Saturday, May 23, 2015

Yellow, Yellow, Everywhere!!

We are in the midst of thousands of acres of beautiful pine and fir trees and we love it. But for a couple of weeks each spring, the pines pollinate and everything gets covered with the yellow powder.

Teri and I take loppers out with us on our bird box monitoring days to trim back limbs that are too close to the boxes or extending into the trails. Here are a couple of pictures of what that looked like this week.

Cutting a Branch.
Holding my Breath!!
So Much Pollen...
Are your eyes itching yet??

We even take a broom to our evening programs to sweep off the seats before folks arrive. This will all be over in a couple of weeks, and then (maybe) I'll wash the truck!!


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A One-of-a Kind Project

Teri and I are working on a project that I'll bet is unique in all of volunteering. This park has four different disc golf courses, and the baskets are showing some wear and tear. When we got here the ranger in charge of the courses showed us paint that he had bought to "freshen" the baskets up, and we volunteered to do the work. I don't know what it is about us and painting...
Marked-up Basket
For some reason, disc golfers like to put stickers and other graffiti on baskets. And when they get an ace, they either sign the basket with a permanent marker, or use a knife to "carve" their initials into the paint. And the original decals on the baskets are peeling as well. After giving some thought to prepping and painting the baskets in the field, we decided to remove them a few at a time and take them back to the shop.
Basket Removed
In order to keep the courses playable during the work, we found some extra new baskets and put them up. We'll sort of hop-scotch through the courses, replacing six baskets at a time with the set we've just painted.
Brand New Top
As is so often the case when painting, 95% of the work is in the prep. We scrape off the old decals, use "Goof-Off" to remove the adhesive, and then sand the old paint down. 
Scraping Decals
Removing Adhesive Residue
Finally, we are ready to paint. The paint is a high quality enamel that takes about 12 hours to dry and takes three coats to cover all of spots. So it takes us a total of three days to pull baskets, prep and paint them, and return them to the course. 
New Yellow Paint
The top assemblies weigh about 35 pounds and have a set of chains that have to be fed over the top of the pole. We found that taking a small stool out there helped with this part. I hold the assembly while Teri installs the hardware.
Setting the Newly Painted Top
We are about halfway through with this project, but with school groups coming and our programs starting, we'll be going slower on the rest. 

I doubt that we'll ever find another volunteer job that includes cleaning and painting disc golf baskets!!


Sunday, May 17, 2015

We have Baby Birds!

We conducted our first monitoring of Bluebird Boxes this year on April 28th, and found that several boxes already had nests and eggs in them.

Western Bluebird Nest
The next week we found even more nests and eggs, but also found that this nest had been destroyed by something small enough to get in and out of the box without widening the hole or damaging the box. What do you think? Perhaps a weasel or another bird?
Damaged Nest
We have learned that the Chickadees bury their early eggs down into the animal fur that lines the nest, so I need to gently feel around to see if there are eggs. Once they finish laying all of the eggs they seem to form a little cup and the eggs are more obvious.
Black-capped Chickadee Nest
This past Monday we found our first hatchlings of the year, including this pair that had just hatched. They look so completely helpless that it is hard to imagine how they survive!
Freshly Hatched
A couple of nests had hatchlings that were a bit older.
Western Bluebirds - About 3 Days Old.
We are looking forward to another banner year for the nesting birds of Farragut State Park.


Friday, May 15, 2015

The School Trips Have Begun...

The last three weeks of May were some of our busiest last year, as area schools schedule field trips during that period of time. We got a little burned out last year as some schools show up with huge groups (like 150 2nd graders) and no matter how you divide them up that is just too many.

We worked with our Ranger (Errin) last year to draw up guidelines for more manageable group sizes, and we'll see how that works this year.

We had our first school group of this year on Thursday. There were 75 second-graders and things went better than any of the trips last year. They divided into two smaller groups, and the teachers handled one group with activities while we led the other on a nature hike.

Starting the Hike
Our hike is about a mile long, and follows a trail that runs along the edge of the lake. We cover topics like the trees in the park, the lake itself, some park history, and animals that live in the forest. With second graders we don't get into much detail on any of this, but they are very enthusiastic to share all they know about everything!!
Talking About Trees
One neat prop that we have this year is a thin section of an 85-year old pine tree. We use it to talk about tree rings, factors that affect growth, etc. But an odd thing happened. After our first hike we left the section next to the trail to be used on the second hike. But someone came across it and moved it up to the parking lot. we think with the idea of taking it home. We found it in this different spot at the beginning of the second hike. I thought Teri had moved it, and she had no idea what had happened. It wasn't until after the hike that we compared notes and figured out what had happened.

We have six school group coming in the next two weeks, and our "normal" interpretive programs will start next Friday as well. So we hope to get to the end of May with our sanity intact and then transition into our regular routine.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

She's Baaaack!!

Teri and I enjoyed seeing our first ever Flying Squirrel last year as we monitored bird boxes here at the park. We had one occupying Box # 48 for most of last summer and we're pretty sure that she had babies in there.

During our first two weeks of checking boxes number 48 was empty. However, this past Monday I tapped gently on the box before opening it, and out she came!!
Northern Flying Squirrel
We look forward to seeing more of her as the summer progresses, and wonder if she'll rear another brood in "her" box.

The End

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!!!

As we checked bird boxes this past week, we had two different Mountain Bluebird females that refused to leave their nests, even with the box open. The fact that these 1 ounce birds will stare down a 230 pound monster (me) and not flinch is a testament to how seriously moms take the responsibility of protecting and caring for their little ones.

So on Mother's Day, Teri and I want to send our love to our mothers (Dorothy and Keith). We love you both and are thinking about you, even though we are 2000 miles away...

Mom, Dad and the Kids
And a Happy Mother's Day to all of our friends who are moms as well.

Mark & Teri