Ron LeValley

Schlepping Sully Part V

Flathead Lake by

Flathead Lake in Winter by

Assured that there were gulls at Flathead Lake all year long, I left Holland Lake for the 50-plus mile drive north, where I expected to off-load my cargo, then return to Holland Lake Lodge with their pet carrier. The four mile drive over the washboard road from the Lodge to the highway was the longest of the entire trip. Poor, trusting Sully had been slapped into a cage, covered with a blanket, and was now being rattled about like a bean in a can. He flapped and paced for the entire drive. On the upside, I figured he'd never put his survival in the hands of another human being.  

Malheur NWR

An hour after leaving the Lodge, I arrived at the north end of Flathead Lake. I drove from point to point along the lake, scanning it with binoculars for gulls. There were none. I turned around and headed south on Hwy. 35, which paralleled the east side of the lake, pulling over at every opportunity to scope out the shoreline. I began to feel like an idiot for not trusting my instincts. Of course, there were no gulls. What would they eat over winter even if the lake didn't freeze, which I was told it never did. At the southern tip of the lake, I turned south toward Missoula. The next best option was Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in southeast Oregon--a day and a half away.

About this time the Maintenance Required light that had been flashing each time I started the Prius, came on permanently.

I was south of Missoula on some back road, when I found a nice pull off and decided to see if feeding Sully would relive his unrelenting anxiety. The writers group had pitched in fish from our last meal at the Lodge. I had a Ziploc full of halibut, a couple of scallops, a lovely chunk of Panko-crusted trout, and some scrambled eggs. 

You may recall from Part I that I'd planned to camp both coming and going to Montana, so the entire length of the rear of the passenger side of the car was filled with a feather comforter folded in half. Behind my seat was a folding chair on top of which I'd placed Sully's pet carrier. A small cooler was behind the passenger seat with the head of the comforter covering it. My laptop and all associated paraphernalia were in a backpack, on top of the comforter, as was my suitcase. There was another bag containing a cook-stove, plate, cutting board, and utensils jammed in next to the cooler. Oh, and a bag of groceries, whittled down to crackers, a can of Wasabi peas, peanut butter, toilet paper and paper towels.

I failed to mention that I'd lined the bottom of Sully's cage with a couple sheets of newspaper for the drive to Flathead Lake. Not nearly enough, but like most smells you get used to them, and frankly, I kind of grew to like it. Anyway, I got some fish and eggs from the Ziploc in the cooler, then traipsed around to Sully's side of the car, open the cage door wide enough to get my arm in, and fed him. After that, he settled down.

I'd been up since before dawn and, with Sully quiet, I started to get sleepy myself. I was on Hwy. 93, which paralleled the lovely Salmon River. I found a wayside park, pulled in, climbed onto that down bed, put my legs on top of my suitcase, and fell asleep until Sully fluffed his feathers about 10 minutes later.

We're by then about 350 miles into the trip and the first night on the road to Malheur was looming. There were campgrounds along the river, but what were the chances I'd get a wink of sleep? I looked at the map and decided the next town I came to large enough to have a motel would be it for the day. What exactly I was going to do with Sully, I wasn't sure, but as we became fond of saying at the writers workshop. "I'll burn that bridge when I come to it." (This story is long enough without explaining how funny we thought that was.)
I owe them 4 stars. Northgate Inn, Challis.

 The Northgate Inn, Challis, ID. Their sign said, WiFi and pets welcome. It was family owned and the nice lady asked me, when I checked in, if I had a pet. I was honest. I said a bird.

"I won't charge you for it."

I'm pretty sure her mind went to a parakeet, or maybe a canary, but she didn't ask and I didn't tell her. Though my room was near the front, I parked at the rear entrance to the motel, checked that the coast was clear, and rushed down the hall with Sully's cage. 

When I checked in, I specifically asked if the rooms had bathtubs. I'm sure you can see my thinking here. They did and that's where Sully spent the night. I ran a little water in tub, and opened the cage door. He wasn't too eager to come out until I splashed water like a bird bathing. He couldn't resist then. I put the cage on the floor, and started filling the tub. It scared him at first, but with the shower curtain pulled, he couldn't get out. I filled it more slowly, and pretty soon, he was all in. He bathed with wing-slapping joy, not once but three times. I fed him, made sure the shower curtain had no gaps, and turned out the light. Night, night, bird.

I won't go into what the tub looked like in the morning. I drained it, fed Sully, refilled it so he could bathe again, then put him in his cage, and took a shower myself to rinse away any further evidence.
Sunrise in Challis, ID

I carry a Fort Bragg phone book in my car. I looked up my mechanic's home phone number and called to ask if I should worry about the Maintenance Required light. He said it meant I needed an oil change, and not to worry.

"I'm about 1000 miles from home."  

"You'll make it."

My second call was to Ron LeValley, an authority on birds. He said Malheur would be a perfect place for Sully, and if not there, try Klamath NWR in south central Oregon.
There was a little restaurant a block or two down the street. For breakfast, I ordered one egg over easy and one egg scrambled to go.

Hwy 93 out of Challis

In memory of Oscar "Bud" Owre
       on this his birthday

Al B. Tross

Laysan albatross
by Ron LeValley 

I've lived here for 20 years, and for as long as I can remember, starting in mid-November, we on the Mendocino coast of California wait for news of Al B. Tross' return to Point Arena. 

"Al B. Tross is a different sort of critter," said David Jensen, President of the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society. "He's unique among vagrants. To the best of my knowledge, he's the only Laysan Albatross anyone can see while still standing on the shore of this continent.

To read more, here is the Paul McHugh story about Al B. Tross

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

From the Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

In the early 1980s, I did an Earthwatch project on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The project used albatross decoys in an attempt to encourage the Laysan albatross to establish a breeding colony at the Kilauea Light Station. I see on Wikipedia that the project was a success, and it is now the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. 

The Laysan Albatross is best known for its gliding flight, awkward landings, and elaborate courtship rituals. These birds spend nearly half the year at sea, not touching land until breeding season. Though large for a seabird, the Laysan is small for an albatross. They may live more than 40 years. These birds are named for Laysan, one of their Hawaiian island breeding colonies.

Japanese feather hunters decimated many Laysan colonies at the turn of the century. Colonies at Volcano, Wake, and Marcus Islands have never recovered. Between 1958 and 1964, thousands of albatross were killed by collisions with antenna towers and aircraft strikes during landings and take-offs at Midway. Tens of thousands of albatross were intentionally killed in order to reduce such collisions. Today, eggs and birds continue to be removed at Hawaiian island airfields, in order to discourage nesting and ensure aircraft safety. On land, introduced predators, and lead poisoning from abandoned military buildings on Midway kills thousands of Laysans annually. At sea, the species is vulnerable to oil pollution, and the ingestion of floating plastics; tens of thousands also die in gill-nets, drift nets, and long-line fishhooks annually. Alternative long-line fishing techniques now being developed include weighing lines down, setting them at night, and using "screamer lines" to scare birds away.
Another beneficial human activity—the importing of topsoil and grass to Midway's Sand Island—has stabilized the sand dunes and increased albatross habitat. This coupled with the diminished human presence on Midway have led to increased Laysan populations there. At Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai, protection by fencing and wildlife personnel has helped establish a breeding Laysan colony.

Ron LeValley 

Ron LeValley
Albatross landing 

Ron LeValley
Midway Island
Albatross Colony 

Laysan Albatross & Plastics

The Problem

In the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, on a tiny island 1,000 miles from the nearest big city, many Laysan albatross chicks die each year because their bellies are full of bottle caps, toothbrushes and other plastic. One study found that 97.5% of chicks had plastic in their stomachs. Many people think that the biggest source of pollution in the oceans is oil spilled from ships, but most marine pollution is litter that starts out on land. By making changes now, we can reduce the amount of plastic that gets into our oceans in the months and years to come.

A Deadly Diet

Albatrosses fly hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles in search of food for their chicks. They look for squid and fish eggs floating on the surface of the water. Unfortunately, plastic floats, and Laysan albatross are particularly attracted to it. They eat it, mistaking if for food, then they fly back to the nest and feed bottle caps, lighters, fishing lures and other pieces of plastic to their young. The chicks starve to death, with stomachs full of plastic.

Trash Travels

Trash that's dropped on the ground doesn't stay put. Even hundreds of miles from the ocean, trash is washed by rain into city storm drains and out into streams and rivers that lead to the ocean. From there, wind and currents carry our trash far out to sea. Scientists estimate that around the world, up to one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from eating plastic. We can help keep trash from traveling by recycling and putting trash in trash cans.
A Laysan Albatross Chick full of plastic debris
Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung."
`Is it he?' quoth one, `Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross.
Laysan Albatross Chick

Our Hummingbirds by Ron LeValley

Last week Ron LeValley's Outside My Window featured these beautiful pictures of our northcoast hummingbirds, so I thought I'd share them with those of you who might not receive his daily e-mails. How to join this free, day-brightening list is at the bottom of the post.

Pictures and text by Ron LeValley
Male Anna's Hummingbird
Ron LeValley
(The) male Anna's Hummingbirds have red on the throat (which we call a gorget on the hummingbird) and on the crown. The rest of it is colored green and pale gray. At least 10 of them showed up at our feeder during this influx. Check out the tiny feet!

Male Anna's Hummingbird
Ron LeValley
We also had an influx of Allen's Hummingbirds. These are very similar to the Rufous, but have an obvious green back. They are also migratory, but don't go as far north or as far south as the Rufous, (which) nest inland from us, but are not common on the immediate coast.   
Male Allen's Hummingbird
Ron LeValley

Rufous Hummingbirds are smaller than the Anna's and are highly migratory, traveling from wintering in southern Mexico and Central America all the way to as far north as Alaska during the summer.
Male Rufous Hummingbird
Male Rufous Hummingbird
Ron LeValley
Many of you have asked more questions about distinguishing Rufous from Allen's Hummingbirds. (The) Allen's has green on it back. Here is a Rufous with an almost all orange back. But note the tiny flecks of green in the back and on the shoulder. This is not unusual for Rufous to show some green. In fact, there are rare Rufous Hummers that can have substantial amount of green in the back. So how do we identify them? It's tough. Look at the outer tail feather on this bird. It is wider than an Allen's outer tail feather. And the shape of the second from the middle tail feather (the one lying on the wing) is unique. So I am sure that this one is a Rufous. Obviously it is hard to see this mark in the field. So I can't be sure that yesterday's (picture) was an Allen's, I can only make a good guess. If we are not sure, we call them Selasphorus sp. because Selasphorus is the genus of these two species.

(Note of explanation from Ginny. Remember mnemonic Kings Play Chess On Fine Grain Sand from high school biology? Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Sp. is the abbreviation for species. The binomial, or genus and specific epithet, of the Allen's hummingbird is Selasphorus sasin and the binomial of the Rufous is Selasphorus rufus. Since Ron wasn't sure which it was, he referred to the bird by its genus and sp. indicated a single species (one bird) in that genus. Sp. because there was only one bird at the feeder. If two birds had been at the feeder, neither of which he could identify to species, he would have referred to them as Selasphorus spp. Spp. is plural.)

Ron LeValley
Just to complete the types of birds we had during this invasion, here is female Anna's Hummingbird. They are slightly larger than the Rufous and Allen's hummingbirds, but have no sign of the rusty-orange color on them. Not only did we get the Rufous and Allen's in large numbers, we had as many as 10 Anna's around the feeders as well. So this influx was not just of migratory birds.

To join Ron's Outside My Window group follow this link.
A wonderful wildlife picture arrives daily.

Point Cabrillo Light Station

Painting of the Light Station
by Lynne Prentice

I started by leading bird walks at the Point Cabrillo Light Station in 1996, and ended up as president of the non-profit that operates it. I'm still on the Board of Directors.

My favorite time of year to be at the lighthouse is now. March is when the gray whales are migrating back to Alaska, which can be a hazardous 6000 mile journey.

Below is a photo of Orcas attacking a gray whale. A few years ago, people witnessed just such an attack in front of the lighthouse.

Point Cabrillo and the tall ship, the Lynx
by Harold Hauck
That's a Coast Guard cutter on the right

The 3rd Order Fresnel Lens is back in service
in the Lighthouse
 Thanks to Bruce Lewis for the video.
This is also the time of year when the Harbor seals give birth, often on the rocks only yards offshore from the lighthouse. Within two hours of being born, the baby follows its mother into the ocean, frequently reappearing in the cove just to the east of the lighthouse.
Harbor Seal and Pup by Ron LeValley