Some samples from my Field Journals...
Winter Field Notes - Reflections by Heather Murphy
As featured on the national radio program BirdNote
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Date: December 20, 2007 Time: 7:45am to 12:20pm
Leavenworth Christmas Bird Count
Location: Icicle River Valley, Leavenworth, Washington State
Weather: 22 degrees with 34" snow on the ground. Fresh snowstorm ended at 9:00am. Sky turned blue and sunny until noon.
Habitat: The 2 mile bird monitoring route traversed open ponderosa pine forests at 1400' elevation; snowberry and Douglas-hawthorne thickets; aspen stands; cottonwood and red-osier dogwood; riverine habitat at 1200' elevation.
The annual Christmas Bird Count was done on foot in 2 to 3 feet of snow, traveling from the open pine uplands to the flatter river environments, we counted 32 species of birds. Of particular interest was the thickets of common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) and Douglas hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii), which provided abundant food for Townsend's solitaire, cedar waxwing, black-capped chickadee, mountain chickadee, pine siskin, spotted towhee, golden-crowned sparrow, song sparrow, dark-eyed junco and mourning doves.
Golden-crowned Kinglet — ©2008 Heather Murphy
During cold winters, we notice woodpeckers give up their territorialism and are often found feeding together. Woodpeckers we observed were white-headed woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers and northern flickers. Small songbirds were active, in groupings, such as the golden-crowned kinglet and ruby-crowned kinglet, mixing with the chickadees and red-breasted nuthatch and white-breasted nuthatch - recently I heard a great name for these little ones "Chicklets". Not to forget the mammals for our Christmas count, we found mule deer tracks and browsing on shrubs; and at the snowy, iced over rivers edge were tracks of river otters and beaver.
© Heather Murphy 12/20/07
Date: October 3rd, 2000 Time: 11:00am to 4:00pm
Location: Carne Basin, Chiwawa River Valley, Washington State
Weather: Deep blue sky, cool fall day, soil frost heaving in the high country, silence of breeze.
Habitat: Sedge, huckleberry and blue gentian meadows at 6300' elevation, encircled by golden-glowing subalpine larch trees and granitic-pumice scree fields. The 3 mile hike up, goes through old growth Douglas-fir and hemlock forest. Massive snow capped peaks surround the basin views.
Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) doe and this year's fawn feed along Chiwawa River bottom. Chikadees and nuthatches work conifer seeds in the forested section. Greeting on top by hoary marmot (Marmota caligata) and pika (Ochotona princeps) whistles and eeps. Quietly up high, a large shadow passes overhead. Ravens study movement in the meadows, a kestrel finds a perch on a branch, Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) seek seeds in scattered trees.
Mid-slope in the basin, the former World's Record subalpine larch (Larix lyallii) tree is down, victim to a lightning strike several years back. The tree is still massive, fanned out along the hillside for over 100 feet. The record larch now lies in a partridge foot (Luetkea pectinata) bed, with lichen and mosses creeping over the bark and bole. In the meadow below, blue gentian (Gentiana calycosa) is deep cobalt blue-purple in the shade and faded-lavender in the sun.
The trip is reminiscent of friend Jacqueline's French song "The pretty morning is full of light. The pretty morning gives us strength for the day."
© Heather Murphy 10/28/00
Date: 17th June, 2000
Time: 9:00am to 6:00pm
Location: Isle of Eigg, one of the Small Isles in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Weather: Cloudy, drizzle, mist, heavy rains, heavy sea, and sun shafts.
Habitat: 10 miles offshore. Sea level beaches and rocky shoreline along the sheltered bays and lowlands. Mid-island elevation around 300 feet, bog and heather moorland habitat at Blar Dubh (black moor in Gaelic). Highlands up to 1300' at An Sgurr of Eigg (sharp point of the Isle of Eigg). The Murdo Grant ferry to and from Eigg-Arisaig, passed many small rocky islands and points, of which gray seals and common seals were gathered. Mountain bikes took us across the island through the moorland to the beaches of Camus Spiotaig with their "singing sands" (formed from wave-rounded quartz particles, which make musical sounds when stepped upon). Conifer forest and scrub-land growing in the edge of the moorlands and uplands.
After the worst of the rain was over, and clearings began, we were able to walk out into low tidal areas and observe Arctic Tern nesting colonies. We were guided by Scottish Wildlife Trust warden, John Chester. Exciting for me was seeing my first arctic tern nest colony. The terns were nesting on exposed rocky points, at densities of perhaps every 10 feet. The skies seemed filled with arctic terns, common terns, herring gulls and common gulls. A fascinating fact about arctic terns, is that they are the farthest migratory birds on earth. They breed in the Northern Hemisphere's Arctic regions and "winter" in the Southern Hemisphere's Antarctic regions. We counted approximately 20 nests that day. Later we were to find out from Mr. Chester, that by late July this nest colony wasn't successful in raising many chicks, due to predation from local buzzards (like our red-tailed hawks). Other wildlife seen in our Eigg travels, included oyster catchers, common sandpipers, and rock pipits in the bay areas. Further onto the island, the heather moors were abundant with rabbits (similar to our snowshoe hares, introduced for raptor prey) and sheep.
As the mist came down in the afternoon, we heard "COO-koo, COO-koo" shrouded to the northeast. This, the call of the cuckoo bird in the woodlands surrounding Blar Dubh. The cuckoo, a nest parasite, lays its egg in another species' nest (Meadow Pipits on Eigg). After the eggs are laid, the adults migrate back to North Africa, where they live year round (except breeding season). This leaves the young to be raised with the brood of the nest host. When migration time comes the young cuckoo, in an uncanny way, finds its passage to the winter habitats of its "parents" back in North Africa.
From an inscription on a Scottish Highlands Kirk at Balquihidder - "No sweeter voice was ever heard in springtime, than the cuckoo bird. Breaking the silence of the seas, among the farthest Hebrides."
Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye from Knoydart
©2006 Heather Murphy
Date: May 15, 1999
Time: Owling in dark - til 1:30am; Birding in daylight 9:30am-8:00pm
Location: Icicle Valley. Leavenworth, Washington.
Weather: Late night quiet; early morning heavy rains; mid-morning overcast with clouds pouring over the mountains; afternoon clear sunshine graces the remainder of the day. Temperatures ranged in the 40s. Snows lingering in mountains above us.
Habitat: Open ponderosa pine forest, meadows, and aspen. Balsam-root sunflower and service berry in full flower. Lupine blooms starting. Aspen, cottonwood, big-leaf maple in full leaf. Icicle River not usual mid-May high. Murky waters in irrigation ditch.
North American Migratory Bird Count done at feeder and from a stationary spot. Observed a total of 30 bird species on this day. 13 species in 1 hour at feeder count, and another 17 species in 10 hours from the stationary count. Highlights at the feeder were calliope & rufous hummingbirds, black-capped and mountain chickadees, red-breasted nuthatch, rufous-sided towhee, and purple, Cassins and house finches. Highlights from the stationary count were American goldfinch, evening and black-headed grosbeaks, white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows, raven, violet-green swallow, barred owl, red-tailed hawk, osprey and turkey vulture.
Owling in the dark. The spring-time wet comes alive with the tree frogs nightly chorus. Douglas-tree squirrels quieted down in the pines when we passed by. As we crept along the trail, we heard the gentle rain of quaking aspen, shimmering in the slight breeze. This stillness was broken by "Who cooks for you", the call of the barred owl. Male and female observed us, from their conifer and cottonwood grove. Later in the week we found a meadow vole, good prey for the barreds (Mr. & Mrs. Shakespeare?).
Name: Heather Murphy
Date and Time: April 2nd 1999
John Musser, Tom McCall and others
Location: Mansfield Plateau, WA
Weather: Full moon at sunrise, at 0515am, clear and warm day appears. Soil moist near shrubbery and dry in the open.
Open plateau with sage brush in ravines on edges of agriculture fields of wheat stubble. Rocky soils. Long view out towards mountains, turning pink on sunrise.
Observed 42 Sage Grouse at one time, estimate 50 total. Males far out number females. Grouse appear to be hiding behind each patch of sage brush at dawn. The lek sight is a flat, exposed soil area, surrounded by sage brush plants, some grasses and other shrubs, as well as rock. The sage grouse come out in massive numbers until full light, then they regress back into the vegetation. There is a fantastic display at the lek site during breeding, it should not be missed.
This grouse has pointed tail feathers that fan out during the male’s breeding displays. The white front/breast covers two air sacks hidden beneath feathers. As the sage grouse gets interested/excited, they lift up their wings, causing the air sacks to move up and down, assisted by blowing out. The males makes a soft “bonk” sounds. You hear this call coming from all directions that surround the intimate lek site. The site itself seems to be 150’ by 300’ in size.
Measuring the tracks, the male grouse feet are from 3.5” to 5” long, and 3.5” wide. Footprints are deep into the dust, casting a dark shadow into the track at sunrise. There is much competition for the females. At full light, paring has occurred amongst the shrubs, but it is difficult to follow the individuals. It seems the native sage brush is essential for these species to continue, as the agriculture lands do not appear to be favored for the lek activities. The Sage Grouse is rarely found, and is a State listed species. This field trip is a treat for us Wildlife Society members.
Other Species Observed:
© Heather Murphy 10/28/00
Date: February 14th, 1999 Time: Dawn to Dusk
Location: Icicle Valley, 1400' elevation. Leavenworth, Washington.
Weather: Deep blue sky, sunshine's cast over snow, about 24" on ground. Temperatures 32-44 degrees.
Habitat: Old-growth ponderosa pine. Aspen and cottonwood starting bud swell. The slow moving Icicle River meanders below. Even with snow flurries each week, it still feels as though spring is on its way!
BIRDS - Usually see a pair of bald eagles in cottonwood trees overhanging the Icicle River. Also seeing several from Lake Wenatchee down stream to the Columbia River. Great blue herons are roosting in cottonwoods along the rivers. In the streams, dippers or water ouzels, glean underwater bugs.
The bird feeder, mountain ash berries, and rosehips provide winter food for - 5 mourning doves, 3 flickers, many red-breasted nuthatches, mountain & black-capped chickadees, Stellar's jays, juncos. Also bring in white-breasted nuthatches, white-headed woodpecker, downy woodpecker, pine siskens, varied thrush, and rufous-sided towhee. The small sharp-shinned hawk visits the feeder trees, looking for prey. So much bird noise!
MAMMALS - At dusk saw 5 deer on the Icicle. The other morning saw a mule deer running the road, caught between steep snow banks at Lake Wenatchee. The deer look in good shape this winter. River otter tracks seen on snow banks in Tumwater Canyon and Smithbrook. Marten tracks at higher elevations. Single coyote sneaking up to our bird feeder at dawn. 3 raccoons visiting on occasion. 6 tree squirrels tempting every kind of predator around our home. Skiing through the aspen stand, saw snowshoe hare tracks.
Date: November 12th, 1998 Time: Dusk to Dark, 4:30pm-6:00pm
Location: Icicle Valley. Leavenworth, Washington.
Weather: Rainy period. Snow in higher mountains. Temperature range 28-48.
Habitat: Old-growth ponderosa pine, meadows, aspen. Berries, fruits & seeds remain.
Mammals - At dusk, saw the twin fawns of this summer, looking healthy going into winter. Fall mule deer migration has begun. Deer are moving from Lake Wenatchee's high country to the winter ranges on the Entiat & Leavenworth & Mission areas.
Douglas tree squirrel families very active, especially at feeder & clipping cones/buds of pines. Found a Pacific coast mole (feed on insects & live in meadows & deciduous). Our bats mostly hibernating, or migrants have left for the south, warm evenings have gone absent. Striped skunk selected a boulder/log den site for winter (trusting not under our porch). Apple scat shows black bear still around. Hopefully they got enough berries, fruit, salmon, burrowing mammals to make it through winter's hibernation. At Lake Wenatchee area beavers readying for winter, clipping willow/alder branches, sticking underwater, near lodge mounds.
© Heather Murphy 11/15/98
Notecards, artwork, illustrations, stories and text by Heather Murphy, Wildlife Biologist, Artist & Nature Writer, in Leavenworth, Washington. All Artwork and Text is copyright protected by Heather Murphy © 1997 to 2021 -- Walleye Cards, LLC
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