Hard for us sometimes, but
Harder for the birds
Photos © 2014 Sheryl McConnell
If you are an Oregonian (or a resident on planet Earth) this is important.
I had an arresting experience when I went out into the woodland the other day. It has been extremely dry this winter in Oregon, but there is often a lot of fog. As I walked under one of the larger Douglas firs there was a sound of dripping rain on dried oak leaves and yet, it was not raining.
I’m not sure if I have ever experienced fog drip first hand in quite this way. I learned about it many years ago as a very significant (in the statistical meaning) source of ground water and soil moisture in the western Cascades.
Have I ever been in the woods when they are dripping? Yes, but standing under one single tree, that is collecting and dropping water is kind of eerie when everything else is quiet, the ground is dry, and it’s just very foggy. Being present as a tree essentially waters itself and channels the water into ground storage, reveals how trees = water = more trees and life.
So, come along with me and experience it for yourself. You might be able to see the raindrops falling in this cellphone movie:
Here, stand in the open where no rain is falling, and look back toward the mixed oak and the big Doug fir in the ravine. These trees were left behind when the forest was logged the first and/or second time in the last century. We left them too, when we thinned trees to revive the oak woodland. They protect a riparian zone of seasonal streamflow – the source of some of that flow is now apparent! That’s a Steller’s Jay imitating a Redtailed Hawk in the background.
So, why fog drip under conifers and not oaks (I asked myself)? I believe that the answer lies in leaf architecture. Moisture runs off the vast surface area of thousands of needles intercepting fog. Oaks are leafless in winter, but besides that, they support a huge biomass of lichens and mosses, which are designed to soak up nutrients and water from the air, as it’s their life support. Hence, lichens and mosses may tend to increase the humidity around a tree, but they sponge up rather than repel moisture like fir needles. Fir needles don’t need the moisture – they send it to the roots where they can use it. Wow.
Had to share something I stumbled on while looking for a satellite image of the vast Eastern Oregon wetland that is the Malheur National Wildlife refuge. The accompanying text is very important. These carbon sinks are old growth conifer forests, not white oak woodlands, so a little departure from this blog’s theme.
Another feature not mentioned in the text is the very clearly defined “checkerboard lands”; a legacy of donation of the spoils of conquest to the railroad barons.
This short, wonderful message from the Times editorial writer Verlyn Klinkenborg floats off the page into the mind. His beautiful, simple style conveys, as it has many times in the past, meaning, imagery, feeling. And as he says, we all have our own farm in our mind’s eye. We make our own meaning daily. This reminded me of our Gopher Valley home, and also the place in my mind that has always been with me. I hope I can always see and share “something worth noticing and … (have) nearly always words to suit it” here in these pages too.
Beginning this week, I’ll post a few of my old favorites from months and years gone by.
It’s winter 2013 here on the edge of the Oregon Coast Range, the fog has rolled in after unseasonable cold weather, and now the skies are dripping – a good time to look at our beautiful lichens.
Mostly dormant during the long dry summer, any bit of moisture brings the neon greens of nitrogen-rich Lobaria pulmonaria (lungwort) popping out of the background, inviting us to look closer at all the clothing on the trees and logs, ground and rocks. Lobaria and Usnea lichens make a nice orange to orange-brown dye for wool which imparts a distinctive fragrance and, usually moth proof characteristics!
Here is my short look at some of the charismatic lichens of our woods, originally posted in December of 2010.
Lichens are incredibly diverse and able to grow in extreme environments. Their chemistry is important to the ecosystems where they grow. For example, they are an important source of nitrogen in forests, and in arid lands, they conserve valuable topsoil. But to do their job, they need undisturbed substrates to grow on.
They also provide an environment for many organisms to exist – tiny arthropods and invertebrates that keep nutrients cycling in the ecosystem.
Why away from cities? Because lichens absorb all their nutrients and moisture directly from the air, they are sensitive to air pollution. This quality is so specific, scientists use them to map air quality and pollution levels. They can also concentrate some metals and radiation and be hazardous to consumer.
In cities pollution-tolerant lichens predominate, some less tolerant ones are distorted or rather small compared to lichens in fresh, clean air. Several of the lichens on the tree branch above, and the two below are very sensitive to pollution, and also need very moist air so they can function. The high humidity in the coastal NW promotes the growth of large showy lichens in clean air zones like mature and old-growth forests.
They use plants as a place to grow but there is no evidence of damage. In fact the massive increase in surface area may be one reason why forests are able to extract and transfer appreciable amounts of moisture from “fog-drip” to watersheds even when it’s not actually raining.
Food, camouflage, dyes, and antibiotics are among the uses that other life forms have for lichens. The long strands of Old Man’s Beard and other Usnea species are collected to extract its chemicals which have antibiotic properties. It also protects animals that use it for nesting material.
The alga is able to photosynthesize, producing carbohydrates which are then channeled to the fungal partner. Interestingly, if the algal partner is cultured separately, the carbs hardly “leak” at all. The fungus makes it possible for the alga(e) to live in places it normally would not survive. The fungi and algae each look completely different individually, and only take on their lichen form when together.
Although the association is termed symbiotic, it appears that it’s not an equal partnership. Lichenologists consider the fungus to be the controlling partner “farming” the alga or algae.
Even though we’ve used them for millenia, there’s always something new to learn about lichens. Scientists are studying some extra fungi present whose exact function is unclear.
This can happen very quickly. If you spray a dry lichen with water, it will absorb moisture and change color immediately. This is a sign it is active.
In fact, lichens need alternate wetting and drying to cycle carbohydrates back and forth between the fungal and algal partners.
Thanks to lichenologist Katherine Glew (Univ of Washington) for teaching me about lichens. I can remember some of it.
If you missed the news this late summer about the patches of oak devastation near Sheridan and other places in the Willamette Valley, here’s a hyper-local update (our property). When the damage is in full spate (i.e. the larvae are making oaks and doug firs look dead and blighted) it’s all about the caterpillars. Right now (mid November) I am seeing these moths everywhere flopping around on the ground. Their diaphanous, transparent wings seem hardly up to the task of finding a mate and laying eggs, particularly when they are rain-soaked. However, I’m sure we’ll be seeing their leaf-chewing offspring soon enough. By the way, there is a nice description of life cycles in that first link above. I highly recommend.
Perhaps these adults arrived from Dupee Valley or even as far as Red Prairie, where the oaks looked blasted last summer, carried on the wind of fall storms? They seem to be weak flyers so it’s hard to imagine them making the trip under their own steam.
It will be interesting to see whether our oaks get the same treatment next year, having escaped till now. See previous post for a good control method: our beloved brown creepers.
Suddenly, the fall rains are here. From our weather station record I see that:
The oaks will be slow to turn brown and drop their leaves, but acorns on the ground are cracking open with new sprouts already taking advantage of the wet.
Rather than waxing on about the weather and seasons, I defer to a very nice post by Verlyn Klinkenborg of the NY Tiimes, [this excerpt will take you to the main page - that's all the copyright I could afford]
The Silence of the Leaves
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
…I’ve been thinking about the way autumn has stolen upon us. When the first leaves turn — a roadside maple in August — it’s easy to ignore the coming season. But now all the trees are turning in concert, rushing to a foregone conclusion. I’m struck by how silently it happens. The pastures have gone quiet at night. … more
Current news from the Yamhill Birders’ list. Wowwee.
Four birders and two local folks gathered at the BARN SWALLOW roost site on Grand Island Loop Rd. this evening. We saw few birds until sunset about 7:55. Then they gathered from all compass points and went down into the cornfield as advertised. I estimate about 80,000. The show lasted from about 8:00-8:20 PM.
Some (approx) migration schedules here http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/swallow/News.html
I just found out about a migratory event taking place in SE Yamhill County not far from our place. According to the Yamhill birder’s newsgroup, a scientist in B.C. alerted them to the radar signature of 70,000 to 100,000 swallows leaving their nighttime roost in a cornfield at around 6:10 am.
See below to be amazed! The swallows are the burst of green in backwards L-shaped Yamhill County, next to the I-5 marker. On the two mornings I have looked at it, they disperse slightly differently. Today, they veer SE and back NW before dispersing.
Just take a minute to imagine what this looks like from the ground! I am sorry to not be able to go there right now to witness the departure, or the evening return.
If you want to try this at home, go to the weather radar for this area, click “previous” to back up from the current time until you get to 6 a.m. on the clock (upper left of the map). Then you can click “animate” and watch it happen. Yikes
Great birding this spring and early summer here in Gopher Valley.
Since I finished Birding by Ear with Lisa and Don through the Corvallis Environmental Center, I have been obsessed with all the bird conversation going on. I took the class so I could learn to listen in on who is here, and I was not disappointed! I have been making some recordings (to come in future posts) and have identified many formerly unknown songs.
I found out there are birds out there I’ve never seen, and may never be able to see – Pacific Slope Flycatcher for example. Tom finally pointed out the elusive Swainson’s Thrush yesterday, when we visited Miller Woods, but we can’t seem to see our own, despite the fact that they sing practically all day long.
One great thing about our newly cleared oak woodland, is there is space between the trees – through which birds fly, and when they land, we can see them. Thus I was able to photograph the exotic, tropical-looking Western Tanager today. I think they live behind our house, because I hear their crickety chirping call from the trees. There seem to be two adult males here in the photos, the less exuberantly colored one is a non-breeding male, I think. Perhaps one of the kids. All the bird babies are out trying their wings and hunting skills.
The day before I took on the Scotch broom (previous post) I indulged in a day of scouting for birds and plants. It is so much easier to see birds since the tree thinning! I finally got a picture of the white breasted nuthatch (there are at least 2) in its element, with a tasty morsel of some kind – nowhere near a feeder!
There is a class of weeds that are legally defined as NOXIOUS. This is a special term applied to weeds that are so aggressive as to be considered economic and ecological dangers. They can completely alter an ecosystem by changing the soil nutrients, pH, or forming a monoculture that excludes other plants. Dandelions may be weeds (a weed control specialist once termed them obnoxious), but they are not designated as noxious because they are not capable of destroying crop value or ecosystems. They and many others are “background weeds” we live with.
The people who decide who gets noxious weeds status are the state and county noxious weed control boards. The Department of Agriculture is the supporting agency for these boards, because noxious weeds were recognized as an economic problem for agriculture. Controlling noxious weeds also protects ecosystem integrity in natural areas. Many weeds that don’t seem that bad to the average person can be very bad when they are unleashed in the countryside.
Scotch broom (or Scots broom) is a noxious weed. Its natural enemies are back in the homeland (Europe) so it can spread at will here. However some insects that eat seeds and vegetative parts of it have been introduced and may help control it.
We are dealing with the legacy of soil disturbance from grazing, logging, and trail blazing followed by Scotch broom invasion. When our restoration work was done, huge patches of it were mowed, and mowed again in subsequent years. But mostly just keeps the plants short. To kill it, one can cut large stems during summer drought, spray when it’s in bloom (highly effective), or pull small ones. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. In an area where the seed has fallen and built up in the soil, it can take many decades to exhaust the seed bank. Pulling can bring seeds up to the surface and result in a whole new crop the following year.
Which brings me to my latest small project: due to weather and other circumstances, a couple of our scotch broom patches had not been mowed for one or two years, and it had grown taller. This actually makes is easier to spray, since when it’s short it is hard to kill because it doesn’t have enough leaf area and doesn’t bloom.
This winter I tried using a dormant spray on the evergreen stems which were more ‘alive’ due to the mild winter we had. It is more difficult to get all stems covered with a dormant spray, but easier to avoid killing the plants you want, as they have all died back. A combination of Triclopyr (Element 4A), and an oil/adjuvant (Mor-Act) seemed to do the trick, although it takes a heap-o-spray to get total coverage. I sprayed again during bloom, which was very effective.
One problem area was the nectar plots where we had planted wildflowers. The broom had invaded them over the years. Suddenly after a couple of years of no mowing, it was blooming. I couldn’t spray it without killing the wildflowers.
I hauled the weed wrench up the hill and brought along my spray bottle of herbicide and loppers. The ground was still soft from recent rain, so I thought perhaps I could minimize disturbing the seed bank by careful use of the weed wrench to pull the broom. It’s a satisfying plant for pulling – the taproot comes easily out of the ground with a ripping sound and not much fuss. But this was a rather slow operation. Actually weed wrenches are often more attractive as an idea than a tool. They are fun and easy to use, but the soil disturbance frequently outweighs their benefit.
I thought perhaps I could test the effectiveness of various methods, and speed things up too, so I switched to cutting with loppers, spraying the ends immediately with a 1:3 mixture of triclopyr (Garlon) and water from a spray bottle with a little surfactant – a variation on the “cut and paint” method. The weather was hot, the broom plants numerous, and so I decided to also add a third treatment – just cutting. I am curious about how late in the season cutting alone will kill broom. Ideally, that’s a method for older large stems that have more trouble resprouting and it is supposed to be done in the hot dry summer to make it doubly difficult. Some of the stems I was cutting were smaller, and we subsequently had several weeks of cold damp rainy weather, so I don’t expect those to disappear. However, at least the wildflowers had some light to grow.
same plot three weeks later – rose checkermallow in bloom. dead broom mulch
Get an FSC certified log of your very own!
Intrigued by the idea of growing your own mushrooms? I am happy to offer FSC Certified, inoculated mushroom logs, hand cut and inoculated by me. Also fresh mushrooms, on occasion. These logs will fruit multiple times per year – how many times depends on whether one forces them or lets them fruit naturally. They can be forced every 2-3 months, or allowed to fruit when they feel like it (Spring and Fall). They last two or more years, before the carbon is used up (digested) by the fungus and the log is spongy and ready to add to your compost or garden beds.
These are so so fun – who wouldn’t want a conversation piece like this in the garden?? If you like tasty, heathful Shiitakes, or lovely Oyster mushrooms, AND you live in Oregon or Washington along the I-5 corridor, get in touch for a delivery of a log or fresh mushrooms. Payment is by paypal buttons in the sidebar.
NOTE: logs need to be kept outdoors in the shade so they get sufficient light and air. Just soak in a tub of water about once a week or ten days during dry months to maintain the fungus body (mycelium) in the wood. Rain will water them in the winter. Full instructions and a subscription to the Mushroom Bulletin for growing tips included with your log.
If you don’t mind having a log that is not currently fruiting, I have a collection of logs that have fruited and are resting. As they age, the number of mushrooms increases; later crops cover the log from top to bottom! Each crop can weigh up to a pound.
Just when I had given up on new discoveries, up pops a plant not yet seen on our place (by me anyway). Here is it in bud:
It’s quite impressive at a foot or more tall, still in bud. How long has this bulb been growing in the deep shade, getting large enough to bloom? Was the ivy and Vinca from the yard smothering it all these years and now – like the plants on the savanna and woodland – suddenly released, it appears? Wow. Another name for it is rice root. Indigenous tribes used the bulbs for food. The plant also produce small, rice-grain-like offsets.
Here’s another. I thought we had just one patch of these in the woodland. Now, on the hill above the house where we had trees removed almost 2 years ago, they appear magically! Shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii) – recognizable by their spoon-shaped, slightly succulent leaves. This is a photo from 1 month ago just before bloom time.
Although not new, here is a reminder of what emerging Rein orchids (Piperia elegans – the fat leaves), sweet cicely (Osmorrhiza sp), hairy cat’s ear (Calochortus tolmiei - single grass-like leaf), sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis – lower left), and self heal (Prunella vulgaris – lower right) look like as they’re just waking up.
Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors (such as elevation). The word is derived from the Greek φαίνω (phainō), “to show, to bring to light, make to appear” + λόγος (logos), amongst others “study, discourse, reasoning”
I missed a week (two?) of posts because of being busy with the mushroom logs. Then when I started this post about one word – phenology – it took on a life of its own and went down several tributaries. But here it is at last.
The scientific world has been all abuzz about phenology for some time now, because the warmer climate is causing big changes in how early plants flower, when birds and butterflies migrate, and other appearances on the landscape. What’s the big deal?
Plants are a source of pollen and nectar for insects and hummingbirds, among others. Migratory species in particular time their movements based on available food along their routes and at their destinations. This is critical for survival.
You may have heard about the issues that monarch butterflies are having, what with habitat destruction, (in their overwintering areas, and along migration routes) and most recently, large areas of genetically modified crops that allow “weed” control on a scale previously impossible. Monarch caterpillars specialize on milkweed, a native plant that is considered expendable on corporate farms, and now almost completely destroyed by greatly increased use of Roundup herbicide.
But back to phenology: If plants flower before their pollinators arrive, the species don’t interact as they have evolved to. However, the arrival of birds and also their expanding ranges indicate that they and other species are probably adapting to changing availability of food resources – the complicated dance of adaptation and survival has been going on for aeons, after all. The difference now is how fast change is taking place, and how many species will get left out in the process. Accelerated change is the result of global climate change caused by humans. So much so, that there is a new word coined to describe the era that we now live in: the Anthropocene. It is hypothesized that it will be the era of the sixth great mass extinction. Here are top-notch podcasts about the topic from a group of nerdy science grads who can really communicate and entertain.
Here in Gopher Valley, I started taking photos of plants in bloom, and this year I thought to compare the bloom time for one or two. There is nothing like a photo to cut to the important features and make connections. As we all know, year to year variation is normal, so this isn’t a scientific study. However, over long periods of time, the signal or trends show up, and that is when it gets really interesting.
One of the most interesting aspects of adaptation is that species change at their own rates, so you don’t see whole groups or ecosystems changing simultaneously and marking north together across the landscape. Plants (and animals) form unique new assemblages as conditions change. This is well documented in the literature of post-glacial vegetation by many authors. This time, in the Anthropocene however, things will be even more complicated because human agriculture and habitation is blocking migration corridors, leading some to advocate for a controversial method of conservation called assisted migration.
As you look at my examples of phenology, and after you listen to the podcasts and poke around the links above, check out some long-term phenological studies that really say something about what is happening in the natural world. Here’s one to get you started.
I hope you will be able to put down all extraneous gadgets (except the one on which you are reading this), and just listen to this 40 minute podcast. Jenny Price is articulate, specific and eloquent on her subject. Humorous, and not righteous or dull. I am going to have to really try hard not to make “green porn” a new buzz phrase.
I cannot possibly add anything. HOWEVER – there are (a lifetime of) discussion possibilities here. I invite your comments and ideas!
On the savanna in the late afternoon, surrounded by lichen-draped oaks; noting the attractive old ones, the new straight ones with potential beyond our lifetimes, mistletoe, galls. Mindfulness comes naturally.
In this video of early spring you can see the effects of not mowing. The reason was fire hazard followed by soggy soil, (drought/deluge) last fall. A lot of thatch from old non-native grasses and taller scotch broom remain; but I hope that will make it easier to kill the broom this spring. Mowing as a substitute for fire is not ideal, although better than nothing.
Other interesting things I found this day out will follow in the next post!
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