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About Time

June 4, 2015

Nesting season is coming to a close this month, easily noticed with geese and turkey nestlings that leave their nests and swim or run right after hatching. One of the enjoyable sights of early summer is watching a troop of goslings or chicks paddling or scurrying around after their parents. They are out feeding for themselves, learning how to find and handle their food by following their parents. Most songbird babies stay in the nest until they are ready to fly. After they fledge and leave the nest, they are pretty much on their own.

May 7, 2015

May is the month of peak flowering in the southern Willamette Valley. Riparian galleries, oak woodlands and grassy hillsides are awash in a glorious array of nature’s prize beauties. This season is celebrated every year at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum with a spectacular wildflower show. The Wildflower Festival is May 17, as always the first Sunday after Mother’s Day. Music, food and crafts are all available. As part of the festival activities, I will lead a nature walk and give a talk about fringecup, Tellima grandiflora, the Flower of the Year.

April 2, 2015

Do birds return to the same nest year after year? All winter, when the deciduous trees are bare, I look at clots of debris high in their branches and try to pick out which are just clumps of leaves and which are nests. The obstacle to solving this puzzle is that the old nests are obscured by leaves by the time birds might come back. The trees leaf out before most birds begin nesting. It’s hard to tell if the nests are used again.

March 5, 2015

The gray whale cows and their calves are migrating north in good numbers this month. I finally visited the most fabulous place to watch whales: the shelter at the top of the Saint Perpetua Trail. The hike is very steep but a road allows one to drive up. Go early in the day, as the parking lot at the top is small. There are often volunteers with spotting scopes at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center. They have information on how many whales are passing that day.

February 5, 2015

Looking up at a rare starry sky in January, even rarer because of a warm night, I was drawn to do a little star gazing. Orion is heading out west long before midnight. I’m going to miss him because there is no summer character in the sky that I know well enough to track the spring-summer-fall passage. Maybe a little gazing this July will find the constellation that attracts my focus.

January 8, 2015

A year ago the eastside Delta Ponds had already frozen solid. Ice was an inch thick under seven inches of snow and thawed completely by the New Year. In February another snowfall was accompanied by a freezing rain the likes of which we hadn’t seen for many years. It was hard on the birdwatchers and really hard on the birds. Hummingbird feeders froze.

December 4, 2014

The duckweed and mosquito fern have been blown to the southeast corner of the pond. It means the wind is coming out of the northwest and it will be cold and rainy. I can feel it in the air; I can smell it swirling around me. It is the source of my joy of walking outdoors. I believe that the feel and smell of nature constitute a subliminal elixir to counteract the poisons of urban living. Even in town, it is important to preserve walking paths through woodlands and prairies in our neighborhood parks. A session on a treadmill in a gym just cannot substitute.

November 6, 2014

The extended summer dry spell has turned into a warm rainy period. No frost yet, nor even any really cold nights, although the average first frost date is long past. It means the leaves on the bigleaf maples haven’t been triggered to produce the golden color seen in most years. Instead, the dry leaves just turn brown and fall off while the rest are still green. The tar spot fungus doesn’t have its usual green halo on a golden background because its spores are maturing early, sustained by the whole green leaf.

October 2, 2014

The weekend after Labor Day brought the sight of thousands of choice edible russula mushrooms around Waldo Lake, but most were dry as a bone. A single thunderstorm’s drenching a week earlier brought them out of the forest floor. Then they were betrayed by the summer’s continuing heat and drought. Nevertheless, we can be hopeful that the usual October beginning of the rainy season may yet bless the high mountains with a bounty of delicious treasures. We will find out at the mushroom show at Mount Pisgah Arboretum on Oct. 26.

September 4, 2014

September is a subtle month. Its changes creep up without being readily noticed. Daylength shortens most rapidly around the equinoctes. We come to realize that summer is over and fall is practically upon us. It is typically a sunny month, one of the best for hiking in the mountains. Nights can be quite chilly but the absence of mosquitoes makes watching the campfire a treat.

August 6, 2014

The first flock of wild turkeys showed up in our neighborhood last year. Adults and young together were nine. This year our flock has 22 chicks alone. Early in the morning they show little fear and are easy to count. I think it is the fruit trees in our neighborhood that they like. One of the birds really stands out; its feathers are pure white, an inescapable tag that draws attention.

July 9, 2014

We expect July to deliver a month of warm soil in the garden. There is a certain sensual pleasure gotten from dragging fingers through moist soil when weeding or planting. Bare hands, no gloves. As sensual pleasures go, this is both beneficial and acceptable in public.

June 12, 2014

In the Willamette Valley the farmers markets are flush with vegetable garden starts. Our traditional vegetable season starts late because of our typical cool spring but lasts long into the fall. I harvest hot peppers in October. I encourage supporting the local organic farmers by buying well-rooted starts. For a small garden, it seems to make more sense than investing in starting from seed indoors. Only my peas and beans are seeded directly into the ground, one following the other.

May 1, 2014

I believe there is no bird call more joyous than a robin at sunrise. Chickadees are definitely cheery this season but robins deserve the main stage for pure joy. Enthusiastic males declare to any lady robin in hearing distance that he offers the best territory. Once eggs are laid, it is the crowing of fatherhood.

April 3, 2014

The romantic song of chickadees cheering up the morning is living proof of the arrival of spring. When the sun comes out after a heavy rain shower, all the birds sing joyfully. There will be more and more vegetable starts in racks outside the local market while the neighborhood gardens are dominated by spring blooming flowers. It is really too early to plant much besides peas and onions. It is not too early to clean up the beds to stay ahead of the weeds.

March 6, 2014

March is the month when the valley woodlands begin greening up. Two shrubs, osoberry and snowberry, are the first to give a light green wash to the understory. The osoberry (also known as Indian plum) flowers at the same time as leaf-out but snowberry saves flowering for late spring. My favorite color is spring green, the color of freshly emerged leaves. I am particularly fond of vine maple because its leaves stay this fresh, spring green throughout the summer, especially under a forest canopy.

February 13, 2014

“Typical is not normal; normal is not typical” is my weather mantra. This year is no exception to the Rule of Exceptionality. I have always believed that Oregon weather was more variable from year to year, each year more likely to be an exception to normal greater than in other parts of the country. The growing season is less predictable as a consequence. Now that climate change is becoming more and more evident across the continent, testing my belief has become more difficult.

January 9, 2014

Last month the east Delta Ponds froze and then seven inches of snow fell, making for a rare and beautiful scene. When the snow melted on a single warm day, the ponds revealed dozens of patches of tapering, branching, clear lines radiating outwards from one point. These patterns were evenly spread across the ponds, three to 10 feet in diameter, over inch-thick ice. The mechanism behind the formation of these patterns is a topic of debate among my geophysical friends.

December 5, 2013

Darkness comes early in December, now that midwinter is upon us. Remembering that Solstice isn’t until four days before Christmas, long nights are going to be around for a couple of months. We treasure clear, chilly nights when the stars put on a show from early in the evening. I mark the yearly cycle with only one constellation: Orion of Winter. It is the easiest to recognize, after the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. Orion has three bright stars decorating his belt; his sword marked by four close, smaller stars angling off below.

November 7, 2013

This fall there is a new flock of nine turkeys that circulate through our neighborhood, snooping down our street every other day. Their core must come from the ones that nested on the butte above our home this past spring. The turkey chicks that left the nest in April are now the size of their parents. We are not sure what they find to eat in their foraging; hope their menu includes slugs and snails.

October 10, 2013

The chanterelle season got a bountiful start this year. A dry summer favors high production in this mushroom. Then rains followed by a warm spell made the first flush not only plentiful but with wonderful shape and form.

September 12, 2013

It’s that time of year when the birds are getting restless. Migration is stirring in their bones — hollow bones evolved for long-distance flight. We expect thousands of Vaux’s swifts to roost in the old Agate Hall chimney for a week or so on their way south. Watch for the Audubon Society’s Friday night vigils Sept. 20 and 27 when that happens.

The equinox on Sept. 22 comes as the change in day length is at its greatest. After equinox the rate of change decelerates until the change is barely noticeable during the season of longest nights.

August 7, 2013

This must be nature’s designation of the Year of the Nut. Filbert trees all around town have an abundance of swelling husks. When growing close to the curb, nuts are being knocked off their branches by passing trucks and smashed on the street by subsequent traffic. Squirrels and crows leap out onto the street to snatch up the soft, as yet unripe, meat of the seed inside, what we call a nut. Walnuts are also showing a major crop, especially the Turkish walnuts, in abandoned orchards and back yards.

July 3, 2013

f you wanted to carve a dugout canoe from a log, is it better to chip out the inside first? Or should you first shape the outside and then scoop out the inside? The answer at the end may surprise you.