Archive for September, 2009

adventures up north

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I’ve been having too many adventures, and getting too little work done. We recently took a week long camping/family trip up to Oregon. Several blog post worthy event happened on that trip. I’ll try to briefly cover a couple of them here.

Vaux’s Swifts in Eugene

The day after a family reunion, a cousin of mine performed in a big band concert in a park in Eugene. After the show, we were standing around talking, and I noticed the sky was suddenly full of thousands of small birds, which I took to be swallows. The locals knew right away; the birds were swifts, not swallows, and they were gathering to roost together in an old chimney a couple of blocks from the park. We walk over to watch.

It’s hard to describe the spectacle of a swirling tornado of thousands of birds getting sucked into a large chimney. Fortunately, I caught it on video so I don’t have to try too hard to describe it with words. The subhead above links to my YouTube video. Make sure you watch it in HD, the low def version is awfully gooey.

Before the Europeans Came and Messed Everything Up, swifts roosted in hollow standing snags in old growth forests. Fortunately for the swifts, as the Europeans knocked down the forests they built chimneys. Now, many of the old chimneys are being razed, but the old growth forests are still gone.

Bad Boy Elk

On the way back, Andi and I stopped briefly near Prairie Creek Redwoods to watch the Elk. This elk herd is famous; they hang out right next to Highway 101 and the Newton Drury Parkway, so thousands of tourists see and photograph them every year.

The late summer is a transition time for male elk. Earlier in the year, they’re remarkably docile for such big wild creatures. In the fall rut, they are aggresive towards everybody, especially other male elk.

When we first saw the herd, two males were locking horns in a half-hearted preliminary bout. We parked on a little side road next to the highway. We walked around a little, trying to get good sight lines, photo light, and a safe working distance. There was a wide pathway between two clumps of trees which crossed the side road, connecting two large meadows. Several elk, a mix of females and young males, were grazing calmly on that pathway about fifty feet from the road. I took a few minutes of video. It was a close range and good light, but the elk weren’t doing anything real interesting, so the video is a bit on the blah side.

As this group of elk grazed, they were gradually moving towards me and about a dozen other observers/photographers who had gathered in that spot. I figured they were gradually moving towards the other meadow across the road. They were getting a little close for my comfort level, and I believe in always yielding the right of way to big strong wild creatures, even if they’re herbivorous; so I walked back to the car and put away my camera.

Andi was still watching the elk, and the phalanx of photographers, from behind our car, so I kept watching, too. The elk continued to move toward the road; the photo phalanx stayed in position, picking up a few more members. The elk group now had all categories of camera pointed at it: cell phones, point and shoots, video cameras, even one over-equipped guy with a long-lensed digital SLR on a tripod, another SLR around his neck, and a vest full of accessories.

One of the female elk crossed through the phalanx and onto the side road. The people parted just enough to let her through. She was clearly nervous, stamping her feet and looking around anxiously. Yet, the photo tourists mostly stayed put. Suddenly, a big bull elk burst onto the scene, apparently protecting his lady. He bluff charged the over-equipped photographer, who skedaddled quickly behind a car. The humans were yielding more space to the elk all of a sudden, but it wasn’t enough for the bull. He charged the car behind which the OEP and others were hiding with a mighty CRASH of antler on metal and tinkle of antler on glass.

As near as I could tell, no humans were hurt. The woman in the part of the car closest to the charge looked rather stunned, unsurprisingly. The car suffered a broken window, a big dent on the door, and several large scratches. The bull elk suffered a headache.

Maybe, just maybe, a few tourists learned a lesson about yielding the right of way to large wild animals.

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