It’s that time of year when you share some of your favorite pictures. As usual, I have a hard time narrowing it down. Please enjoy this selection of wild places, wildlife, history, and a pinch of art at the end.
May the new year bring you wisdom, patience, and peace.
I drew this stylized picture of a belted kingfisher in flight several years ago. These interesting songbirds nest in horizontal burrows near shorelines. The tunnels range in length from 1 – 8 feet. Tunnels as long as 15 feet have been found.
This drawing is of a male bird. Belted kingfishers are one of the few songbirds where the female is more colorful. They have an additional orange-colored breast band.
While out walking my dog on the Deschutes River Trail this morning, I caught a glimpse of a male belted kingfisher perched on a tree limb. A lucky sighting! He was kind of far away but I had time to snap a quick shot before he flew.
The Lens-Artists photo challenge today is “unique.” I thought of several unique sights I’ve seen in Oregon that fit this category.
Our guide in Harney County referred to this ancient petroglyph as the Super 8. Do you see a resemblance to an old movie camera? Petroglyphs are carved into stone while pictographs are painted onto stone.
I saw these hairy clematis flowers at the Hell’s Canyon Overlook earlier this month. This unusual flower has a lot of common names including lion’s beard, leather flower, vase flower, and sugar bowl. They look similar to prairie smoke flowers featured in a previous post.
I can’t help but think of the words “unique sights” when I recall this toad I found in my high desert yard. I thought it was so interesting that I wrote a short story about it called The Toad Queen.
Pronghorn are one of my favorite animals. Besides being fast and looking cool, they are in their own family. They are the only member of Antilocapridae.
Sometimes you see a common species, like this red-tailed hawk, from a unique perspective. I snapped a quick picture of this one taking off from a cliff.
A few years ago, fires were burning around us in all directions. Fortunately, none of the fires were very close but the smoke caused the skies to turn brilliant colors.
I saw this bald eagle standing in the middle of a field this morning and couldn’t figure out why it was there. Then I noticed a couple magpies flying close by. Hmmm. Upon closer inspection, I saw a deer carcass several feet away. I guess everyone was there for a breakfast buffet.
As you wade through the waters of your life you often end up making a splash. Sometimes you make a big loud splash and other times you need to make a quieter one. Maybe only a ripple. Here are photos of quieter splashes I have seen in Oregon.
In Yellowstone National Park, much of the wildlife is hidden from view. You have to look carefully to find the animals and sometimes they will reveal themselves to you.
Elk in the Lamar Valley are hidden as they blend into the landscape traveling along a ridge top.
However, when they cross a pond they are revealed. The splashing water draws your attention and their pale colored rumps make you take notice of them.
From a distance, this just looks like two lumps in a field. Sandhill cranes’ plumage helps them stay hidden from view.
However, when they raise their head and you see their distinctive silhouette and red cap, they are revealed.
Pronghorn have bars of white on their coats that somehow help them stay hidden from view. These two does are wandering near the river’s edge.
However, when you see them close up, their markings are clearly revealed.
Sometimes all you see are tiny specks in the distance. You try to zoom in as close as you can with your lens but they still remain hidden. The white arrow in this fuzzy photo is pointing at two grizzly bears hundreds of yards away.
However, these magnificent creatures are revealed when you visit a place that helps conserve them. This image was taken at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. I don’t think I would want to be that close to a grizzly on a trail so I will settle for this view. 😉
Learn about the natural world by visiting Sunriver Nature Center
Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory is a great place to learn more about the natural world. This small interpretive center is on the west side of Sunriver, Oregon. It’s in an area that includes pine forests, meadows, and the meandering Deschutes River. The “edges” between these habitats are good places to see wildlife.
You can observe local wildlife by walking the trails on your own or going out with a guide. The Sam Osgood Nature Trail winds around the property. In the spring and summer keep an eye out for trumpeter swans. Guided bird walks take place every Saturday morning in the spring, summer, and fall. I have been on several of the walks. You’ll see waterfowl in the pond, raptors flying overhead, and songbirds along the walk. Great gray owls have been spotted in the area occasionally. You never know what you might spot on one of these walks.
There are also programs for families and kids. There are Kids Nature Camps for kids 4-10 years of age at certain times of the year. Family programs might include offerings such as Family Birding, Aquatic Explorations, and Eco Bike Tours. During the school year, staff travel to nearby schools to give presentations.
The Sunriver Nature Center building has live animals, diorama displays of local habitats, hands-on exhibits, and a collection of rocks with a focus on meteors. Their collection of live animals includes birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Birds of prey are used in daily educational talks in the amphitheater.
This is a licensed rehabilitation center so there may be some birds not on public display. With the help of staff and volunteers, the birds get much needed medical attention. If possible, they are released back into the wild.
The Oregon Observatory
The Oregon Observatory offers spectacular views of daytime and night skies. There are opportunities to see galaxies, nebulae, and planets and their moons. The observatory has a large collection of telescopes available. Kids can learn about astronomy through visits, classes, and through community outreach. Look at these amazing photos from the observatory! Hours vary – click here for the most current information.
A few sights to see at the Sunriver Nature Center
One of my favorite places to hang out is near the bird feeders. You’ll see lots of birds, and an occasional squirrel, taking advantage of a free meal.
Here’s a room where reptiles, amphibians, and insects can be viewed. It’s called the Creature Cave.
Birds of prey can be seen up close and personal in their enclosures. A building was constructed recently to house and exercise the Center’s raptors.
Check their website to find out about current events and to register for camps and walks. Staff and volunteers take some of their wildlife ambassadors (like the great horned owl pictured below) to events in the area. Sunriver Nature Center is a non-profit that depends upon donations. Click here to donate.
After living a life full of leaps and bounds, she settled down in her favorite aspen grove. The bunchgrass waved goodbye. The rabbitbrush shaded her in her final moments. The rosebush provided fruit in celebration of her life. And finally, the aspen covered her in leaves of gold.
Do you need a little help with your garden? These three mule deer bucks showed up to help in our backyard. We often see deer here but it was unusual to see three bucks together. They just did a little pruning here and there and then left. Thanks guys!
Have you ever finally made it to a place that people had told you you HAD to go to? For me that place was Hosmer Lake. Why didn’t I go here sooner?!
We went early on a mid-weekday morning. I had heard about the crowds sometimes here on weekends. It can get very crowded – especially in the summer.
There is a concrete boat ramp leading into a bulrush-lined meandering lake. After boarding our kayaks, we were soon greeted by a bald eagle perched in a nearby tree. It was almost as if it had been planted there for a photo opportunity. We paddled on and took a channel to the left.
Looking under our boats, we noticed many large fish. It is a fly fishing only catch-and-release lake. There are brook trout, rainbow trout, and Atlantic salmon here. They stopped stocking salmon in 2015. Now Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is stocking cutthroat trout and “Cranebow” rainbow trout in Hosmer Lake. Cranebows are hatchery fish derived from wild redband trout that live in nearby Crane Prairie Reservoir. They are feisty and strong compared to other fish.
For more information on where to fish within 90 minutes of Bend, go here.
The lake is shallow and clear so, according to one fisherman we saw, the fish may see you long before you attempt to catch them. We saw a great blue heron patiently perching next to the fisherman in pursuit of its own fish dinner.
Flora & fauna
The conifer forests, bulrushes, and water plants bordering the lake provide habitat for several types of birds. Swallows ascended then dipped low over the lake. A nighthawk squawked as it pursued a meal of flying insects. Yellow-headed blackbirds tiptoed across floating water plants. Meanwhile, a sapsucker stayed busy probing a downed tree by the water’s edge. Pied-billed grebes and ring-necked ducks drifted by us with their young. A double-crested cormorant submerged and then surfaced many yards away.
If you go at a time of light usage, you may not see anyone else for a while. It’s almost like you are in the wilds of Alaska instead of just 36 miles from the city of Bend, Oregon.
Hosmer Lake info
Hosmer Lake is one of the lakes along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway near Mount Bachelor, Broken Top, and the Sisters mountains. We get used to seeing these peaks in Bend but to see them up close like this as you paddle along is spectacular.
The lake is located at about 5,000 feet in elevation. The average depth is only three feet but it gets as deep as 12 feet. Hosmer Lake has a surface area of 198 acres. There are two U.S. Forest Service campgrounds located at the lake.
Fun fact: This lake was previously called Mud Lake. Before a small dam was installed on the lake in 1958, the lake was marshier and muddier. It was also home to murk-creating carp before they were eliminated in 1957. In 1962 the lake’s name was changed to honor Bend naturalist, Paul Hosmer.
Did you know that you can surf on the Deschutes River? Yes, thanks to the creation of the Bend Whitewater Park you too can hang ten on the river that flows through Bend, Oregon. Maybe you would rather float down in an inner tube – you can do that too. Maybe you want to get a glimpse of some wildlife – that’s also an option. The river was split into three channels: the Habitat Channel for wildlife; the Whitewater Channel for kayaks, surfboards, and stand up paddleboards; and the Passageway Channel for inner tubes and small rafts.
A 100-year old dam was recently removed from the river near the Colorado Avenue Bridge and an “amusement park” was put in by Bend Parks and Recreation. At a cost of nearly $10 million dollars, some questioned its value. Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, one of the local groups in support of this park, contributed over $1 million towards the project. The voter-approved bond said that water recreationists would have “safe passage” once the project was completed. That’s a good idea since people were injured or lost their lives because of the dam.
A wild river does not always cooperate with the plans of engineers. Inner tubers were getting hurt on the rocks at the Bend Whitewater Park last spring when water levels were still high. That section was temporarily closed down. Now that water levels are lower and some additional work has been done on the channels, tubers can once again enjoy the river.
However, you may not want to try to go down this section in a canoe. The guy in the red canoe on the right side of the photo above capsized. There is a portage route where you can walk around if you don’t want to try the rapids.
Video of inner-tubing and surfing on the Deschutes
The course of the channel that is for surfers, paddleboarders, and kayakers can be altered by adjusting 25 bladders in the river. A Wave Master controls the course with an app on his iPad.
I walk right by here looking for wildlife. I am hoping some of the critters that used to be here will return when all of the construction is completed. This was a great spot to see swallows, mergansers, osprey, cedar waxwings, and the occasional dipper. See my previous post on Birding Around Bend for more info. I have also seen beaver, river otter, and muskrats near the Bend Whitewater Park. You never know what animals you will find here.
Many people start their float at Riverbend Park and get out at Mirror Pond in Drake Park. You can also do a shorter float by starting at McKay Park, where the Whitewater Park is. A Ride the River shuttle can take you and your inner tube back upriver where you parked for a small fee.
If we learn to focus in on things and look closer, we sometimes find the unexpected.
In this case, it’s a double-crested cormorant and great blue heron rookery. These birds look and act so differently yet they manage to get along.
This rookery is located at the Sod House Ranch at Malheur NWR. It was built by cattle-baron Peter French in the late 1800’s. The ranch was the headquarters of the French-Glenn Livestock Company that at one time covered 140,000 acres.
Have you been pining away wishing you knew more about porcupines? Well today is your lucky day! Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about the North American porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum, but were afraid to ask.
The North American porcupine ranges throughout most of Canada and the western United States south to Mexico. They also live in the northern Great Lakes and northeastern United States regions.
Identification & unique characteristics:
North American porcupines are a large rodent with black to brownish-yellow fur and distinct quills that cover most of their bodies. They range in weight from 11 to 30 pounds and measure 24 to 36 inches in length. Porcupines are excellent climbers with short strong legs, long claws, and hairless soles on their feet. They have a small head and rounded ears.
Porcupines can be covered with as many as 30,000 quills. The quills are solid at the base and tip but have a sort of spongy texture in the middle. They are barbed at the tip and used for defense. Quills are not thrown at another animal. Porcupines raise their quills, release a nasty scent, and lash out with their tail if an animal approaches too closely. The porcupine releases quills that become embedded in the skin and expand with body heat. Quills that hit a sensitive area may cause death.
Porcupines are very vocal. Their calls include a variety of moans, grunts, coughs, wails, whines, shrieks, and tooth-clicking. Vocalizations and scents are used to attract mates. They have poor vision but a good sense of smell.
North American Porcupine Behavior & life history:
Porcupines are usually a solitary animal that is mostly nocturnal. They occasionally den with others in winter months. They do not hibernate. Dens are made in caves and decaying hollow logs and trees.
Both male and female porcupines defend a territory, though males do so more actively. Mating occurs in October and November. Males fight over females and display their “weaponry” on their backs and tails. An elaborate mating dance is performed for the females. Gestation last seven months and the young “porcupettes” are born with soft quills. The quills ordinarily harden in about an hour. North American porcupines usually have a single porcupette. Young porcupines begin to forage when they are just a couple of days old. They generally stay with their mother for about five months.
Porcupines are herbivores and they feed on leaves, twigs, buds, fruit, nuts, and bark. Their herbivorous diet makes them crave salt so they sometimes chew on the handles of human tools and structures. They also eat de-icing salt deposits on roads.
Predators include mountain lions, lynx, bobcat, coyote, wolves, wolverines, fishers, and great horned owls. Fishers use hunting techniques that minimize their chances of getting poked by the quills. Porcupines are long-lived mammals and can live up to 18 years in the wild and 23 years in captivity.
Porcupines live in many different habitats from sea level to high elevation. They live in deciduous and coniferous forests, open tundra, and desert environments.
North American Porcupine Status & conservation:
North American porcupine population levels are stable in most of their range but localized populations have been affected by several factors. Higher populations of predators, such as fishers and mountain lions, have caused lower porcupine numbers. Changes in logging management practices and pest infestations may affect their food source. Occasionally this animal will be hit by vehicles when it is trying to cross a road. In the past they were poisoned due to their habit of foraging on crops such as trees and corn.
Native Americans incorporated the porcupine into their mythology. Tribes associated the animal with traits such as cautiousness, humility, modesty, and luck. Porcupines were used as a food source and their quills were used as decorations on clothing and other items. Lakota women would throw a blanket over a surprised porcupine and retrieve the quills it had released into the blanket to use in their quillwork.
There are certain members of the plant and animal world that I call successful invaders. Some are admired; others are reviled. A few are both liked and despised at the same time.
Where I live, the Western juniper, Juniperus occidentalis, fits into that last category. It is a native species but due to fire suppression and habitat destruction, it has spread like -excuse the reference- wildfire. Juniper has taken advantage of the situation and has significantly expanded its range. I have heard a lot about how much water it can suck out of the landscape – supposedly 30 gallons a day. Its root system taps downwards and outwards to effectively use the available water. Many people don’t like them for that reason and because at times they have a not-so-pleasant scent. I’ll always remember listening to a person that lives in the wealthy part of town saying that she eliminated all 18 junipers on her property as soon as she moved in. Eighteen trees.
However, juniper also has its good side. As it ages it epitomizes the image many people associate with the Wild West. I love to photograph them. The form of the tree generally changes from a pyramid-like shape to a twisted, sprawling irregular one. It can be covered by purplish berries (that are really cones) and these are used in gin production. Wildlife loves it for cover, nesting, and food. Its wood is bi-colored and long lasting.
Some animals do what they can to fit in so that you won’t notice they are invaders. I have a pair of European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, that nested on my property last spring. I don’t know many people that are fond of starlings. They are referred to as being ugly, dirty birds that many think should be destroyed. However, if you look at their breeding plumage closely it’s actually quite beautiful and iridescent. Anyway, back to my story…the pair on my property produced a brood of young and taught them how to sing and call. The weird thing is that they sound like the much more well-liked Western meadowlark – not starlings. There aren’t any meadowlarks close by but they do live many miles away to the east.
Some plants moved here from far away and have settled in throughout North America. The common mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is one of those successful invader plants. It is a member of the snapdragon family and bears long stalks of yellow flowers and produces a lot of seeds. Mullein can grow 5-10 feet high (!) Its large leaves have a thick whitish covering of soft “hair”. It is native to Europe and was introduced here in the mid-1700’s for use as a fish poison. Where I live it is considered a noxious weed whose presence should be controlled and monitored by landowners. It will grow in almost any open area and will push native plants out.
This plant has some interesting uses. As previously mentioned, it was used as a fish poison. It stuns the fish so that they float to the surface where they can be easily caught. A dye was made from the flowers and was used on hair and on cloth. It also has medicinal uses and has been used to treat chest colds, bronchitis, and asthma. Mullein was also used to treat bruises, rash, tumors, and other maladies. I learned in a high school plant ecology class that its soft leaves can be used as toilet paper in an emergency.
Mullein is easy to pull but I decided to leave a few in my yard. Why? The songbirds, which I do not feed, LOVE them.
There are other successful invaders that have become so successful that they have become a threat to the environment. Consider the white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, have steadily moved westwards, northwards, and to the south in North and South America. There are more than there have ever been – even though hunters use much more sophisticated technology to hunt them. However, there are fewer people hunting them and their natural predators have been eliminated in parts of their range.
About 100 years ago, small scale agriculture pushed the deer off much of their range east of the Rockies. White-tailed deer were also overhunted in North America in the late 1800’s. Their population dropped precipitously from 24-33 million, down to only 350,000.
Rebounding with a vengeance
During the Industrial Age, farms were abandoned leaving behind a patchwork of habitats that was ideal for deer. Wildlife conservation adapted practices that created green space for populations to become established. Preserves for regulated hunting were set up. As a result, the population rebounded with a vengeance! The current population is estimated to be over 30 million and they are much more densely packed than in the distant past. That density has caused numerous problems.
I read an interesting article about white-tailed deer on Staten Island in New York City. The population on the 60-square mile island has increased from 24 to 793 in just six years. That’s a 3,304% increase! The deer cause traffic accidents, eat gardens, and pass on tick-borne illnesses but the far greater problem is that they are destroying habitat. The community can cull the animals with sharpshooters, have hunters take them, apply contraceptive vaccines, or use surgical sterilization. None of these options has been popular with the public so nothing is currently being done. When an animal is given the Disney treatment, in this case as the main star in the Bambi movie, it can become much more difficult to control.
Successful invader Velcro
Successful invaders have taken advantage of various situations. Consequently, they are firmly established in their new range. They velcroed themselves into their new homes and peeling them away will be a difficult, if not impossible, task.