Sunday, December 3, 2017

Screech Owl Nest Cam

by Trina

 

WE OWN OWLS! And it only took seven years! Well, five really. The nest box went up in December  of 2009. Its only occupant during the first five years was a starling family, until the winter of 2014 when  (at last!) a solitary male screech owl started using the box, apparently as a bachelor pad. There was no sign of a mate, and we didn't hear the telltale courtship/mating calls that would've indicated that he was wooing a female. For two years he resided alone in the box, hunting sphynx moths and cockroaches in the garden, and growing comfortable enough with our presence that he'd sit on my fence and calmly watch us when we were out in the evenings.

Then, one evening in March of 2016, when we arrived home from a weekend away and started unloading the truck, which was parked in its usual spot near the nest box, we heard warning clicks coming from the nest box. We looked up and there was our male sitting with his face in the hole, like normal, but he was clicking at us like he was unhappy about us being near the nest box. Whuuuut? He was used to us. He knew us. He never clicked at us. Why was he clicking at us now?!

Then we heard a hoot coming from a nearby tree, from a second owl... and realized that the owl in the box was clicking at us because it was NOT used to us, did NOT know us, because the owl in the box was NOT our familiar male, but a NEW owl, a SECOND owl, a FEMALE, finally come to mate and nest with our boy!

From that night forward we regularly heard mating calls, watched as the male brought food to the female in the nearby trees, noticed when the female stopped leaving the box, and finally heard the chirping of babies in the end of April. We kept a nightly vigil through the spring, witnessing feedings, including a whole starling corpse that the female drug into the nest box, getting the first glimpse of a fuzzy baby head on May 12, worrying about the sudden presence of a Great Horned Owl in the area, worrying about the raccoon traipsing right under the nest box at dusk, and watching as the babies made their first exploratory leaps up into the hole, where they teetered briefly, doing disco-esque bee-bopping head rolls before popping back inside. When the babies started bouncing off the walls -- flapping, fluttering, squawking, and making clouds of dander -- the mom moved out of the box and started sleeping with the male in a nearby pine tree.

By May 21, we had seen two baby heads, but during the evenings when we were watching the nest, we only ever saw one of them sitting in the hole hogging all of the food deliveries. If there were more babies in there, we figured they must be starving to death. The parents, however, knew what they were doing, because when the babies finally fledged on May 24, there were four of them. The first owlet leaned out of the hole, lost his balance, scrambled back in and disappeared. He jumped up into the hole again, leaning, leaning, leaning, getting a wing out, and lost his balance, dangled by a claw, flapped and thrashed and managed to get back into the hole a second time. On his third try, he leaned, leaned, leaned, stretched his wings, and leapt, making a clumsy downward arcing crash landing into the linden tree next to us. While he was crashing about in the leaves, another baby head popped up into the hole for a repeat performance. That evening's show ended with a fourth owlet, clearly fuzzier and younger than its siblings, falling and scraping and thrashing to the ground, then climbing (not flying yet) ever so slowly back up to the box where it remained until the next evening when it had another go at flying, this time more successfully.

Once all four owlets had fledged, the parents started showing them around the neighborhood, teaching them to hunt, feeding them in the trees, and gradually taking them further and further from home base. By June 14, they were gone. All of them. No parents, no babies, no hooting, no sign of them at all for ten days. We took this opportunity to take the box down to clean it, replenish the pine shavings, and install a (new and better) nest cam for next year's brood (we hope).



On June 24 the male reappeared, alone. Did Mom take the babies away to go find their own territories? Would she come back afterward? For another three weeks we heard the male calling in the evenings and getting no reply. Then, on July 13, we heard two owls once again doing mating hoots. Since then, they've been in the area, sleeping in other nest boxes during the day and regularly checking in at our box during the night. There are three nest boxes within a one-block radius for them to choose from, and we're hoping that they'll move back into ours when it's time to lay eggs in the spring. Word on the street is that they tend to reuse a nest site if they produced a successful brood in it previously. If this plays out, we'll have an even better view than we did last year.

Videos of nest box activity since July 2017 are here: Western Screech Owl Nest Cam

So far there is a whole lot of flicker activity and just a bit of owl activity... perhaps at some point we'll witness an epic battle between flicker and screech owl. My money is on the owls.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Desert Escape



by Greg

No Dogs. No Trina. Plenty of Dirt. Rock. Water. Cactus. Lots of canyons.

I had time but she didn't. Colorado had snow, which I'm not that great at camping in. I headed south/southwest into the desert. Sought dry warmth. Found it. But also found rain and chill. Visited some places I hadn't explored before. New bike trails in Arizona. California's Death Valley. Other places along the way. Saw some creatures. Met a few people. And had a buddy from home join up for the last part of the trip. I'll let the photos tell most of the story.







Water was a major theme of the trip. While I traveled, the whole Southwest region saw rain. Dry washes were running. Rivers and creeks were full.



To dodge the rain, I headed for Death Valley, the driest spot in North America. It rained. Most of the non-paved routes were closed. Dry rivers ran over dirt roads. Water collected in the bottom of Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level.







When the skies cleared, the mountain tops were covered in snow. Some canyons dried quickly. Water lingered elsewhere, ice in higher places.



























Thanks for checking in, on our lately-much-neglected blog.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Snowbike



by Greg

I thought it's probably time to share these photos. Now, while outside it's raining cold rain that may turn to snow. While it's probably snowing in the nearby mountains. But before the pockets of snow melt off the north side of the lower mesas. Before the wildflowers run rampant. (We've already seen a few.) Before spring arrives and thoughts turn away from the winter fun. So...

In December, Mike once again invited me on a snowbike adventure. Nothing went as planned. I should not have been surprised. Of the, oh, five snowbike "rides" he's invited me on over the past few years, they pretty much all went like this one.

We loaded up bikes, packed for single-digit-F camping (or what we hoped would work for single-digit-F camping) and headed down the trail. Riding? No. Pushing our bikes. Because that's (apparently) how it's done. We pushed our bikes through snow too soft to ride. And while pushing, often plunging knee deep, thigh deep, hip deep or even deeper where the snow was too soft to walk, either. This we did for about 4 hours. Only very rarely riding, usually deep in the trees where the snow was more solid. But even this riding involved a tightrope-like concentration of balance and weight distribution, but with way more falling. Falling which created a large hole in the snow that one was then obliged to claw one's way out of.

After these 4 hours, we realized that it would take another 4 hours to arrive at a trail that was (supposedly) packed hard enough to actually ride. As it was already getting dark (and colder) we changed the plan. We'd just backtrack and cross to a firmer trail that would take us out another way. So we turned around and slogged back through the soft snow. Managing to ride a little bit more, due to the cold hardening the trail, plus the snow stamping we'd done by slogging the same trail on the way out. But mostly we post-holed our way back. Then did some riding -- some actual riding, slow, ponderous riding -- on the firmer route that led out. This quick escape route "only" took another 2 hours or so. By the time we were back to a trailhead, we were cold, tired and somewhat demoralized. And we realized we didn't have anything to prove by staying out any longer, so we hit a piece of frozen highway that took us back to our cars, loaded up bikes and drove home to our warm houses.

Yay snowbiking.














In early January, Mike invited me for another trip up the mountain for a day of snowbiking. I, fool that I am, accepted. And this time it was all that he's been promising (and failing to deliver) for all these years. The singletrack was well packed by all the folks who had gotten snowshoes for a holiday gift, and had driven up the mountain to try them out. The wide snow tires of our bikes could zip along quite nicely on the soft-yet-packed surface -- though still with some care, as the un-packed sides of the trail were always ready to grab a tire and suck it in, sending the rider into the deep, soft snow. But overall, it felt very much like riding a bike! And was even fun, in that pedaling/swooping/zooming way that riding a bike is! The weather was freezing but "warm". There was a spot or two of sunshine. And if Mike could somehow guarantee that it would always be that fun, I'd definitely go back up with him.

Yay snowbiking!









Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Grand Canyon - Moments



by Greg

The vast spaces of the Grand Canyon surrounded us each day as we paddled and made camp. Still, I found time to wander into a few of the quiet corners, moving slowly, eyes to the details. The sense of the immense and wild space of towering canyon walls, slopes, ledges, peaks and mesas all around pervaded these wanderings. Yet I found myself drawn to the details, to small objects, minuscule mysteries, clues, stories in sand, leaf, fossil, creature or tracks of creature, artifact, blossom and stone — especially stone. These details helped make the wider space seem more alive and also more ephemeral. These signs of change, both rapid and geological, narrowed the focus down to these single moments. Moments seen. The shadows of the moments held carefully within the camera. As I moved slowly. Peered intently. Formed questions. Imagined answers.

Each of these moments could perhaps be seen to reflect outward again, to the immeasurable moments that have collected across time and place to create this canyon. Mountains ground to sand. Sand blown into dunes. Oceans born and drained. Small lives lived and the skeletons of those lives sunken and compressed into stone. Of heat and fire, lava and storm. Of mud and water and wind and grit and the grinding away of the deep spine of the earth. All the multitudes of moments gathered into a single moment of observation. Gathered. Then gone. Because the canyon, the world, everything continues to change.

Perhaps change caused by the hasty hand of humanity is as inexorable as the forward grind of geology. The Grand Canyon has been changed. In the 4000 years since humans first arrived. In the 150 years since it was re-explored by the progeny of an industrial revolution. In the 50 years since the river above was dammed. Changed in tiny ways and extravagant ways by every human who has exploited the resources, floated the river, descended the slopes and cliffs, flown over in an airplane or peered over the edge from the rim. And this change will continue.

As I wandered into side canyons, across the beaches and along the river, it was pleasing to see few signs of the industrial society that spreads across the planet and crowds the edges of this refuge; an industrial society that, admittedly, had allowed me—by way of car and road, boat and paddle, information and infrastructure, finances and leisure time—to come to this place. I had a sense that, despite the long string of travelers and explorers and exploiters, the Grand Canyon continues to hold something important. Something more than air and light and water and stone.

Perhaps this: that beneath my feet, churning below the veneer of civilization, there is still a wilder world. And that this wilder world is vitally important. I may visit the small corners where the wildness shows through. I may stand and peer toward these places. Or I may only imagine these places exist. But it remains important for me to know that they do exist. And that were I to lose them, I would have lost something that makes me human. Something that, with gentle attention, I may be able to capture. And hold. If only for a moment.