Borrego Springs, CA

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Bird Survey #2

After my encounter with the coyote at the beginning of the Lower Klamath Basin NWR auto tour route, I slowly made my way down the gravel road.  I was surveying to see what water birds were using the refuge.  In the past, this 50,000 acre refuge was a massive wetland.  Since early in the 1900’s the water in the basin has been controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation.  At the present time, no water is allocated to this refuge in the fall.  The result is that those beautiful 50,000 acres are just about bone dry.  Not very conducive to breeding and migrating waterfowl. 

IMG_0945About all that’s left is some evaporating water in the ditches along the roadway.  Each week there is less and less water. 


I did find some species using the ditches.  I must say that if you want to see black-crowned night herons this is the place to look.  There is a rookery nearby, and I probably saw over a hundred of these birds.


                    Because of the drying out, all the herons and egrets are concentrated along the ditches.

IMG_0948There’s a ditch on each side of the road, and the egrets even congregate in the middle of the road.  I think it’s a shame, but I guess growing hay and potatoes and horse radish takes priority.


On the other hand, Tule Lake NWR harbors two endangered fish species so it gets water allocated to it.  That makes for an abundance of waterfowl on the lake.  Fall migration has barely begun so everything I’m seeing now has resided on the lake and wet soil units all summer.


                                                                    Eared Grebe with young

Lots of species are still raising their young and going through their post breeding molt.  During this molt they are flightless for a while, so Tule Lake truly is a refuge for them.

DSC_0013 DSC_0004

Here’s your bird lesson for the week.  These two birds look a lot alike, but they are two different species.  The one on the left is a Western Grebe, while the one on the right is a Clark’s Grebe.  Both species nest on the refuge.  If you look really closely, you can see the differences.  The western grebe’s red eye is surrounded by black feathers, and the Clark’s grebe’s eye is surrounded by white feathers.  The bill of the Clark’s is also a brighter orange/yellow than the western.  Remember that now because there just might be a quiz someday.  Winking smile


A group of black-necked stilts was working the shallow water in one of the flooded fields with several white-faced ibis.  I got a kick out of how one of the stilts was peeking over the ibis’ back.

I think that’s just about enough bird pictures for tonight.  Doing these bird surveys is the highlight of my week here, so be prepared for more pics. 

I really liked trying out the 600mm lens for the day even with the loss of a bunch of my photos.  It’s a small thing really.  Rick and I thought we had recovered them, but it turns out all the recovered photos were a bunch that I had sent to the recycle bin on purpose because I wasn’t happy with them.  Who knows where the pics I was happy with disappeared to.


                                                                             THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A great start to the day, but has a minor disaster befallen me?

I headed out early this morning to start the first of my two weekly bird surveys.  First up was a trip around the wildlife drive on the Lower Klamath NWR.  I took along my cameras, of course, and an extra one.  I had borrowed the refuge’s camera with the 600mm lens to give it a try.  What a treat to have a lens that powerful!  Needless to say, I took hundreds of photos that will take me some time to process.  So, tonight I’ll just show you some pics of an encounter that I had at the beginning of my route.


As I started down the auto tour route, I noticed that there was a lot of smoke in the air, and something in the middle of the road.  Looked like a young coyote to me, so I stopped the truck, turned off the engine, and just enjoyed the moments. 


                                                   She got up, but couldn’t decide what to do.


                                                      First, she went to the left side of the road.


                                                           “Maybe I should run and hide.”


                                         “No, I think I’ll lie down on the other side of the road.”


                                                “If I look the other way, she won’t see me.”


               Then she ran down the embankment, but still had to check on me.  “Are you still there?”


Back up again, muddy paws and all.  Eventually, she got tired of me being there and wandered off into the brush on the other side.  I headed on my way, but a look in the rearview mirror showed me that as soon as I left, she came up once again to sit in the middle of the road.  Must be a favorite sunning spot for her.  (I just used my camera for these shots.  That 600mm lens weighs a ton, and hand holding it for shots through the windshield wasn’t an option.)

I did get some nice pictures later with the borrowed camera, but ran into that minor disaster during uploading them to my computer.  Half of them disappeared, and I’ve got a help call out to Rick.  Hopefully he can help me recover them.  I’m sure I clicked the wrong button somewhere along the line on the computer.  Uf-dah! 


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Scratching the surface

Today was my first full day off since arriving at Tule Lake NWR last Monday, and I wanted to get out and about to learn something about the area I’ll be living in for about two months.  There’s actually a National Monument only ten miles down the road from my rig, so I headed out this morning to take a look at it.


I thought Lava Beds NM might be very similar to Craters of the Moon NM in Idaho, but that isn’t so.  Each place has unique features.  Today’s journey was just a cursory visit to see what all was available.  After four hours in the monument, I just barely scratched the surface of what’s available to see and do.


My first stop was a view of the Devil’s Homestead lava flow.  It’s hard to convey the concept of this huge amount of lava with a photo.  You just have to come here to see it to believe it.  I decided, after stopping here, to just drive on to the visitors center before looking at anything else. 

It’s a rather small VC, and the exhibits are minimal.  There is a movie on a TV that I found very informative about the monument.  This place has a tremendous amount of cultural and natural history.  In subsequent visits, I’ll get more into the cultural history and the story of the Modoc people, and their war for freedom.  There are also numerous caves to explore that were created by flows of smooth lava 10,500 to 65,000 years ago.  I picked up a pamphlet on the description of these cave hikes for future reference.  I’m planning on giving several a try.  What an adventure this place would be for families with children… exploring caves with a helmet and flashlight!

_MG_2346 _MG_2348

While near the VC, I decided to take a drive to see the campground.  Quite a few sites have beautiful views of the surrounding terrain.  I’m guessing it’s at an elevation of about 5000’, and you’re looking over the basin.  There are no hookups, but there is water available and flush toilets.  Rigs up to 35’ can fit into some of the sites.  Only one class C was setting up in the two loops as I visited.


I was pretty lucky today as much of the smoke from the surrounding wildfires had lessened.  This is Schonchin Butte.  If you look really closely at the top of it, you can see a little bump.  That’s a manned fire tower, and I’m hoping to hike up to it for a visit when it cools down a bit.  It’s at an elevation of 5302’, and I’m thinking there will be quite a view up there on a smoke free day.

_MG_2351As I drove to the trailhead for the fire tower, the view to the north was rather hazy.  Looking down and out, I could make out Tule Lake in the distance with the crop fields in front of it.  That whole area of crops used to be productive wetlands before the Bureau of Reclamation drained the marshes.  The size of Tule Lake and the surrounding wetlands has been drastically reduced over time.  Water, and its use, has been very controversial in this area for close to a hundred years. 

_MG_2354On the drive out, I stopped at Fleener Chimneys for a short hike up to hopefully get a view of Mount Shasta.  Didn’t pan out.  Sad smile _MG_2356

Fleener Chimneys pull off is also a picnic area, and the tables here, and I believe in the campground, were constructed by the CCC in the 1930’s.  The Civilian Conservation Corps is another bit of the history of this area that I will need to explore further.  This monument is quite a place.

When I got back to the rig, Emma and I sat outside for the rest of the afternoon in the low 90* temps.  There does seem to be a nice breeze each later afternoon, and it is a ‘dry’ heat.  While I haven’t been plagued by mosquitoes at this refuge, so far, there does seem to be an abundance of flies.  I have a flyswatter with me when I sit outside.  On a rather disgusting note, after I whack a fly Emma feels compelled to eat them.  Yuck! Smile with tongue out

I leave you tonight with a pic of my biggest victory for the day.  Skies were semi clear enough today to finally get a glimpse of Mount Shasta… more than 50 miles away as the crow flies:


                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Settling in and the Tule Lake Auto Tour Route

Well, the training in the VC didn’t happen yesterday, but the water issue was sort of resolved.  Since no one could figure out how to turn on the water spigot at the RV site, a 125’ hose was purchased, and I’m currently connected to water at the end of the fire management building.  Since it’s not drinkable anyway, I thought this would work for me.  However, an ordinary green water hose was purchased and you RVers know what that means.  The water reeks of a hose smell.  Even after bathing, I don’t smell too good.  Brings to mind that old saying, “Up your nose with a rubber hose!”

I did get my request for a picnic table for the site.  Now I have a place to hook Emma’s tie out rope to, and a place to set out my Weber Q.  Haven’t had a chance to put out the grill yet, but that and the tire covers for the rig are about the only things I have left to do.


I headed out this morning to familiarize myself with the Tule Lake Auto Tour.  As per usual at this time of the year, the skies were heavy laden with smoke from various wild fires.  It sure didn’t make for great photo opportunities.


I was also doing my first bird survey.  Tule Lake and the surrounding wetlands had an abundance of waterfowl on them, but even using a spotting scope, many species were hard to make out.  Everything just looked black.


These sunflower (?) plants near the end of the route sure did attract the monarchs.  At an elevation of 4000’, this area is almost like a high desert location.  Average rainfall, if not in a drought situation, is only 15”/year.  These flowers are not abundant, and the insects take advantage of them when they’re found.


I stopped to take a look at this red-tailed hawk that was perched, and was surprised to find that little California quail in the picture when I got home.  That’s a new species for me, and I’m guessing I probably saw about 50 of them today.  Just like Gambel’s quails, they make me chuckle with their ‘muttering’ and blasting away when disturbed.


There were also lots of young pheasants along the route.  Seems like it’s been a good breeding season for them.  Somehow I never thought that pheasants would be so abundant in California.  Folks come out to hunt them on the refuge.

Some of the confusion on the refuge this week is due to the fact that Hallie, the volunteer coordinator, has her last day here tomorrow.  Her responsibilities will be taken over by Steve.  Steve has different ideas about how things should be run with the VC and with volunteers and interns.  That creates a bit of a flux in the flow of things. 

When I returned to the VC this afternoon for my training, Hallie was on her way out, and I got to spend a bit of time with Steve.  I think he will be good for RV volunteers.  He has ordered a 75’ ‘white’ water hose for my use.  It should be here next week.  That kind of surprised me as I had decided I’d just buy one myself.  He also told me that there is a DSLR camera with a 600mm lens that I can use any time I’m out doing my bird surveys.  On top of that, I got to choose which days I’ll work, and he only requires two four hour stints in the VC per week.  Now all those things made me one happy camper!

I came back to the rig, had a glass of wine, and dreamt about not smelling like a rubber hose…


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, August 17, 2015


I headed out from Valley of the Rogue State Park around 9:30 this morning to make the 120 mile drive to Tule Lake NWR.  My plan was to stop at a Pilot gas station just outside of Medford to fill up the rig’s tank.  When I arrive at a new location, I like to have my gas tank pretty full, and I was running below a half a tank.  Well, the blasted alarm for the towed brake system kept going off to distract me (I had double checked my hookup before pulling out), and I somehow missed the Pilot station.  Long time readers know that finding gas stations that I can get in and out of is the biggest heartburn for me of this lifestyle.  Rats!  That got me a little worried, as I drove another almost 100 miles with no useable station in sight.

Two miles before the Oregon/California border on Hwy 97, I happened upon a truck stop.  Halleluiah!  Of the twelve gas pumps, only one wasn’t diesel.  I had to do quite a bit of maneuvering of the rig to find that one pump, and get the rig in place.  Out popped a young lady to fill me up.  I’m guessing it will be some time before I’m in another state where they pump the gas for you.  I probably saved about $25 by finding this station before I entered California.  Sometimes good things do happen.

Then I made my way another 25 miles or so to the refuge.  You may remember that I visited here two weeks ago to check out the site they had for me, and figure out how I was going to approach it.  At the time, they had assured me that all the vehicles blocking the campsite would be removed, and that the water would be turned on previous to my arrival.  Yeah, right!  After volunteering at 13 other refuges, I was not exactly surprised when these things didn’t happen.  SNAFU! 

I parked the rig in a big parking lot, turned on the generator to run the AC for Emma, unhooked the car, and went to check things out.  Temps were in the 90’s.  Eventually, they removed the vehicles, and I actually ended up with five staff members helping to spot me into the site.

_MG_2335It’s not the most picturesque site I’ve ever had, but it’s not the worst either.  I’m flanked by a bunkhouse and a fire management office building.  There is a shade tree, but that played havoc with the DISH satellite on top of the rig.  I had to jockey around to get two out of the three satellites.  Just like Harris Beach, no HD, but at least I don’t have to set up the portable DISH. 


This is the view as I sit outside with Emma.  Not too exciting, but there are no saw mills close by or major highways to create loud noise.  It is peaceful and quiet!  I’m already liking that.


This is the view out my table window in the rig.  There’s a stone building at the top that I’ll try to hike to when it gets a bit cooler.  In spite of the minor problems, I’m happy to be here and looking forward to exploring this refuge.  As for the water spigot getting turned on?  That didn’t happen today, but at least the biologist brought me one of those five gallon jugs of drinking water.  Like several other refuges I’ve volunteered at, the water out of the spigot is not potable.  It’s Okay for showers, dishes, and toilet and such, but the refuge provides the jugs of drinking water.

Tomorrow I’m to report at 8:00 for visitor center training.  I’m bringing my list of questions along with me with a water hookup at the top of the list.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

From one extreme to another

Living on the Oregon coast, I experienced one of the chilliest summers I’ve ever lived through.  This morning, as the Chetco effect raised temperatures in Brookings, Emma and I hit the road to head for Valley of the Rogue State Park outside of Medford, OR.  Now at six in the evening, it’s still 92* here.  I’ve gone from several layers of clothing to shorts and a tee shirt today, and there’s not much cooling in the forecast for the next week.

The 110 mile drive up and down rte. 199 was mostly uneventful.  There was only one close call as a truck pulling a camping trailer misjudged a curve and swerved into my lane.  I’m afraid I said a couple of bad words when that happened. 

I was in no big rush, so when ever a pullout occurred, I moved over so people could pass.  Ended up doing that ten times, and got more happy toots of the horns then I’ve ever had from happy drivers.  Slow and steady wins the race today.

Pulled right into site D-26, plugged in the electric and turned on the AC.  Had a little trouble switching the DISH over from portable to automatic, but eventually I got it figured out.  Then about 4:00, Sue and Mo and pipsqueak Matty stopped by to visit.  Emma and Matty rolled around play fighting in the dust, and both ended up looking like junkyard dogs.  What a mess! 

Tomorrow, is another drive of about 120 miles to get to Tule Lake NWR in California.  With this heat wave, I’m glad I divided the trip into two days instead of one.  With the stress of today’s drive, and the soaring temps, I was ready to quit when I arrived this afternoon.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, August 14, 2015

Time to blow this popsicle stand!

Today was my last day of work on the overlook.


The morning started out cloudy and raining, but this is the way I choose to remember Bird/Goat Island.  I knew the biologist from the Bandon NWR was coming to pick up my equipment this morning, so I only set up the scope…nothing more.

81 Oregon Islands NWR 201510

That’s when I began to take stock of my summer spent on the Oregon coast.  What an experience it has been.  I could never forget the grandeur of the Redwoods, and the joy I experienced from friends and family that  I visited with.  Not the least of which was the saga of the Apache tear stone.


And there’s not much you can say about the scenic Oregon coast except spectacularly wonderful!  I spent many an hour absorbing the beauty and drama of life that many folks don’t even know exists along this coastline.

81 Oregon Islands NWR 201511

Wildlife is abundant if you take the time to stop and look.  While I couldn’t get many photos of the nesting seabirds, spending twenty some hours a week watching their lives taught me a lot.  I think I did a good job of introducing others to these wonders as well.

81 Oregon Islands NWR 201512

And then there was the people watching from my post on high.  From school groups, to families playing in the sand, to scuba fishermen, and even a wedding on the beach; it really never was boring.

IMG_0543 _MG_2147

Of course there was the very common fog.  It took me some time to adjust to that, along with the windy and cold conditions on the overlook, but overall I’m glad I spent this summer on the Oregon coast.  I’ll certainly never forget it.

I’ve spent the last week or so slowly getting things packed up and ready to go for my next assignment.  Tomorrow I’ll finish things up and head out on Sunday for the dreaded drive on Hwy 199 to Grants Pass.  I’m not looking forward to that, but I’m hoping traveling on a Sunday will mean few to no logging trucks to encounter.  It’s a winding twisty road through the mountains on two lanes, but only about twenty miles of it should give me heartburn. 

In the meantime, I have to figure out if I really want to climb up on top of the rig tomorrow to sweep off what I’m sure is a vast accumulation of pine needles on the roof and slide out awnings.  It really should be done, but I’m just not crazy about going up the ladder to get on top.  I’d feel better if someone was steadying the ladder for me.  Sometimes, it sucks to get old.


               THE END!!  Goodbye Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Harris Beach State Park!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Will I be finding a new bird ‘heaven’?

When Sue and Mo and I first talked about my coming to their house for a visit when they were here at Harris Beach in June, we thought we’d take a day trip to Crater Lake NP.  In the meantime, I made arrangements to do a volunteer gig at Tule Lake NWR beginning August 17.  The refuge is only about 60 miles south of their place, so I asked if we could ditch Crater Lake in favor of me making a visit to the refuge to see what I was getting into.  I had visited Crater Lake on my way north this spring, and I’ve had one really bad experience arriving at an unknown, to me, refuge in the past.  That taught me to be a little more wary, and try to check things out ahead of my arrival if possible. 


They were fine with that request, so yesterday Sue, Emma, and I headed south on a little investigation.  Sue was familiar with the refuge and told me we would have gorgeous views of Mount Shasta along the way.  Well, thanks to the fires in California and Oregon, this was the kind of weather we encountered… smoke filled skies.  Sad smile  I think Mount Shasta is somewhere in the distance.


Due to the draught and other politically controlled issues, there was very little if any water along the route that bordered the Lower Klamath NWR.  Sue was shocked at the lack of water.  We did find one small area of wetlands, and an abundance of white pelicans and great egrets taking advantage of it.


Sorry to say, most took flight as we stopped.  In the past, what you see was not dry land, but lush wetlands.


Happily, a nice group of American avocets were not bothered by our presence and continued to work the water for lunch.  There were also a few black-necked stilts and mallard ducks.


The avocets just march along swishing their beaks under the water picking up tasty morsels.  It was at this point that I started to get excited about the possibilities of volunteering here.

I had made arrangements to meet the volunteer coordinator at the headquarters for the Klamath Basin Refuges Complex, and get a look at where I’ll be staying.  Sue and Emma stayed in the parking lot of the VC as I met with some of the staff and was walked over to see the RV site.  Well, the site is not the most picturesque I’ve ever seen, but it does have 50 amps, and is within walking distance of the VC.  I decided I’d give it a go.


Then we headed out on the auto tour route so I could get a feel for the refuge.  I couldn’t believe the number of damsel flies that were everywhere along the route.  With the blooming thistle and whatever this plant is, the path was packed with them as well as butterflies and other insects.  We even had two young fawns jump out in front and behind us.


Then there were the birds.  The ponds and wetlands were teeming with them.  I believe this is a gadwall mom and chicks.  There were four kinds of grebes, an assortment of ducks, phalaropes, terns, and even a golden eagle along the drive.  The smoke filled skies and it being high noon didn’t lend itself for ideal picture taking, but I was thrilled with the abundance of wildlife.


It really was a birding paradise, and the fall migration has barely started.  I think I’m going to enjoy the next two months.


My favorite moment of the trip was watching a pair of eared grebes feed their two young ones.  What a day trip it turned out to be, and we only did a portion of the roads available for viewing.

When we returned to Rocky Point, Sue prepared scrumptious tacos that we consumed out at their picnic table.  There’s nothing as tasty as when someone else does the cooking, and does it so well.  My palate has been spoiled the last few days, and I truly appreciate it.

Two things really stand out in my mind about this visit with good friends besides the fun and camaraderie.  First is the beauty and quiet peacefulness of their home.  It really came home to me how battered by noise these last three months have been for me.  What with the sounds of hundreds of campers, US 101 right behind my site, and a lumber mill operating 24/7 a half a mile away, I’ve been accosted with too much noise, and this three days was a most welcome respite.

The second thing I’ll never forget is how to operate a compost toilet.  Sue mentioned to me on my arrival that the cabin had a compost toilet, and that it was easy to operate and that Mo had left the instruction booklet atop it.  Okay.  Well, it might be easy to operate if one knew what the heck a compost toilet was.  I did not.  After a little while, I took a tinkle and then couldn’t figure out what to do.  How does one ‘flush’ a compost toilet?  All I saw was a cavernous black hole.  (Never thought to turn on the light, since light was coming in the window.)  I tried reading the instruction booklet, but after five pages, I kind of gave up since I couldn’t figure out how to actually use it.  I was also kind of surprised that it was so tall.  When I sat down, my feet dangled in the air.  There was no pedal like an RV toilet.  What to do???

Eventually, I asked Mo, and she said there was a lever under the seat in front that you pull out and it turns into a crank.  You just crank it around and it tumbles the ‘debris’.  Oh yes, if you do more than tinkle, you add a cup of what looks like cedar chips to me and crank away.  Amazing.  No odor to speak of.  You don’t use any water.  The tub that spins around when you crank kind of reminded me of a bingo game where they spin the numbers around.  You know what I mean?  I just don’t think I’d stick my hand in there to pull anything out though.  Smile with tongue out  Wonders never cease.


                                                                             THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy