Monday, July 29, 2013

Cormorant Watching

Oregon Coast:  July 25, 2013
At first we think the coast is going to be smothered in fog.  As we near the coast big splats from fog drenched branches are hitting our windshield.   Patches of fog hang about.  Anything cool is welcome.  July has been running way hotter than normal. 
By the time we reach Shell Island at noon, the fog has burned off. A cool wind blows, the tide is just turning --- delicious!  I zip myself into my lined wind-breaker.  It is a temptation to let myself get chilled to my very gizzard just to erase all memories of sweaty hot.

A flat of sand stretches in front of the little island; on it are a mix of elephant seals, California sea lions, Steller’s and harbor seals.  In the distance a few murres fly low over choppy waves.  At least ten pelagic cormorant nests cling to Shell Island’s steep cliff wall.  Most are full of half grown youngsters.  Young gulls up there too.  The bird guano on Shell Island looks like white frosting dribbled on a bunt cake.  

Next we stop at Sunset Bay.  Off in the distance is a little island covered with a sparse cap of dead trees.  I remember when it was a lush grove of Sitka spruce -- but then double-crested cormorants set up housekeeping.  Their colony is a busy place.  Years of cormorant guano soon killed the trees.  Now some of the trees are down and most of the branches on the remaining ones have snapped off.  Enough branches remain for about 100 nests, fewer than in years past.  It won’t be many more years and the cormorants will need to move to a new location.  
I don’t see a lot of flying to and from the colony.  It is mid day.  Perhaps the young are well fed for now. I pick the fullest tree to sketch.  It has 24 nests, but I only sketch 14.  Most youngsters are nearly full grown -- trying their wings, hopping from nest to nearby branch and back again.  I’m sketching from the car.  I’ve got 20-60 power spotting scope mounted on the window -- far better than my binoculars. 

When an adult finally flies in I watch carefully.  Its nest has four large young.  Three seem content, probably have full bellies already.  The fourth begs immediately.  He stretches his long, scrawny neck up, nibbling at the corners of the adult’s mouth, first one side and then the other.  It is the same motion used by coyote and wolf pups when they pester at the corner of an adult’s mouth, triggering the adult to regurgitate meat.  Much of the meat these carnivores bring back to the den is brought back in the adult’s belly.  I’ve seen the alpha male of the Druid wolf pack so stuffed he looked ready to pop. Our cormorant has brought back a belly full of fish for its nestlings.  
Getting the adult cormorant to regurgitate takes longer than I expect.  For about two minutes the chick continues nibbling at the corners of the parent’s mouth.  Finally the adult gulps a little and bends down towards the chick.  

The chicks head half disappears inside the adult’s open throat.  Lots of gulping by both.  
Once free, the adult isn’t left in peace for more than a moment.  More begging.  This time it doesn’t take quite as long for the adult to regurgitate.  Afterwards a different sibling reaches out and starts the nibbling process.  Soon he, too, is gulping down food.  I can’t track if each chick gets a meal, or just the first two -- too far away to tell for sure.  I can see the adult regurgitates five times before leaving.  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sketching Bugs

We used to be a little disappointed by the doldrums of summer.  The birds get busy with nesting and are quiet and private.  Dry, dry summer hits and only tough flowers survive.   Days are hot.  Summer was a dull time of year.  

Then we discovered BUGS.  They love summer.

Technically a bug is one order of the thirty plus orders that include all the insects.  A true bug has four wings which criss cross across its back -- box elder beetles and such.  I still finding myself calling all insects bugs: dragonflies, wasps, butterflies, etc.  It is easy to add a few creatures that aren’t even insects:  spiders, ticks, even millipedes.  I’m in process of trying to learn more about various ‘bugs.’  

The ‘bug’ world is fascinating, one which I wish I had taken more seriously all my life.  But there is no time like right now for learning.  Something that piques our curiosity is good at any age, maybe particularly so when we become senior citizens.

Here are some of my recent sketches.  The first one has two species of lady bird beetles (often called ‘ladybugs’) which I found on one pussy toe plant along with the aphids.  I penciled this one on location, but the aphids were so small I waited until I had downloaded my photographs onto my computer before really drawing them.  

There are more than 480 species of lady bird beetles in North America!  Many are tiny.  They are famous for their ability to eat aphids and have been even chosen as the state insect by several states.  The lady bird beetle with seven spots is the seven-spotted lady beetle (Coccinella septempunctta) and the one with strong markings on its thorax is the convergent lady beetle (Hippodamia convergens).  The latter is often sold in garden shops.
I was excited to find a co-operative potter wasp.  Wasps are usually on the move, but evening was coming and this wasp was feeding on a yarrow, in no hurry to go anywhere.  The potter wasps I’ve found (2) are smaller than most of the wasps we notice on a regular basis.  Some day I hope to find one of their pots.  

There are about 260 species of potter wasps in North America.  Some of them build tiny pots for their eggs.  One egg to a pot.  The potter wasp adds paralyzed prey to the pot for its egg to feed on when it hatches.  
This one isn’t even an insect.  It is a millipede .... a rather round creature with a great plenty of legs.   I often see them on the ground but hadn’t ever seen one climb a plant.  This one was just below the frothy bubble made by a spit bug.  In my ignorance I thought maybe the millipede was going to attack the spit bug larva.  I fetched my stool and started sketching.  Not much happened for the next half hour.  The millipede moved in slow-mo, obviously feeding on the surface of the fireweed plant.  I think the spit bug larva may have scuffed up the surface of the stem, bringing juices up which the millipede was taking advantage of.  

Later, at home, I read up on centipedes and millipedes.  Millipedes are normally round, have two pairs of legs per segment, move slowly in spite of all those legs, and feed on organic matter.  Centipedes are usually flatter, have one pair of legs per segment, move very quickly, and are predators.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Move Along: An Eastern Oregon Cattle Drive

Late May.  Dale and I are spending the morning a few miles south of Burns, Oregon.  Grey clouds hang over this vast expanse of flat valley.  We’re parked on the side of a long, straight gravel road that passes miles and miles of green pasture and shallow wetlands.  It is wide open country, hardly a tree to be seen.  The horizon line is interrupted by a far off ranch and a few shade trees.  Farther off, slightly higher areas go into sage.  Many miles away we see snow on the Steens Mountains.

Dale and I have been listening to willets, curlews and snipe court and call in the early morning sky;  red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds sing from nearby gnarly fence posts and cattails; barn swallows zip over the shallow ditch, foraging for insects.  So much for us to watch, sketch and photograph.  

Way down the road, blurred by ‘the vapors’, a see a dark mass moving towards us.  We call heat waves ‘the vapors’ because they have so little to do with it being hot.   It was close to freezing earlier in the morning and the breeze still gives a cold bite to the air.  Moisture seems to cause the vapors as much as heat does. 

Slowly the motion far down the road separates into four cowboys on horseback, six dogs, and over 100 black cows, one cream cow, a couple of rusty cows plus their calves.  The cowboys are dressed for a chilly ride:  thick jackets, chaps, warm hats --  three men and one woman. They slowly move the herd towards us.
At first I keep looking for birds, then I realize it is the herd I should be watching.  With the help of the dogs, the four cowboys just mosey the herd along. The mellow lowing of cattle mixes with a sky full of bird calls.  About a quarter of a mile ahead the lead cowboy opens a gate into a large pasture.  The pasture looks to be a mile square.  With the assistance of the dogs, every cow and calf turns into the pasture.
Once inside the pasture, the herd is still kept together and nudged well into the large field.  Any cow that moves off is quickly brought back.  It just takes a short command and two of the Australian shepherds spring into action chase a stay back.  Another command, and the two dogs drop in their tracks and wait.  
Now three dogs run along the edge of the herd, tightening up that edge.  On command they drop into the grass, waiting for their next job.  The cowboy’s job seems to be a steadying influence and to give orders.  The dogs do the scurrying.
The cowboys spread out, one of each side of the herd.  One cowboy in particular is frequently going in tight circles on his horse.  I’m puzzled.  Is the horse miss-behaving?  Is the cowboy training him?  The other three riders sit quietly.  

We watch for twenty minutes.  Are they waiting for trucks to arrive?  

Finally the cowboys leave the herd and release the dogs from their patient waiting.  While the cowboys head back to the gate, the dogs race about, full of delight.  Australian sheep dogs are a joy to watch;  eager to run; eager to obey; eager to work;  full of nervous energy.  

We intercept the cowboys when they reach the road. Craig is in charge.  Yes, the maneuvers with his horse were part training and part keeping the horse under control.  His horse is young, “Full of go, and not enough ‘Whoa’.”  One of the dogs is a youngster too.  

The main reason for keeping the herd gathered is to make sure all calves and their Mamas got together.  If they are just dumped into the pasture, any that are separated will concentrate on getting back to where they came from.  This way they have a chance to pair up and settle into their new home.  

By the time the cowboys head back down that long gravel road, several calves are nursing and many of the cows graze.  An hour later, the cows and calves are scattered over a large portion of the pasture.  One little black calf spots some black-necked stilts and tries to chase them.  Off he gallops in their direction, only to see the little birds fly up out of reach.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Tale of Stolen Internet Images

This blog post will be totally off my usual type of subject, but perhaps an eye-opener for those of you who are posting anything on the internet.  Brace yourself for what follows.  I think you’ll be surprised ... and worried.

A friend of mine, Joe Conrad, sent me a link to blog posting by Ian Plant in his “Dreamscapes” blog.  The article points out how frequently photographs are now ‘borrowed‘ on the internet and may be used in ways the original photographer never intended.  This new digital era has made ‘borrowing / stealing’ just that much easier in spite of very clear copyright regulations that protect the rights of the person who created the photograph / art / writing.  

Having my work lifted is not new to me.  Before the digital era my art ended up on a matchbook cover, menu, T-shirts, embellishing a catalogue, a letterhead ... and who knows where else!  Recently a nature center scanned one of my drawings and decorated a trailer used for recycling!  I was not asked for permission on any of these usages.  But digital has made it ever so much easier.  I knew images are sometimes harvested off web sites, but I didn’t realize what a common occurrence it is ... or how often I have been a victim.

Ian’s article showed me how easy it is to do a quick check to see if my images are being used without my permission.  Just go to Google images and click on the “Search my Image” camera icon (that is the little camera on the right side of the box where you usually type in your search term), upload your image, and hit the search button. 

Ouch!  I searched for the baby robins I drew several years ago.  Prior to today I never uploaded this drawing onto the internet .... but I did grant permission to Washington State’s Fish and Wildlife Service to use the image on their site -- probably in 2005. I picked this image because a friend once stumbled across it on the internet.   I can’t be sure Washington’s site is where the digital trail started, but I suspect so.  Another possibility is someone could have scanned the drawing from one of my notecards.  

Here are most of the places I found my robin drawing:
  1. The state of Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Web site (the only place where I granted permission)
  2. The Sate of Maine’s Fish and Wildlife site -- at least they gave me credit.
  3. the social networking site “Tumbler”  ... Yetch -- some teenage girl with her bright red lips pursed to kiss had it on her site.  Other tumbler entries too by I skipped over them.
  4. a blog with mostly weird photographs such as a staged image of bald patient on an IV.
  5. an online magazine where my robins accompanied an article, “Does Your Personality Change Depending on the Language You Speak”  -- I ask, “What is the relevance???”
  6. on a web site written in Persian!  It might be a site posting poetry but I can’t be sure  -- Persian is a little beyond me.
  7. a web site selling a lot of scrapbooking stuff including rubber stamps.  I didn’t find my image on their site, but I suspect they used it at one time.
  8. a tatoo site!  I think you are supposed to download my image and take it to your tatoo artist.

 About now my computer offered me a place to click to go somewhere I definitely didn’t want to go to learn about stuff that smelled of porn.  I thought to myself .... “Time to get out of here!”  But my computer wouldn’t let me get off the internet!  I had to force quit! 

Once out, I thought I was clear, but no.  I went back to Ian’s site link and found the unwanted site was popping up again.    I force quit again and shut my computer off.  I honestly don’t think this is a problem with Ian’s site -- I think somehow the unwanted site could still reach out and grab me.  Once I turned my computer back on and went to his site via a different route I didn’t have a problem.  

So my advice is .... if you want to search to see if your images have been used elsewhere, do be careful what sites you click on.  

For now I’ll keep on posting.  I always reduce my images to a small file size before posting.  My rule of thumb is 800 pixels on the longest side.  The image is still good for the internet, but not for publication.  Also on really nice art or photographs I need to put my name and copyright right on the image.  My name was on the robin drawing, but most places I found it no longer had my name on it.  Unfortunately it isn’t that difficult to remove the name off a photograph or drawing.  

I use Photoshop elements to resize my photos and add my name.  Does anyone know of a free program that can perform both these functions for others who might be interested?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Watching White Pelicans

Malheur Basin, Oregon:  May 25, 2013

Have you ever watched white pelicans soaring?  Way high, in a clear blue sky?  It is worth a long pause, more than just a quick look just to verify the white flecks are pelicans.  
We’re somewhere along Ruh-red Road in the Malheur Basin.  Off in the distance, through shimmers of heat waves, a wobbly line of white is out of place in the vast expanse of the Basin.  Elsewhere on the valley floor I see a little water, lots of greens and golds, even an empty house which is literally leaning at a 45 degree angle.  If I could see farther I’d see a few more houses, most still occupied, cattle, antelope, thousands of birds and miles of refuge.  Right here stretches a grey gravel road.  A line of dust racing along the road says a rancher is about his business.  Birders drive slowly out here.  

Near me cliff swallows zoom and zip and a double-crested cormorant hurries by.  Earlier this morning the air was filled with sounds of willets, blackbirds, terns, gulls and swallows.  Now I hear the wind and a few far off terns.  My current world is busy with white pelicans.  
Earlier in the morning pelicans flew low and on a mission.  There was a steady flow of traffic to and from their distant colony.  The colony is still white with birds but morning feeding missions must be over.  At least a hundred pelicans soar high above me, sparkling flashes of white, even whiter than the few cotton ball clouds.  It is as if someone slowly stirred a great bowlful of clear blue air and sprinkled in slow moving white petals.  
The pelicans soar effortlessly in great circling clusters.  Some groups are small  -- a half dozen;  others have 20 or more.  A few gulls are with them.  They look like tiny out-of-place specks next to the broad wingspan of the pelicans.   The pelicans take advantage of a little heat rising from the valley floor.  They become a slow moving motion machine.  Those farthest off disappear when they angle towards or away from me, barely show when they are backlit, and sparkle white when the sun hits their back.  So as the flock gradually shifts position in their slow-mo circles, their brightness shifts with them.  

I have to think it would be exhilarating to be a pelican slowly soaring above the Malheur Basin.