Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cornell Urban Bird Count

Annika Looks for Birds

We went outside to count birds today. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a program going on right now where anyone can watch birds and submit the data for what they see. The project is accessible to just about anyone, and is easy enough for children and beginning birders.

First, download the information off their website, and order a Celebrate Urban Birds packet if you'd like. You will find a simple data form telling you how to determine your study area. We decided to go into the greenbelt behind our house, and we picked a spot with a bench and lots of bushes around. Then we measured out 25 feet in each direction. That would be our study area.

Measuring Out Our Study Plot

We reviewed the birds we were to look for. There are 16 birds the study is interested in, so that narrows things down considerably, and some we knew we wouldn't see in our particular environment. The we timed our observations for 10 minutes. That was it! The data form requires a yes or no answer - did you see this bird or not. A few questions about the study area, and we were ready to turn the information in. That's it! We have the option of doing another day or two before turning our results in. We will try to fit that in this week, because... we didn't see any birds.

It's Peaceful Waiting for Birds

One of the things about scientific studies is they need to be standardized to be statistically useful. There were birds all around us in the forest, but they didn't come in our study circle. We saw and heard other birds around us, but not the ones on our list. We saw and heard birds on our list both before and after the 10 minute study period, but not during. It was so ironic for me, because I know that half the birds on the list use our greenbelt. But the answer we will turn in is that we didn't see any of them! The website makes a point of saying that even zero is a good answer, it still tells researchers valuable information. But it's not quite accurate in our case. I'd like to go out in the morning and see if that makes a difference in our results.

Annika has a stick to encourage the birds to land on her branches

The results were only part of the reason why I wanted to do this. I wanted to also use it as a way to force us to get outside and into nature. I have had the hardest time getting us out this spring. We are officially in the midst of the worst spring on record, and I find I have so many other things vying for my attention. I've been struggling with a vicious cold/bacterial infection since we got back from vacation, and that put me behind in getting Annika's birthday gifts made. There are so many other things that keep us in the house. It helps sometimes to have a specific project to force us to switch gears, if only for a few moments.

A Rare Bit of Blue Sky Up There

I was glad we made the effort to get outside today. It was cold, but the air was fresh. The birds were fun to see, and it was good to stretch our legs a bit. Hopefully we can get through this dreary spring and get to some warmer weather soon, but until then, I will keep trying to find ways to get us outside.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Oregon Coast Adventure

Gabriel and Annika pose in a giant shark jaw at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

We took Spring Break and drove down to the Oregon Coast for a few nights last week. The trip was too short, but we filled it to the brim with fun and adventure.

We started at my parents’ in Vancouver and drug them along on our scheme. We began our first day driving down Highway 18 in the pouring rain.

Chunky rain falling as we begin our journey

With the chunkiness of the downpour, we were afraid we’d be seeing snow over the Coast Range. Indeed there was some white stuff above us as we crossed the pass, but we came down to Lincoln City in plain old rain and wind. We stopped at the first beach we could – D River. It’s the shortest river in the world.

The D River in Lincoln City

We enjoyed the sand and the crashing waves as we ran around in freedom after the long car ride. The Oregon Beach is much different than Puget Sound, where my kids spend most of their beach days. Sandier, long stretches of huge breakers, and no land on the other side – this is really the ocean. The wind blew the brownish colored sea foam like dirty whipped cream, and the seagulls hovered over the lady trying to feed them.

Annika shrieked in joy as she ran and jumped and dug and made sand angels, while Gabriel took sticks and drew lines and designs in the sand.

Annika makes sand angels

Whelk egg casings

Thankfully we had my parents’ trailer to make lunch in, with a heater and a table and dry chairs. Then we continued on down the highway toward our campground. On the way was Boiler Bay, where we stopped to take in the waves and the sky.

There was once a shipwreck in the bay, and the boiler of the ship is embedded in the sand. It’s visible at low tide.

Looking North toward Boiler Bay

We didn’t see it on this day, but it was so amazing taking in the crashing water and the wind and spray.

Looking South

The noise of the breakers was so loud; we were oohing and aahing just like we do on the Fourth of July. We watched a cormorant on the bay below bobbing on the waves, diving under just before they broke on top of it and popping out the other side.

Then we went on to the campground where we were staying for the night – Beverly Beach State Park. They have trailer sites, tent sites, and yurts. This would be our first time staying in a yurt. It was pretty cool – it had heat, windows, and even outlets. The heat was what sold me on the idea (plus they are cheaper than a hotel.) Ours had a bunk bed and a couch/bed, with a little table and a couple of chairs. It was surrounded by swamp – skunk cabbage, a stream, big spruce trees, and areas to play. The smell of skunk cabbage drifted heavily all around, like thick perfume.

Skunk Cabbage spathe

The kids practiced walking on logs and ran back and forth from Grandma and Papa’s trailer and the yurt.

Gabriel walking on a log in the swamp

Tree roots that had grown over a long-ago-rotted stump or log

We saw and heard many birds in this park including pileated woodpeckers, downy or hairy woodpeckers, juncos, fox sparrows, Rufus hummingbirds, towhees, chickadees, and more.

In the afternoon, I laid down for a long nap, as I had started to feel a cold coming on. Aaron took the kids down to the beach, a short walk through the campground and under the highway.

The path to the beach goes under the highway, along Spencer Creek

There were fossils in the cliff banks and interesting rocks to find and, of course, sand to play in.

Shell fossils in the rock

The sun came and went, and the rain came and went, and the wind blew and got calm and blew again. In the evening, as it got dark, the frogs got louder and louder. They must have been thick in the swamp around the campsites. They scared Annika a bit; she was afraid they would come into the yurt and get her.

We woke up in the morning to ice on everything outside, but the sun was shining, and Papa sent over hot coffee to help us warm up and get moving. We had a scrumptious breakfast of bacon and eggs, packed up and hit the road on our way to Newport and the Aquarium. Along the way we stopped at Agate Beach, but there were no agates, just huge expanses of sand.

No agates on Agate Beach

We walked down to the water anyway, and chased a few waves before getting back into the car and continuing to the Aquarium. The sun was still out – what brightness!

Deliberateness and exuberance

Gabriel in front of Trash Art

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is a wonderful place to visit. Kid-level tanks filled with interesting creatures await discovery and observation.

Grandma and Annika look at exhibits

There are some touch-tanks staffed with knowledgeable volunteers who help the kids with their animal encounters.

One of the touch tanks - that's a gumboot chiton in the middle

Moon Jellies

Sea nettles - I could have stood here half the day and watched them undulate

The outside area has birds, otters, seals and sea lions. There was a large enclosed area off to the side with two vultures in it; to me they seemed out of place, but Annika still talks about them as being one of her favorite parts of the Aquarium visit.

The vultures are pretty quiet for now

One of the highlights for me is the large tubes you can walk through, with water and fish above and below, and around on all sides. There are different environments to walk through. The most mysterious is the one with the sharks and rays. They silently glide next to the glass and around the enclosure, their spooky patterns glistening in the half-light.

Leopard sharks - so beautiful

We refueled in the trailer and drove on down the highway to our next destination – Sea Lion Caves. Along the way we made a few stops, of course – there are waysides and state parks every few miles, and a variety of places to visit. One of the spots we stopped was Strawberry Hill, an interesting geological outcropping, covered by grass and strawberry plants (of course).

Looking north from Strawberry Hill

Evidence of past volcanic events

We watched the waves slosh back and forth, and though some folks had told us it was a good place to find agates, we didn’t see any.

Then it was on to Sea Lion Caves. We paid the overpriced entry fee and boarded the elevator down 200 feet to the cave below the cliff. The cave was full of beasts on the rocks, their odor rising on the breeze.

The most in-focus of the photos we took down there in the dark cave

Their noises were funny – squawking, barking, growling, wheezing, bellowing. We spent as much time as we could, exploring the platform with views up the coast to the north, and watching the video about the history of the cave, the geology of the rocks and biology of the sea lions.

We observed the skeletons on display and wondered about how the creatures survived the crashing waves all around.

Coming back up the path from the elevator

Looking north - you can really tell all the sea spray that has gotten onto our camera lens!

Soon, though, it was time to move on; the kids were getting pretty tired after all our sight-seeing of the day. We made one stop at the Darlingtonia Wayside, an area with a short path on a boardwalk where you can walk into a bog and see a huge mass of native pitcher plants. There is an interpretive sign explaining the natural history of the plants.

Live carnivorous plants in the wild!

Aaron and Gabriel in the sea of Darlingtonia

At this time of year they are looking pretty scruffy, but soon they will be putting up flowers and fresh growth. I have never seen carnivorous plants in the wild before, so this was a highlight of the trip for me.

We drove down the winding coast to our next campground, Umpqua Lighthouse State Park.

Umpqua River Lighthouse

This campground is smaller than the sprawling Beverly Beach CG, but the yurt was almost the same.

The heat was already on, making a nice, warm haven for us to rest in before my parents finished dinner.

They had stopped at a cannery in Florence and picked up some fresh snapper, caught the day before by a local fisherman. Paired with a pilaf and salad, it was a fitting meal for the environment. We ended the day with a campfire, admiring the glimmering stars and the crescent moon.

The next morning dawned bright and slightly warmer. We had a long drive home, but I wished we had had more time to explore Lake Marie and search for the ospreys we kept hearing. We thought we’d like to come back to this campground and spend some more time. But on a trip this short, you have to make choices, and the Oregon Dunes were an important stop for me to make. We decided to try out Honeyman State Park, and we were not disappointed.

One tough tree - some kind of alder, I think

(By the way, there are many Forest Service parks along this stretch of the coast requiring a NW Forest Pass. I hadn’t even thought to bring ours, so we skipped those spots in favor of the State Parks. Honeyman SP does require a $5 fee for day use. ) There are 2 picnic areas to choose from, and both are lovely. There is a lake that is stocked with trout, and folks were fishing from the bank and the small dock. Ospreys hovered overhead, floating on the thermals, circling and chirping. We climbed up the huge dune next to the parking lot, two steps forward, one step back.

The kids walking up the first part of the dune

The sand was so soft and silky, shimmering in the sunlight. We made it to the top of the first dune, where we could see the ocean in the distance, many dunes away.

Almost to the top!

We sat and enjoyed the warm sun, watching the ospreys soar over the lake. A bald eagle flew over once, too, purposeful and dark against the sky. The kids dug in the sand, pretending to be different animals and sand digging machines.

Gabriel is a digging machine

It was so peaceful that we stayed until hunger drove us back down to the trailer and sandwiches.

I was surprised to see a small patch of pitcher plants right next to the path near the fishing dock. While I was there, a fisherman caught a small fish, and one of the ospreys was right there, hovering just above, wanting the fish himself. We also had the fortune to see the bald eagle come back around, and it pestered the ospreys, who noisily sounded the alarm. At one point, the eagle looked like it swooped right down on one of the smaller birds, a dramatic chase ensuing. We felt like we were in true wilderness.

After relaxing in this wonderful park, we realized we had better get a move on to get home that evening. We began our drive back up Highway 101, choosing its scenery over the speed and monotony of the freeway. We made one stop just to the south of Strawberry Hill, since I really wanted one more chance to look for agates.

Annika and Grandma look at rocks and sticks

The beach we stopped at was a great choice – I found several agates, and some other interesting rocks, some with crystals, some with shells, some jasper; and some large mussel shells - the largest I have ever seen. I lingered, knowing it was probably the last stop we’d be able to make to enjoy the surf and sunshine.

It was all so glorious - I wished I could package up the sounds of the waves on the cobbles and the wind and the smells. But we really needed to get going. We stopped one last time before heading eastward toward the coast range – we had dinner at Mo’s in Lincoln City. Oh, it was so good!

Then we motored on home to Grandma and Papa’s, making it there after bedtime.

I’m so thankful for the week my husband took off from work, and for my parents being willing to join us on our adventure. The 3 days at the Coast were full and are providing us all with fond memories to savor. We will definitely be back to this wonderful stretch of coast.