Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dinner with Robins

Tuesday, Nov 27, 2013
Our yard is a busy place this morning.  We’ve had several nights of frost, bringing extra birds down into the valley.  Yesterday I noticed a song sparrow taking great offense to his reflection in our Toyota RAV’s side-view mirror.  The sparrow hops on the door windowsill and sure enough, that dastardly intruder is right next to him (his image in the mirror).  He immediately goes after the devil, but “poof!” the intruder disappears quick as a wink.  So the befuddled sparrow sits for a moment on top of the mirror looking about. 

“Wait!  What is that?”  He sees his reflection in the car window again and hops back down.  Now that dastardly sparrow is back in the mirror.  Round and round the poor little fella goes.  He kept it up all the while I ate breakfast yesterday, and again today.  The mirror is getting all smeary with his spit.  
Meanwhile I’ve got a second circus going on outside the same window.  We have a volunteer English hawthorn tree growing about six feet from the window.  It is a foggy, still morning, very still; yet the hawthorn is a quiver.  Robins have arrived.  I’m always fascinated at how my hawthorn berries are ignored day after day, and then comes the invasion.  I predict that in three days there will be few berries left.  

The robins reach out, stretch out, tip upside down, even flutter to grab another berry.  I try counting how many berries one robin eats. Often I get to three, once one stayed put while he ate five!  How can he stuff in so many?  Dr. Oz wouldn’t approve of such gluttony.  

The robins feed for a few minutes.  I don’t know how many there are -- ten?  twenty?  I’d spook them if I go outside for a better view.  The flock comes and goes for over an hour, giving me a wonderful chance to draw.  I even have one cedar waxwing, but he only comes once.  I see a ruby-crowned kinglet and some juncoes too, but the berries are way too big for them.  Some berries are too big for the robins.  Often I see one get flicked aside, and sometimes a robin struggles before swallowing.  

It is 10:30 AM before life returns to a quiet normal.  I look forward to tomorrow.  The robins will be having their Thanksgiving dinner outside my window.  

Followup:  The robins did come for dinner on Thanksgiving and there were still a few berries the following day.  But today the tree is stripped and my yard is back to normal.  Earlier in the fall we had a similar invasion when the robins decided our Concord grapes were ready.  If I’m prompt I can harvest all the grapes I want before their arrival.  Fortunately I have a great plenty of grapes so the robins always have a feast.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Eagle Encounters

Shell Island, Oregon coast, USA

Shell Island is a small island close to the mainland.  We often go to an overlook on the mainland to watch a wide variety of marine life on and near Shell Island.
Harbor seals resting on the rocks at Shell Island
Dreary.  Heavy fog above Roseburg.  When the weatherman say ‘sunny’ we take it with a grain of salt.  All too often with a large dose of fog.  We were forty miles from Roseburg, half way to the coast, before the sun came out. 

Now, at Shell Island overlook, the sky above is blue, the air cool, and just a slight breeze.  Clouds to the north speak of tomorrow’s prediction for 100% chance of rain. 

The tide has been on its way out for nearly five hours so Shell Island’s beach is well exposed.  The lowering tide has exposed acres of rock emerging from the cold Pacific waters.  Kelp bobs on the water’s surface.  The barking of hundreds of male sea lions mixes with gentle breakers rolling ashore.  Much harder to hear, I also detect the the deep growl of Stellar’s sea lions.  Silvery harbor seals rest on small clusters of rocks.

Suddenly a bald eagle zooms beneath us.  The eagle carries a Canada goose, clutching it by just one wing!  The goose is very much alive.  

The eagle is headed in the direction of Shell Island, but instead of flying over the rather wide expanse of water, it lands on the rocks beneath us.  A gull follows close behind and almost bops the eagle.  More gulls arrive.  The eagle lets go of the goose which quickly scrambles into a rock crevice. Lucky goose!  Even goose’s wing appears to be intact.  

The eagle takes off, heading to Shell Island without his goose.  Did the gulls chase him off?  Did the goose have too much fight left?  We suspect the goose was too heavy and too strong.

The eagle lands on a tall boulder near Shell Island and calls.  His head and tail sparkle white in the sunshine.  He waits.  We wait.  The goose peeks out of the crevice and then tucks its head out of sight again.  We wonder if the eagle will make another try at the goose.  
Before long a second mature bald eagle joins the first.  They perch together and chitter their silly eagle chatter.  Eagle singing sounds way too delicate to come from such a magnificent bird.  Most days the wind would whip their song away, but today we can hear it above the mellow waves.  

The eagles are after something, but not the goose.  They take turns stooping over frequent splashes just off the edge of Shell Island’s rocks.  

Success!  With an extra big splash one of the eagles lifts off the surface of the water carrying a wiggling bundle.  At first I think he has a large fish, but no.  The eagle clutches a western grebe.  The second eagle zooms in close; then veers off and perches.  The eagle with the grebe lands on a boulder and begins plucking.  Soon it looks as if someone cut open a down pillow and let the breeze float feathers away.  When there can’t be many feathers left on the grebe, the eagle picks up and flies to a different boulder, perhaps to eat his prey without a mouthful of feathers.  The eagle feeds for about 45 minutes, then joins the first.  A raven inspects the scraps left behind.

The pair of eagle perch next to each other.  Sun is low, now glowing gold on their white heads.  


A week later we return to Shell Island, hoping for another eagle encounter.  It is a very different day. One eagle present much of the 3 or 4 hours we stay, but it doesn’t hunt.  At least it is warm enough for me to draw and quiet enough for me to have time to sketch without interruptions.  
There is a roar in my ears that only the loudest sea lions can penetrate.  Big waves roll in from the Pacific and crash on Shell Island’s outer reef.  White plumes burst high into the sky.  A long string of pelicans fly low over choppy waves.  If the swells were a little deeper, the pelicans would disappear in and out of their troughs.  A handful of sea lions are doing their best to stay on a small rock.  They have stretches of quiet that last a minute or two, then another big breaker slams into their little island.  Most temporarily disappear into a roil of white.

High tide turns about now.  Shell Island’s beach is only large enough to hold 100 sea lions and a handful of small elephant seals.  Clusters of displaced sea lions laze about, clustered together in the choppy water.  Each has one fin in the air.  If I didn’t know better I might assume sharks had arrived.  

End of daylight fast approaches.  A golden sun, half buried in fog, glows just above the horizon.  Tall plumes of waves cast a whisper of gold.  Every few minutes another flock of brown pelicans strokes past, all heading south.  Still just a dab  of beach for the sea lions -- constant barking and jostling.  The harbor seals have given up on laying claim to any land hours ago.  Three bob beneath me, bottling.  Noes in the air, the three will just laze until beach becomes available.  One by one they briefly disappear into each breaker as it rolls in.  

The bald eagle flew back to Shell Island about an hour before sunset.  It put a swirling mass of birds into the sky -- gulls, cormorants, even the oystercatchers.  Only a great blue heron stayed put.  The eagle doesn’t appear interested in hunting.

Burr.  It’s damp, chilly and breezy.  I have to admit I’m glad we’re heading home and not camping tonight.  My fingers hardly hold my pen.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Klamath Basin Sketches: October 2013

My last post, “Star Gazing” was triggered by our three night camping trip to Lava Beds National Monument.  While there we spent some time in the high desert and some time on the nearby Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges.  I keep trying to find time to post that part of the trip too.  

While ‘in the Basin’ I did less writing than usual, partly because ‘events’ didn’t unfold.  There is a positive side to not having a lot of exciting things happen:  I had more time than usual to sketch.  Just being in the Basin is food for my soul.  Thousands of acres streatch flat.  Before white man drained huge sections of it it was a fabulous place for wildlife and the Modoc Indians.  Some has been saved for wildlife, so it still is a treasure, if a reduced treasure.  
Ring-billed Gull

Eared grebe
This post will be simple -- some of my sketches done while down there and shortly after I got home.  The great blue heron, ring-billed gull and eared grebe are examples of work done after we got home.  I often come home fired up to paint or draw some of our sighting that we have just photographed.
Friday AM -- I’m siting by myself at the corner of the big sump -- near the ‘tear drop crevice.’  At first I sketched a juniper and the half moon.  The birds all left when I sat down.  Gradually they’ve come back. Half a dozen ruddy ducks feed near me; a western grebe comes very close; farther off a grebe chick begs for food; another grebe sleeps ... eared grebes, pied-billed grebes, a few gulls.  Up on Sheepy Ridge I hear several robins.  It is one of those times I wish I could encapsulate and save for whenever I need a good dose of Klamath.

A juniper and the moon way up along the ridge-line of Sheepy Ridge.

We parked for a long time along the edge of Tule Lake.  Dale photographed and I sketched.  I always feel sorry for western grebe and Clark’s grebe parents ( two very similar grebes).  The youngsters of other grebe species all seem to be independent, but these grebe chicks yammer on.  The incessant begging reminds me of the incessant horse flies that once pestered me on a canoe trip.  We were taking my mother down a rather small stream in Wisconsin, the Yellow River.  Fortunately it was a warm summer day because once we had committed to the journey we ran into way more obstructions in the shallow stream that we had anticipated.  Over and over again Dale and I jumped out of the canoe to wade and guide the canoe over, under, or around a log.  The horseflies were simply awful.  I still remember taking a deep breath and going underwater for as long as I could hold my breath .......  ah, relief!  I can’t help but wonder if these grebe parents don’t feel a little of the same relief when they escape their grebe chicks by going underwater.  

I confess I peeked at the back of the camera when I sketched the adult handing the minnow to its chick.  The back of a digital camera can me a handy tool when field sketching.  Just a quick peek at a still subject is so much easier than the quick glimpse when it actually happens.  
A few open grown willow trees grow in the strip of land between Sheepy Ridge and Tule Lake.  We know to look carefully and, with luck, we’ll spot a great horned owl roosting in the willows.  I penciled this guy on location, but did a lot of the inking while we waited for grebes and at home. 

We spotted one really nice mule deer buck.  He whetted our appetite for returning to the Basin during the rut -- which would be right about now.  Unfortunately the weather will keep us home instead.