Monday, September 23, 2013

The canyons are alive with the songs and activity of fall

Summer weather still continues with blue skies and temperatures in the mid 80s. There is something very intense about this high altitude sun. We hear the highs next week are supposed to be in the 60s- the fall weather will be welcomed.

With our time drawing to  a close here we are trying to balance our work and exploration:)

9/12- Thursday

There is a volunteer group coming from Portland  this weekend (30 volunteers) so we are trying to get prepared. There will be 5 or 6 groups for 5 or 6 projects. Bob and I will be leading a group to remove old fence and do some fence modifications to remove the bottom mesh that impedes the passage of critters like the elk and deer. ( as I write this at 5:30 am the elk and coyotes are singing their morning song. We have been seeing the elk and hearing their bugling more frequently)

First M& J gave us a lesson on fencing modification techniques. Then we  spent some time collecting rock from behind Summer Camp for the new patio ( the area outside the Dr 's House has little rocks that get dragged in in everyone's shoes - the rock patio will help to alleviate this. )

After lunch we hiked up Canyon Vista Trail- what a sweet treat- elk singing- birds feeding - views galore.  

Here are a few of the large bulls that were bugling

Does anyone know who's nest this might be? It has a very neat mud bowl inside of the grass nest. My nest book did not show anything similar. It was very close to a magpie nest?

9/13 Friday

Another beautiful morning on the prairie. After our yoga/breakfast- we went for a short bird walk behind Summer Camp- see photos below:

Savannah Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow bathing

Beautiful Dragonfly

We then headed off to finish up a fence boundary marking project we had started  earlier in the week.
I have been swinging the hammer a bit more lately

After that we worked on the patio and getting things ready for the work weekend volunteers. They started trickling in around 2pm. The final folks in the TNC van arrived around 11 pm - well after I was in bed- 26 in all!

9/14 Saturday

26 volunteers is the biggest work party TNC has had at Zumwalt and they did an excellent job at pulling things together. 

Bob & I headed off with our team around 8:30 to remove old fencing (barbed wire & fence posts) that had been abandoned in place causing a hazard for the various critters living out there. Luckily we had an incredible team and great leader from TNC, Andrew, because dealing with barbed wire in knots on the prairie is like wrestling a porcupine :) We worked all day with a break for lunch and look at the fruits of our efforts!  
The Coyote Barbed Wire Gang

Worked continues on the patio project

One of the most rewarding projects yet- getting that stuff off the prairie- you could see all the fresh Elk droppings around the area we were working - now they can graze freely with out getting caught up in old fencing. 

We came back and had grilled burgers and salad and all sorts of goodies which included this amazing sunset

9/15 Sunday
Bob lead a bird walk behind Summer Camp for those interested. We then helped Justin to prepare an area on Saddle Butte for the upcoming prescribed burn. Planned burning is one of the tools that TNC is using to help re-establish the natural balance of the prairie. We ran into a mixed flock of birds such as Pygmy nuthatches, chickadees and even a Red-naped Sapsucker.

This is a view of the area of the prescribed burn

9/16- Monday
We took the day off - we had a beautiful day to hike Camp Creek Canyon behind Summer Camp. This is the area we take our morning walks but since we are birding we never get too far. We figured we would take the better part of a day and try to get farther along into the 12 mile canyon. I think we went around 4 miles in this time. It is challenging to cover distance while birding.

An Anna's Hummingbird nest

Black-capped Chickadee

These young mule deer are very interested in us

The following is a series of a Rock Wren eating a moth- it was quite a production:)

This is the lucky Rock Wren- we seem to consistently see it above the lucky horse shoe

Camp Creek Canyon- the start

Can you see what the elk do to the trees with their racks?

We were seeing our usual cast of characters such as Song Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Yellow- rumped Warblers,Rock Wrens & then we heard a new call. It ended up being a Canyon Wren! 

This is a new bird for us. We heard it calling 3 times but could not see it and then on our way back it appeared in this stream in front of us calling and dancing away:) the photo is a bit dark but it was sweet to get such a good long look at this colorful wren.

9/17 Tuesday
We went to Pine Creek Gulch to work on repairing 2 Aspen exclosures & a non-Aspen exclosure. Again they monitor various habitats as to their status when cows, elk and deer are prevented from browsing in there.

I love this area with the variety of trees and elevations with the creek running through. We saw and heard a few birds which included a MacGillivray's Warbler and a Ruby-crowned kinglet and 2 Townsend's Solitaires. I did not have my camera but here are a few photos of the birds seen in the Rogue Valley
MacGillivray's Warbler

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

We worked from 9-3 and got home just before a big cold front and rain storm hit. We made it in just in time and were snug as a bug in a rug in Skak3. We had a late lunch, read and hit the hay early. 

9/18 Wednesday

Well- fall is here!! we woke up to chilly temperatures in the high 30s low 40s. We pulled barbed wire out of Pine Gulch and birded a bit-it was chilly out

                                             Bob getting the wire unloaded

The birds are changing- vesper sparrows are going to southern US and Mexico,  Ruby-Crowned Kinglets are here- we saw quite a few. These are quick birds that can be hard to get a look at- it is especially rewarding when you get to see their ruby crown.

We tagged along a field trip with a Range Management class from University of Idaho. It was amazing! The TNC Biologist, Rob, was our leader. He took the group to a number of exclosures that are used to monitor various experiments such as preventing browsing of cows, deer, elk and results of fire on habitat. One of the goals is the reintroduction of the Sharp-tailed Grouse which needs high grasses and shrubs (that now get eaten by cows etc) Wire fencing is also a problem because the grouse do not see the fences and they fly into them and die so the type of fencing used to protect the shrubs  is critical.

A healthy Aspen exclosure

One of the theories of why the elk populations have been growing at an exponential rate is the availability of water.  After WWII the ranchers started building stock ponds with their bulldozers. It is thought that historically the elk would leave the prairie in the late summer/ early fall as the water sources disappeared. With the advent of the stock ponds they began hanging around all year and this has resulted on their heavy browsing on the shrubs and trees that provide habitat to other critters. Just a theory though:) We actually think that the elk have found a sanctuary in the TNC Zumwalt Prairie Preserve.

We ended the day with sunsets, alpen glow and our first and only fire  in the pit with a full moon!

9/19 Thursday

We took a day off to drive along the Imnaha River. The day started out very chilly. I had to warm up the truck to defrost the windshield. It was one of those special mornings that we could see the full moon setting as the sun was rising. 

We had quite a few wonderful looks at some birds on the road leaving camp. The early morning light was perfect and we even got some pretty good looks of a pair of Horned Larks which love the open prairie. 

American Pipit

Vesper Sparrow (there are still a few around)

Western Meadowlark singing his morning song

Looking Dashing

A pair of Horned Larks having fun below:

Below a Kestrel feeds on a grasshopper

It was a beautiful drive- our favorite area was a little side road that took us into a healthy forest along side the Imnaha River that leads into the Eagle Cap Wilderness area. We will be back here- there were some amazing spots to camp. 

9/20 Friday

We had a beautiful fall day. In the morning a flock 36+ ravens flying over our heads!! They were in loose groups ranging from 2 to 8- that was a first !

We worked on removing a section of wire woven fence that prevents animals of any size from from getting under the barbed wire. That includes baby deer and elk. 

We took a walk in the back in the evening and were lucky to meet this badger! I think he was curious about the clicking of my camera. 

The American Badger is nocturnal for the most part and difficult to see. They are part of the weasel / otter family.  Their large holes are all over the place- you need to be very careful not to step into one. My research indicates among other things they love rattlesnakes. That possibly explains why we have not seen a single rattler?

9/21 Saturday- fall equinox & fall is here!

The morning was a bit blustery so we decided to climb up the nearby Harsin Butte. It is one of the tallest points around with amazing views. 

Life on the way up to the top

What colors

The canyons are alive

We took a route through the pines. You could see and smell that there had just been a large herd of elk in there. We were lucky enough to come upon a mixed flock of Ruby-crowned & Golden-crowned Kinglets, Mountain Chickadees, Yellow-rumped Warblers to name a few. We even had a great view of a Golden Eagle hunting as we were taking in the incredible views of this big country. There  were massive herds of elk in every direction we looked. 

After lunch we took a drive up behind Summer Camp to the Monument area- amazing! Here it is in our back yard and we had not been up here yet. It has incredible views of Camp Creek Canyon - Harsin, Findley & Saddle Buttes. Both of these trips today have helped put various locations in the area into perspective. On our way up as we were watching the Kestrels munch on grasshoppers we spied that group of 30+ Ravens hanging out ( we assume they are also feeding on the many grasshoppers). We ended up parking and walking to an overlook of Camp Creek Canyon to avoid disturbing the many elk around us.  We then came upon a large group of grouse that we spooked. Unfortunately we did not get a good enough look at them. We also scared up one lone Wilson's Snipe at the edge of a stock pond. 

Check out this little house on the prairie - it has a view overlooking Camp Creek Canyon!

View of Camp Creek Canyon from Monument area below

We came upon this Horned Lark munching away on seeds in the road and a Say's Phoebe admiring the view

Here is a view of Summer Camp coming back down from Monument. 

We are surely going to miss this place - we have never seen such wildlife and beauty in one area. Thank goodness that TNC is preserving and protecting this special place .

PS- the last fledging Barn Swallows:)

9/22 Sunday 

Well the ZPP gang met us at Terminal Gravity (the local pub) for a few beverages & lots of laughs & farewells:) What a great group of folks. We will be forever grateful for the opportunity they afforded us to be introduced to the magic of the Zumwalt Prairie:)

Off we went back into civilization (La Grande) take care of a few Shak3 items. More to come as we resolve outstanding issues. I will tell you we are learning about all the nooks and crannies of Shak3!

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