Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snowshoe Trails at Swampy Sno Park

There are two snowshoe trails at the Swampy Sno Park outside of Bend, Oregon. The Porcupine Snowshoe Loop strikes out from the trailhead to the Swampy Shelter, while the other loop heads to the Nordeen Shelter. Both are excellent loops for beginners to intermediate snowshoers, although there is about 300 feet of elevation gain along the eastern return portion of the Porcupine Loop trail as one climbs up and then down Telemark Butte. The Nordeen Loop is relatively level with minimal elevation gain.

Snowshoe trail markers along the Porcupine Snowshoe Loop

Nordeen Shelter
The Nordeen Shelter, rebuilt in 2007, honors Emil Nordeen a Central Oregon ski pioneer. The Swampy Shelter, built in 1980, is a bit more rustic.

Listed mileages for the two loops are: Porcupine 4.0 miles round trip and Nordeen 5.25 miles round trip.

Don't forget your Oregon Sno Park permit for parking at this trailhead!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Winter Walk

Snow lays heavy in the Oregon Cascades. Seems like for the past several weeks we've gotten snow every day, but that is fine when I'm wanting a wintry walk.

Recently constructed Meissner shelter

Strapping on the snowshoes or skis, just being out is the goal. Several of the local Sno Parks have groomed nordic trails, thanks to the Tumalo Langlauf Club. But more than once I've had to break trail through deep powder in my snowshoes.

Meissner area trailhead
Took my Central Oregon Community College Continuing Learning class up to the Meissner Shelter last week. The trail was well stomped down from the weekend traffic, which made the first time outing easy. Perhaps this week's trip to the Nordeen Shelter will be a bit different with the snowfalls occurring after the weekend traffic has departed.

Snowshoer icon marks the trail
Stay tuned....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Week Two...

...of NaNoWriMo and I'm plugging away. I have great respect for novelists and the work that goes into crafting a story. Just the dedication to write every day is amazing. In reality, I don't expect to complete a manuscript during this month. But if I end up 15,000 words ahead of where I started - zero - then I have to consider some success.

H.O.W.L. stands for Help Our Wolves Live, a fictional, but edgy advocacy group skirting the boundaries of state and federal regulations in order to reunite wolves with their former haunts. Backed by a wealthy individual, H.O.W.L. employs one field biologist, a former state biologist who lost his job during a melee at a public hearing. Or at least so the story goes....

Monday, November 1, 2010

November is ...

...NaNoWriMo. Say what? National Novel Writing Month. It is a nose-to-the-keyboard invitation to get one's story out. The goal is to write at least a 175-page, 50 thousand word novel. Procrastinators need not apply.

So where does that leave me? I'm a pro at crastinating. It's Use All Your Fingers On Your Keyboard Day, so I'm off and typing. Well, almost. I do have a working title, but I don't think that counts towards the word total: H.O.W.L. There it is. Hopefully with a streak of luck never before seen on this screen, in thirty days I'll be able to see that magical 50,000 under "word count." 

Check it -  And like the over-hyped commerical says, "Just do it." Better brew up another batch of that Strictly Organic Italian Roast...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Change of Pace

With the hiking classes done for the season, I have to reflect on where I've been and where the heck I am headed. Teaching for COCC's Community Learning program provides me with a bit of employment while enjoying the outdoors. Although I look forward to winter's snowshoeing classes, I'm trying to get back on the writing track.

I have a few projects lined up: rewrite for Canyon Country Wildflowers, monthly articles for the Moab Happenings, and a few other articles. Mostly I hope to work on several book projects, one that involves doing a Big County Year.

A Big Year is a birder's attempt to see numerous species in one geographic area, like North America. A huge undertaking in both time and finances, a Big Year birder can surpass 700 species during a good year. Of course, there are other Big Years on a smaller scale, and that is what I'll be shooting, uh birding, for.

I'll be keeping an updated tally, although my goal is not so much the final number, but rather getting to know the birds in Deschutes County better. Some for the first time. I'm going to keep a log and blog about my adventures, separate yard birds from those observed in the field, and keep tabs on the avian happenings around this Bend.

Stay tuned...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Quail Invasion

Our backyard is haven to many birds. Siskins, nuthatches, chickadees, great horned owls, western scrub jays, evening grosbeaks, red crossbills, and hairy woodpeckers are just some of the more recent regulars showing up at the feeders. But the real stars are the California quail.

They come in small family groups of 8 to 12 birds. Several adults accompany their broods; the males act as sentries while the rest feed. Some groups have different ages of juveniles, a testament to the covey mentality of the species.

The birds appear any time of the day, although early mornings and mid-afternoons seem the best. Attracted by the dove and quail feed that we spread on the ground and in some platform feeders, the quail keep their heads down and rapid-fire peck at the seeds.

California quail nest in our backyard

The sentry male

Another backyard male

Different aged fledglings

Up and over the fence
If we startle the covey, they burst for cover in the nearby junipers or clear the fences and descend into a neighbor's yard. But I know they will be back for another foraging round.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Return of the Vaux's...

...swifts. Named "swifts" for good reason. These aerial acrobats zip about the sky snagging insects on the fly and, amazingly, not colliding with each other.
Vaux's swifts getting ready to roost in the chimney.

During spring and fall migration these swifts make a stopover here in Bend, roosting in the Christmas Presence house on Harriman Avenue. It is great fun to sit in the back of the pickup and watch as they birds cruise, swoop, dart, then descend into the chimney to roost.

The other night we counted 75 birds entering the chimney within about 25 minutes. Unfortunately, we had to depart before the show was over; another 25 or so birds were circling. I found out through COBOL (Central Oregon Birders On-Line) that the next night over 225 birds crammed into the chimney. And more may have entered in the early dusk.

Vaux's swifts in Bend, Oregon

Although I haven't been to some of the larger sites in the Willamette Valley, I am starting work on some articles about these creatures. Here are some photos, shot at very high speed, showing these aerialists.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Registration for fall classes... now underway with the Central Oregon Community College's Community Learning program. I'll be leading two hiking classes this fall - exploring the Cascade Mountains and the Three Sisters Wilderness. Hikes for the Cascade Mountain course will cover 5-7 miles; hikes in the Three Sisters will be 8-10 miles in length.

Fall is a great time to get out into the mountains and catch the seasonal changes. Of course, there is also the possibility of some chilly weather, so dress accordingly!

I'll also be leading a snowshoe class that starts in December. Hopefully, Indian summer will last into November, then dissolve into flurries of snow. Of course, there is the threat of some warm weather, so pray for snow!

For more information or to register for classes, visit

Monday, August 23, 2010

Slinging out of Summer...

...and into autumn already? Last night's cold left some frost on the neighbor's roof. Yikes. Too soon.

I'll be complimenting some writing with teaching courses for the Central Oregon Community College's Continuing Learning program and the Brown Bag Lunch & Learn series for the Bend Parks and Rec. The program with BPR will focus on raptors of central Oregon, while the courses with COCC will be two different hiking classes. The courses will explore some of the high Cascade country while it is still snow free. Looking forward to them all.

Submitted my monthly Moab Happenings article today. "September in the Oaks" takes a look at Gambel's oak (Quercus gambelii) named after William Gambel. Gambel was a naturalist who collected plants in the Sante Fe area and on his way to California. After returning to the east where he received a medical degrees, Gambel set out for California again. Unfortunately, while aiding some sick miners in the Sierras Gambel contracted typhoid fever and died at the too-young age of 28. Check out that article and others on the Moab Happenings link. Cheers.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Canyon Country Wildflowers

Canyon Country Wildflowers

The wildflower display in southern Utah was incredible this year. Thanks to an El Nino fall and winter, the desert exploded with flowers. Some had not been seen for years, others just came on in abundance. Unfortunately, my Canyon Country Wildflowers field guide was unavailable from the Globe Pequot Press. Staff changes at GPP and the book entering the reprinting cycle resulted in copies not being available. Fortunately, the reprint process is underway and I'll be making changes and additions to the book. That being said, I don't know when the release date for the revised edition will be. But, I am crossing my fingers that there are a few more El Nino years ahead!

La Sal Mountains outside of Moab, Utah
Sego Lily - State Flower of Utah

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Down River...

...and in the canyons of southern Utah. Spectacular. Awesome. Familiar. Landscape that I once knew so well.

Wildflowers abounded in the Moab area; a product of winter snowfall and spring rain. Probably the best bloom in over thirty years. Species unseen for years now in full regalia. Fields of wildflowers cloaking the desert, and I was only there towards the end. Hopefully some of the photos taken will go into the new and revised edition of Canyon Country Wildflowers due out sometime in Spring of 2011.

But it wasn't just the endless blooms and verdant desert that held my interest. Interrupting the heat of summer was a cold front straight from the Arctic. The almost-bare La Sal Mountains got more than dusted with a June snowstorm - either the first snow of the season or a very late spring storm depending upon your perspective. Many Moabites were not thrilled at the idea of winter returning; many swore they would not complain about the summer sun if winter would only cease. Reminds me of a David Lee poem, Ugly, where the farmers sacrifice half-wit sons, farm animals, and furniture to try and stop the rains. But what changed the weather? "She was a good wife."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Woodpeckers Part Two

I live fairly close to a cinder cone named Bessie Butte. Besides being a great vantage point to view the Oregon Cascades, this area is a good place to look for woodpeckers. Not because of the volcanic origin, but because of the 18 Fire that swept through here years ago.

That fire burned through the ponderosa forest surrounding the butte. Many of the snags became perforated with woodpecker cavities, and today, as the shrubby vegetation returns, there is a good diversity of "woodies" pounding away for insects.

Black-backs, hairies, downies, Lewis's and northern flickers are the more common woodpeckers to be seen. There are even some nest boxes out for the Lewis's - a project under the auspices of the East Cascades Audubon Society.

So, early last week I drove out to the burn, watched the activity level of the woodpeckers present, then stationed myself near a cavity that some Lewis's were using. Or at least considering to occupy. A pair of adults kept appearing at the hole, but without any prey. I deduced the nest was not yet active. A third Lewis's sent the first two into a tizzy; the posturing and calling increased until the unwanted quest departed.

I was after some woodpecker images to send in with my monthly Nature Happenings article in the Moab Happenings magazine. So after shooting some pictures of the Lewis's, I hunted around for some hairy woodpeckers, as well. I found some cooperative subjects and now look forward to returning to the burn to search for their nest site. Maybe I'll pound out an article on the hairies...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Getting Out to Bird

The past few weeks have been great for birdwatching here in Central Oregon. Since I'm teaching a Beginning Birdwatching course through the Central Oregon Community College's Community Learning program, I've been scouting locations, taking field trips and birdwatching a lot more.

Most notable have been the woodpeckers. I've been able to locate quite a few of our resident woodies and have observed nest site activity that I'll check during the season. One tree had Williamson sapsuckers, mountain bluebirds and pygmy nuthatches competing for spots. At Shevlin Park here in Bend, the class located a pair of red-breasted sapsuckers working on a nest cavity while a Lewis's woodpecker "churred" in the distance. Then there were the hairies and white-headed woodpeckers we observed while picking morels in a middle-aged burn up near Camp Sherman on Mother's Day. And, of course, I can't forget the black-backed, downy and numerous flickers that were out near Bessie Butte.

I've also had great success with the evening grosbeaks finally visiting my platform feeder. All winter they taunted me from the treetops, but now they are regulars at the feeder. Almost too regular; the 25 pound bag of unshelled sunflower seeds is quickly draining. With over 100 birds in the vicinity this morning, I'd better get another bag....

Another grosbeak, the black-headed, also put on a show for the birding class at Shevlin Park. Though I had just started to hear them at my house the day before the field trip, it was nice to see several pairs working over the willows at Shevlin.

Throw in some warblers, gray flycatchers, unknown Epidonax ones and a bunch of the "regulars," this has been a great week for birds. The class and birdwatching time has also prompted me to write some articles on the subject - a nice end to a great week.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Woodpecker Wonderland

I live in the land of woodpeckers. Recent trips out into nearby burnt forests have revealed several different species: Lewis', black-backed, hairy, downy, and northern flicker. In another section of the same woodlands that has not been burned in the past fifty years, I came across Williamson sapsuckers dueling with Western bluebirds and pygmy nuthatches over nest cavities. If I headed north to Sisters and the GW Burn, I could add white-headeds, American three-toeds and others to this list. All within a 40-mile radius of home.

For those of you unfamiliar with Central Oregon, visit the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail Web site for a copy of the birding trail map. There is a lot of information regarding birding locations, species and directions. To compliment the map, also check out the Birding Locations In Oregon section on the East Cascades Audubon Society's site. There is a wealth of information on local birding spots to peruse.

Best birding to you!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Day Past Earth Day

This ole world just keeps on spinning.

Spent the morning leading a bird walk for Earth Day. A little different activity than my first Earth Day 40 years ago. Back in 1970, I was in junior high and our bus driver heard our pleas to "get active for Earth Day." She stopped the bus about a mile from school, opened the door and out we went. We walked the rest of the way to school and thought "what a contribution!"

Actually, it was kind of weird and I think the driver got reprimanded. Something about safety. Later on she said that was the quietest mile she had ever driven and was worth the rebuke. Back to yesterday. Spent the morning at the Deschutes Land Trust's Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. With a small group, we scoured the willows for kinglets and warblers, but only turned up kinglets. Then we crossed the meadow to Whychus Creek and scanned the pondos for woodpeckers, jays and nuthatches.

Although we didn't encounter many species (about 30), there were some great looks at kestrel pairs, stellar Steller's jays imitating northern flickers, flickers "wicka wicking," and western bluebirds looking fine in the breeding duds. A good time was had by all.

It seemed appropriate to spend some time at a preserve that is in the process of returning Whychus Creek back into its old meandering self, complete with steelhead spawning grounds and a wet meadow holding water. The area has come full cycle from since the first Native Americans harvested fish in the creek and probably plants in the meadow. Today, the creek's restoration project is to undo past manipulations and let the creek wander across the valley floor. Now that is a contribution to Earth Day.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Natural History Writer's Vacation...

...almost sounds like an oxymoron. We go snorkeling and look at corals and reef fish, pull out the field guides, and talk about moorish idols and humu humus. Then sit on the beach and watch breaching humpback whales arc across the water. Everyone else around us is getting a tan, reading a mystery or sipping cool ones and not even aware of the whales. Me, I'm jotting down notes and figuring out some markets.

Hiking in Haleakala Crater is for fun, but out comes the camera for some non-family vacation photos. "You working?" the family asks. I refocus and get them in the picture.

Yeah, the thin line between vacations and work is marginal at best. Story ideas sneak up like sunburn and become just as evident. Plus, as my writer friend asked, how are you going to write off the trip without some work out of it? How, indeed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Birds in the Klamath Basin NWR

Snow geese and greater-white fronted geese take to flight.

Last week I spent a couple of days down at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge shooting photos and collecting ideas for some articles about the refuge. I am working on one about the photo blinds that are available for shooting images of eagles, waterfowl or songbirds. Although the blind I was hoping to use was not available, I did get to check out several others. Just missed getting some pictures of a bobcat that was about to enter blind #3.

Photo blind set up for perching raptors.

This time of year, the refuge is loaded with snow and greater-white fronted geese, bald eagles, northern harriers, northern pintails, and other waterfowl. The sandhill cranes were too far off in the fields for photography, but I could easily hear their trumpeting calls a mile away.

Pick out the pintails.

The best photo ops were in the partially flooded fields where the snows, greaters and pintails were foraging. Thousands of birds crowded into these fields. An occasional bald eagle would stir up the flocks, sending the salt-and-pepper group skyward. Using my car as a blind, I was able to shoot photos of the birds with a 400mm lens.

After their initial uproar, the flocks would circle and settle back down. This happened many times and provided some great contrasts with the lighting and backgrounds.

The other great event to watch was later in the day towards sunset. Several adult bald eagles were herding flocks of American coots into tight bunches. At least that is how it looked. The eagles seemed to be working in tandem and the rafts of coots were like black slicks on the surface. When the time was right, the eagles would descend and snatch a coot out of the group. The waterfowl were so tightly packed that the eagles probably could not miss. That eagle would peel off with a prize and another one would take the place of the successful hunter. Pretty cool behavior to watch.

Although Friday morning turned to rain and eventually snow, I was able to take advantage of a small window of light and get some more bird images. Once the skies turned dark gray, I just drove along the dikes and birdwatched. Now, I've got to blend words and images into some articles and, like the rising flocks, send them skyward.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Passport Day: March 27

Passport Day may not be high on your list of non-traditional holidays to celebrate, so maybe use it as another marker. The U.S. State Department has proposed fee increases for new or renewed passports and passport cards. The cost will jump from $100 to $135 for new passports and $10 for passport cards. Though this could happen before Passport Day, early April is the State Department's target date for the new fees.

So what does this have to do with natural history writing? Not much other than some higher costs to traveling. But on just the writing front, I've finished a couple of on-line articles about the topic so it is fresh in my skull. That and I love these weird holidays...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Visiting Arches National Park

I recently gave a presentation at the REI Bend store about visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The program was in support of my latest, and smallest, field guide Arches and Canylands National Parks Pocket Guide. I covered some of the natural and cultural history aspects of the parks, as well as hiking, biking, jeeping, rafting, and camping opportunities. Fun to do, but talks like this always make me miss the canyon country.

Although it is fun to share past experiences with folks, I look forward to "new stories." Tales of adventures not yet taken. I always have the excuse that a trip to southern Utah is "work-related." I'm sure some of you have the same reason that takes you to exotic destinations or to undertake grand adventures all in the name of "work." Here's to good excuses! Cheers.

Eagles in the Morning

Chuck Cross, co-owner of Polar Cruises, stopped by this morning to tell me about some bald eagles he had seen along a nearby road. Chuck walks his dog Rocky, AKA The Rocket, off of this road every morning. After giving me some directions, I headed out with my camera.

Fortunately, the two bald eagles were still working on a deer carcass just off the road. With them where several black-billed magpies. The magpies took advantage of the eagle's spookiness; every time a car passed the birds flew up to perches in nearby ponderosas. When they did this, the magpies swooped in and started to feed. They didn't seem as concerned about traffic and probably were being opportunistic with the eagles away.

After shooting some photos, I drove away and parked. I waited about 10 minutes to see if the eagles would return to the carcass. Only a few vehicles came by, but that was enough to keep the birds off of their easy meal. As I drove by the second time, the birds remained perched. 

The carcass was far enough off of the road to not warrant moving it. I've done that before, stopped and hauled a deer off of a road to minimize potential collisions between birds and vehicles. Gross? Of course, but then again, I'd rather not see the eagles get hit. Besides, what's a little blood and guts on a naturalist's boots? Answer: just something else from nature to investigate...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Eagle Watch 2010

The 15th annual Eagle Watch 2010 will be held at Round Butte Overlook Park at Lake Billy Chinook on February 27 and 28. In addition to the wintering eagles in the area, there will be programs on raptor identification, owls, status of the bald eagle, and a lot more. The East Cascades Audubon Society, of which I am one of the Board members, will be on hand, as well.

There willl be live birds of prey, demonstrations, kid's acitivities, and a Native American program on Sunday. Sponsored by the Oregon State Parks, this should be a "good time had by all." For more information visit the Oregon State Parks' Web site at

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Grosbeaks in my Backyard

I confess: I am easily entertained. Give me a chair, a view of my bird feeders, and a pair of binoculars and I'm good for hours.

This time of year the house finches and mourning doves dominate my seed feeders, along with the northern flickers that keep the suet feeders swinging. I lure my neighbor's American goldfinches over the fence with some thistle seed, but don't tell them.

So imagine my bliss this morning when I hear a flock of evening grosbeaks calling from the ponderosas around my house. I go back inside and scoop up some black sunflower seeds in hopes of luring these beautiful birds to my feeder.

Now imagine my disappointment when I hear the flock take to flight, their chatter fading as they leave the neighborhood. Damn.

A lull follows and that means back to work.

But that's OK. Maybe I'll work on an article about attracting back yard birds. Or perhaps one specific to this species whose "grosbeak" name doesn't indicate an ugly mug. No, the name means "large beak" and describes the stout bill of this Finch Family member.

So, I'll keep listening while I type for the grosbeak's call, and occasionally peer out the window. OK, so more frequently than occasionally, but after all, staring out the window is part of my work.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Darwin Day...

... is set for February 12, 2010. This nontraditional holiday celebrates the 200th birthday of the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

Darwin spent five years on board the HMS Beagle, which left England in 1831 for a round-the-world scientific exploration. Wherever the expedition went, Darwin studied the flora and fauna and geology of the lands he visited. What an adventure for the then twenty-two year old naturalist! A keen observer, Darwin collected numerous specimens of plants, animals and fossils, and took copious amounts of notes for further study.

Through his research, Darwin developed theories about the origins and adaptations of organisms over time. He believed that evolution occurred, but on a very gradual scale, flavored by immense periods of time. The process of natural selection was the key mechanism driving a species ability to adapt and evolve to changing environments. His 1859 publication - On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection - set forth his theories that this process occurs randomly and that the ability of an organism to survive or die was determined by that organisms ability to adapt to its environment.

Of course, publication of Darwin's theories widened the gulf between scientific thought and theology. Darwin avoided discussions about the social and theological impacts of his work; he was a scientist at heart.

So this Friday we'll hoist a pint in his honor and embrace his theories of natural selection and evolution.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wax on...

Master Waxers - Team Coach Fitzsimmons
...wax off. Apologies to Mr. Kesuke Miyagi of the Karate Kid movies. A couple of days ago I attended a ski waxing clinic at the Bend REI store. There to learn more about waxes, but during the workshop I couldn't help to think there's an article here.

As a "weekend" nordic skier, it was apparent during the workshop that I neglect my skis way too much. Maybe the first person perspective is the way to go; I'll be the first to poke fun at myself. A lot of material there.

But the one tidbit I took home, and will hopefully turn into an article, is the use of all-temperature natural waxes out there on the market. Time to do some research and craft a query or two. Of course, that will have to wait until I get back from the snow....

Friday, January 29, 2010

Teaching Classes Through COCC

Red-tailed hawk
I will be teaching a couple of classes for the Central Oregon Community College's Continuing Education program starting this spring. The Beginning Birding class will focus on learning to identify the birds of Central Oregon. Selecting optics, backyard bird feeding, habitat associations and much, much more will be topics that we cover during the four week course.

Hiking in the Spring is another four week course that will embody the phrase, "the path is the goal." I'm the type of hiker that likes to investigate tracks or other sign of animals, birdwatch, smell the roses, and generally take in the environment as I walk. I'm less of a destination hiker, but this will be a "feets on" type of class. Again, we'll cover a variety of topics from choosing a pack to wilderness areas along the trails.

Prairie falcon featherI hope to use these classes to also generate some writing ideas. Of course, I don't need much of a push to take a hike.
I'm also thinking about developing a teen and young adult writing class, which could also be a fun endeavor. This class would be in the summer. "Write on!" my parental friends say.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Another week...

...another round of queries and submissions. Sent one query to FACES for their upcoming issue on PeaceKeepers. The query involved a long list of politicians and citizens interested in forming a Department of Peace in the United States. This cabinet-level department is the current focus of H.R. 808, but it started off with Dr. Benjamin Rush and his essay published in 1792.

I submitted a query to COBBLESTONE, another magazine in the Cobblestone Publishing group. That one focused on the first regiments of African American soldiers in the American Civil War for theie '1863: A Year in the Civil War' upcoming issue. A true tale of bravery and tragedy.

The next query went to Highlights for Children. I have been trying to interview Jacoby Ellsbury, outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, since he left Oregon State University for the Major Leagues. After contacting the Red Sox organization, I learned that I needed an "assignment" from a magazine to schedule the interview. The story of getting an interview is a story unto itself.

Jacoby Ellsbury

I sent an article to World Traveler about the central Oregon Coast, complete with salt spray and shrieking seagulls. Another article went to on California quail and the lessons I've learned from watching the birds in my backyard.

I submitted another bird article for my February 'Nature Happenings' in the Moab Happenings. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will celebrate Bald Eagle Day on February 7 and 14, 2010, but you have to "upstate" to see any large congregations of eagles. However, there are eagles around the Moab area as indicated by this sign in the Cisco Desert:

Eagles On Hwy

I also went fishing for some elk stories and may have landed a good one. I'm targeting Bugle for a telemetry project, but have to make a few more contacts before that story sees the "ink of day."

Of course, there is more. At least this might placate my family that I do work during the week. Even if they don't really believe writing is work. Fun, yes. Work, for sure.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Quail's Lesson

California quail
California quail
California quail
I don't want to anthropomorphize wild animals, but as I watch the male California quail in my yard, I often think I can learn a lesson or two from these feathered fathers.

During the winter, the males and females descend into our yard to feed. Heads down, feet scratching the dirt for seeds, one male tends to look up more than the others. Keeping an eye out for predators, he is the group's sentry for safety.

As winter melts into spring, these groups disband. Pair bonding means establishing breeding territories, and the males discourage others from moving in on their turf.

Later in the breeding season, the female incubates the load of eggs deposited in a ground nest hidden beneath some shrubbery. The male maintains a nearby vigilance. If the female should die for some reason, the male will take over the incubating duties.

When the ping-pong ball sized young hatch, they are ready to run in about an hour. Both the female and male herd their offspring with soft clucks and calls. The male often assumes an elevated perch, to scan for danger and to keep an eye on his flock. If one of the young dawdles or wanders in the wrong direction, he gives a "get back over here" call.

Later in the fledgling season, this elevated perch is our fence. As the male surveys the domain and tries to negotiate moving along the fence top, he will give the all clear signal when appropriate. First one, then another, then the rest of the young birds fly up to the fence top, often accompanied by some collision antics. After the young and female descend to the ground, the male is still in his sentry position.

And so it goes, season after season. Although color-banding some of the males would be a time-consuming process, it would be fun to see if the same adults return to our yard. I guess I'll just have to be content with the lesson of the male quail and adapt his approach to my own life.

Side note. I have sent an article about California quail to DesertUSA ( for their review. If interested in the American Southwest, check out their Web site. Although you can't search by "author," you'll see that I have written several articles for them on wildflowers and wildlife.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A New Year...

gray whale

...which means new opportunities, new dreams, new adventures. There is a story in every moment, every person, every event. The question is how to weave those bits into a tale, into an article, into a book. That is the path that I am traveling along this year. I will post pieces as they arise, in draft form or in final print. I'm working on articles about California quail, the Adopt-A-Lek program, a Major League Baseball player, my deceased dog, gray whales, and Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signors of the Declaration of Independence and the first American to publicly suggest that a Department of Peace be created in the United States in 1792. Interesting? I know so, even if I'm the only one in the audience.

Whale Watching Spoken Here
Here's to a bit of luck in all our adventures!