Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Coastal Stormy Weather

LINCOLN CITY, Ore. _ A thrashing pre-dawn rain buffeted the southwest side of our friends’ beach house at Road’s End.
I rubbed Nora the Schnauzer with a towel, took off my boots and dangled my rain coat on a door knob. I followed Nora up the stairs and through the softly lit living-dining room to the bright kitchen.
Darlene had water heating and bagels warming.
“A  big ol’ black-tail buck browsed next door,” I said.
Alas, I didn’t have Nora on a leash yet. She took off after the deer that bounded off, and I screamed her back.
Then we wandered to the beach and almost blew away.
Yet, Nora went one and two.
Anyway, still dressed in socks and sweat suit, I poured steaming water into the coffee press and stirred. Java seeped while I poured orange juice and drifted to the windows along the upper deck.
A swirling mist dimmed the ocean’s hazy, rolling waves. I pondered the rhythmic thump of grey surf.  
Darlene carried coffee and a pair of two-pound bagels, spread with layers of cream cheese on halves, to the breakfast table.
Nora lay on the carpet, her chin on her front paws. Her brows wiggled. White edges showed as shifting brown eyes tracked the bagels.
Nora savors bagels with cream cheese.
After dining,  we settled in for a cozy day.
Some call it “hunkering down.”
After two hours we gave up on cozy and hunkering.
I dressed, loaded two cameras into the truck, and we headed to the Tanger outlet mall in wind and rain.
Darlene shopped.
Then, ignoring wind and rain, I drove 50 miles to Tillamook. Darlene shopped at Fred Meyer, Blue Heron and Tillamook cheese factories.
Nora used a nearby pet area.
Wind and rain aside, we took the Three Capes Route, via  Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda.
Road work eliminated Cape Meares.
We drove over the hill to Netarts Bay where a brown pelican skimmed the water 20 feet away.
We stopped at Cape Lookout State Park. Nora and I  spent a somber hour among the damp trees above the darkening beach. We got soaked. When I aimed the camera toward the sea, driven rain spotted the wide lens.
Finally, nagged by hunger, we went over the cape and downhill toward Pacific City and Cape Kiwanda.
At the beach, the rain ceased but not the wind.
I whipped into the vast, empty Pelican Pub beach-side parking lot and let Nora out.
Her ears flapped like hairy wings as I bustled after her. Wind buffeted me northward from the truck toward the steep, sandy cape while Nora sailed in widening circles over the sand. She paused once to welcome an elderly man onto the beach, the only new person she saw.
We passed on dining at The Pelican Pub and sped south to dine again at McMenamins Lighthouse Brewpub at Road’s End.
I considered the Hammerhead Ale but chose my second mellow Terminator Stout with a Distillers Salad in two days.
Darlene opted for the usual diet Coke with  Alehouse Fish and Chips instead of her earlier Oyster Po’ Boy sandwich.
As darkness arrived, we paused at Safeway for chocolate chunk cookies and chocolate milk before hunkering down for the night.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Water Birds at Malheur NWR

BURNS-HINES, Ore. -- Twenty-five miles south of Burns, the Narrows on Highway 205 separates Malheur and Harney lakes, with Mud Lake in the mix.

Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I loitered there at an arch-shaped pullout twice a day, mornings and evenings, Monday through Thursday in early September.

We often make a fall visit to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

So, six times Darlene read and watched while Nora and I strolled back-and-forth for close-up views of grebes, pelicans, black-necked stilts, gulls, terns, black-capped night herons, American avocets, great blue herons and great white egrets.

Once we counted sixteen great white egrets.

One looked different, smaller with breeze-riffled plumes.

I noticed it. So did Darlene.

“May be a juvenile,” she said.

But in September?

We didn’t know. It looked like an egret, and it stood in the water between a full-sized great white egret and a great blue heron.

On subsequent sightings, we forgot the small egret’s differences.

Then, after returning to Walla Walla I visited Tim Blount’s web sight (www.harneybirder.com). He listed the sighting and a photo of a Little Blue Heron near Frenchglen. It resembled the small egret (with a bluish beak and legs). I sent him a photo to identify.

He did: Not a little blue heron or a young great white egret, but a snowy egret and not on my refuge bird list. I found it, however, in my favorite pocket-sized bird book ( Birds of the Inland Northwest and Northern Rockies) with local expert Mike Denny as one of its authors.

I should have checked the book at Hines.

But I didn’t.

Google reveals the little blue heron as “A smallish heron of the southeastern United States. … It is the only heron species in which first-year birds and adults show dramatically different coloration: first-year birds are pure white, while adults are blue.”

Anyway, the frolicking, red-eyed grebes, in the backwater between the highway and the pullout demanded attention.

Terns and pelicans sailed overhead for wing shots with the 500-mm lens.

Herons and egrets launched from the water, stretching skyward with water drops spilling from scaly toes like jewels in the sunlight.

Flocks of avocets in fall plumage, heads down and tails up, burbled the shallows with hectic foraging.

Black-necked stilts prospected for morsels with stiff grace and microscopic absorption.

Sandhill cranes winged westward in V-formation, looking for a field with evening-time forage.

We left Rory and Ryan’s in Hines after breakfast at 7 a.m. Thursday for one more visit to see the birds at the Narrows.

On the way, Darlene spotted a fox on a giant brick of hay. I stopped. Pointed fox ears stood as silhouettes against the sky. I turned back to get the fox on my side.

It had disappeared. Drat.

Nevertheless, we spent another hour at the Narrows pullout. The smaller egret had moved farther out on the water. The blue heron and the white egret had moved on.

We also moved on, heading north toward John Day. We had barely crossed Highway 26, that goes west from Vale to Burns, when we spotted turkey buzzards in the sky and on fence posts.

So, I stopped.

After shooting buzzards for another 20 minutes, we headed home.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jumping Spiders and River Otters at Mill Creek

Normally I tote the heavy long lens on Mill Creek outings with Nora the Schnauzer.
It’s good for long shots of wild critters.
River otters, for example.
Over three days last week I spent many hours watching two river otters watch me and Nora.
Mostly, while eying us,  they swam back and forth between weirs. They often dived and surfaced to crunch crawdads.
The otters have pointed white teeth.
And they frequently drew close for askance glances at me and hard stares at Nora.
Meanwhile, I waited and watched stubbornly for an otter to pose on a weir or a rock.
Stubborn eventually paid off with full-monty shots.  Well, not naked. They wore two-toned brown double-thick insulated hair coats.
Once they rested, preened and rolled dry for 15 minutes on the riprap across the creek.
After 1,000-plus river otter photos I grinned. Lugging the big-lens paid off again.
Nevertheless, a person should be flexible, which reminds me of jumping spiders below the dam at Rooks Park.
A day before seeing the otters, I parked at the gate to the park and shouldered the big lens. Nora and I moseyed toward the creek.
Despite a late October chill, a lively jumping spider scooted along the smooth wooden rail as we crossed the bridge.
A big one, half-an-inch long.
Then, as we strolled toward the dam, three more jumping spiders cast hard glares at me from atop the 400-foot fence below the dam.
“Drat,” I mumbled to Nora. “Wrong lens. C’mon.”
We hustled to the truck. I drove 12 hectic minutes and dashed into the house.
I fetched the macro lens and a tele-converter for close-up work. We sped back to Rooks Park and crossed the bridge.
For an hour I puttered along the fence going eyeball to eyeball with muscular, half-inch spiders that stood their ground or false-charged with vivid green fangs flashing.
They had shiny, dark, unblinking eyes (four in front and four on top), flat faces, hairy legs and perky, broad-shouldered body shapes similar to classic Porsche automobiles (1959, 356 convertibles).
A Google source says jumping spiders exhibit complicated guile and personality; that they have among the sharpest vision of all invertebrates and use it in courtship, hunting and
Some species, for example, plan and execute long routes from one bush down to the ground and up another bush to capture prey on a particular leaf.
They’re keen hunters.
Nevertheless, Nora at last donned a hang-dog demeanor that said, “Borrring!”
I understood. She couldn’t see the spiders. Not like the otters.
So, we headed home as an osprey hovered above the bridge.
“Drat,” I mumbled. “Wrong lens.”

Solving a gazookis

Rex Stout's Archie Good
win calls it a ``gazookis'' when
a miscreant imposes an
unsolvable problem (seem
ingly?) upon Nero Wolfe.
That's what I faced, a
gazookis, when peering
across a sea of big sagebrush,
camera in hand, and presum
ing to photograph a black-
tailed jack rabbit.
Jack rabbits aren't rabbits,
by the way. They're hares.
That's because they're born
furry and with their eyes
open. Just so we know.
Anyway, this gazookis de
veloped when the 10th (or
29th?) person in about a
month confessed to never
having seen a Lepus
And mo ost of them had
spent years, some even dec
ades, right here in the shrub-
steppe of Eastern Washing
ton, a well-known (although
dwindling) black-tailed jack
rabbit habitat.
I, of course, have seen
dozens, many about 30 min
utes from my front door, at
Wallula Junction.
So, I went to the Wallula
Management Habitat Unit to
document the presence of
black-tailed jack rabbits with
my trusty Nikon camera.
When I parked along the
wash-boarded North Shore
Road and opened the tailgate
for Sadie the Dalmatian, I
looked across the landscape
thick with sage.
``Oooops,'' I said to Sadie.
``What we have here is a
I realized, you see, that rab
bits don't pose in profile for a
photo beneath a sage bush.
They burst into zig-zagging
blurs among, around and
through the bushes.
Only once, according to my
99.9-percent total recall, had a
black-tailed jack rabbit jogged
in view long enough for me to
snap a photo. For about 10
seconds. Maybe five. And I
carried no camera, of course.
It sat on a dirt road when
Sadie saw it. She charged and
the rabbit bounded along in
clear view for about 40 yards,
or about 11 leaps (in each its
front feet hit the ground three
times before coiled-spring
back legs bolted it forward).
Sadie, then in her prime,
gained on the rabbit until,
with a move reminiscent of
Gayle Sayers on a muddy
gridiron, it cut on a dime, shot
to the left and disappeared
into the sage.
Sadie, her vision blinded by
the chase, dashed 10-yards
past the cutoff, slid to a stop
and, blushing, sniffed the
ground to suggest the rabbit
had disappeared into thin air.
Well, gazookis or not, I fig
ured to give it some shots.
I pulled on rain pants and
jacket (for brushing though
the wet sage) and looped the
Nikon with a 70-300 zoom
lens around my neck.
I wound the strap in my
hands, pulled it tight against
my nape to create tension and
steady the camera (like a
rifleman wraps a sling around
his arm).
I practiced zeroing in on
cans, bottles and bones as I
walked along.
And I kept my eyes peeled
and planted silent footsteps
on the sandy terrain.
A leashed Sadie could have
sniffed out a rabbit, but she
stayed glued to my right heel.
Dogs may be unleashed on
the unit area when in the
lawful pursuit of game.
Would she worry about get
ting lost? Humm.
In the nearly four hours
that we tramped around the
area, Sadie left my heel twice.
Once, near Millet Pond (a
wetlands rehabilitation area)
at the refuge edge, we found a
fallen ``shotguns only'' sign.
Sadie stood over it _ reading
it twice? _ with a pained
look, as if I had tricked her.
A second time I stepped on
a sharp-edged, inch-wide and
rusted hoop, possibly from an
old nail keg, and it flapped up
to bark my shin. It's the same
principal as stepping on a
``drat,drat,drat,''I growled.
Sadie, familiar with my
one-footed dance, wagged her
tail and moved away until I
finished. When I wiped away
the tears, we continued look
ing for a rabbit.
By then the morning drizzle
had abated, but fog clung to
ridges south of the river.
Brief flashes of sunlight il
luminated fog banks that
swirled around the giant wind
turbines high on the ridges.
And occasional sun beams
glistened on ice-clogged and
fog bound Sanctuary Pond.
A multitude of tracks in the
sand revealed the presence of
deer, porcupines (skunks?),
pheasants and coyotes. And I
scrutinized the havens be
neath sagebrush for a horned
toad (short-horned lizard), a
porcupine or a rabbit.
We walked two-plus miles
to the white cliffs and back.
We saw one pheasant, two
piles of coyote scat, and tons
of deer and rabbit droppings.
Yes, I took pictures. Scat
photos don't black-tailed jack
rabbits in full gallop.
But they prove there are
more ways than one solve a