Saturday, March 17, 2012

Squirrel Tactics 101: Raiding a Bird Feeder

I just put up a bird feeder the other day, and filled it with some good, low waste feed which includes cracked corn and peanuts.  I haven't noticed any small birds at the feeder yet, but the larger fauna have certainly taken note.  I enjoyed watching a squirrel discover the feeder, and I had to admire her cautious but effective methods.  Other squirrels could take a lesson...

Step 1: Aerial reconnaissance - Always check the location from above if possible.

Step 2: Approach the area with caution

Step 3: Check the perimeter - use any available cover to your advantage

Step 4: Keep one eye on the guy with the camera

Step 5: Approach the goal for closer inspection

Step 6: Inspect goal and evaluate procurement options

Step 7: Inspect the goal support from below - Can it be climbed?  (Continue to use cover to your advantage.  Native plants work best.)

Step 8:  When faced with a hanging goal, check for stability...

Is the goal hung securely? Will it support your weight?

Step 9: With a goal that is within reach, attempt a "stretch and grab" maneuver...

Always try every side and angle.

Then make the grab.

Step 10: Enjoy the spoils.

Supplemental note: Always beware of other raiders.

Like Western Scrub Jays (Aphelocoma californica)...

and American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

The squirrel in these photos is - sadly - not an Oregon native species.  It is a fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), from the eastern United States.  According to the Audubon Society of Portland, we have five native squirrel species in the Portland metro area, but today our two most commonly-seen species are invasive.  The fox and the eastern gray.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Maricara Natural Area: Forest and Wooded Wetland in SW Portland

Hidden away in the Markham neighborhood of Southwest Portland, very near Tryon Creek State Natural Area, is a much smaller woodland called Maricara Natural Area.  Though it may be small (17 acres compared to Tryon Creek's 670 acres), it's certainly not lacking when it comes to beauty or providing that woodsy sense of seclusion that we nature-loving Portlandians crave.

View Larger Map

There is not a lot of parking available around the park.  The natural area is really tucked into the neighborhood, and there is no parking lot.  So I would encourage you to hike, bike, or use TriMet (Click here to Open TripPlanner).  Route 43 will get you within a half mile of the park's western edge.

Maricara Natural Area consists of mostly second-growth Douglas fir and Big Leaf Maple woodlands. The forest surrounds a wooded wetland area which is the headwaters for a small stream that flows into Arnold Creek, then on to Tryon Creek and the Willamette River.  The elevation between any two points in the park only differs by about 100 feet, so no steep hikes here.

The Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) was just beginning to sprout its lance-shaped leaves when I visited.  I thought it was interesting that the leaves were sprouting before the flower racemes.  In my yard, which gets full sun, the the flower racemes come into full bloom before you see this much leaf.  I wonder if it has to do with the amount of sun received.

I love the ferns growing in the moss on this tree.

Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)
When I spotted this little brown bird making its way up the trunk of a Douglas Fir, I thought it was some type of nuthatch, even though I knew that nuthatches usually travel head-first down the tree.  I couldn't see the curved beak until I got home and enlarged the photo.  Nuthatches have straight, stout, pointed bills.  This bird, as it turns out, is a Brown Creeper (Certhia americana).  They use their long, sturdy tails for support as they move spirally up tree trunks, probing for insects and spiders.  (The tail of a nuthatch is shorter - they don't use them for support because their heads are usually facing down the trunk.)

Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) enjoying Douglas fir seeds
As I was walking quietly along, I heard the distinct sound of nibbling.  I scanned the trees and saw this Douglas Squirrel having lunch.  It had almost worked its way through a Douglas fir cone, like a big piece of corn on the cob.

I thought the corona of fungus around this log was interesting.

The photo above shows one of the wooded wetland areas.  More of a "dampland" really.  I'm sure it's wetter at times - this hasn't been one of our rainiest periods recently - but this is not the kind of wetland with lots of open water to attract ducks and geese.  A very understated wetland, for the woodland creatures to enjoy.

On the south side of the park, coming up from the bridge across the creek, the ground was just covered with the young plants pictured above.  I could be wrong, but I think this is Western (or Pacific) Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa), one of our native wildflowers.  It's hard for me to tell when they're so young, but if I'm right, this will be a beautiful spot to visit in a couple weeks or so.

Update (March 9th, 2012): OK - I think I was wrong about that being Pacific Bleeding Heart.  Mike Bezner, over at Slugyard, noted on my Facebook page that this looks like Waterleaf.  After using his suggestion to do some searching on the intertubes, I agree.  This picture looks very much like mine.  And here's some more info on Pacific Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum viridulum).  Sounds like it doesn't bloom until May or so, but it does have nice flowers - if not as showy as Bleeding Heart.  I'm just glad to know this plant that was widespread at Maricara Natural Area is a west coast native, and not one of the many invasive species Portland is at war with.  Thanks for the tip, Mike!

Lots of Oregon Grape.  I believe this is the shorter variety, Dull Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa), as opposed to Tall Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium), which is Oregon's State Flower.  There's also Creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens), but it's leaves are not as sharply toothed.

The Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) pictured above seems to be growing out of an old stump.  I thought maybe it was a rotted old Douglas fir stump that played host to a Big Leaf Maple seedling.  On closer inspection, the bark on the "stump" appears to be Big Leaf Maple as well.  Definitely not conifer bark.  I believe it's some kind of burl on the tree - it doesn't really appear to be a stump at all.

This is the upper portion of that same Big Leaf Maple- showing off its luxurious coat of moss and fern greenery.

Lots of bird houses around the park.  I noticed a "PSU" marking on a couple.  Some Portland State University study or project?

This picture looks very primeval.  Those logs have been there a while.

So that's my visit to Maricara Natural Area.  The park is a real jewel, and I recommend you check it out soon!  If you do, let me know if those "Bleeding Hearts" are in bloom.

For more info on Maricara Natural Area, visit the park's Intertwine page, and the Portland Parks & Recreation page, where you can download a trail and contour map, as well as a planning document which tells all about the park's species, condition, and planning for improvements (some of which have been completed).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Spring? What Spring?

Snow on Kinnikinnick
I know spring is not actually here yet, but we have had some very spring-like weather in the Portland area this late-winter. I recently posted about all the native plants breaking into bloom.  In the time since that post, my Red-flowering Currant has joined the party.

Now we've had several nights of 30 degree temperatures, and not much warming during the day.  It tried to snow yesterday, and it looks like it succeeded sometime last night.

Red-flowering Currant

Indian Plum blooms above Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium littorale) 
Not much snow to speak of, but enough to give us - and the plants - a reality check. 

Indian Plum
I'm not sure if this soothes my Spring Fever, or just makes it that much worse, but March 20th is still out there.  Slowly making its way to us.

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