Thursday, February 23, 2012

When you see bird poop, look up.

The day is cloudy, overcast and still with the sound of running water all around.  The previous few days were heavy with rain and that rain has not yet left the valley.  It hangs in the air and runs down the sides of the hills, it is everywhere and in places that I am not used to seeing it.  The river gauge had pulsed up several feet in just a few hours, and then retreated part way in just a few more.  The North Fork of the Stillaguamish does that with heavy rain and part of my motivation is to witness the change on the gravel beaches and see what new heavy items the river has left behind.  I don't even bother with my hiking boots, going straight into the knee length rubber ones.  The lower farm also holds the rain for some time.

A lot of water is flushing out of the creek today.  It has overrun the road near the barn and the old creek bed has a current in it today.  It is a maze to get up to where the creek comes from the hillside, a serpentine route to avoid stepping into a channel that is more than boot deep.  The gravel bar created by the USDA restoration is now doing what a gravel bar does, dissapating and absorbing the energy of the stream flow.  I try to walk out to a couple of my favorite cedar stumps, but the field that appears to be "just wet" is actually mid shin deep at its shallowest.  The long grass that grows here in the summer is floating on top, an illusion.

The lower beach is narrow today and in places I am right up against the brush line.  I notice that the rocks have been shingled - with my back to the river I can see that all of the rocks are tilted downstream.  I'm not sure why I never noticed this before, but maybe it is something that is most noticeable right after high water.  I find a plastic tag with the number "108".  It is attached to a short length of nylon rope.  It looks like it might have been a livestock tag.

I can't get to the upper beach without getting very wet.  The ford to the north fields is mid-thigh deep today and I'm not going to brave the high log alternative while carrying my camera.  As I sit to figure out my next direction, the coyotes let loose unseen out in the north fields, yipping for a minute and then going silent.

I take a meander up the creek that drains the DNR hillside.  It's easy uphill going for a little while if one knows where to start.  On my way back out, I notice bird crap on the ground and I look up, as I always do.  A growth on a tree branch looks odd.  It looks odd because it is a bird butt.  It is only 8 ft away and so still that it might be a stashed kill.  I walk back under the branch and look up to find a tiny owl staring back at me.  It is a Northern Saw-Whet owl, only 7 or 8 inches in size.  It tolerates me to no end as I walk back and forth and all around trying to get the best photograph.  I'm there for some time.  Then I go.

On the way out, I stop in the fake shelf fungus cedar grove to check the mud for tracks, of which there are none.  But, tap, tap, tap send my eye to a red breasted sap sucker, which is almost as tame as the saw-whet owl was.  It is working a cedar tree, the tell-tale holes of its mission clear all up and down the trunk. 

The day has been everything that I needed.

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