Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Birds in Idaho - Part 2

Western Tanager near the Greenhorn Trail, in Hailey, Idaho
 This is my third post of the interesting birds we observed on our vacation to Utah, Wyoming and Idaho this summer, and the second post that focuses on the birds of Idaho. After traveling through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks, we spent the second half of our vacation in Idaho. From the barren land of Craters of the Moon National Monument, to the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains, and then the cliffs of the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation area we saw some interesting and unique birds.

Idaho has an abundance of rivers, in fact it has the most river miles of any state in the country.  It is revered by fisherman and provides great habitat for birds and other wildlife..

Osprey definitely find ample opportunity to fish. On our way to Craters of the Moon, we took the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. Our first stop was at Upper Mesa Falls located at Henry's Fork of the Snake River. This pair of osprey found a perfect perch to build a nest.
A well maintained boardwalk provides access to a closeup look at the falls that drop 114 feet.

The next day we spent the morning at Craters of the Moon, one of the national monuments that was on President Trump's list for reevaluation. Fortunately, no changes to its designation were recommended by Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke. We were warned that the temperature can sometimes be unbearably hot, so I put on my shorts, but it was definitely a hat and gloves day, being both cold and windy!

Standing in front of lava formations at Craters of the Moon National Monument
In spite of the seemingly inhospitable environment here, over 200 species of birds have been identified. During the short time we were there, I only saw a handful of different species and I am thinking that the wind was a factor.

A colorful Mountain Bluebird at Craters
The Clark's Nutcracker is the size of a jay and is grey with black wings. This one was hiding in the thicket
Another interesting birding area we visited was less than an hour drive from Boise - the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, where more than 700 pairs of raptors nest each spring along the Snake River Canyon.

Snake River Canyon
Although we didn't see many raptors it was still an amazing place to visit. The first birds that we saw were ravens, although they are not technically birds of prey, this area provided a perfect habitat for them. Down by the river we saw dozens flying around the cliffs.  Based on their size and the apparent coaxing of their parents, I suspected that these nesting Ravens were ready to take flight within hours. I have written previously about the intelligence of these birds so it was disheartening to learn that in 2014 the State of Idaho was granted a permit by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill 4000 Ravens in an attempt to reverse the decline of Sage-Grouse. I am not sure if the plan was ever implemented.

Parent and "baby" Raven
In addition to birds, the conservation area is home to many mammals and herps (e.g. reptiles and snakes.) The Lizard below crossed our path. It had beautiful blue dots on its back.

Common Side-blotched Lizard

We followed the road down the canyon to a dam and the Swan Falls Picnic area where we ate our lunch. This is the site of the Swan Falls Hydroelectric Dam operated by Idaho Power.

The Swan Falls Dam hydroelectric plant was built in 1901 and is now a museum
It was a beautiful spot for a picnic and there were several female Barrow's Goldeneyes swimming on the river.  
This Barrow's Goldeneye has a quizzical look
After we finished our sandwiches, we continued on the road along the river. The road turns to dirt and becomes narrow, but is still easily passable. Not surprisingly, we saw another osprey and nest.
The rope adds some color to the nest, but I wonder if it's a safety hazard to birds that may get caught up in it.
The topography at the end of the road was very interesting and another reminder of how varied the landscape is in Idaho. The road finally ended, so we turned around and continued on to our next destination, Celebration Park.
These rock formations looked like giant's feet
Dirt road along the Snake River

On the drive we saw a Long-billed Curlew, a species of concern in Idaho.

Long-billed Curlew

Celebration Park
Celebration Park is an archeological site, with a 10,000 year old history of nomadic tribes living in the area. It is also on the Idaho Birding Trail.
There is a museum on the premises and a visitor center where there are maps, but it was closed when we arrived. Because of this, we did not know exactly how to get to the rocks with the petroglyphs, for which the park is most known. Instead, I took a random walk toward the cliffs to see what I could find. Immediately, I saw a peregrine falcon, but it flew either into one of the many rock crevices, or around the side before I could capture a photo. The rock formations themselves were very interesting and there were lots of cliff swallows flying around and as I got closer, I could see the colony of nests.

A colony of Cliff swallows
I was so preoccupied watching the birds, that I did not notice the snake coiled on a rock slab to the right of the nests until I started gathering photos for this blog.

Snake at Celebration Park. 

I could not see its entire body, but it was either quite large, or there was a second snake behind it. Also I am not sure if it was a Gopher snake or a Rattlesnake since they both can be found in the area. I am just glad that it was a distance away.

It was late afternoon by the time we left the park to return to Boise. We decided to make one last birding stop at the Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge. Our timing was not good again, as the visitors center was closing just as we pulled into the parking lot. Because of this, we only stayed briefly and did not observe the many water birds for which the refuge is know. We did see several Magpies, and even though it's a common bird in the West, they are beautiful and entertaining to watch.

Black-billed Magpie
I realize now that this blog could have probably been divided into two. We also visited the Sun Valley/Ketchum area where we went on a three mile hike in Hailey. The photo at the beginning of this blog was taken from that trip. Idaho is a beautiful state and the birds that can be found their reflect that beauty.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Quinoa with Dried Cherries Served with Bannock

These two recipes were in a recent AMC Outdoors magazine and are meant for backpackers since the ingredients are easy to carry and to prepare. They sounded so good that I made them at home. Both tasted delicious and I can only imagine how good they would be after a long day on the trail.

Quinoa with Dried Cherries 
2 cups quinoa
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup onion (dried flakes if packing)
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries
1 Tablespoon dried mint or 2 Tablespoons fresh
1 Tablespoon dried parsley or 2 Tablespoons fresh 
3/4 cup pistachios, chopped
-Rinse and drain quinoa then add 4 1/4 cups water to pot, with all ingredients except pistachios. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add nuts and let sit for 5 minutes, then serve with Bannok.
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter
1 cup water
-Mix dry ingredients, then gradually add water until you can pick up with your hand. Knead on floured board about 12 times, adding more flour as needed. Pat a handful of dough into a circle.  Melt butter in cast iron skillet and fry dough about 5 - 10 minutes each side until cooked through. Best served warm, but can be saved for later.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Anise Hyssop

Monarch on Anise Hyssop
If you are looking for a fast growing colorful plant to attract pollinators and that has multiple uses, then consider Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). It is a native plant of North and Central America which became popular with colonists as a bee plant which result in honey with an anise flavor. You only need to purchase one plant as it readily reseeds itself - almost too prolifically. This can be a problem is you are not diligent and pull up unwanted strays. I have found that once established it is carefree and just needs a sunny or partly sunny location.

This large clump of Anise Hyssop self-seeded itself in the vegetable garden from another plant several yards away. You can see several smaller clumps starting as well.

This plant attracts multiple pollinators and it is not uncommon to see numerous bees and butterflies sipping the nectar of the flowers. I was so happy to see the monarch above land on the flower the weekend before last. It is nice to know that our yard is becoming a habitat for these butterflies with the milkweed being used as food for the larvae and other flowering plants in the garden attracting the adults. I am not sure exactly when the monarchs will begin migrating South, but I imagine they need plenty of fuel to travel the over 2,000 miles to Mexico.

Native American also used Anise hyssop as a medicnal herb. The leaves have antibacterial properties and when taken as a tea it can relieve congestion. The purple flowers are a nice addition to cut flower arrangements and last a long time in a vase of water. As a culinary plant, the leaves can be used in vinegar for salads, as a cordial when steeped with alcohol, or candied for dessert. The flowers can also be eaten fresh and are used in salads and drinks.  Some describe the flavor as a combination of licorice, tarragon and basil.

I have only used the plant as an ornamental, but am looking forward to tasting the leaves and flowers when they are fresh earlier in the season.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Canning Time

Update: Since I was making applesauce today, I thought I would rerun this post from September 2015.

Yes, it is that time of year when I need to make a decision regarding how to preserve the fruit, specifically the apples and pears from our backyard. If I don't want to simply provide a smorgasbord for the neighborhood deer and foxes then I need to set aside at least one weekend to focus on canning.

I have found that the easiest way to make use of an abundance of apples is by making applesauce. Simply slice unpeeled apples, simmer and run through a Food Mill, an indispensable kitchen tool which makes this process so very easy. 

Since our organic apples are anything but perfect, I first remove any brown spots on the skins and make sure I do not include any parts of the apple where pest damage has occurred. And, although the recipe says you can cook the core as well, I usually remove it since apple seeds contain cyanide. 

 Simple Applesauce
 Apples quartered to fill a large pot 3/4 full
Sugar and cinnamon to taste (I used 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon)
1 cup water or just enough to keep from sticking.
Quarter apples, treat with ascorbic acid or lemon juice in water. Once all the apples are prepared, place in a pot with the water and simmer over medium heat until tender (about 20 minutes.) Remove from heat and run apples through a food mill then return to the pot. Add sugar and cinnamon (if desired) and heat thoroughly. Carefully pour into sterilized jars, leaving about 1/2 inch head space before sealing. Place jars in a water bath canner that is almost at boiling. Bring to a rolling boil and process pints 20 minutes or quarts 25 minutes. Remove and cool.

Finished Applesauce

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Birds of the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks

As promised, here is the second installment of birds we saw during our vacation at the beginning of the summer. There will be one more. After leaving the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge we headed North to Wyoming for four days in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

There are many designated scenic byways in Idaho. We took the Oregon Trail Bear Lake Scenic Byway to the Pioneer Scenic Byway and followed the Snake River on Route 26. Osprey were probably the most common bird that we saw throughout our vacation. Their nests were always easy to spot.

Osprey nest on top of utility pole
We saw lots of wildlife in the parks and even though we focused our attention more on mammals, we did see a few birds such as this Northern Flicker, a bird that is also quite common at home.

Red-shafted Northern Flicker (male)

However, the subspecies that we have in the East is the Yellow-shafted Flicker. West of the Rockies you will find the Red-shafted Flicker. The difference is that the underside of the wings will be yellow in the East and red in the West. The red markings, like a mustache, of the bird above show that it is a male. The female in the East will have a red crescent on the name of its neck. You can see the red crescent in the photo, which I took in May in Vermont, of the female below. You can also see the yellow tones under the wing.

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker (female)
On our second day in the Grand Tetons, we were looking for a place to hike along Moose Wilson Road and saw this Great Blue Heron. Although, not an uncommon bird, it is still quite impressive and interesting to watch hunt. They can remain almost motionless for extended periods of time while they wait patiently for a meal to approach. Many years ago we saw a Great Blue Heron do just that before  grabbing and flying away with a baby alligator in the Everglades.

Great Blue Heron
After the Grand Tetons we spent two wonderful days in Yellowstone National Park. Although much of the time was spent in the car and making spots to see the numerous thermal features or to observe large mammals, we also saw raptors and water fowl. However, the first bird I photographed was of a tree swallow at a hot spring.I thought this odd since it didn't seem like a very hospitable place for wildlife. We also saw some deer tracks in the mud, but they must know to keep their distance from the boiling water.

Tree Swallow at West Thumb Geyser Basin

There are many lakes throughout Yellowstone so there is also lots of water fowl. The coloring of these Barrow's Goldeneyes reminded me of loons.

Barrows Goldeneye diving for food
At the end of the first day we visited Old Faithful. It wasn't on my "must see" list, but I'm glad that we did. Going at the end of the day meant that the crowds weren't too large. We were lucky in that  we just happened to arrive with about fifteen minutes to spare before the next eruption. 

Old Faithful post-eruption
We had dinner at the pub in the Old Faithful Inn. As we returned to the parking lot, this raven was investigating the contents of the back of a pick-up truck. Ravens are curious and intelligent. If the owner of this car didn't return soon, this bird probably figured a way to open the garbage bags.

On our way exiting the park we saw one of the most interesting wildlife sights. Off in the distance, were two coyotes stalking a Sandhill Crane. Although the Sandhill Crane could have easily flown away or defended itself, I suspect that it was protecting a nearby nest. The coyotes eventually lost interested and retreated.

Two coyotes circling a Sandhill crane
And our trip to the national parks couldn't be complete without seeing the iconic symbol of America. This bald eagle bid us farewell as the day came to a close and we exited Yellowstone National Park. We will definitely need to return again soon.

Bald Eagle at dusk at Yellowstone National Park

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hiking Mount Abraham

It was great to get back on the trails and to bag another 4000 footer in New England. On Sunday, my friend Sue and I hiked Mount Abraham, in Maine.  Due to a forecast for rain and thunderstorms on Saturday, we used this as a travel day, spending the night at the Herbert Grand Hotel in Kingfield, Maine, a three-story historic inn which provided comfortable rooms at a reasonable price. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed due to renovations and the entire town lost power at night due to the storm. However, that just forced us to go to sleep early and to be rested for the hike the next day. When we awoke Sunday morning, the sun was out and it looked like it was going to be a perfect hiking day.

Herbert Grand Hotel, Kingfield Maine
Before hitting the trail, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Kingfield Woodsman restaurant. The service was fast and the food was good. We both had eggs to fuel us for the trail, and I couldn't pass up the fresh cut home fries. The trailhead, at the end of Rapid Stream Road, was only a few miles from the restaurant. The gravel road to get there could have been in better shape, but we were just happy that the two bridges over the rivers looked like they had been recently repaired so that crossing them was not a problem.

A trail map is not really needed, as there is only one trail to the summit - the Fire Warden's trail. The sign read 4.0 miles, but the Maine Mountain Guide describes at as 4.5 miles one-way. So, we either did 8 or 9 miles round trip. The first half of the hike is relatively flat and easy. There were also several stream crossings, which is one of my least favorite thing to do when hiking. Some would have been difficult in high water, and to be safe, I brought a pair of sandals to change into, but today the crossings were relatively easy and I kept my boots on.

One of many stream crossings.
Over half of the trail was in the woods, and being August, there were lots of fungi to admire.
Above: Artist's Conk (Ganoderma applanatum)

The Artist's Conk is so named because the underside can be used for drawing by using a sharp implement and exposing the permanent brown color underneath.

One of the many types of fungi growing on dead logs - possibly Oyster mushrooms
Orange Mycena
Indian pipe

Reindeer lichen are one of the many types of vegetation which can survive in the open alpine zones

God is an artist that uses nature as His pallet. The patterns in this rock lichen and the Turkey Tails fungus below are unique and beautiful.

Turkey tails with what looks like Bear's Head Tooth (Hericium coralloides)

Small puffball mushrooms, having released their spores (Lycopedon pyriforme)
As we approached the exposed rocks, we finally found something that we could eat without question. The mountain was filled with perfectly ripe blueberries. If it wasn't so cold and windy, I would have stopped and enjoyed more.

Wild Maine Blueberries in Alpine Zone on Mount Abraham
There were other blue berries in the woods, but the blue bead lily (Clinton borealis) below is toxic to humans. They are named for the late summer berry and not the flower which is yellow.

Blue Bead Lily
The clouds that were following us started to clear as we approached the summit. The sun was welcome as the gale-force winds caused the temperature to drop dramatically.

View looking down the Fire Warden Trail
All that remains of the fire tower atop Mount Abraham
Mount Abraham has one of the largest exposed summits in Maine, so one needs to be prepared for all types of conditions.  A couple hikers were only wearing shorts, a serious mistake when hiking any high elevation mountain. As tempting as it is to remove items from your pack when it is warm at the base of the mountain, a hat, gloves and windbreaker are minimum necessities. I was glad that I had several layers to put on once we got above tree-line. We did not stay long, quickly eating our lunch behind a small constructed stone wall. There actually was an shelter on the summit (see below) which is built into the ground for greater protection. During inclement weather I could see where it could be a life-saver. I'm sure it gets used, but it was not very inviting as there was trash scattered about from previous occupants. It is sad to see this when out in the pristine wilderness.
From the minute beauty of the flora, to the vistas from the mountain top, I was reminded why I love hiking in New England. We have only four more peaks to climb to complete the New England 4000 footer list. Three of those are in Baxter State Park, so the most difficult are yet to come.