Sunday, April 27, 2014

Early Dinner Guests

Going Off-Pond
Osprey Nest 2013
Nest Near Hope 2013
Magnificent View Outside Hope
Osprey on Elmira Pond 2013
Osprey Fishing Elmira Pond 2013
Fish in Elmira Pond 2013
Osprey Arrived in May 2013
Osprey Bomb 2013
One of Three 2013 Osprey
Riding in the passenger seat of our red Ford Fusion, I'm navigating away from Elmira Pond. I'm in charge of the itunes, dogs and the path.

It's a path we both know--Hwy. 2 follows the Clark Fork River from where it ends, spilling water and sediment into Lake Pend Oreille to its most populated town upon the river's banks. Missoula, Montana is where two of our grown children live.

In addition to sharing these connections of water and pavement, we are connected by the sky. The vast sky-way begins in Central America and ends with the Clark Fork River's final spill into Lake Pend Oreille. And the osprey are its frequent travelers, showing up in western Montana and northern Idaho in May.

Which causes me some reluctance to leave Elmira Pond. I know in my heart that I'm going to miss their return because it is nearly May. Every day, with eyes to the sky, I look for them. Why they leave the banquet of fish-abundant waters only 15 miles south to hunt this humble peat bog, I do not know.

But I welcome their visits.

Osprey are large; not as big as the two bald eagles that also hunt this valley, but their five-foot wing span is noticeably wider than any other large hawk in the region. Osprey are raptors, but they dine exclusively on fish.

And that's how I learned that Elmira Pond has fish.

Driving around the sweeping bend in Hwy. 2 near Hope, Idaho I look out over the sparkling waters of Lake Pend Oreille. Like the cliche that all volcanoes are drawn like triangles with wide bases and cone peaks, the Selkirks encircle the deep lake with such cliches. Where forest, mountains, water and sky meet commands an awe-inspiring view.

We both comment, "It's so beautiful," never tiring of the magnificence of this particular curve in the road.

The only thing that can trump the view does--an osprey flies over the road with a two-foot stick. Osprey are master nest builders. "Must be the female," I say. Although in all fairness, the males are just as interested in the nest as the females.

I text my eldest daughter, Allison, immediately:
"Guess what I just saw?"
"An osprey???"
"Saw three along the Clark Fork."
They are back, they are back. In fact, Iris has already arrived in Missoula to the Hellgate nest. As I type, she's chattering up a storm (literally, thunder is rolling in as she calls to another osprey that might be Stan, her mate). You can watch Iris and Stan live: Hellgate Canyon Osprey Project.

My daughter worked with the Montana Osprey Project last season. She published a podcast and hopes to publish one about the osprey on Elmira Pond. How much longer will it be before they are hunting Elmira Pond? 

We make it to Quinn's Hot Springs where my younger daughter, Brianna, meets us for a fantastic Montana dinner in a classy log lodge. She's my ride into Missoula. Todd returns to Elmira for another day before he has to leave for a 10-day work week in Boise.

While I'm watching Allison dance live at a cabaret with a sword balanced on her head, Todd texts me, "Guess who came to dinner?"

Yes, one of the three Elmira Pond osprey returned just as Todd was finishing up yard work. He heard the whistles first. Osprey are chatty, social and will let you get close for photo opportunities. The photos posted in this blog are from last year. These four that follow are my husband's captures of our early dinner guests.

The migration was successful.

Early Dinner Guest 2014

Todd Looks Up 2014

And an Osprey Looks Back 2014

A Successful 2014 Migration

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Elmira Pond Live

Visiting Earth Day Mallard
The Greening
Earth Day arrives gray and rainy, bringing the moisture required for the greening. Walking through the pastures the ground feels spongy. Clumps of moss grow grass that feeds geese and horses, along with the browsing elk and midnight moose.

Yesterday while on the phone with a friend, Blue Heron spread his 6-foot wings and glided over the edge of the pond to land by the Canada goose couple. Excited, I ran outside on the phone and she reminded me that my phone could record footage. It's a new phone, and a new option for me to yet master.

So, for Earth Day, I'm going to give you my choppy first attempts at filming Elmira Pond. This is the first time I've ever shared the pond live. Forgive the bumps and wiggles of my unsteady hand and traipsing gait. But I hope you enjoy a live glimpse!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Flowers

Tiny White Flowers
Easter Daffodils
Purple Pansies Smile
Dandelions in the Cracks
Sense of Wonder (August 2013)
Winter, dull and dead, numbs our sight with desert views of white or brown, ice or leaflessness. Yet, how can we doubt a Creator when spring brings life out of death?

How can we doubt salvation when we find the tomb empty?

Spring is another beginning; another cycle of blooms. It renews with tiny white flowers among greening blades of grass. Spring sprigs that could decorate the long hair of a woman instead decorate clumps of moss and dirt.

Then from earth, knife-like plants emerge, arrows pointed to the sky. Blue-green stalks bud, and on Easter morning the first daffodils bloom on Elmira Pond, defying deer, moose and gophers.

Beneath winter snows, pansies grip green. How they do it, I can't explain, but drifts of snow recede and the diminutive plant, stunted and flowerless is green. Despite wind, rain, frost and heavy mist that rolls across this valley it pushes purple flowers to bloom from its stubby green mound of leaves and stems.

Pansy faces smiling in their Sunday best.

Dandelions emerge from cracks between driveway and walkway to remind us that our modern concretions do not rule over creation. It's an odd thing to battle dandelions, beloved by bees and children who know how to weave chains of flowers.

Somehow we have lost track of the beauty and magic of dandelions--bitter greens aid the digestion; wine from yellow flowers boosts the heart; and blowing dandelion seeds is a wonder that every child needs to experience.

We celebrate Easter with the joys of knowing, "He has risen."

Even if we can only comprehend the undeniable blooms present after a season of death.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day of Reflection

Basking Turtles and Ring-Necked Couple
Busy Day on the Pond
Bufflehead Female
Semi-Inflated Hooded Merganser
Yes! Lady Merganser Has Arrived
Pacific northwest cloud cover, wispy and white nearly hides the blue sky. You can see a tinge of blue as if looking at a robin's egg behind thin cotton. Days like this turn Elmira Pond green.

Not green, as in dingy pond-scum green. This clear water bog pond, peat pond, spring pond, mountain valley pond is many things, but never scummy. Today it is green because of cloud cover. With the blue sky blocked, Elmira Pond reflects the green of the Ponderosa pines.

It's a day of reflection. All six painted turtles line the log with mirror images belly-up to the sky. Basking may not be sunny today, but it is warmer and no longer drizzling. A ringed-neck duck couple joins the turtles in basking.

It's a busy day on the pond. Although the American wigeons vacated over a week ago, the knuckle-headed buffleheads that had courted upon these reflective waters left behind their gal. I noticed the female duck, recognizing her white cheek-patch. Like the mergansers, she roosts and nests in trees.

I'm beginning to understand where ducks go at night.

The hooded merganser inflates and deflates his head while I swill coffee, admiring his colorful pond reflection. I'm delighted to confirm that he indeed has a lady. She's the one doing all the silly head-bobbing, wing flapping and preening that the male buffleheads do. The male floats nearby, puffing his crest.

All are diving, but the geese. The big dabblers are pulling up chunks of submerged plants. Fish or frogs rise dangerously close to divers. I've yet to see a merganser swallow a frog or fish whole this season, but I know they do.

As if in absence of blue, Blue Heron remains unseen. Yesterday he showed up briefly with a companion. I'm hopeful that he may yet raise a family this summer.

Another cup of coffee down and my reflections come to a close.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Diver in the 'Hood

Canada Geese are Dabblers
Mergansers are Divers
Concentric Rings From Diving
Fully Inflated Hood
Walking on Water for Take Off
Flattening for Flight
Is That a Lady Merganser Perhaps?
Ducks either dabble or dive.

The hooded merganser is one of the smallest divers; diminutive as buffleheads. In fact, I often confuse the two because first, I see is a flash of white and second, I notice concentric rings of diving.

Last year I confused the male hooded merganser for a male wood duck. They have similar striking bold patterns, but wood ducks are dabblers. Since then, I also learned to recognize the long, thin saw-bill and crest of mergansers in silhouette.

The diver in the 'hood is definitely a hooded merganser and his hood is on display. Like a modified low-rider with hydraulic suspension, the male can inflate his impressive crest of black and white. Imagine that--a breeding male with the ability to inflate his head.

He's can also walk on water. Mergansers have thin wings that whistle in flight and run across the surface of the pond as if it were an airstrip. In flight, the hooded merganser appears flat, in opposition to his puffed hood.

The diver in the 'hood seems solitary. Another fact that I've gleaned since my first summer on Elmira Pond, is that hooded mergansers nest in trees, like wood ducks. I actually witnessed the emergence of merganser babies from an old aspen across the fields of the Bluebird Ranch.

Yet a horrific scene unfolded, as babies tumbled from the tree nest. One of the Pack River bald eagles swooped low and nabbed them for lunch. Babies on the pond are vulnerable to predators.

Sharing breakfast with my youngest daughter a few weeks ago, we watched the lake by Samuel's Corners. It's the only gas station in our area and they serve home-made breakfast, thick local-beef burgers and decent coffee. We got to swapping stories with the waitress, and it seems that those Pack River bald eagles have a taste for baby duck.

But miracles do happen. Later in the summer, after I thought the mergansers left, I started to notice a solitary Lady Merganser. After much eye-squinting, internet gawking, bino scoping and bird-book flipping, I recognized her as a female hooded merganser. She has a regal crest of cinnamon. Well into July, her young brood joined her on Elmira Pond.

Now remember, I mistook the victims of the May eagle massacre for wood ducks. Was this what remained of her nest or was this a new hatch? I'm not certain.

But I am certain that a male now roosts upon the waters in this 'hood. With head inflated, he's waiting for his lady, looking mighty fine. How can a female that by? We'll keep a vigilant watch.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wapiti Romp-By

The Gang Romps in From the North
Passing Elmira Pond
Gilded Rump in the Morning Sun
A "Little" Yearling
Bouncing to the Beat
Entering the Blue Bird Ranch
Movin' and Groovin'
The Gang Has Romped By
Wapiti trot past the pond.

Elk are like the hip-hoppers of the Rocky Mountains. Rarely do they amble or glide like deer; they bounce in such a way as to rock their golden rumps from side-to side. They'll play chase in large open fields, bucking and kicking at each other the way kids will rough-house.

Wapiti romp to their own hoof-drumming beat.

Dawn's morning light adds extra gild to their tawny hides with furry patches of russet. The romp-by begins north of Elmira Pond as the elk herd--called a gang--bobbles across a neighbor's field. I can see their glistening hides as the gang weaves in and out of Ponderosa pines.

Not much will stop a gang. Wapiti stand four to five feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 1,100 pounds! Imagine a bull-elk with a four-foot rack. He'd tower over professional basketball players, and they too, would step out of the way.

Steam rises softly from Elmira Pond. Ducks, geese and mergansers may already be floating on the waters, but it's hard to see them through the mist.

Mist doesn't hide the wapiti that continue past the pond. From a safe distance--my husband proudly declares me a chicken and I accept that title--I snap photos. He'll be so happy to see them.

Wapiti is a Cree or Shawnee name meaning, "light-colored deer."  Yet, somehow, Todd and I took to calling elk, "lokies" when we lived in Montana during the 1990s. Maybe one of the kids called an elk a "lokie;" maybe we confused it for "wapiti."

Traveling the 15 miles between Sandpoint and Elmira, we always look for the gang. We know the wapiti hot-spots. We've paused many times to watch them romp or feed in several hay fields.

Once we even watched a dog pursue a wapiti. Several more chased the dog and most of the gang continued to graze, unconcerned.

They graze like gilded lightening. We've watched them push through here in less than 10 minutes, eating grass the entire time. Always, though, they show up at the worst lighting for photos and I have sketchy snapshots that strain the imagination.

But today is my lucky, golden day. Today I have a full wapiti romp-by in good lighting.

The gang moves on and the sun rises. Such is life on Elmira Pond.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Blue Paper Airplanes

Sky Divers
Blue Tree Swallow
Preening Wings
Blue on Blue
Blue Beside the Pond
Tree swallows dip and soar like blue paper airplanes.

How carefully I folded the blank page, pressing each seam to create a point, wings and an under-body. It was fifth-grade or maybe fourth. I had a crush on the same boy in both grades so memories seem to bend like the paper folds. He could build paper airplanes that flew like tree swallows across the recess yard.

Shiny blue like a hot-rod with a metallic paint job, tree swallows ace aerobatics with fancy flying tricks. Nesting near water in a small colony, the air stream is alive with twittering flight. I try to follow with my camera, but miss tumbles and dives. I'm too slow.

Making paper airplanes, I'd hold my mouth open slightly crooked in concentration much the way I still do when trying to get the tree swallows to connect with my camera lens. No matter how many times the boy tried to show me, "Fold it this way," my paper airplanes still careened to the ground nose-first.

So I watch the tree swallows, the way I used to watch his soaring pointed paper. Sometimes, he'd notch back flaps for his planes. Watching the tree swallows, I see no such notches but observe a slightly forked tale. In flight, the birds seem to arc their wings to become part of a loop, tumbling feathers of iridescent blue.

I remember his hair was so blond, my paper airplane boy. In the sun it seemed to glitter like the wing of a tree swallow. Iridescence. Did I imagine that--gilding my memory of this boy who had engineering skills I tried so hard to replicate?

The tree swallows bring life to the skies just as the ducks, mergansers, turtles and frogs bring it to the pond. "Winter was so quiet," I say out loud to be heard above the chatter of it all.

As the tree swallows build nests in boxes lining my garden, I sit on the porch steps and begin to fold.

My latest crush flies like blue paper airplanes.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Morning Rain

Mist Shrouds the Mountain Tops
Pastures Hide Killdeer and Blue Heron
Morning Traffic in the Rain
Wigeons Don't Mind the Wet and Wind
Snow Up High
Turtle Log
Abandoned Pond Nest in Winter
Mist shrouds the tops of mountains as rain drizzles on Elmira Pond. The wind gusts with that hollow window howl that makes me want to curl up beneath a velvety blanket with a good book. It's chilly, but not enough for a fire, yet when the winds whirl mist off the mountains I can see that it's snowing in the higher elevations.

A killdeer is my morning tease. I can hear her shrill cry above the wind at my window, but I can't see her. I look with bare eyes and binoculars. Scanning the pasture, the pond's eastern edge and the overgrown dead grass of the Bluebird Ranch I don't glimpse her movement or flash of white underparts. But she continues to shrill, kill-deeah-dee-dee.

Other than the wind there seems to be no obvious threat to the killdeer's cry. Maybe she's just as bad at singing as I am and only sounds distressed. While I can't see her, I know she's plucking insects from the pastures. It's the favorite food this time of year and I welcome the diners.

Because we run horses here in the summer, our pastures look like they have a winter buzz cut. Fuzzy green new growth is barely showing. It will be another month before there's enough grass for the horses and by then the killdeer babies will have hatched. If there's a nest.

The birds of Elmira Pond are crafty at hiding their nests. This past winter, I stumbled across several of them, amazed that they even existed. The winter winds gusted other nests out of tall pines. Nests can be rebuilt; the builders are good at what they do. I just supply the materials--grass, mud, sticks and even loose strands of my own hair that I toss to the wind, "for the birds."

Blue heron stands across the pond from all the killdeer chatter. Between my vantage point and his, wigeons and geese float in the rain. Birds don't seem to mind. Already there are frogs on the pond--I started to hear peepers this week. At night, I step outside and peepers fill the night with calls. I know when a predator invades Elmira Pond because the peepers go silent. It's eerie when they do. So I feel safe out in the dark when I can hear them.

But this morning, they are potential breakfast. Blue Heron patiently waits like I do, standing still, waiting for that final percolation of the coffee pot. Then I dive in, filling my mug, savoring the heat and aroma as if it were my first taste after a long migratory flight.

The exposed log in the pond--alternately it is the basking spot for many--holds five turtles this morning. I wonder what rain on turtle-shell sounds like and if the turtles enjoy the drumming as much as I do when it pummels the metal roof of my house. Soothing, rhythmic sounds to accompany the wind.