds are all too often a rarity here in the valley of the Umpqua. Today the sky is blue with wispy cotton balls racing south. An ever so thin crescent moon hangs above us. The ravens are exuberant! Tip and tuck, zoom and chase, up, up and away. They play with the wind where the wind hits a north facing slope and helps carry them upwards into the crisp clean air. No fog today. No smog. Instead grasses quiver and branches sway.

Maybe this is part of pair bonding. I don’t know. Many are in pairs …. Or fly in threesomes. Low croaks and high ones. One tips upside down when two zoom together; another does two complete rolls.

My first box of sketches is done on location. After we returned home and downloaded our photos I realized I missed a lot. The ravens were just too far away to see as much detail as the camera shows. So, this second box of sketches is drawn from the computer. I now see that they sometimes are carrying a twig, sometimes a lump of something in their bill. Dale thinks they were playing “keep-a-way.” I drew pencil lines around groups that were interacting with each other …. So much fun to watch.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Turkey Talk

I am having difficulty keeping up with my posting! My notes are from March 28:

Wildlife Safari (that is the nonprofit drive-through animal park where we volunteer. Our main job is to take photos of their giraffes, rhinos, hippo, zebras, etc. . In the process we often photograph native species that use the many acres available to them). Life started out quietly. “Most of the waterfowl have headed north. Turkeys busy strutting…..”

A strutting turkey is an awesome sight! Watching all those feathers suddenly fluff out and stand on end is a little like an umbrella opening, only this umbrella has iridescent colors from every hue in the rainbow. A tom struts with such pride and careful deliberation. His fan (his tail) spreads into a very flat half circle, but he does far more with it than just walk around in front of it. Think of all those feathers coming from what my mother called “the Pope’s nose.” Now where did that expression come from? In any case, the Pope’s nose is about the size of a 50 cent piece on a turkey … and all those turkey tail feathers grow from it. He rotates his fan rather like turning the steering wheel on a car, sometimes cocking the right side high and sometimes the left. But that isn’t enough. He can also tilt it so that he can stand at a three quarters angle in front of a hen, and yet have his tail directly towards her. Hens are what this is all about.

When the tom’s fan is spread, he also fluffs every other feather on his body. He looks solid, but if I could fill all the space with water instead of air, I’m sure he’d weigh four times more. When the sun shines the body feathers are a glory of iridescent colors.

Mr. Tom has another trick up his sleeve. Turkey heads are naked with a warty lump on top of their bill called a snood. When the tom struts the snoods stretches into a long loose dangle, longer than his bill, and the bare skin at the base of his throat skin fills with blood, forming three big wattles. Even more surprising the whole works can be a pasty white, or a striking combination of pale forehead, bright blue on his cheeks and fire engine red wattles, or even all red. What more could a lady ask for?

Dale and I are parked, watching a flock of half a dozen toms in full strut, trying to impress about a dozen hens. We are only a few feet from the birds. The tom goes through a series of little dances. He spreads his fan just a tad more and briefly drags his primaries (wing tips) on the ground. It makes quite a rustle if he happens to be on coarse soil. There is a soft ‘sneezey’ sound followed by a muffled rumble that is so soft I almost think I am imagining it. The sounds are difficult to hear, but we are close enough. Most of the toms are on Dale side and I am trying to draw these guys.

The hens are indifferent, busy preening and pecking about looking for food. It dawns on me that I’m hearing a lot of the ‘yelp’ call and one hen is sitting on the ground with her head high. I’ve never seen it before, but I realize what is happening. Dale hands me the camera and rescues my pen and journal which are about to slide off my lap. The Tom approaches the hen from behind and carefully stands on her back. He starts to knead her back! And seems to be tickling her head with his long ‘beard.’

This is taking way longer than I ever expected. The camera tells the story. Five minutes of kneading before they finally got down to business.

The actual copulation didn’t take long at all. She finally stretched her head out and tails twisted to meet each other. Afterwards she stood up and ruffled every feather before strolling off. He stayed fully fluffed but the colors on his head faded to pasty white for a few minutes … then started to color up again.

Wow! We watched turkeys strut 19 days one spring and many other days since then, but have never seen a copulation. I suspect it usually takes place at first daylight and we just got lucky today. After we got home I looked up turkey behavior on Cornell University’s web site, Birds of North America Online. Biologists have figured out the tom can’t see the hen when he is on top of her, and that beard helps him figure out just where she is. She cooperates by holding her head high until it is time for the copulation.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

To the Coast

April 1, 2011 Oregon Coast

Today was wonderful. We went to the coast on the promise of half a day of sunshine. Lately it been a joke around here that 10% chance of rain means it will rain only part of the day instead of all day. Today wasn’t much better. We got about twenty minutes of sun, then back into the clouds. Drizzle started about 3 pm.

In spite of the illusive sun it was a great day. Rufous hummingbirds have recently returned from the south. They are beautiful little birds, The male is mostly rufous in color and a gorget (throat) that has iridescent golds, oranges, usually red and even a touch of green. Tiny jewels! The female is much quieter with just a touch of color on her throat.

First I drew the female. Then I wandered around Lagoon Campground and found two males setting up their territories. One kept coming back to the same perch so I sat down and painted him.

And I drew this shore pine at Lagoon Campground.

Just as we were pulling out of the campground entrance we spotted a great blue heron in full breeding plumage. At this time of year they have a bright blue patch in front of their eyes and their bill turns yellow and orange instead of dull blue grey. So handsome. But he almost caused us to get a ticket. Cars were coming by at the rate of one about every ten minutes, so we dared park on the shoulder on the wrong side of the road to photograph him from the car. The ‘once ever ten minutes vehicle’ turned out to be from the sheriff’s department. The officer firmly pointed out all the rules we were breaking, checked our driving record, and kindly let us off with a warning. Whew!

We ended the afternoon watching loons, red-breasted merganser, and a variety of grebes in the Winchester Bay boat basin. Finally it was time to ‘eat dinner out.’ For us that meant picking up take-out fish and chips at our favorite little restaurant and taking our dinner up to the lighthouse.

We parked where we could overlook the Pacific Ocean. To top it off another hummingbird entertained us while we ate. He zips up into the sky and plunges back down, over and over. When he finally perched his body seemed no larger that the tip of the Sitka spruce he was sitting on.