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It’s a Zoo Out There!

When you move to the countryside, I suppose you should expect to see some wildlife.  We live fairly close to the town, so we weren’t expecting life to get too wild.  Reading the newspaper, though, we found that there are quite a lot of cougar in the area, but surely they would be up in the hills.  Our neighbors came over to visit one day and told us there was a bear in the area.  We’ve looked for signs but haven’t seen anything.  They also later told us they saw a cougar entering our farm.  Well, what to do?  We bought a night vision camera and set it up between us and the cow pasture because there was evidence that something was traveling under the fence.  We got shots of deer and raccoons, nothing too worrying.  Then we set the camera up along the vegetable garden fence to find out what has been going under that fence into the garden.  One year all our plums were eaten off of one tree and this year there are huge piles of thrown-up fruit–inside and outside of the garden.  What could be eating all that fruit?

This is what we saw on the camera:

bear233  bear248a  bear245    bear248e  bear248f  bear509

This is proof that there is a bear and that he somehow got under the fence and into the garden–at least twice that night.  Here’s the space he squeezed into:

holeunderfence2  holeunderfence

We are mystified; the hole is not that big.

We have since found two other places, one at the garden fence and another abutting our property that he uses as entry points.  Bruce piled a load of logs at the one on the far end of the farm, but he pushed them aside.  So, I guess he is here to stay.  We’ll have to be more careful about cleaning up the old fruits and vegetables during the growing season.

We haven’t seen the cougar yet, but here are some of the other more friendly critters who have found their way onto our farm:

tree-frog  snake  may-gophersnake2

Tree frog; Gopher snake

lizard  swallowtail4  painted-lady

Lizard; Swallowtail; Painted Lady

swallow  red-shafted-flicker2  redbreasted-sapsucker

Tree Swallow; Red-shafted Flicker (he eats our house); Red-breasted Sapsucker

quail1  oregon-junco  hummingbird

Quail; Oregon Junco; Hummingbird

barnswallow2  bald-eagle3  canada-geese

Barn Swallow (they love the barn); Bald Eagle; Geese

americangoldfinch2  americangoldfinch  bluebirds

American Goldfinch; huge flock of American Goldfinches that flew in one day; Bluebirds

redshouldered-hawk  skunk2  jan-squirrel

Red-shouldered Hawk; Skunk; Squirrel

tomturkey  mamaturkey  hare

Turkey- Tom, Hen and Chicks; Hare

justinbeaver2  bucks  deardeer

Beaver-we named him Justin; White Tail deer-Bucks and Doe

coyote2  coyote

Coyote-okay, he’s not so friendly, but we love hearing them at howl at night

christmascow  christmascow2

Neighbor’s bull/steer that wandered onto our farm on Christmas Day.  He enjoyed the grass and water.  Occasionally they come through the fence to visit us.  

novemberelk  mayelk3  mayelk2

mayelk  elk3  elk1

elk828c

Elk–we had at least eight sightings this year.  The last photo, from the night vision camera, caught an elk calf.  Now that’s rare sight for us!

It’s a real treat for us to have so much wildlife on our farm.  While we would like to encourage some to not return, we welcome them all and hope their sojourn is a beneficial relationship for us both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the Hunt

StrawberryHunt2

Bruce and I went out one morning on the hunt for the elusive wild strawberry.  We had seen evidence of them in the woods, with the plants and blossoms, but had never seen any fruit.  Since there were blossoms in late April, I figured now was the time to find those berries!  We headed out from the house and walked straight into the woods.  We found a large patch of strawberry plants near the creek, but no fruit.  We knew there were more up by the road, so we headed up there.  On the way, we found a number of interesting things.

Strawberry Hunt-Deer Skull1  Strawberry Hunt-Lizard

Deer skull and antlers; lizard

Strawberry Hunt-Rose   Strawberry Hunt-Parentucellia viscosa-Yellow parentucellia

The roses are blooming all over; Yellow parentucellia

Strawberry Hunt8  Strawberry Hunt-Geranium richardsonii-richardsons geranium 

Oregon checker mallow; Richardson’s geranium

Strawberry Hunt3Triteleia hendersonii-Henderson's stars-rare Strawberry Hunt- Zigadenus venenosus-Meadow death camas-trichodes ornatus

Henderson’s stars (Triteleia hendersonii) (rare); Meadow death camas (poisonous), with Ornate Checkered beetle

StrawberryHunt-Euphydryas chalcedona-Chalcedona Checkerspot    Strawberry Hunt7

Chalcedona checkerspot; Western tiger swallowtail;

The Ornate Checkered beetle (Trichodes ornatus) is found only in North America.  Its worm-like larvae live mostly in bee nests of the Megachilidae family species, or Mason bees.  They are parasitic and in the nest they feed on bee larvae or pollen.  As adults, they feed on yarrow, milkweed or other yellow-flowered plants.  Since we have Mason bees and they are very beneficial to the garden and orchard, it was good that we found this insect and can take steps to manage it.  We have to remove the bee nesting materials from the orchard shortly before and immediately after the end of the nesting period and store them away from other nesting bees.  Commercial traps are available, consisting of a plastic container with a pheromone-impregnated capsule that attracts the beetles during the bee nesting period.

Wikipedia; http://insect.pnwhandbooks.org/sites/insect.pnwhandbooks.org/files/pdfsection/beeprotection.pdf

Livestock farmers know all too well the havoc Meadow death camas can inflict. It’s a favorite among sheep. Death camas, or Zigadenus venenosus, are native to western parts of North America. The toxic alkaloid zygadenine (considered by some to be more potent than strychnine) is present in all parts of the plant and can cause some serious consequences when ingested.  Elaine Nelson McIntosh, a dietitian and food historian, suspects death camas may have been to blame for the illnesses that plagued the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. Food was scarce and the group was suffering from malnutrition. The Nez Perce tribe offered the travelers fish and bulbs of a plant they believed were blue camas. At the time, the plant wasn’t in bloom, making it hard to differentiate between it and its evil cousin. Soon after, the group fell violently ill for weeks. They ate their dogs to sustain themselves for the rest of the expedition.

http://blogs.britannica.com/2010/02/death-camas-toxic-tuesdays-a-weekly-guide-to-poison-gardens/

After a short hike we came upon the second patch of strawberry plants and oh boy, we found the berries!  There were two and they were red and very small, but not very sweet.  That was disappointing and a lot of work for no reward.  I think we’ll leave them for the deer and other animals.

StrawberryHunt-Fragaria vesca-woods strawberry   Strawberry Hunt-Fragaria virginiana-Mountain strawberry

Strawberry Hunt-Strawberry

 


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Lurking in the Garden

I woke up early one morning about a week ago, looked out the window as I usually do, didn’t expect to see anything different, because I usually don’t, but that morning, I saw this:

Lurking5

That guy was in the flower garden, just a few feet from the house!  Nevertheless, that’s an amazing way to start the day!

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are a member of the dog family. Canis latrans means “barking dog.”  As a “top of the food chain” predator species, they play a valuable role in naturally controlling other species, such as rodents and Canada geese.

Thick dense fur can sometimes make coyotes appear larger than they really are. In Oregon coyotes typically weigh between 22 and 30 pounds.

Their primary diet is made up of small rodents, but coyotes are opportunistic and will consume a vast array of foods including birds and insects, fruit and vegetables, human garbage and compost, outdoor pet food and small free-roaming pets.

http://audubonportland.org/wcc/urban/coyotes

Lurking3 Lurking2 Lurking1


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Trees

When we considered moving to Oregon, Bruce’s dream was to have a nice, large piece of land with plenty of room for gardening.  I found a piece of property in Roseburg that was just perfect for both of us in that it has a very nice house, lots of acreage and a 2 acre garden.  What we didn’t plan on was having an established farm.  Our farm is a tree farm, planted in Ponderosa pines by the previous owner.  And boy, do we ever have a lot of Ponderosa pines!

The bark helps to distinguish it from other species.  This is a hardy, drought tolerant tree having thick , protective bark comprised of stacked plates that sometimes look like puzzle pieces. The deep cracks in old tree bark smell pleasant, like vanilla with a hint of butterscotch or warm cookie.  Old growth ponderosas grow 150 to 180 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet in diameter.   http://www.bentler.us/eastern-washington/plants/trees/ponderosa.aspx

We don’t have anywhere near old growth status, but they are all a decent size.  We are supposed to go out in the late fall and winter when the sap isn’t running and prune the lower branches of each tree, which increases the diameter of the tree and in turn, will yield a higher price when logged.  (See the post on November 1, 2013, called Lifting and Falling to read more about this process.)

At any rate, we do have a lot of trees, but apparently not enough for Bruce!  He just recently ordered 100 saplings and we ended up getting about 250 of them.  Oh my!  Bruce wanted to fill in some bare areas of land and since he had so many he planted them in areas where they probably won’t grow, like the swampy spot down by the neighbor’s pond.

Trees3 Trees1

Trees4 Trees5 Trees2

Trees9 Trees7

Can you see any planted trees in the photo on the left?  They are there, but they are very small.

Trees8

The trees, even if we don’t live long enough to see them harvested, have many benefits.  They are a very nice ground cover that I don’t have to mow, they provide shelter for the elk and deer and birds, they block us from the neighbors, and they just look great!

 Trees13

Trees11 Trees10


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Good Times

Our friends, Jeff and Nancy, came up from California to visit us for about five days in early March.  We were quite sure that we would all be sitting around the house watching the endless rain, but the sun came out and the weather was beautiful and warm.  We went on a couple of day trips around the area.  We hadn’t yet been to the Winchester dam and fish ladder, so we picked up some pulled pork BBQ sandwiches and coleslaw in Roseburg ( you must go here– https://www.facebook.com/pages/Neighborhood-Smokehouse-Grill/472787789449719 ) and had a picnic at the dam.  There is a nice parking lot at the top and a staircase down to the fish ladder.  Halfway down, we stopped at some benches and ate our lunch and watched the river go by.  What a nice treat for us in the wintertime!  Sad to say, March is just about the only month in which there are no fish going up the fish ladder, so that was disappointing.

Jenks13

https://roadtrippers.com/us/roseburg-or/camping-rv/winchester-dam

We also took a wine touring trip but only went to two wineries–Hillcrest and Reustle.  Hillcrest is very near to our farm and it is Oregon’s oldest estate winery and the birthplace of Pinot Noir.

Jenks14 http://www.hillcrestvineyard.com/

Reustle winery is further away, up north near Umpqua, but still in Roseburg.  We sat outside and sampled some of the different wines that they have.  We decided to become wine club members (even though I don’t drink much wine) because they have a grassy amphitheater with great views and it looks like they’ll have some nice concerts in the summer.  http://www.reustlevineyards.com/

Jenks15

After Reustle, were were hungry, so we drove a short way over to the Lighthouse Center Bakery and Cafe in Umpqua .   It’s a very nice place, with a post office on one side of the building, and on the other side there is a small grocery and cafe.  The cafe sells lunch, fresh baked breads, and bakery items and it is all vegetarian, but it’s so delicious that you seriously consider becoming vegetarian.  You can eat inside or out and on a nice day it’s best to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and great views.  Also, don’t pass up the Lentil Stew.  http://lighthousecenterbakery.com/

When we weren’t driving around Bruce and Jeff worked on some farm projects.  One project was the making of ten birdhouses, bluebird and wren.  The birds were very anxious to set up housekeeping and wasted no time in checking out the houses.  They were inside the newly hung houses as soon as Bruce moved the ladder to put up the next house.  I’m not sure if the bluebirds or wrens were able to snatch any houses for themselves as the swallows were very aggressive and did not care that they were not tree swallow houses.

Jenks2 Jenks4 Jenks6

Jenks9 Jenks7 Jenks3

Jenks11  Jenks-Western Bluebird Jenks-Swallow

Jenks8 Jenks1

We hope you had a good visit, Jeff and Nancy!  We enjoyed having you here, going to new places and getting some help with the projects.


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Winter on the Farm

We didn’t know what to expect for our first winter here.  Last year it seemed to be very cold and the few times we came up to check on the house the weather was either foggy, icy, freezing, snowing or raining.  We even got to experience something called “freezing fog”.    So…when the air is foggy, does the fog freeze?  We didn’t know, but it didn’t sound good.  We found out that it occurs when liquid fog droplets freeze to surfaces, forming white soft or hard ice.  It is basically the same as that soft white ice that forms inside a freezer.

On most mornings when I look out the windows I see a lot of fog, which usually dissipates by afternoon, but not always.  All in all, it hasn’t been especially cold this winter, but we have had a few mornings with temperatures in the teens.  We have also had quite a lot of rain, but it’s not worse than what we had in a normal year in San Jose.  In fact, the rain is very welcome, as long as we don’t float away!  With the rain we now have both ponds filled and the grasses are turning green.  This in turn has encouraged the waterfowl to return and forage for food.

It’s difficult to understand how anything flourishes here in the winter, because it is cold and foggy and often rainy.  I haven’t figured out how the deer, elk and cows can tolerate such cold temperatures.  On the morning that the temperature was 16 degrees, the cows were out in the field eating the grass.

If you care to read about it, here is an explanation from Penn State:  http://news.psu.edu/story/179081/2009/02/26/horses-and-other-livestock-can-thrive-cold-weather.  Good to know so I won’t worry about them, and I’m guessing the deer and elk have an adequate amount of food and water.

After the rains started the mushrooms popped up everywhere, but they are now mostly gone.  There were frogs singing at night, but they are gone too.  The elk have started coming down from the hills and we’ve seen them a few times here and there.  As always we have our small deer population with the three fawns growing up fast.  We also often hear the coyotes at night, and we even spotted one in the cow pasture one morning.

It’s good to see and feel this change of seasons.  It’s not a harsh change, but enough to make us more attentive to what’s happening around us.

To signal the change of seasons and the coming of winter we had leaves changing colors all over Roseburg, but none prettier than our own persimmon tree.

Wintertime18pg

Wintertime5 Wintertime4 Wintertime3

Sara found these mushrooms a few days after Christmas when she took advantage of a non-rainy day to take a walk around the farm.  The first one is a black mushroom and the second is a cup type of mushroom.  Of the two major groups of cup fungi, I believe this is the operculate cup fungi, which have a hinged lid at the tips which opens when the spores are discharged. In the third photo are the “seeds” that were in the cups, which are sterile cells called paraphyses and they often forcibly eject the spores upward into the wind for dispersal.

Wintertime2 Wintertime

I found this mushroom growing on a tree in the yard.

 Wintertime7jpg Wintertime13jpg

The turkey flocks are larger now and we see them much more frequently than we did in the summer.

Wintertime10jpg

Wintertime has brought out the bucks.  Our deer (I’m fairly confident) are Columbian white-tail deer. The Columbian white-tailed deer is listed as an endangered distinct population segment in the lower Columbia River area under the federal Endangered Species Act, whereas the Roseburg population was delisted in 2003.  No matter, this is the only way deer are getting shot on our farm.

http://oregonforests.org/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/OFRI%20managed%20forests%20elk%20deer_for_web.pdf

Wintertime17pg Wintertime15pg

These were taken on the morning that the temperature was 16 degrees F.  Brrr…It was too cold for the birds.  They are waiting for the sunrise and hopefully warmer temperatures.

Wintertime16pg Wintertime12jpg

Dramatic sunrise and sunset.  One nice added extra that we hadn’t counted on when we moved here is that we now have clouds!  I sure did miss them living in California.

We still have several more months of winter left, and it could get colder and rainier, but I think I’ll probably find something interesting to investigate.

Wintertime14jpg

Dew on the grass shining in the sunset


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Vaux’s Swifts

I joked with my daughter the other day that “there’s lots to do here in Roseburg.  You can go and see the swifts fly into a chimney!”  While I don’t think this is going to cause her to move here from Atlanta, it actually turned out to be a very interesting thing to do…you know, for us old folks.

The Vaux’s Swifts (Chaetura vauxi) are a fast flying relative of the hummingbird and were named after Sir William Vaux, an Englishman.  So the bird’s name is pronounced “vawks”, not “voh”.  The one time I get the French pronunciation right…and it’s not French.

They are similar to the Chimney Swift but a different species.  The Vaux’s species is found west of the Rockies and the Chimney Swift is east.

Their bodies are 4-5 inches in length and appear like small, dark, fast-flying cigars with wings.  Their wings are crescent shaped and beat with swift, rapid, bat-like movements.  In fact, the previous owner of our farm told us he saw bats flying around at dusk and I thought that maybe they were swifts.  He said, no, they were bats, but they do look alike, especially at dusk.

The Vaux’s lack a hind toe and cannot perch.  When not flying, they cling to vertical surfaces such as trees or chimneys–something that has a rough texture.  Vaux’s Swifts have historically nested inside large, hollow tree snags.  Because suitable snags along the migratory routes have become harder to find, the swifts have begun occupying brick chimneys, but these types of chimneys are no longer used in new construction or the existing ones are being torn down.  The nests are made with twigs pasted together with saliva on the inside of the snag or chimney and disintegrate soon after they are abandoned.

They spend much of their time in the air and forage, drink, court, collect nesting materials and copulate all in flight.  They have a voracious appetite for flying insects and ballooning spiders.  Each bird eats up to 20,000 insects a day!

Vaux’s Swifts arrive in Oregon in late April, mate in May and June and have their eggs laid and hatched by July.  They depart beginning in late August.  In the fall swifts congregate in large groups as they prepare for their migration southward to Central America and Venezuela.  During September large groups of swifts pass through Oregon and commonly use chimneys to roost in during the night, settling down inside the chimney just around sunset.  Once a population of swifts locates an appropriate chimney they are likely to return year after year.  The size of the groups can range in size from just a few birds to several thousand.

Umpqua Valley Audubon Society @ http://www.umpquaaudubon.org

The “Chapman swifts” are part of a migratory population of Vaux’s swifts that roost seasonally in the chimney of Chapman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.  This is North America’s largest concentration of Vaux’s swifts.

Every evening from mid-August to mid-October, thousand of swifts gather in the sky over the school shortly before sunset.  Count estimates of 1,700 to 35,000 swifts have been reported.  Shortly after sunset, over a period of 10 to 30 minutes, they fly into the top of the brick chimney (constructed c. 1925) to roost on the interior surface until they depart at sunrise.  The school is on the birds’ migratory route to their wintering sites.

The birds began using the site in the early 1980’s in response to the loss of much of their natural roosting habitat–old growth Douglas-fir and forest snags.  Vaux’s Swifts prefer roosting in standing hollow trees.

To protect the swifts, the school stopped using its heating system during the weeks of roosting.  Students and teachers wore sweaters and jackets, especially toward the end of September when classroom temperatures can drop to 50 to 60 degrees F. (10 to 16 degrees C.)  Around 2003, the Audubon Society of Portland, school fundraisers and corporate sponsors donated $60,000 to $75,000 for an alternate school heating system which is independent of the brick chimney.  The chimney is now maintained solely for the use of the birds.

Wikipedia

In Roseburg, the swifts use several chimneys in town but the one we went to was the Clay Place chimney behind the Arts Center in the Fir Grove section of Stewart Park.  The migrations last two weeks to a month and Audubon members are on hand for several of those nights.  They are a great source of information about the swifts.

Swifts23 Swifts24

 

We arrived at the park at 630 p.m., with our chairs.  The chairs are important, because there is no place to sit and it can be a long wait.  One of the Audubon members came by to talk to us about the swifts and gave us some pamphlets.   A man sitting behind us was a birder and kept us up-to-date on what was happening and what would happen.  At first we saw small groups of a few birds flying overhead.

Swifts25

Those small groups gradually became larger and larger.

  Swifts5

All the Audubon members were getting anxious because sunset had come and gone and the birds were not anywhere close to going into the chimney.  I figured that Bruce & I had jinxed it.  Some more rational explanations were that the weather has been hotter than usual and the birds were waiting for it to cool down and/or finding lots more insects to eat because of the heat.  But, whatever the reason, the birds finally got it together and we heard more and more bird calls.  Large groups were flying overhead, swooping down like they would go into the chimney and then flying off, only to return minutes later with even more birds.  We were beginning to feel like extras in a Hitchcock movie.

At long last, the birds started circling around the chimney and formed the ever important vortex, which happens just before they go in.  They were circling around, constantly changing direction.  Occasionally one or two would go in, but soon enough they all decided it was time and they funneled into the chimney.  Birds were flying in a huge circle and then swooping down and into the chimney.  It was like passengers getting on a Southwest Airlines flight!  Hey, there’s room for everyone, no need to push!

VSwifts2      VSwift4

After they all stuffed themselves in, we got the final count.  There were two Audubon members actually counting how many birds went into the chimney.  Their counts were very close to each other and the final tally was about 2,500!  Wow!!

 

If you’d like to see video of the swifts going into the chimney or what it looks like inside, click on these links:

http://www.vauxhappening.org/Movies.html–some movies of the swifts in the chimneys…and other disturbing videos involving crows, with crow solutions.

http://www.vauxhappening.org– lots of info here about the swifts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxJnjTfkslY– a video of the swifts going into the chimney in Roseburg.  As the videographer wrote in the video, it’s better to see it in person.