Frogs, and Kestrels, and Red-Tailed Hawks Oh My!!

Sometimes western chorus frogs appear at our doorstep. We try to be very careful walking into and out of the house.

Sometimes western chorus frogs appear at our doorstep. We try to be very careful walking into and out of the house.

In the morning when I wake up I always seem to open my eyes to a different scene out in my back yard. The amount of fog looming over the wetland paints a different picture each day. I really enjoy waking up to such a natural and beautiful view and it makes me so thankful that I am allowed to live on refuge property for the entirety of my internship. To make things clear, I don’t live on the refuge site where people are allowed to take in the wonders of nature. That would be a little strange wouldn’t it? Instead I live on a disconnected piece of land that is about 5 minutes away driving. On this property there is a maintenance building, the two story house I live in, an old barn and out in the back there is the gorgeous wetland I was telling you about.

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Mornings usually start off foggy. There are some days where I can’t even see the wetland! Sunny days are mostly what I experience though.

This week has been a little hectic and I have not had much time to explore in order to take in the wildlife at either the refuge or at the bunkhouse. Luckily for me my hosts (the flora and fauna) are kind and they find ways to keep me in awe. This past Sunday I saw something that I found so silly and incredible. I was washing a few of my dishes as I listened to the commotion the wind was making outside. Washing dishes at the bunkhouse can be a very soothing task since there is a nice big window in front of the sink that faces the wetland. As I am standing there rinsing a bowl I see a bird hovering in the sky about a quarter of a mile away. I didn’t think much of it, I was a little preoccupied with cleaning. I returned to the sink from clearing the counter top and I look out to find the bird was still there! Ok bird now you have my attention. I ran up to my room to get my handy binoculars, sprinted back down the stairs and made my way outside so that I could get a better view of this mysterious hovering bird. By the way that it was soaring I could have sworn it was a turkey vulture. It made a circle in the air and I discovered I was wrong, the shape was all wrong for it to be a vulture. Hmm what could it be? The sun then hit the bird at the right angle and I was able to see its red tail. Aha! Got you.

I found this red tailed hawk so amusing because it appeared to be enjoying this windy day.  For a few minutes the hawk was just hovering in the air, it wasn’t moving in any direction. The red tailed hawk looked like it was indoor skydiving! I laughed, it just looked too funny. The hawk then got out of this in place flight and circled down towards the ground. At this point it had flown so close to me I saw it extend its feet down so it could land. I gave out one last chuckle and went back inside. Ahh the perks of living on a wildlife refuge.

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This isn’t the red-tailed hawk I based my story on, its an American kestrel! I was jumping into my car one day when I saw this guy bobbing its little tail on top of that tree. I then realized that a pair were nesting on a box attached to neighboring barn house! I need to start opening my eyes more or else who knows what I’ll miss.

Driving up to Oregon

DSC02275As a city girl, driving through the northwestern parts of the U.S. was an eye opening experience. As we made our way up through California, the city-scape fell further back, giving way to large open spaces, farm land, and mountains. Having spent most of my time in southern California I forget just how different other states can be. Sometimes I think of California as the big picture “American culture” when in reality each region and state across the U.S. has its own unique landscapes, culture and customs.

Along the way I saw a lot of beautiful scenery. I would have to say, that seeing the sun rise as the moon set, was one of the most beautiful things I witnessed. If I only knew how to better articulate my feelings during that moment into something that would resonate with you like it resonated with me, but for now, just know that moment was great in itself. Five in the morning probably isn’t a good time to be thinking about philosophical things anyway, unless you’re Henry David Thoreau.

We didn’t stick around in one place for too long, but one big difference I found in Oregon was having full service gas instead of self-service gas. I never even knew that was an option, but my dad says it’s been years since he has seen that in Los Angeles. I’m surprised we didn’t get yelled at for trying to pump the gas ourselves! I’m not the only one making mistakes though. My partner Lily, who is from Chicago, is still getting used to being able to turn right on red. I’m sure we will become accustomed to the differences in no time.
While Lily and I are getting used to our new home, my dad is having a great time thinking back to the good old days. Oregon reminded my dad of the old Los Angeles, from the days when he first came to California. Old gas pumps, Safeways around every corner, and especially the old cars he saw off the side of the road. This rusty old clunker was similar (if not the same) to the car my dad drove when he was a little boy in Mexico. I don’t usually see my dad get excited about anything, but he started telling me so many stories of his younger days. I drove my dad to the airport on Saturday afternoon; he left Oregon reminiscing about old memories, as I drove back to Sherwood, where new memories will be made.

 

A Rose in a Wheat Field is Still a Weed

“Wildlife First” is the motto at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (TRNWR). How funny this must sound after I mentioned how unwelcomed the nutrias are here. There are a plethora of invasives that are managed for at this site and I’m sure it makes people wonder why and aren’t they wildlife too? Yes they are wildlife, but they are not the wildlife that makeup a healthy ecosystem here. They just don’t belong. Today at my second Naturalist training session a volunteer quoted a phrase that seemed to explain this situation so easily. He said “a rose in a wheat field is still a weed”.

One of the many things I learned while at training was that not all violets are purple. To make things more interesting, all parts of this wood violet are edible.

Naturalist training has easily become one of my favorite things. My fellow Naturalists are much older than I am, yet I don’t feel like a foreigner when I am with them. Being a part of this group is actually quite intoxicating. If you could only see how we all transform into a group of curious children as soon as our shoes touch the gravel trail. We huddle around the leader and we listen attentively until we are given the opportunity to bombard each other with questions. Eventually some of us end up straying from the group when animal sounds entice us away. The group leader is then burdened with the task of herding us all back together.

Naturalists checking out the bald eagles nesting on a snag in the wetland.

Watching the youthful souls of the Naturalists is extremely heartwarming. They play the role of children so well and at the same time they make for amazing educators. With every step we take through the refuge a fact about either the flora or fauna of this special place is spoken. I recall attempting to keep up with all of the information thrown at me at my first training session and I was left exhausted.  I recapped with my supervisor Kim Strassburg about my experience and she reassured me that that amount of knowledge came with time. With those words I no longer felt pressured to attempt to learn it all in a day. Suddenly I had a new goal. Someday I hope to be as knowledgeable as these lovely people are by retaining my childlike curiosity as they have.

This red cedar is pretty amazing. If you look closely you can see the remnants of the nurse log it sprouted from. This tree was also known as being essential for the Kalapuya people. With the bark they made skirts and sleeping mats.

 

Welcome to Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

How many Dark Eyed Juncos do you see?

How many Dark-eyed Juncos do you see?

I thought I knew a great deal about invasive species until I saw a nutria swim across a wetland at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.  It was a gorgeous morning without a single cloud in the sky. And no, the immense flock of geese hovering over our heads was not a grey thundering cloud.  An eager group of volunteers and I were huddled around the site manager, Erin Holmes, as we learned about how the wetlands of this refuge were managed. Midway through Erin’s sentence she lifted an arm up and pointed out a large rodent wading through the water. In shock I opened my eyes wide and brought my binoculars to my face. WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS THAT!?! I have never heard about this animal before and now I won’t stop hearing about the nutria. I have seen it already twice in the span of two days.  Apparently this South American native has caused havoc in wetlands in the U.S. and other countries. It is definitely a nuisance and it is not welcomed here at this refuge.

Unlike the nutria, I have been taken in so kindly by both the people and the wildlife. The staff and volunteers at the refuge are so sweet and knowledgeable. I really enjoy being in their company and am beyond excited to work with them for the next six months. I have also learned that kindness is not limited to the people I have formally met.

On an early morning I had the opportunity to explore the many habitats of the refuge. On this mini adventure I was accompanied by a group of 20 Dark-eyed Juncos foraging for food on the gravel path. The juncos led the way for a good portion of the trail but eventually we split ways. Although the juncos had gone away there were plenty of other birds to watch. There were birds I had seen before and other birds I didn’t even know existed. Fortunately, I was able to ID a few of these new birds! As a novice birder, I always feel so accomplished when I am able to get my mental picture of the bird I am observing to match the field guide. Or better yet when the calls you are hearing match the call descriptions in the guide. Does anyone else relate to this awesome feeling?! Anyways, I had finally reached the forest portion of the refuge when I decided to call it a quits. I would save this habitat for another day, there was too much going on around me and I could easily spend a few more hours here. As I ventured back to the visitors’ center I realized that many other people had arrived to enjoy the refuge too. Most if not all of the people I passed on my way back, gave me a great big smile and said hello.  Oh yeah. I’m going to love it here.

Moving Forward

eggs in handI am happy to announce that I am officially bander certified by the North American Banding Council. The test took place in Ashland, OR and was a very rigorous, three-day exam consisting of four parts: a written, practical, specimen, and interview. We were tested on our ability to operate a banding station, set up/take down mist nets, identifying the common species, proper banding and adjustment, proper aging and sexing techniques, morphology measurements, the history of banding, correcting data sheets, bird morphology, avian first aid, and more. I can’t believe I’ve had to learn all of this in only two months! But It feels extremely rewarding to have accomplished it. In the beginning I didn’t know the first thing about banding and my songbird ID was limited. But now, I feel well equipped and confident with my banding, aging and sexing techniques and can no longer step outside without naming all the birdcalls I hear. It’s fantastic.

During the practical exam, I realized that this was the last time I would be banding in southern Oregon and the nostalgia kicked in. As I banded my last bird, which was a stunning northern flicker, I wondered, “What will a few days without handling birds be like? I can’t believe they won’t be what I’m surrounded by for half my day.” For the last few months, I’ve been working in the field, it’s been a busy time from the Oregon coast to Alaska and southern Oregon. Forest, tundra, ocean, and wild creatures have been what surrounds me. But now,I’m surrounded by quiet the opposite, cars, buildings, and many many people. After only three days outside of nature, it feels odd and its a big change… nonetheless it is a much needed break from the long hard working days in the field and the perfect time to spend with family.

So where do I go from here? To start, I plan on making a trip to my Peruvian home country during the winter or early spring. Not only am I excited to visit friends and family, but I’m also looking forward to participating in some banding outings with the Santa Eulalia Biological Station. Now that I have the bander certification, I want to take the next step in getting trainer certified, so that I can offer banding workshops while I am in Peru. Once I come back to the northern hemisphere, it will be the field season once again and I can’t wait to jump on some cool projects. Shortly after, I will be starting graduate school at Oregon State University. I will be involved in seabird telemetry, tagging and tracking petrels, fulmars, gulls, and more during the winter and breeding season. Not only this but I will also be in charge of vessel seabird counts and coordinating the reproductive success research on common murres out of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, OR.

I’m very excited for what 2015 has in store for me and meanwhile I will be enjoying lovely outings in beautiful Oregon for the rest of Fall.

Bird on!