Friday, June 29, 2012

Owl Research

About two weeks ago, I went out on a nighttime trip with the Swaner Nature Center, searching for a Flamulated Owl. It was successful in many ways. I saw the owl (a new life bird). I met a couple of Summit County birders, who I have since gone birding with. And finally, I met Markus Mika, from HawkWatch International.

I followed up on Markus's offer to go out for a day with their owl researchers. This morning, I drove out to Huntsville Utah and met William, a summer employee, and Bryce, a more serious and useful volunteer than myself. We drove to Eden, then a bit further, then on a back road, then on a winding dirt road, and finally parked before our mile+ hike. The location of the owls is safely locked away in my lack of memory.

Because I was the old, visiting guy, they didn't make me carry the ladder during the day.

The owl nests we were hunting for were boxes put in trees 10 years ago.  They hadn't been checked since, but we did have a good hand-drawn map.  William and Bryce had been up last week checking the first 20 boxes and had found one nest of Flammulated Owls, which was the topic of this research project. It had four eggs in it, so our first stop was to see if any had hatched.

The trick to this owl work is to catch mom napping in the nest box during the day.  Dad is around somewhere and brings food at night, but doesn't hang around the box.  The first step is to sneak very, very quietly up on the nest with a long pole with a hat at the end. Before mom wakes up to look around, you poke the hat in the hole (entry way) so she can't leave.  Want some owl irony?  The hat was from Hooters. Here we have William waiting for step 2.

With the hat firmly in the hole, you prop the ladder against the tree, climb up, and for safety's sake, tie the ladder to the tree.  It turns out that squirrels, including flying squirrels, like these nests and may come popping out when you open the top.  No sense falling from 12 feet from a squirrel startle. Bryce is about to go grasping for owls.
Reach into the nesting box and out comes a Flammulated Owl.  This is a full grown female. Once she realizes she isn't making a quick escape, she just hangs out peacefully.
That's a good thing, because one of the first things we did was set her in a bag to weigh her. Even full grown, they only weigh about 2 ounces.
We leave her resting in her little bag and get the owlets. Last week they had found 4 eggs in this nest.  Two had hatched, but the other two were unlikely to.
 Like their mom, they get measured and weighed.  This is a very cautious, careful job.
Remember decorating Easter eggs when you were a child?  Well, somehow the researchers need to distinguish between the owlets on future visits.  The answer?  Sharpies!  I am not sure the marker company will ever use this in their ads, but a Sharpie works well on little owls.
Now, styling a black mohawk, he is returned to a hand with his nest mate.
We also stopped by and did a quick visit with a Saw-whet owl. Since this isn't the topic of their research, we stopped just long enough for me to get a picture.  Notice the dramatic difference between the Saw-whet's eyes and the Flammulated's. I think the Saw-whet's look more like Jasper's when he is waiting for you to toss a ball.
As we were pounding through the forest looking for nest boxes, Bryce found this intact skull, which we were fairly certain was a moose.  He didn't find the rest of the skeleton.
Of the eight nesting boxes we were trying to find:
  • Two were lost
  • Three had missing covers, so no animal would use them
  • One had become a squirrel nest
  • Two had Flammulated owl nests. One had three eggs yet to be hatched and one had four nestlings.  You normally have 2 or 3, so finding one with 4 live, happy nestlings was a good find.
I am so used to thinking about owls the size or Great Horned, Barred or Barn.  Seeing owls that look the same, but are shrunk down to a handful is just incredible.
Here is the smallest of the four nestlings.  He only weighed 7 grams, about 1/4 of an ounce.  His little eyes weren't open yet.
While he was being weighed and measured, his three nest mates were relaxing.  Of course, they had already been measured and had met Mr. Sharpie.  May I introduce Black, Blue and Red. The littlest guy was lucky.  He got to remain clear.
This isn't a great video but demonstrates the funniest thing I saw all day.  When you have an owl in your hand, they either play dead or just start napping.  Even then, they seem to have a non-stop stability system for their head that rivals any camera system.  Watch her head as Bryce moves his hand around.
A huge thanks to HawkWatch and Markus for letting me tag along on a day of owl work.  And thanks to William and Bryce who put up with my endless questions. It was truly a memorable experience. Finding two more nests meant a successful day and now they have more of the boxes GPS-tagged for future visits.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Recipe for a wild fire

You may have read about all the wildfires we are having in the western U.S. this summer.  Every year brings some fires, but this one is primed to be huge.  So, what makes for a big fire year?
  • Very low snowfall during the winter.  We only got about 75% of our normal snowfall.  I guess that makes up for the 140% we got last year.
  • No rain in May.  Just a bit of snow over Memorial Day.
  • Not a drop of rain in June. There is none in the 10 day forecast.
  • Consistently high winds.  They just keep blowing. Almost every day has winds up around 20 mph with much higher gusts.  
  • Bone dry air.  The weathermen were commenting that it was good news that the humidity was UP to 15%.  The past week has been in single digits.
Here's the grass on the hill behind our house and it still has two months of summer to really dry out.  It's already crunchy to walk on.
I am reading about all the evacuations and burning homes in Colorado. Julie and I will be working on our evacuation plan and refilming our house contents for insurance.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Leadership Park City

What do you do in a leadership class?  Team building of course. 
Each of our three teams had to put up a teepee.  To make things more interesting, each teepee had different instructions on how to build it.  Ours had a crappy photo of a standing teepee and the words "Go for it!".   Sure enough, we finished last.  Never a dull moment.

The next adventure

As a way to try and improve my photography of waterfowl, I decided to purchase an inexpensive, inflatable kayak. There are lots of nice reservoirs around Park City and of course, there is the Great Salt Lake.
I decided to do a trial in the back yard before hauling it off to some body of water and discovering a problem.  So far, so good.
The entertainment should start when I take it out for its maiden voyage. I chose this model for its stability (versus speed and handling) and the claim that it was tough enough for a dog to ride in. My first test will be with Jasper and a cheap, old camera.I hope to document the adventure.

Now if the winds would stop blowing at 30 mph I might get it out.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Down one scooter

A couple of years ago, Julie and I bought scooters to use around Park City.  It was fun to have, but I simply didn't use it enough to justify keeping it.  It had one fatal functional flaw:  Jasper the dog didn't fit on it.  Jasper goes with us on the majority of our car trips.

I listed it on Craigslist on Thursday and sold it Sunday evening for my asking price.  
Julie still has hers, which if I ask nicely, she may let me borrow.

Goodbye Mr. Scooter!

The Grand Table

Another year of dining on Main Street in Park City.  One day a year, they close down Main Street and all the restaurants bring out tables, creating a 2,000 person Grand Table.  I couldn't begin to capture it from this view, but the tables run all the way to the furthest buildings you can see. 
The photo above was shot as things were just getting started. As a measure of success, every restaurant sold every seat they had available.  I love Park City!

Our group of 12 was eating with the Mustang Restaurant.
Great food. Great weather.  Great friends.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

BMW M5 Bullet

You have probably seen some assortment of movies shot with very, very high-speed cameras, played back in slow motion.  Common ones include shooting a bullet through an apple and popping a balloon full of water.  BMW decided to do this themselves, only instead of using a bullet, they use a BMW M5.
I used to own an M5 and loved the car, but I never got to do any of this.  Bummer.  Looks like a lot of fun.

Oh, and it looks like it was shot on the Bonneville Salt Flats, about two hours from here.  Wish I had known about the shoot.  I would have gone out to see it. I am giving some serious consideration to watching a day of Speed Week again this year.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A pair of hawks

When picking up my new eye glasses, I went looking for some Sandhill Crane colts to take some photos.  No luck finding them, but I did have my camera mounted with the 500mm lens.  As I was nearing home, I saw two Red Tailed Hawks fighting over some big piece of dead something. I pulled over and got a few shots before they flew off.

This one has the chunk of bunny or squirrel (my best guess).
This one was the frustrated loser, at least so far.  
I still have more to master with my camera.  I tend to leave it in a fairly generic state so that if something happens quickly, I can just point and shoot.  This was close, but is another example of why humans are smarter than the camera's brain. To catch these hawks crisply, you need to be shooting around 1/1000th of a second or faster.  Otherwise their motion blurs in the picture.  My camera generically chose to do 1/400th to get a higher f-stop, which I didn't need.  By the time I manually adjusted it, they were too far off for a shot.

Fast decisions and fast camera settings can be the difference between a keeper, and these, which I use as interesting lessons and then they hit the Junk folder.  Thoughtful practice, and then more practice....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Road bike ride #2

Now that I am starting to ride again after my five year hiatus, I get to experience getting back into shape. Today was my second road bike ride so I decided to make it a short hill work out: 1.0 mile and 300 feet down, 3.5 miles and 1000 feet up, reverse.  My only hope is the saying  whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

My 1,000 foot climb was painfully slow and could have been measured with a calendar instead of a stopwatch.  Now I just need to do the climb up to Stein Eriksons over and over.

I took a minute at the end of the ride to figure out my "granny gear" on my road bike.  Needless to say, I spent the entire climb in this gear.

Road bike:
  • Smallest front chain ring: 42 teeth
  • Biggest back cog: 23 teeth
  • Each rotation of pedals rotates the wheel:  1.82 times
Mountain bike:
  • Smallest front chain ring: 22 teeth
  • Biggest back cog:  34 teeth
  • Each rotation of pedals rotates the wheel:  0.64 times
So, dragging my butt up a mountain on my road bike requires slowly grinding, pedal by pedal.  I will be shopping for a new cog.

Monday, June 18, 2012


We all have days like this, don't we?
This is Vidalia, one of the two mascots and greeters at Silver Star Ski and Sport's.  I got down on the floor to take her picture and she really couldn't be bothered to lift her head.

Vidalia lounges around inside the store and then wanders out onto the plaza to visit the Silver Star Cafe, where her expertise is mooching french fries off the ground.  Her collar says "Please Do Not Feed" in big bold letters.

Vidalia's sidekick is a French Bulldog named Tullulah.  She greeted me by sniffing my hand and snorting like a little pig.  She even has her own Facebook page. I like the quote from the Silver Star web site:  "You may think they are growling at you, but more than likely, it is snoring or just trying to breathe!"

Just adding a little more character to Bark City Park City.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flammulated Owl

Last night I went on an "Owl Prowl" offered by the Swaner Nature Preserve.  The speaker and trip guide was Markus Mika, who is the Science Director for HawkWatch International, a non-profit focused on studying and helping preserve the raptors.

Markus's specialty is the Flammulated Owl, which is a new one for me.  Because this owl happens to breed a bit later than most, they are still territorial and therefore are more likely to respond to calling them in.  We went to an area in Park City where Markus knew a pair was nesting, hiked up the mountain and waited for dark.  Then he pulled out his smart phone with a small, battery powered speaker attached. He played the owl's call and sure enough, after about 10 minutes and moving a bit back down the mountain, we started hearing the quiet response of the male owl.
Eventually he came close enough and Markus turned on a flashlight.  The owl had come within about 30 feet of us.  This isn't my picture. I thought it was pretty hopeless to get a shot, but in hindsight I might have been able to.

This little guy is only about 6" tall and is the smallest owl I have ever seen.  He flew off into a more distant tree but then couldn't help his curiosity and came right back.  Too cool!  Another life bird.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Custom shoes

If you grew up with Converse Chuck Taylor's, this may be one of the best uses of technology ever!  You can design your own Chucks for less than $70 and they show up in less than 3 weeks.

Click here to start down the path of being your own designer.

You can also take a look at my fine art work.

If you create something stylish, look to the right of your completed shoe and pick SHARE, then DIRECT LINK.  This will allow you to paste a direct link to your custom shoes.  Post it out here as a comment!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A round of golf

Now that we have stopped traveling for a bit, I went out with some friends to play a round of golf. I started off so terribly I didn't keep score, which was unfortunate because the last 16 holes were fairly decent.

The swing of the day went to Doug Drexler.  He hit a ball that just got pounded into the side of a sand trap, just below the grass line.
Although Doug is a mediocre golfer (sorry Doug), he managed to pop the ball right out.  The pros couldn't have done it much better. You can see the ball about shoulder height.
Once again, I am impressed with how well the iPhone 4S's camera does if you give it a sunny day.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Cannon Beach Oregon

After hanging with the Smale family for a few days, we took off for Cannon Beach.  It is a surprisingly easy 60 mile drive from Hillsboro. We chose it for its convenience and because it is supposed to be one of the more scenic beaches on the Oregon coast.

We stayed at the Ocean Lodge, which was nicely located. It's rooms were generously sized and very quiet. Oh, and the free cookie jar...
One thing that made it scenic was the small mountains just outside of town.  They always seemed to have their own climate. Both Julie and I thought its surge from the sea and lush greenery resembled Hawaii.
How many times do you see a beach this wide?  How many times do you see weather this nice?  How many times do you see so few people on a stretch of beach?  Now combine all those.  Wow!
As you may have seen in other photographs I take, I am a huge fan of capturing reflections.  As the tide went out, it would leave a sheen of water on the beach, which from the right angle, became a mirror of the sky.
This is the iconic Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach. It's home to hundreds or thousands of nesting birds.
I tried playing around with longer exposures.  It is interesting to see the effects on the waves.  The "haze" is all from blowing salt water.  When I got home, my camera and all the lens got a serious cleaning.
This gull was kind enough to stay mostly still during a half second exposure.  When you shoot longer exposures, it's hard to ask all the live subjects to stay frozen.
So I often resort to things that haven't moved for millennia and probably won't any time soon.  To get it dark enough to shoot long exposures in the middle of the day, I use a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter, my lowest ISO (200), and a high f-stop.
Julie and I visited Ecola State Park, which is just north of Cannon Beach. Through a number of family donations, they have managed to protect over 1,000 acres of very special land.
This is the lighthouse Terrible Tillie, named after Tillamook which is further south down the coast.  Like so many lighthouses, its beam was turned off years ago because of the costs and the advent of modern navigation.  A private company bought Tillie and used it to intern funeral ashes. Unfortunately, this seems to have lots of issues, which make for an interesting read in this NY Times article.
Another view of the coast from Ecola.
Like everywhere in coastal Oregon, the woods are mossy and lush.  It makes for interesting but eery hiking.
Back to the beach with more reflections...
The patterns in the sand were very interesting.  Some were lumpy. Some were long and straight.  I pondered the physics involved in creating the patterns and couldn't even come up with a good guess. Any ideas?
A wide angle lens, some interesting clouds, and the reflections made this interesting.
We were there for two nights and I was really stoked about seeing the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.  In Park City, most of our sunsets are just a bright yellow globe dropping behind a mountain.  Unfortunately, the first evening brought a driving rain storm. The second evening was more cooperative.
After shooting the picture above, I was starting to walk down the beach when I saw the long string of Pelicans in the sky to the left of the rock.  Wish I had stayed where I was.  You can click on the photo for a better view.
I think this is the end of my rocks and reflections, but they are so pretty.

Haystack Rock is the popular tourist spot.  It is a huge rock formation jutting out from a very flat beach.  To get an idea of the size, you can see tiny people at the base of the rock.  I already mentioned that it is home to huge flocks of interesting sea birds.  Finally, when the tide goes out, there are marvelous tidal pools all around the rock.
I always think of starfish and sea anemone as things for the coral reefs, but Oregon's coast is full of them. You could walk up to the tidal pools at low tide and see all sorts of interesting things.
Some starfish were loners, but you can find them in large groups.  How many of you know the name for a group of starfish?  A flock? A herd?  A gang?  Nope, it is a tird of starfish.  Who thinks of these things?
I have no idea what mayhem struck this tird, but they looked like they were all suffering from hangovers from a wild starfish party.
The next day life was back to something normal and everyone had a firm grip. Well, except that one lying in the water who seems to have fallen off completely.
The tidal pools were also full of small fish, but you had to look closely because they were well camouflaged.
The rocks were heavily encrusted with mussels and barnacles.  Some of the mussels were the size of a softball. They might not taste as good, but two or three would make a meal.
Most of the ocean birds were too far off the photograph, but this little sparrow was cooperative.
And them he stopped by with a yummy, oozing caterpillar in his mouth. Tasty!
At Ecola Park, we saw a pair of Bald Eagles.  The next morning, I saw them both at Haystack Rock.
It is a bit hard to see, but you imagine what happens when a pair of eagles starts flying around the nests of hundreds of sea birds.  The birds go berserk.  Apparently the eagles have been getting smarter, sending one from the front to stir up the birds and get their attention, while the other flies in from the other direction. 
I took a simple picture of a crow on a small rock.  When I looked at it later, I determined that we had seen a rare levitating crow.  I have no idea how he is doing this without spreading his wings. No wonder crows are frequently associated with dark magic.
You have to love a town that has Tsunami Warnings. We were hoping we wouldn't be near one of these towers when a warning went off.  It turns out we were, but they have solved the problems with scaring people with fake sirens.  Instead, a test siren is a bunch of mooing cows. When you first hear them, you can't imagine what you are listening to: very loud repetitive Moo's. Then a voice comes on to explain "This is only a test.  Moo means test."
And we close the blog entry with one of the most  common things we saw in Cannon Beach, a closed sign.  Stores and restaurants seemed to be closed on random days of the week and hours of the day. They seemed quite happy to be enjoying a lifestyle I would associate with a small Caribbean island. Julie asked one store owner when they would open the next day.  "Ten o'clock" she replied.  The next day she arrived to open the store around 11:45.  Nice life!
If you haven't been to the Oregon coast, it is definitely worth a visit.