ינואר 1, 2024

In the Forest

I started up into the Valley foothills moving alongside the white wisps that ascended deep canyons to wrap and feather the dark forest. Overhead, a quilted pewter ceiling, waves of cushion bolsters stacked into the distance that melded into a gray sheet. The understory of magenta shrubs carried diamond drops on bare stems and milked-coffee ferns covered a carpet of emerald moss.

The forest exhibited the heavy hand of management, tree heights soared wildly from head-high tree farms to raptor loving heights of stands of mature conifers. A scattering of hardwood trees, festooned with licorice fern and owl moss parted the colonnade. Oaks and maples, elderberry and chinkapin, madrone and willow, finding niches, adding warm color and hard shiny green.

I had picked a path that I have traveled many times before. A path that leads one into some of the less visited areas where the trails have names such as 'Narnia' and 'As You Wish' all with the edge of wildness peeking out of the deep. As I moved into ancient forest, I became aware of an unusual watchfulness, the wind silent, the air cold. My senses strained to catch a snapped branch, a snort or low growl, a scuddering disturbance in the low vegetation. The unnatural quiet stretched taut - the entire forest was anticipating and deferring to something very powerful. Scattered fat drops of cold rain relieved the tension but I still began to do very quick turn arounds to see if I was being followed. The very few birds made nervous noises as I passed and a gust loosened more rain from the high crowns.

Since there have been close encounters of the big cat kind in these woods in the recent past, some with alarming and dangerous behaviors, I have made it a habit to keep a close eye on the road or trail edge to determine if I am near a supply of deterrent rock missiles. These and strong, long downed branches are the only natural weapons that might repel a cougar stalking and attack. And a cougar that is prone to stalk and attack a human is usually a young animal. A very dangerous beast that is generally starving and willing to try anything for food.

Then I found the tracks, deep and hurried from a very recent passing cougar. Not large but very close to full grown. As usual, when close to large wild predators, I both thrilled and shuddered at the realization that I was not having panicky delusions when I sensed the presence of the top carnivore of the woods. Since I was miles from the trailhead, I proceeded to go about my planned hike to a series of cliffs and scree slopes I love to visit. My only concern was a half-mile section of trail that entered a stand of 30-year-old trees that had been planted densely and sucked most of the daylight from the stand. A perfect ambush site in the eternal dusk.

I made it through the darkness. But once out, the forest was still holding its breath. The rain increased and I was walking back along trails that I already examined thoroughly (for mushrooms, plants, birds, colors and form) on the way in, so I was moving long quickly when I saw it. It had not been on the trail on the way in. It was from today's kill - which both alarmed and settled me some because it had been gnawed to the bone (probably signifying a well-fed animal) and it had been seemingly been left on the trail purposely. I spent a moment photographing and deciding what this grotesque message meant. It could be the discard of a fleeing animal startled in its meal or it could be a wildling message that simply said, 'I know you are here; this is a token of the level of your risk. Have a nice day'.

I tend to ascribe to the later interpretation. The bulk of the kill was nowhere to be seen, the body part was fully consumed, and the placement seemed to indicate knowledge that I was headed back down and out of its realm. Indeed, it might be a blunt message with gory visuals but preferred to the alternative.

הועלה ב-ינואר 1, 2024 05:47 לפנה"צ על ידי howard7 howard7 | 0 תגובות | הוספת תגובה

פברואר 24, 2019

Finley National Wildlife Refuge OR

I birded Finley Road through the waning of a silver afternoon. At the deck the bean goose was next to a snow goose and several duskies and I swear that the bill glow spot had a hidden battery brightening to fluorescent orange. Two tree swallows took a quick survey loop of the prairie and moved on. The usual spots of rough-legged balls in the trees have diminished in number but I did manage to find one so far to the south it could be in Monroe in 2 minutes. A greater scaup was in the small pond adjacent to the venerable oaks that shelter the road just west of the Bently overlook.

My last stop was at the pond in front of the HQ. Rain spotted my optics and a tele call distracted my focus. Long call ended, it was dusky when I turned the key and realized I had sat with the lights on for too long. Swirls of rain reached under the hood as I tried my jumpstart device which turned out to be worthless. Light was slipping down and following the rain into the ditches. I called AAA and after all the recorded menu/ads I got as far as telling the operator that I had a battery issue and the phone died. The rain got serious. I figured that some late-to-leave birder or passing local would be by soon enough. The night was in full bloom when I decided I better get to Bellfountain Road to try and catch a passing vehicle. I did consider the HQ but it was very quiet and I had not seen any activity at all during the hours had it in view.

The first driver's reaction to me on the dark stretch of road, waving both arms, was a stutter in speed then a definite acceleration as they passed. A great horned owl telegraph passed word of my failure - I could discern at least 2 birds from very distant and separate locations. The tundra swans could also be heard when the downpour momentarily relented. I had seen and heard trumpeters (7) on Cabell earlier but they were not audible in the long dark. Folks in the second vehicle were not interested in jumping my battery (I carry cables) but they did stop and did let me use their phone. AAA gave me the old-within-an-hour guess and I tried to dry the phone somewhat before handing it back but I was so wet I made it worse. Very hearty thanks were given and I was soon on my way back to my rig through the stygian oaks. The roadside ditches enhanced my ability to navigate blind because when I got off course I could tell by the rushing chatter I needed to change course.

Driving through angry rain, wipers frantic to keep up, the heater blasting, I towel off the windows to see. The road surface swimming, speed had to be watched to avoid hydroplaning.

What a night.

הועלה ב-פברואר 24, 2019 06:21 אחה"צ על ידי howard7 howard7 | 0 תגובות | הוספת תגובה

ספטמבר 7, 2018

Fires of Autumn

Each step carries me deeper into the lilting light. Webs festoon the trees and glint off the grasses. It is a noisy walk with each step crackling and insects frantically zipping about. They are pushed by an awareness of the cool damp of the morn replaced with the heat of the autumn afternoon. Butterflies are determined and flap with vigor and resolve. Birds are moving, gathering, and leaving. I long to hit the road with them, to be free.

The pathways all seem in dreamstate with hazy pastels tumbled together like spilled paints. The long summer is winding down and a melancholy reaches across the landscape. The sun picks out yellows of the senescent vegetation and short winds flip up small dust devils. The sky is metallic at the edges and grows into a light cerulean cap above.

The aching sadness of September light reminds me of watching a child grow. They are both so perfect each moment.

הועלה ב-ספטמבר 7, 2018 10:11 אחה"צ על ידי howard7 howard7 | 0 תגובות | הוספת תגובה

מרץ 19, 2018

Safari on Muddy Creek mid-May

Fat clouds spewed a few big wet ones then quit, dropped as if made of pewter, and underwent a reformation that filled the air with lacy mist. Swallows seemed to be enjoying the moist as they adjusted altitude to just above the waist-high forb forest. Which was loaded with odonates waiting patiently for the great orb to tear loose and stoke their inner fire. But I disturbed them as I broke trail through the wetland lush and inadvertently became the swallows' beater. Striped meadowhawks (mostly) flew up out the veg and as they leveled off SNAP they were gone. Tree swallows, plus cliff, with a few barn thrown in, swooped directly in front of me and did not miss as they circled and dropped like dive bombers out of their cloud of doom.

I was stalking big game (at least in the birding world) as there was a dowitcher hanging at the edge of open water that I had been playing with for the last week and today put it down as a long-billed. Which is somewhat comical because the visit before last I had heard it talk and it was definitely a short-billed. The old switcheroo.

I moved into the forest of twisted-branch fresh-leaved oaks that line the creek; the sound of the wind dropped and was replaced with white-breasted nuthatch and pacific-slope flycatcher laying down a lonesome soundtrack. Not quite a gallery forest - more of a dark, lichen festooned haunted forest. Western wood peewee called across openings in the canopy and swifts joined the swallows at the top of the canopy where an emerging hatch of protein was available. I detected an anomaly and took a pic to confirm that there was a hatchling olive-sided flycatcher out on a bare limb doing plumage maintenance – early youngun.

Tanagers and thrush thriped and whitted while brilliant chunks of lemon goldfinch worked the edge. On moving back out under the sky and through the jungle of delicate eleocharis I stumbled on 2 families of Canada Goose with 5 and 6, respectively, downy young – sticking together and the adults doing the goose rendition of flattened fowl - they moved slow and quiet into sparse cover and willed me not to see them.

On the Serengeti portion (the prairie upland) I heard something that brought me to a full stop. It took some stalking and listening and more stalking and then the wind borne edge of perception brought me a strong snatch of the legendary and highly valued (at least by me) insect song of the grasshopper sparrow.

הועלה ב-מרץ 19, 2018 08:05 אחה"צ על ידי howard7 howard7 | 2 תצפיות | 0 תגובות | הוספת תגובה