Tuesday, November 22, 2011

... Another Otter

We all have special things that make our hearts sing … grandchildren’s smiles, a favorite tune, a robin’s song bubbling forth in the early morning ….. otter. I have lots of things that make my heart sing. Otter are on the short list. They are playful, affectionate, elusive, and different.
I know I posted about otter recently, but I can never get enough of otters and I hope you will enjoy a different peek into the life of an otter. This one was alone, almost surely a mature male. He was large and in a location only occasionally visited by otter. We found him swimming in the little pond, Hart Lake, at Wildlife Safari.

An otter spots us and dives. I fear he is leaving as quickly as possible; but, no. The trail of bubbles rising to the surface shows he is searching about in the murky water. He pops up, looks about and dives again. But he isn’t coming up with anything. About six dives later he swims to the far side of the tiny island in the middle of Hart Lake and bounces up onto the ten foot long dock.
I start sketching the otter but I’m torn. Do I split my attention between sketching and watching, or do I just soak it all in? To sketch I have to hold my binoculars with one hand and balance the sketchbook on my lap … and I miss half the action. Meanwhile Dale is clicking away with the camera. I’ll draw from his photos after we’re home.
The otter is using the dock as a grooming spot. He came out with a slip of water drenching his fur. Now he rubs his back, the top of his head, his belly on the dry boards. It is an energetic process. Wiggling and turning he rubs the easy moisture off, then starts to lick various parts of his anatomy. Otter remind me of a long furry bag, half filled with heavy jello. His body molds to the boards.
A little scratching is in order too.
Feet get special attention. I don’t believe I ever got to see an otter’s feet so well. They are almost hand-like. His digits are very flexible; more like a raccoon’s hands than a dog’s paw. I know there is webbing between the toes, but I can’t see that part. Webbed feet and a very muscular tail give him the ability to be an awesome force underwater.
Proper grooming takes far longer than I expected -- more than twenty minutes. Now he closes his eyes and settles in for a nap. His fur looks rich and dry. I wish I could run my fingers through it.

When we get home I feel like our long gone cat sitting on the window sill, itching to get at the bird feeder -- only I'm itching to start drawing the otter from Dale's photos.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Klamath Basin: Part II

Part II of our Oct 12-15, 2011 trip to the Klamath Basin
Friday: A lone raven puts on quite a show for us this morning. I first spotted it talking to itself up on a telephone pole crossbar. We turned the radio off and rolled the windows down listened to a lot of ‘soft talk.’

The raven soon flew to a perch high on a charcoal snag .. more soft talk. Lots of soft talk. I wish I knew what he is saying!

This raven’s upper mandible is overgrown. He (?) looks very much like the raven we photographed about three miles from here five years ago. I sent a photo of that one to a researcher who is studying beak deformities. I suspect the researcher will appreciate another photo.
We stopped near Lava Bed’s entrance booth and got side tracked for about two hours by insects: bees, butterflies ,bugs, … caught my attention first. Before long I spotted a jumping spider, but my movement made him pop out of sight. Dale and I have a special fondness for jumping spiders so I alerted Dale when he got back. The spiders have eight eyes, two especially large – “better to see you with, my dear!” If we move slowly the spider just might stay put

The warm sunshine has brought jumping spiders out in droves. Most are tucked in the tops of rabbit brush. One has caught a small wasp and feeds on it. Then I notice several spiders are on the tall stems of bunch grass, higher than my head. At the very tip of a couple of grass seed heads is a little mess of cobweb. From the jumping spiders? While I’m watching a jumping spider climbs to the very tip, where there is a cobweb platform and sticks his abdomen into the air. He is releasing strands of cobweb into the sky! Is he going to ‘balloon’ off to a new location? No. He goes partway back down the long strand of grass and appears to have returned to hunting mode. Some spiderlings disperse to new locations by ballooning, i.e. letting out strands of fiber and letting the breeze carry them off. It can be quite beautiful when lots of them are on the move. They drift about like ethereal kites that got away from their fairy friends.

Saturday: It was supposed to be sunny today, but we have light overcast instead – actually good light. It will hold off the heat waves which can severely limit our chances for photography.
I’ve looked hard for a great horned owl and finally find one tucked in a shady crevice. He is a sleepy fellow.

While sitting here Dale suddenly spots a weasel! It pauses on a rock near the water’s edge. Soon crosses the road about fifty yards in front of us and I get two quick glimpses as he comes back on my side of the road. The sweet little imp peered at me briefly both times. I wasn’t quick enough to photograph him even though I had camera in hand, waiting.
Aspen are turning color in the Basin. Most groves are still green, others yellow green and a few in full color with tints of orange. Sunshine, Indian summer temperatures , and gold aspen -- a good mix, though I must admit we only had a dab of sunshine. Soon back into overcast.

We listen to Ravel’s Bolero as we wind our way along the Umpqua River, heading home. Still light when we pass Tokatee.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Klamath Basin: Part I

Klamath Basin, northern California, USA: Oct 12 - 15
Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011: Heading to Klamath! Fog loosening its grip when we leave home. Tonight will be the night of the full moon. Tomorrow we present a digital slide show, “Don’t Mess with the Ravens,” to the Klamath Audubon Society. This blog post and the next will be snippets from that trip.
Thursday: Morning sun glistens on 150 feeding white pelicans. The big, lumbersome birds ride on the surface of Tule Lake and dip their huge pouched bills into the shallow water. By staying clustered they spook fish to each other. The pelicans are quiet except for occasional splashing from flailing legs. Western and Clark’s grebes are attracted to the feeding and are scattered near and amongst the pelicans. They are not quiet. The begging of grebe chicks fills the morning air. The youngsters look as big as their parents, yet are still incessantly begging. The only peace for the adult is when it slips underwater. The grebe chick still yammers a little, as if to remind that underwater parent that there is work to do.
It doesn’t take long for us to realize it is an excellent year for California quail. Little flocks come out to feed near the shoulder of the road and we spook them as we drive by.

There is a long dike road on the southern edge of Tule Lake --water to the north and fields to the south. At one time this basin has far more habitat for waterfowl. Now there is a struggle to determine who gets the available water, the ranchers or the refuge. The Klamath Basin is still an awesome place, but I know it once was far more.

So peaceful out here on the refuge. Smoke rises from a far off burn in Lava Beds National Monument -- a controlled burn I’m sure. A tractor hums in a distant field and kicks up a cloud of dust, probably harvesting onions or potatoes. We hear the murmur of coot, grebes and occasionally a goose. Duck numbers are low and they don’t have much to say anyway.

Four mule deer feeding in the first of the many fields on the right. I know they are bucks before we are close enough to see horns – stocky compared to the does. One of the 4x4s is especially large beamed.

A mile or more farther down the dike road we spot a fifth buck, a pretty 3x3. He is feeding in the overgrown clutter between the dike road and ditch off to our right 50 yards away. He seems close enough for a photo, but heat waves blur his image.

Here comes the first vehicle we’ve seen on the dike road. It a photographer. He gets out of his car and approaches the 3x3 buck slowly from the other side, slowly pushing the buck towards us. The buck is very relaxed. He crosses the narrow road to reach the lush greenery growing along the shoulder that edges Tule Lake. The buck is close – big ears – big eyes – not a big rack, but well shaped.
Finally the buck has enough and crosses back into the tangle of dried mustard and green nettles. He feeds on the wispy dried ends of mustard, then almost disappears into nettles. He thrashes about. At first I think it’s a hormonal thing, it’s soon to be rutting season. The velvet is already off his antlers, but a little more polishing is always in order.
The buck plops down. He was just making a day bed. All I can see now are a few antler ends and the tips of his ears. If I hadn’t watched him go down I doubt I’d find him.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Things Leads to Another: A New Drawing Skill

Not my usual drawing style? Read on……
I’ve been reading an interesting book, “Wild Harmony: Animals of the North” by William O. Pruitt © 1960. I’d never heard of the author so I went online to check out his credentials. It turns out he was a professor well known for his studies on Arctic ecology, and well known for his ability to draw bilaterally symmetrical structures on the blackboard. That second feat was noteworthy enough to find space in his obituary!
I’ve known for years that I can write backwards with my left hand (generally speaking I’m right-handed, but there is sometimes a confusion about that). The odd thing is my style of writing backwards with my left hand resembles my forward style with my right hand …. And my forward style with my left hand resembles my backward style with my right hand. Are you keeping that straight? When I’m writing backwards with my left hand it is even easier to do it while writing forwards with my right hand.

After reading Pruitt’s obituary I couldn’t resist seeing if I could draw a picture with both hands. The tree is my very first attempt. I made the mistake of starting out with a western hemlock which has a tipped over top (not symmetrical) and found I just went over to the left with both hands. But then I continued on down the tree drawing very quickly and even including a little owl sitting out on a high branch. The whole drawing took about 2 minutes.

So if you ever need entertainment at a cocktail party, just invite me. A drink just warms me up … doesn’t interfere at all. I have a feeling my brain scan would have some anomalies but I’ll try not to think about that.

P.S. There is a little history behind all this. When I first took my driver’s test as a teenager the guy testing me just sat and shook his head at the end. Then he said, “You obviously don’t know left from right, but you did stay on the right side of the road, so I’m going to pass you”!

I do know my left from my right! but you have to give me a little time to think about it. And the first time my mother-in-law saw me ironing she was just flummoxed as to why I ironed the way I did … and I couldn’t figure out why she did it the way she did.
Have a good day!

Can any of you do this???