Thursday, April 30, 2020

Backyard Owls 2020 - Post 1

Are you ready for some owl photos? I hope so, because I have more than a few to share!

 Two years ago, we were delighted when we found a nesting Great Horned Owl in our backyard silver poplar tree. We watched as the chicks progressed and eventually left. Last year we watched the trees in hope of a repeat show, but the owls did not choose that tree. Then this year, on April 8, I noticed an owl in the tree. I kept checking on her, finding her sitting different ways.

With our stay-at-home orders, I was in awe of this mom who could really stay at home...


..or shine.

Sometimes she just looked so tired.

 I could tell one day that she was doing something in her nest, and my guess was feeding young, but I couldn't see them. Finally, on April 25, I saw a little bit of white down. A chick had hatched! I was so excited!
I started observing more. The owls are about 25 feet up in the tree, and I can get the best views up into the tree crotch from about 80 to 90 feet away, so I use binoculars or my 400mm lens on my crop sensor camera. For these photos, after I downloaded them I cropped them to make the owls bigger. So you are looking at lots of magnification, much better than you can see with your naked eye.

Here's another little peek at white fluffiness.

Then mama owl got down low to her young.

Those eyes!

I wish I knew what she was doing here.

And then she gave me a peeved look.

Later came a more coquettish look.

And then just a sleepy look.

Showing off her tail feathers. Mama owl, I really want to see your babies!

Mama owl was not in any hurry to show me her babies. But she did give me lots of other looks.

 And then, finally, today on 30 April 2020, I saw two young! I did such a happy dance. More photos to come...

Monday, April 20, 2020

Backyard Birds--The Thing To Do in Spring 2020!

For years we've been keeping track of the bird species we see in our backyard (here's our list for 2019).  This year, it turns out, we have even more time to look around our yard to see what's there. All this stay-at-home time means we are trying to #exploreourbackyard even more.

These two geese have been hanging out lately. It's not common to have Canada geese right near our yard, but they seem to be going all over town. By the way, anything you can see or hear from your yard counts. eBird is encouraging folks to record what they see in their yard.

We do have some non-native species that are nearly always present. One is Eurasian Collared Dove. They arrived about ten years ago. Now we hardly every see Mourning Doves.

Another non-native is European Starling. They're actually very pretty birds, but they make a lot of noise.

Fortunately we have a lot of native species, too. As the trees have started budding, we've had flocks of goldfinches and pine siskins visit the yard. The pine siskins make a zipping sound that is very distinctive.

About a week ago, I saw the first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season. They're a good sign that summer will be arriving soon. This one looked a little confused.

Soon after I saw something that made me extremely happy...a Great Horned Owl in one of our poplar trees. Two years ago, she and her mate used this tree for a nest, but last year they didn't. I'm so glad they're back, especially this year. When I think I'm having a hard time being a mom, I go out and look at her. She's there rain or shine, night or day, cold or hot. She has stay-at-home mastered. While her mate will come and give her little breaks, she is there most of the time. It takes her 30-37 days to incubate the eggs, and then about 45 days to raise the chicks.

I'm not so good with staying-at-home, I like to wander. So sometimes I take little walks. Not far from the house, I saw these two birds, a Brewer's Blackbird on the fencepost and a European Starling landing on the barbed wire. I liked how the tail feathers were spread out.

I was later able to photograph a lone Brewer's Blackbird on a set of posts.

We hear Western Meadowlarks all the time, and they sound so close, but they are usually so far away. And when I get anywhere close, they fly off. The yellow chest is especially bright now during breeding time.

I found a couple White-crowned Sparrows in a bush. There were many others, but they flew off!

And then I found this sparrow sitting calmly on some rabbitbrush. So many sparrows dive into bushes that I couldn't believe my luck. I think it's a Sage Sparrow.

Okay, back to the owl. Did I mention how much I like these owls? :)

I really liked this photo of an American robin on the garden fence.

While I was checking on the owl, I saw little birds hopping around in the grass. Turned out they were goldfinches!

Okay, one more of the owl!
The weather is looking great for the next week, so I'm hoping to spend even more time outside. I'm looking forward to observing the lives of birds. Even though we humans aren't traveling much, the birds don't have such restrictions (except for those already nesting!), and it's so fun to think about where they might have spent the winter and what they might have seen on the way back from their warmer refuges. Bird watching is such a great hobby! If you need help identifying birds, try out The Cornell Lab All About Birding or the Audubon Guide to North American Birds.

Happy birding!
UPDATE: I just learned Great Basin Bird Observatory is having a Bird-a-thon May 1-17!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Hiking Sacramento Pass Trails in White Pine County

It was spring break, and we needed to get out of the house! Fortunately we live in a county where the population density is 1.1 people per square mile. We wanted to hike on a trail, so we headed to Sacramento Pass Trails on Highway 6 & 50, about 15 minutes northwest of Baker, Nevada. These trails were developed as part of a SNPLMA project and are some of the most overlooked trails around. Here are previous posts about mountain biking, trail running, and camping.

The kids were eager to go for a hike. That's when I knew what a toll all this social distancing is on them. They usually groan and complain, but they were quite ready to get out of the house, even when I said we were going to do a two-hour hike.

We drove to the upper trailhead and started on the Sac Pass Trail. The views were fantastic.

Then we took the Lucky Boy Trail to the junction of the Mine Shaft Trail and took that.

The Mine Shaft Trail heads to the east and goes around a long, rocky knoll. Our plan was to do part of it and take a shortcut back.

I was expecting a lot of wildflowers, but we didn't see that many blooming. We did see a lot of this phlox, which I think is grayleaf phlox (Phlox griseola). I've uploaded it to iNaturalist, but haven't gotten a confirmation yet.

The leaves are very grey, and the flowers extend a bit from corolla tubes (I think that's the right terminology). 

After a bit, we reached the loop of the Mine Shaft Trail. I convinced the kids to stop and smile.

We continued on a bit, going over a pass and onto the east side, where we could see the curving highway. Off on the distant hills, I could see...

 ...the scattered patches of lighter color. These used to be nicknamed the "silver dollars." When gophers or harvester ants disturbed the surrounding vegetation, winterfat would grow. However, when cheatgrass invaded the area, it took over many of the silver dollar circles. From closeup, the patches don't look very circular or even all that noticeable. But from afar, you sure can see a pattern.

 While we were hiking, the kids came up with a survival game. They picked different locations, like a deserted South Pacific island or the Sahara Dunes, and we each got to choose seven things we would bring with us to survive. It was quite entertaining as we considered different items.

When we got near the balanced rock and the wash, I suggested we take the shortcut. The kids readily agreed.

Going up the wash was a little trickier than I had thought. Of course we weren't looking for the easiest route, but the funnest route!

The kids are in the photo below for scale--these rocks are big!

It didn't take too long to emerge on the west side. 

I suggested we take a break and play on the rocks.

As we climbed higher, we got some good views.

It was such a nice place to scamper.

Eventually we decided it was time to head back. We decided to bushwhack. It was easy at first, through sagebrush, then a little more complicated through pinyon-juniper, but none of it was hard.

And along the way we even saw another wildflower, dwarf lousewart (Pedicularis centranthera).
In the next few weeks, hiking Sac Pass Trails should be ideal. They are currently snow-free, and even more wildflowers will be blooming. Take some water, as there is none available. And you're likely not to see anyone else, so take anything else you might need. It's a great getaway! As the temps rise, the trails will get hot in the middle of the day, so early and late in the day will be more desirable.
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