Another sunny day

It’s still February, but the sun was out today and the temperature was in the upper fifties.  So I strapped the ladder to my car and went out to the Netul Landing at Ft Clatsop inspect the willows.  I wasn’t disappointed.

For starters, there are now two BLACK PHOEBES hanging out at the bus kiosk and one of them is singing songs of love…

Black Phoebe - 2/25/2016

But the real action was in the tops of the willows and that’s why I brought my ladder…

Syrphidae - 2/25/2016

Echo Azure - 2/25/2016

Empididae - 2/25/2016

Bombus melanopygus - 2/25/2016

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If the weather holds, I may take my ladder south to Seaside, tomorrow…

The barn with the owl in it

A couple weeks ago Melissa Reich, land steward for the North Coast Land Conservancy, reported finding owl pellets on the floor of the tall barn at Circle Creek.  This is not the first time an owl has been reported from there.  In fact, we were so sure of the first reports back in 2013, that we installed an owl nest box and a mount for a trail camera so we could keep an eye on things.

Northern Flicker - 10/3/2014Over the years, it’s attracted the attention of flickers and Pacific Wrens.  A BUSHY-TAILED WOODRAT, a native North American rat species also sometimes called a pack-rat, even dropped by to inspect the place …

Bushy-tailed Woodrat - 11/3/2013… but no owls.

I reinstalled the trail camera soon after Melissa’s report, hoping to finally catch an owl using the box, but no photos were on the memory card from any of the checks over the last 3 weeks.

Today, I found the owl in the barn, but not in the box.

Barn Owl - 2/18/2016

It had found a spot between the rafters and the peak of the roof to tuck itself into.  With luck, it will take up permanent residence and move into the box where it will be less likely to be disturbed by the other activities that the barn was built for.

GBBC 2016

It’s been tough going so far this year counting birds of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

A very wet storm series began yesterday morning and has persisted throughout the day today.  This has been a real challenge for my motorless-only bird-watching resolve.

On the other hand, the Great Backyard Slug-Fest has been going along swimmingly.

Oxychilus draparnaudi - 2/12/2016

Deroceras reticulatum - 2/12/2016

Prophysaon andersonii - 2/13/2016

Current bird count for the weekend – 55 species on walkabout

Salamanders – 2

Land snails and slugs – 6

In February?

I took a trip down to Nehalem and Alder Creek Farms yesterday.  The sun was out.  The wind was blowing from the east.  And the temperature was 65F.  Not your typical winter’s day on the North Oregon Coast…

I spent about an hour in the community garden on the farm.  There was some sort of cruciferous vegetable that had been let go for the winter and was flowering in big, showy, yellow blooms. And the pollinators were busily taking advantage of both weather and flowers.

Apis mellifera - 2/8/2016

We think of Honey Bees when we think of pollinators and there were plenty of them out doing their bee-business, but they were not alone.  By the end of the morning, I counted no fewer than 5 bee species, 2 kinds of wasps, 7 kinds of flies and a beetle, all actively doing the important work of pollination.

Diabrotica undecimpunctata - 2/8/2016

The first sign of a healthy ecosystem is diversity… even in a garden… in February.

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More photos of my visit to Alder Creek HERE.

Mystery Magoo

Today in Cannon Beach I came upon a mystery…

20160201sm014I’ve seen it before in other places, usually after lots of rain.  It looks like it comes oozing out of the ground.  Today I decided to do a bit of research.  I GOOgled it…

The stuff is most commonly referred to as Star Jelly.  In folklore, it was believed to fall from the sky during meteor showers.  It seems to defy any modern, more earthly explanations though there are plenty of opinions ranging from the remains predated amphibians to the residue of slug sex to some kind of slime-mold or bacteria.  None of these hypotheses is completely satisfactory and efforts at analysis have proven mostly inconclusive.

 

A new distraction

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one ………………………… …………………….………………………– Voltaire

I have been spending a lot of (and perhaps too much) time at the communal data collection site iNaturalist over the last several weeks. It is a place to record things we see in nature. There are plenty of sites like this out there on the internet, but none tries to capture so much with the kind of user level of participation that iNaturalist does. Anybody can enter data and anybody can comment and agree or disagree with the identification specifics of entries made by others.

Harpaphe haydeniana - 5/18/2012

At first, I was a bit surprised by the number of folks from far away giving me advice on local identifications, getting them wrong and doing it with such authority. Experts from out-of-town assuming I’m clueless and telling me how to do stuff. A lot of that going around these days…

Then there are the folks from out-of-town on iNaturalist that actually caught my mistakes and pointed me in the right direction.

For most of us, what we think we know is a mix of personal experience and stuff we have picked up from reading or taking a class or watching Nature on PBS. The farther away a thing is from my local patch of experience, the more reliant I am on external sources. Those external sources are subject interpretation and a certain amount of faith. The book I’m using may be the same one that the other guy is using, but depending on our experiences, we may interpret the words differently. Or that other guy may be using a completely different reference written by an author with a different set of definitions for what’s what. They may believe that theirs is the definitive text.

Definitive. Over-confidence in the inerrancy of an opinion. A lot of that going around these days…

It may surprise some of you to learn that I don’t know everything and, more importantly, I don’t believe I know everything. I have my doubts about what other people have dubbed “my expertise”. iNaturalist brings this reality into sharp relief.  Using iNaturalist is as much a study in human psychology as it is in participatory citizen science, not to mention an exercise in learning to check my own ego.

I have learned quite bit  interacting with folks on iNaturalist. The first lesson is: get used to anarchy. Everyone can offer an opinion and once given, there does not appear to be a mechanism for weighting or removing opinions that are clearly in error. There are folks called curators working on the site, but they do not have the power to add or subtract dubious votes from the general user population (assuming I’m reading the FAQ correctly). This can place some records into an undeserved limbo until enough additional votes come in to over-ride that one outlier.

And that would be the second lesson: the number of folks available to accurately assess data, particularly at a regionally specific level, is not large. The only taxonomic group that is well represented is the birder group and, even in that group, the gull ID’s (among other problematic ID challenges) are pretty sketchy. If you’re interested in confirming a bug or a fish, you will probably have to wait a good long time and the botany answers show a frustrating regional bias which most probably reflects an incomplete understanding of range and taxonomy by out-of-town commenters.

But the third lesson is, for me, the most revelatory: there are some really serious and knowledgeable folks who’ve made themselves available to the rest of us rabble on iNaturalist. There are a couple of snail and slug folks who’ve helped me out, a primatologist, and the guy who reminded me that there are two kinds of raccoons in Costa Rica (Common and Crab-eating).

Raccoon - 3/27/2014

There is a great deal that I don’t know.  I try not to let that get in the way of participating in these larger citizen science projects.  We all have things to contribute and things to learn.  We may doubt our ability to contribute meaningfully to a citizen science projects, but having doubt is a sign of critical thinking.  It’s a good thing.  Stating with authority “I don’t know enough to contribute” is a doubtful proposition.

You can explore iNaturalist for yourself at: http://www.inaturalist.org

Role Models

I made my first trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the back of Lona Contreras’s station wagon – spring of 1971 – four teenage boys and Alan Contreras’s mother. She was a genuinely brave woman.

My father took over the driving duties the next year and did so until I went off to college. I made an annual pilgrimage to Malheur just about every year from 1971 until 1998.

mische20070526My daughter was born in 1998 and that complicated life just enough to stop the annual trips to Malheur for a while. We didn’t get back to Malheur until 2004. We’ve tried to fit in a trip every two or three years since 2004.  Malheur is important to me.  Memories of Lona Contreras.  Trips with my friends and my father.  Trips with my wife.  Trips with my daughter.  It should be of no surprise to any rational human being that I am linked to the place and that I might be angry that some out-of-state yahoo, who’s probably visiting for the first time, has decided he could make better decisions about that sacred place than I might.

Any rational human being…

So when news came that a coalition of concerned folks was planning a Portland rally today in opposition to this recent occupation of Malheur by armed thugs from out of state, I thought I might make the drive from Astoria to participate. When I mentioned to my daughter that I was thinking of going, she asked me not to. She had heard about those gun-toting cretins and was afraid I might be putting myself in danger. There were lots of reasons why I might have talked myself out of going: four hours driving, fuel expenses, icky weather. But fear?

When she said that, I knew I was going to have to make the drive. Sometimes being a role model for your children can be a pain…

It was raining when I arrive at Holladay Park, but that didn’t really dampen the mood of the crowd.  I would describe that mood as (mostly) polite anger.  If there were any pro-Bundy folks around, they kept pretty quiet.  I did note a couple with a “free the Hammonds” sign, but it was signed at the bottom “Socialist Workers Party”, so I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

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My peak count was something north of 750 people (though I have no doubt sinister forces within the media will try to claim a smaller showing).  A RED-TAILED HAWK, escorted by a dozen or so AMERICAN CROWS, was also in attendance.

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The annual movement of birders to Malheur, usually timed to Memorial Day Weekend, is as routine and predictable as the northbound movement of birds in the spring. We come to Harney County. We buy gas. We shop at the Safeway.  We eat at the restaurants and sleep in the motels. We buy t-shirts and coffee mugs. We contribute to the local economy.  We love Malheur and we appreciate the great and fragile gift of compromise that the real residents of Harney County have offered.

The Bundys are having their snacks (and their ideas) shipped in from out of state.  It’s probably time for them to go home a be a burden to someone else’s economy…

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More photos from today HERE.

And don’t forget to sign the petition.

Another Red-shouldered Hawk…

Today was shopping day so I hopped in the car and headed to the store.  I took the scenic route: Wireless Rd to Tucker Creek to Ft Clatsop to the Airport to Warrenton.  Along the way I counted six different RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS.

Red-shouldered Hawk - 1/13/2016

I have lived in Clatsop County since 1987.  I saw my first Red-shouldered Hawk at Brownsmead in 1998.

rsha19980201skch01The Wahkiakum Christmas Bird Count reported a Red-shoulder in 1999, but went for another 10 years before recording a second one.  The Columbia Estuary CBC did not see Red-shoulders until 2001.

Today I saw more Red-shoulders than Red-tails…

Birds of Oregon: general reference (2002) describes the distribution of Red-shouldered Hawk as “locally uncommon to common in breeding locations in the winter, as well as along the central coast.”  The account is accompanied by a Breeding Bird Atlas map (2001) with no records north of Polk County in the Valley or north of Coos County along the Coast.  In other words, we have pretty clear documentation of a northward march up the Valley and the Coast over the last 15 years or so.

An eBird map of birds reported in the last year tells the story.

rsha_ebird

Something has changed over the last half-century that has allowed Red-shouldered Hawks to successfully expand their range northward. That change is most probably the same thing that has allowed the expansion of White-tailed Kites, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and Black Phoebes. You all know where I’m going with this. I mean good golly, there are currently 3 kinds of orioles WINTERING on the coast this year.

Global Climate Change is real and we can see it happening before our eyes…

Red-shouldered Hawk - 1/19/2015