Sunday, September 14, 2014

A New Bike, Dodging Jury Duty, Heading to WFO, and Baffling Bats

I was lucky to get out of having to do jury duty this week. I would have dutifully done it had I been chosen, as I believe it’s an important role one should perform as a citizen, even if so many of the court cases are sorry examples of stupid people behaving stupidly. But a good number of them are real and serious. I received my summons this past early June, for a July date when I would be leading a tour in Costa Rica. I went through the motions to apply for a postponement and was summarily given the reporting date of this past Tuesday, the day after I returned from Oregon.

Backing up a bit, I had two very short layovers here at home in Tucson between tours these past two months. The first was just two nights home after Costa Rica and before Marvelous Mato Grosso (Brazil). Costa Rica was very wet, but also full of birds, such as this Red-capped Manakin.

But a big storm in Miami diverted our flight to Fort Myers for refueling, and the delay caused me to miss my flight to Arizona, and I had to overnight in Miami. That left me with only 18 hours in Tucson, during which I just needed to swap out field guides, charge batteries, ship my Canon PowerShot SX50 for repairs (the screen refused to reorient, staying upside-down when facing out), get the WINGS camera as a replacement, do my laundry, and stop at a store for toiletries and other small items. No problem, but oops – to do my laundry and shop I had to bike to the laundromat and store only ½ mile away, and I arrived home to find that my trusty Bridgestone CB-1 of 23 years had been stolen. I usually store it in the garage when I leave town, but I use it so often I normally park it just behind my house out of sight and well away from the street. I had accidentally left it there when I went to Costa Rica; now it’s clear we have prowlers in the neighborhood. In any event I managed to walk to the laudromat, and my friend Hal took me to the store.

But I was planning ahead: I would be needing a bike to get to the superior court building if my group number isn’t dismissed on September 9, as it’s 5 miles from my home, not a short walk in the desert heat and monsoon, and bus service in Tucson is still infrequent and very sparsely networked. I’d be home just four days between my Mato Grosso tour and when I leave for Oregon, but the two latter days of that are taken up entirely by the first WINGS leaders meeting in six years, leaving me again with just two days at home. One to get a bike.

The Mato Grosso tour went really well (with the one logistical headache of the Alta Floresta airport closure), and I had a fine group of eight participants who were quite pleased to have seen this Jaguar, as well as two others that same morning.

So when I got home from that tour, instead of getting the shuttle directly home from the airport, I sent an SOS to my darling friend Andrew Broan, a bicycle maven and also someone you can always rely upon in an emergency. Here’s Andrew and our friend Celina during a recent outing of pool and drinks. He does not allow a straight face when having his picture taken.

He met me at the airport, and we drove directly to Performance Bicycle, where after about 45 minutes of looking at their selection and taking a couple of test rides, Andrew helped me decide on this Fuji Crosstown – a two-year-old discontinued series in an unusually large size on a sale day resulted in a “screaming deal.” It’s a perfect bike. I barely got to use it before heading to Oregon.

I’ve already blogged about the Oregon tour, but I didn’t mention the few days I spent visiting with my friends Deb, Ray, Katherine, and Mike. I worked a bit on post-tour stuff, catching up on labeling photos from previous tours, etc. Staying at Deb’s is like a luxury spa for me – she has a glorious guest bedroom and the most perfect kitchen. Not too big but fully equipped with exactly the right utensils and bowls, an amazing fridge and oven, and a never-ending supply of wine. We also share the exact same cooking style; one night I made salad and a corn-squash dish (which she had been planning to make, and I had only coincidentally pulled out the same magazine issue, chose the same recipe, then bought all the ingredients which she had already had); another night we did Pad Thai, and from the final night here are some sauces and dressings from our fun taco night (chicken, beef, and shrimp).

Then on the day I returned home from Oregon, I had an eerily similar flight experience to the one just over a month earlier, with a storm over the airport causing us to go into a holding pattern, followed by the pilot deciding to land in Phoenix to refuel and then returning to Tucson, arriving nearly 2 hours late. At least I didn’t have a connecting flight to worry about. This time I did take the shuttle (Arizona Stagecoach), sharing the ride with two seasonals who work in Denali National Park and know friends of mine who did the same thing decades ago – a fun small world experience. I then checked the Pima County superior court website and found that I had to report at 11:00 a.m. the next day – very glad I have that bike now.

Jury selection is a slow and costly process. While the county does reimburse a few pennies to people for parking and travel, not factored into it is how much human productivity is lost in order to select just eight people. For that one jury 42 people have to take an entire day off of work and do nothing (though I seemed to be the only one of hundreds with a laptop and working on it when I could). And several juries had to be selected that day. Out of those 42 people for just this one trial, the judge and lawyers first have to find a panel of 21 who can fairly serve as jurors. So they select 21 at random and then ask them questions, mostly yes-or-no, to determine if any are obviously unfit or for whom serving would be an unusual hardship. One woman couldn’t understand English very well, one guy was leaving Thursday for a work-related trip (the trial was thought to possibly last until Friday), one guy was a full-time student and had a job, and another guy was so shy he had an extremely hard time talking aloud in front of a group of people. They were excused and their seats were filled one by one from the remaining pool of 21 people until they had a panel of 21. I wasn’t one of the original 21, but my name did come up to fill a seat from someone who had been excused. We were also asked if we knew anyone involved in the case (which was a criminal case against a guy accused of stealing a car from an elderly man, with whom he was apparently acquainted, over the course of several days nearly a year ago), whether we knew anyone who was a lawyer, judge or involved in law enforcement, or if we’d been the victim of a crime. Of course, I had to mention that my bike had been stolen (and my house broken into 6 years ago). I also had to mention that I know Brad Holland well (he served as a prosecutor for the county a couple years ago), as well as other lawyers and a birding friend who is a retired policewoman. In each case we had to respond whether that experience would make us incapable of being fair in deciding in such a case. Each of us also had to stand, announce our name, state our occupation and how long we’d been at it; state whether we were married or single, mention our spouses’ occupation, children and ages; whether we had sat as juror in the past (when, type of case, and verdict); and – I thought this most odd – list the magazines or websites we subscribe to. I was shocked that most people subscribe to no magazines at all, and the three or four that did only read Consumer Reports or pablum even less intellectual – not even National Geographic. I probably baffled them all by listing my subscriptions to North American Birds, Birding, Western Birds, Oregon Birds, American Butterflies, Neotropical Birding, Cotinga, etc.

This whole process took about two hours, and by the end about 15 people had been excused, their seats re-filled, and there were just six who hadn’t been called up at all. They served their duty by just being there. The rest of us on the semifinal 21-person panel were then given a 20 minute recess while the county prosecutor, the public defender, and the judge used some sort of calculus in secret to pick eight to serve on the jury. When we all entered the court, those eight names were called up, and I wasn’t among them. Whew. But I’m still curious about how they chose those eight. Was I not chosen because I know Sr. Brad? (Even though I could detect no reaction, I figure Judge Liwski must know him well.) If so, I’ll be sure to mention him again next time. Or is it because I read Western Birds?

Speaking of Western Field Ornithologists (the publisher of the superb Western Birds), I’ll be helping out at their annual meeting next month in San Diego, October 8-12. I’m helping lead field trips to the Tijuana River Valley on Thursday, Sweewater Reservoir and preserve on Friday, and then maybe help out on one of the panels and fill in last minute on the weekend field trips.

In the meantime, I’m finishing post-tour stuff, preparing for the upcoming Butterflies & Birds tour of the Kosñipata Valley of SE Peru (the “Manu Road”), cooking and eating dinners with friends, and struggling to keep my hummingbird feeders full. There are indeed many Anna’s, Black-chinned, and Broad-billed Hummingbird in the yard now, but they’re not the ones emptying the feeders. For the past week, we’ve been beset by several migrant Lesser Long-nosed Bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae). They lick the feeders dry overnight, also leaving mess with their slobber and swinging the feeders making them drip a sticky mess below.  I estimate that they are slurping about two quarts sugar water each night. This photo is from mid-October two years ago, when I first noticed them in the yard; then it seemed there were only two or three, considering that most feeders were left untouched.

But this time there must be a half dozen or more, and it’s getting expensive and tiring to keep the feeders full for the demanding hummers each morning. So I have made baffles which work well, except during breezy nights when they get blown off. The material is rather stiff and there is a visible gap below, but that seems to throw them off enough that they can’t get at the holes, which they apparently approach from above. 

Now back to post tour stuff, preparing for Peru, and making Thai green curry paste.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Oregon in Late Summer WINGS Tour

I’ve just finished leading my 17th tour in my home state of Oregon. Most of my tours are in the Neotropics, so this is always a fun and refreshing departure, though it is even more tiring than most – I do all the driving, and this particular itinerary had me driving an average 190 miles per day for 14 days. Yes, that’s 2660 miles in two weeks. It was totally worth it.

When I do this grand Oregon itinerary in the summer, which is about every other year now, I start with a pelagic trip as an extension, driving down to Newport. Only three of the four participants of this year’s group signed up for the pelagic trip. This year we were also joined by the newest member of the WINGS leaders group, Fabrice Schmitt. Originally from the Alsace region of France, Fabrice has been based in Chile and guiding for himself and several other companies throughout South America for the past several years, and we’re all very pleased to have him with us. He was along as an observer on this trip, only his second time in North America. He saw more new birds than all of the other participants combined!

While we saw nothing unexpected, the pelagic trip was a great success, with good numbers of close Black-footed Albatross, Pink-footed Shearwaters (way outnumbering the normally numerous Sooty Shearwaters), and very close Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels. Here’s a group of the shearwaters with a single albatross.

Black-footed Albatross frequently sailed right past the boat.

The commonest gulls far out at sea were juvenile California Gulls; here’s one attending an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola). No one seemed to know what the gull expected from the fish, and Fabrice was particularly curious as to why the fish wasn’t readily preyed upon by sharks, dolphins, or albatrosses. It just lies there on the surface, often considered the world’s largest plankton as it drifts on ocean currents.

The main part of the tour started in Portland, and after our group dinner, we had dessert at Salt and Straw, a fabulous ice cream shop that uses local ingredients to make some extremely clever flavor combinations. I don’t promote it only because the founders and owners are related to my cousin Belinda’s husband; I’m just a huge fan of ice cream and local ingredients in any event.

On our first morning of birding my friend Steve Nord met up with us at Jackson Bottom Wetland Preserve south of Hillsboro, where we had good shorebirds, including Semipalmated Sandpiper and this rare Solitary Sandpiper.

A highlight for me on any Oregon tour is a visit to Marys Peak, the highest point in the Coast Range.

Here’s the group at the top of Marys Peak, happy after seeing Mountain Quail on the way up, then a lovely Pileated Woodpecker as we were starting our picnic breakfast.

I stopped to get photos of this Pine White, Neophasia menapia, on the introduced Tansy Ragwort.

Then I noticed some bumblebees and remembered that the Pacific Northwest is particularly rich in species. This one is actually identifiable as Fernald's Cuckoo Bumble Bee, Bombus fernaldae. It’s a social parasite, not having workers of its own.

There were also tons of grasshoppers, and I was hoping to find the endemic flightless grasshopper but instead found mostly the very common and widespread Red-legged Grasshopper, Melanoplus femurrubrum.

One of them turned out to be the much lesser known Melanoplus immunis. I had thought it was an immature with the wings not yet developed, but apparently this is one of several species in this genus that are flightless as adults.

Our last birding in the Willamette Valley was at Fern Ridge Reservoir, which was a huge highlight. Here were joined by Alan Contreras who helped by suggesting where we might best spend our time here.

There were lots of these Red Swamp Crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, apparently accidentally introduced only about 15 years ago. One can only hope that this will lead to the natural colonization of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons...

We were amazed to see a juvenile Peregrine Falcon appear in a group of  isolated dead trees at the same time that juvenile Cooper’s and Red-shouldered Hawks landed in the same trees, apparently to harass the Peregrine.

At our picnic lunch at the nearby Perkins Peninsula we enjoyed views of many Clark’s Grebes (and a few Western), then noticed a bunch of these giant mayflies,  Hexagenia limbata. These were apparently the food  that attracted a very active mixed flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Black-throated Gray Warblers, and Cedar Waxwings.

We had an afternoon and full day on the coast at Florence, where the famous Heceta Head lighthouse offers an iconic view.

After a morning full of Northern Pygmy-Owl, Red-necked Grebe, White-winged Scoter, and Marbled Murrelet, we made a quick stop at the US Forest Service wayside to view California Pitcher Plants, Darlingtonia californica.

We birded the north and south jetties of the Siuslaw River and took a walk on Siltcoos Beach. There we easily found a few Snowy Plovers, and then noticed a very large group of shorebirds a few hundred yards north. Here there were a few roosting gulls with a flock of what I estimated were 1800 Sanderlings, with a single Western Sandpiper. Fabrice got very close to them and obtained a very cool video.

We then made a very long drive to the east side of the Cascades via the Willamette Pass, with a long stop at Salt Creek Falls – very scenic but devoid of Black Swifts at this time of day, if not this time of year.

We made it to the Fremont-Winema National Forest south of Silver Lake, with a picnic lunch at Thompson Reservoir. This clown beetle in the subfamily Saprininae seemed to have a predilection for the almond butter. I’m still waiting to see if the experts at Bugguide will have a species name for it.

After lunch we stopped at the Fremont Point overlook on Winter Ridge. Smoke from several fires in SW Oregon and NW California obscured the view of the Summer Lake basin below.

This is where we had spectacular views of this responsive Canyon Wren.

The next day we birded the Summer Lake Wildlife Area, full of very cool birds such as early Greater White-fronted Goose and many shorebirds. This exposed volcanic tuff is up on Winter Ridge, visible from the refuge.

We had an amazing experience here with a family of Virginia Rails. One even came up on the wooden bridge just below the group, Fabrice getting amazing photos.

These are the closest Sandhill Cranes we saw on the entire tour.

On the drive onward to Hines we passed by Abert Lake which was nearly dry, quite a contrast from the past two years when tens of thousands of Wilson’s Phalaropes staged here. This time we saw only  (“only”) a few hundred American Avocets.

We had three full days based out of Hines-Burns. We started at Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters where there were plenty of migrants, including our first vireos – Warbling and Cassin’s, as well as our first and only Yellow-breasted Chat and Willow Flycatcher. This Gadwall was close to the new observation blind dedicated to David Marshall.

Benson Pond, still full of water, was our next stop, and here we saw Trumpeter Swans and several more migrants such as MacGillivray’s Warbler. Farther along the Center Patrol Road we had close looks at Carolina Grasshopper, Dissosteira carolina, a very widespread species, easily recognized by this wing pattern.

We also saw Lorquin's Admiral, Limenitis lorquini, here.

Every day for 10 days we had a picnic lunch, which I tried to vary each day with tuna, salmon, and egg salad as well as Grammy Hoyer’s olive spread and guacamole. This is our lunch at Page Springs Campground. It was great to have everyone help out.

We completed the Malheur loop via the Diamond Craters (see my blog from this past June), finding this Red-shouldered Hawk (our fourth of the tour) near there.

Nearly devoid of birds, but still of interest was the Pete French Round Barn and the amazingly diverse gift shop there. This is where I tried to get pictures of the several insects visiting the rabbitbrush flowers; this fancy bee fly Thyridanthrax fenestratoides was one I managed here.

We had our only Ferruginous Hawks on the drive through New Princeton, Crane, and Lawen as we returned to Hines.

In addition to Marys Peak, Steens Mountain is one of my favorite places on Earth. We saw several new birds on our day here, including Green-tailed Towhee, Cassin’s Finch, and a very curious female Calliope Hummingbird on our way up, and then our fifth Red-shouldered Hawk at the very high elevation Lily Lake. We then made a first official stop at the heart-stopping view of Kiger Gorge. Two years ago, this is where we finally saw Black Rosy-Finch. This year we tried harder than ever, and we were among many who missed finding this bird anywhere on the mountain. We still enjoyed below-eye-level views of Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon and migrant Red-breasted Nuthatches on the crags. This is where we also finally got very good views of Horned Larks.

One day we took a break from the stark beauty of the Great Basin and headed north to the incredibly diverse mixed forests of Malheur National Forest of Grant County. Our planned drive up to the lookout of Aldrich Mountain was prevented by the South Fork Complex fire, which had been going on for over a month; the fire was mostly out, but they were still using the road for shoring up the perimeter and putting out hot spots. So we tried other side roads, hoping in vain for Dusky Grouse. The diversity of conifers is nearly unparalleled in these forests: spruce, larch, pine, fir, douglas-fir, cedar, and juniper combine to create an absolutely stunning landscape.

If you find Ponderosa Pine mixed with Quaking Aspen, you should find Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsucker, which we did.

There there’s Black-backed Woodpecker, most partial to Lodgepole Pine that has been burned recently.

At our picnic lunch near the two-year-old Parish Cabin burn we were visited by this longhorned beetle, the Spotted Pine Sawyer, Monochamus clamator. Its larvae and eggs are almost certainly what the Black-backed Woodpecker was after.

This is a great time of year to see bugs that like nectar of rabbitbrush. This is Western Banded Skipper, Hesperia colorado.

On the same bush were Woodland Skippers and this Sandhill Skipper, Polites sabuleti.

Our longest drive of the tour is the return to Portland, and I make it very scenic experience, but not without stops for nature. Along the scenic South Fork John Day drive north of Izee, we came across a group of Bighorn Sheep that had just taken a drink and were clambering back up to their cliffs.

We had our final picnic lunch near the Painted Hills of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

On way north of Fossil we stopped for our final new species of the tour, a pair of Lewis’s Woodpecker. We then had dinner in view of Multnomah Falls, the tallest in North America.

One last view of the Columbia River from Crown Point.

Here’s a map of Oregon with our complete tour route.