Monday, December 31, 2012

May good things come your way in 2013!

Happy New Year!
What's that, Intrepid Reader? Yes, I did add 'post more often' to my list of resolutions for 2013. See you soon.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Whether you're hunting mushrooms, glassing for elk on a hillside or trying to look through water to see the fish, it's all about pattern recognition and what we call, "getting your eyes on." After that first or second sighting of something you're having to pick out of a challenging background, your brain seems to relax and you start seeing the shape you're looking for much more easily.

Same thing happens when we're looking for waterbirds to count. At our refuge we count waterfowl, shore & marsh birds, and raptors twice a month. Sometimes it's about trying to tell cranes from geese in the first light of dawn, or picking out different duck species in a flock of hundreds; sometimes it's just seeing them where they are. Last week provided some of the most interesting -- and rewarding -- exercises in pattern recognition we've had in a while.

Because I was recording sightings for four avid birders my POV was from the middle of the back seat. While everyone else was glassing the sky and nearby telephone poles and trees, my view was kind of like this.

Hey look! That's a...

Killdeer on a clutch of four eggs.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) are fairly common down here but I had never seen a nest before. Had the bird not been on them, I'm not sure we would have noticed the eggs.
Later on we saw this:

Oh look! What's that?!?! Oh yeah...

Green Heron on a nest.

The nest was typical for the Butorides virescens, a basket of small sticks on a branch over the water. Next week we'll be checking for little gray downy chicks; if there's an average clutch of 2-6 green eggs in that nest we are hoping for least a few hatchlings.

Alas, we don't have any nest cams on the refuge (yet) and after a brief look around the web the Green Heron doesn't seem to rate one. If you're interested, you can see young GBHEs at the  Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Great Blue Heron Cam, along with all sorts of other nest cams.

During that same bird survey we also saw a Black-necked Stilt on a nest. We have already seen Snowy Plover chicks and owlets so for the next survey we'll be on the lookout for all manner of fluffy balls o' bird on the ground and in nests. If they're mobile, the chicks should be a little easier to pick out, although as I recall, those SNPL chicks looked like dirty cottonballs drifting across the salt-encrusted grass and beige sands of the lake edge where they nest. Better be gettin' my eyes on...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Garden Life: the Garden is In!

Finally. Last minute travel plans and other events meant seeds didn't go into the ground until the 3rd week in May. And almost everything went in as seed, no indoor starts and only a few bought jalapeno and bell pepper plants this year. It's plenty warm in the daytime and still cooling down nicely at night so the seeds are happily following their genetic imperatives and everything looks promising. However, the weather and water have also jump-started a bumper crop of weeds.

Although may not be the case in a few weeks, my views on weeds thus far flow along these lines:
 Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be.  Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony.  It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative's latest example of unreasonableness.  ~Christopher Lloyd, The Well-Tempered Garden, 1973
'Soothing monotony,' until you really start paying attention to the 'weeds.' Here's what's happening amongst the Tiger Thai Eggplants: 

eggplants in lower left corner; elm seeds, grass and volunteer basil

Okay, everything gets pulled but the basil, we'll get it when it's big enough to season some pasta or serve as a garnish. Of course, all this extra growth is occurring on top of the mound so a hoe is out of the question -- at least in my hands -- and even the Hori Hori has to be used sparingly. The work gets even closer in some areas. Wonder what's supposed to be growing in this row...

not tomatoes... not pole beans... it's a row of Dill, those tiny, 2 leaf seedlings next to the soaker hose

Why all the volunteers? Remember the frozen vegetable section photo from last year's freeze?* The mild winter and lack of moisture must have preserved all kinds of seeds, our own little heirloom seed saver project without the collecting... and the labeling. Some of the volunteers will get to stand their ground and others will go friends' gardens in a week or so when the thinning is done. I don't think they'll mind the addition of mystery tomatoes... unless some of them happen to be Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes. Those were some of the best cherry tomatoes we've ever had but they were teeny and the skin tore when you picked them so you had to eat them almost immediately, or snip off a bunch still on the stem.  This year, Matt's volunteers will be treated like weeds.

Alas, there has been no inspiration for a novel, although a downright seedy thought came to me while weeding tomatoes from tomatoes: our parsley has bolted and is just starting to flower; a planter or two under the heads for the seeds as they drop should result in another pot of parsley. Yep, that's easy* and... free!!

Flowering parsley; the pollinators are here, yay!

 From weedy & seedy to chic, check out the cool small space gardening ideas at No Ordinary Homestead. This is link-y fun so join us if you can!

*Yes, Intrepid Reader, you know I'm a bit of a lazy gardener. The garden litter did not get picked up with alacrity; I thought it would be good for the soil. Yeah, that's my story... 
 * See? That's a lazy gardener.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Since last we met...

Thousands of cranes, waterfowl, marsh birds, and raptors counted.

Great Horned Owlet looks like a fluffy cat on the limb.

Hundreds of ducks banded. Ducks hunted, with a few in the gumbo pot to share with friends.

B'Dawg fetches a male Northern Pintail.

Dove hunted...

 then prepped as appetizers for future visitors.

Dove breasts stuffed with cheese and jalapenos, wrapped in bacon
Packed for the freezer.

 Deer and turkey scouted and hunted. Alas, no tidy vacuum-sealed packages for the freezer.

 On private land; how did they know the season started?

Traveled to Seattle, WA and Washington, DC for work; to NorCal wine country to celebrate birthdays... 

A cure for palate fatigue: fresh oysters, cold beer, Goat Rock Beach.

and to southwestern Florida for fun while MDMNM was in class all day.*

These birds were regulars on the beach outside our hotel. We see the Snowy Egrets at our refuge fairly often; 
in a rare sighting a few weeks ago we saw a lone Little Blue Heron there, too.

Good friends were hosted. Spring sprung.

And we lost the eldest in our clowder...

You might remember him from this post.

so here we are. Next time we're together, let's go for a walk in the garden.

*Yes, Intrepid Reader, we did manage to get in a half-day of fishing without missing a single CLE credit.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

All in a day's...

work volunteering at a National Wildlife Refuge. Have I told you how privileged I feel to be able to do this? Here's why (in part):

On Wednesday mornings during the winter this is where you'll find me drinking my coffee, waiting for the cranes to fly and be counted.

ah, glorious sunrise

Another view through the window of my mobile office.

The faraway lake is a perfect roosting site for a lovely winter's night

At this refuge the lesser Sandhill Crane population peaked at ~26,000 in early November, at which point we were counting by 100s and 1,000s as they took off en masse. This time of year the cranes are easier to count.

one, two, skip a few...99, 1257

This week is all about the mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey so after the sunrise crane count we head out to look for ducks, geese, etc., in all the usual places, plus in a few of the off-refuge dives they have been known to frequent.

Ross's and Snow Geese on the refuge were counted earlier in the morning so when we kick up this group (the picture is about 10% of what filled the sky), we just stop to enjoy the sights and sounds.

Hundreds of light geese, one small snapshot of a full sky

Our experts say that the refuge's light goose population is about 75% Ross's. In this photo you can see a few adult dark morph Ross's geese. If you embiggen you can endeavor to work out the proportion of this sample that are Ross's* by following Sibley's helpful guide to white goose identification.

Here's another notable refuge dweller who shares our interest in ducks and geese.

Great Horned Owl in a refuge penthouse.

aka Cat Owl guarding the nesting box**

During our bi-weekly bird counts we check the old barns on the refuge to see who is in residence and in the early spring we watch for owlets. In all likelihood this owl is already paired and since nesting season is January and February, we'll be giving these residents a wider berth for the next few months. Great Horned Owls are said to be ferociously protective of their young so for their safety -- and ours!-- we'll be taking pictures from afar until the owlets fledge. At least we hope there are owlets this year, you never know.

The 'farm' portion of refuge is also home to a small herd of Mule Deer, many of whom were taking advantage of the beautiful day.

"Do I look like a duck?!? Do you hear quacking? Move on..."

"Uh, no ma'am. If you're lookin' for ducks, check the water-y areas."

Oh yeah, the waterfowl count...done. Since we were doing a bi-weekly count anyway, the only really cool addition came from a private field that sits between two of the refuge tracts: ~1000 Wigeon (with a few Northern Pintails; you've seen them before).

It's hard to believe that I've been volunteering at the refuge for six months. You've seen my 'office' and met some of my neighbors and co-workers, you just can't beat this for a work environment. I am so lucky to be part of the BioCrew at this refuge, it's non-stop learning and so much fun! When I finally get the opportunity to go back to a full time desk job it will be quite difficult (but oh so necessary).

When I started this work I had no idea that the refuge system was so dependent on the talents, shared passions and sheer brawn of so many volunteers. Volunteers run visitor centers, remove invasive species, lay waterlines, survey all types of flora and fauna year-round (we have people who have been counting birds on a bi-weekly basis for decades!), raise funds for buildings and projects, provide environmental education and outreach, and otherwise fill the resource gaps between what's available to refuge staff and what they really need to fulfill their missions.

If you have an interest or passion for anything remotely related to nature, there's probably a local wildlife refuge with something for you to do. And they need you, for as little or as much time as you can give. Alone or with your family, working on something with which you are familiar or something you've never contemplated before, it's an investment that will give back ten-fold. Hope to see you at the water cooler...

*In our copious spare time, eh, Intrepid Reader? Until then I'll trust the experts.
**Excellent observation, Intrepid Reader! That is a cat litter box; prime real estate for owls the world over.