See How Native Plants Deal With Drought: Two Native Plant Walks in August

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For anyone within shouting distance of Yamhill County, Oregon (Portlanders out for a day of wine tasting, I’m talking to you), make your trip to wine country memorable and instructive by attending a Taylor Gardens native plant walk on August 27. Or, if you work near McMinnville, take a stroll with me in the evening at Miller Woods, the Soil and Water Conservation District property just outside town. That’s on August 29.

Here’s why it will be fun: you will learn to recognize 10 native plants that you might see in a landscape, or on a hike, even if you can’t tell a nasturtium from a petunia. You will find out how these plants can be used in your garden, and why they are great for wildlife!

Please come with us and enjoy the native flora up close. Oh, there are birds too – have you ever seen an Acorn Woodpecker? The plant walk at Winter’s Hill Winery on Sat, August 27 offers a chance to see and/or hear these birds of oak woodlands that look like clowns and sound like one of the Three Stooges. At Miller Woods, there are hawks, harriers, Pacific Slope Flycatchers, swallows, and red-winged blackbirds galore.

Did I mention wine? The Saturday, August 27 walk is at a winery famed for its luscious Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Rose, among others. They will let you taste for a small fee. Picnicking is free. And the view, well, you have to be there to believe it.

Here is a link to sign up for both or either of these walks. They are $10 each, and the kids are free.

Sign Up Now!

It’s late summer – where’s the nectar?

I stopped procrastinating on a mission to crawl under the deck and fill in the ground squirrel holes and barricade them with chicken wire. Afterwards I was rewarded with a moment with the native asters (A. hallii) which were looking floriferous after getting some irrigation.

Then I noticed that they were alive with pollinators. Many small flies and bees, also a butterfly that showed up recently which is a skipper, probably a woodland skipper since those are common. This is why we need to leave some undisturbed ground and vegetation, since many pollinators are ground nesters or use vegetation to pupate or stow their eggs.

See a video of the action on my Taylor Gardens Facebook feed https://www.facebook.com/TaylorGardens/

Odonates… pond-side treasures – Just Another Nature Enthusiast

I’m reblogging a finely written item from a fellow participant  (and fellow Oregon Master Naturalist) at the Dragonfly and Damselfly class we attended on June 25, 2016.

Hats off to Jim Johnson who taught us so much about these fantastic creatures!

Check out the other great posts at Jane’s blog Just Another Nature Enthusiast http://wp.me/p3VO0i-4Nw

 

I admire people who have a wealth of knowledge and are generous in the way they share it with others.  Jim Johnson is one of those folks… he possesses a treasure trove of information about odononates…

Source: Odonates… pond-side treasures – Just Another Nature Enthusiast

The year in birds

Birds make us free. In their comings and goings, they vocalize and perform the turning of the year and the seasons. We imagine the journeys of migrants to and from exotic places, and when they come back, we are complete. The ones who stay with us are our constant friends.

A few days ago, Black-headed Grosbeaks were heard. Shortly thereafter Western Tanagers chirped. Today, May 9, 2016 I heard the spiraling song of the Swainson’s Thrush in its usual place in the woods. Aahh, spring can begin.

There are a couple not yet seen or heard – I saw on the Mid-Valley birder’s list that Western Wood Pewees have returned. I think I heard a Pacific Slope Flycatcher, but not the Pewee yet. Still listening for a  Wrentit and Chipping Sparrow (probably here but not seen yet). Hermit Thrushs may have stopped off, but they are very low profile.

As one group moves in we hear or see them constantly. Then the chorus changes to another. Such a delight!

The lineup so far:

House wren

American Goldfinch

Evening Grosbeak (one of the first returnees)

Common Yellowthroat

Orange-crowned Warbler

White-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow (may have moved on to higher altitude or latitude)

Purple Finch

Rufous Hummingbird

Black-Throated Gray Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Hutton’s Vireo

Cassin’s Vireo

Residents:

Hairy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker (?)

Western Scrub hay

Red-Breasted Sapsucker

Oregon Junco

Winter/Pacific Wren

Song Sparrow

Red-Shafted Flicker (finally moved out of the veranda by the shop into the snags in the woods)

Steller’s Jay (not hogging the feeders anymore)

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

Mourning Dove

American Robin (always the last to bed, and the first up)

Great-Horned Owl

Pygmy Owl

Western Screech Owl

Saw-Whet Owl

Brown Creeper

White-Breasted Nuthatch (not seen this year yet)

California quail (have been here in the past, at the neighbors’ this year)

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet (moved on)

Golden-Crowned Kinglet (moved on?)

Bushtits (moved on?)

Varied Thrush (moved on)

Red-Tailed Hawk

Turkey Vulture

Cooper’s/Sharp-Shinned Hawk (occasionally hunting at the feeders)

Fly-overs

Barn Owl

Common Raven

Geese – Cackling, Greater White-Fronted migrated recently northwesterly

Crow

Mallard – visited our pond, then left. It never measures up

In the neighborhood, or at the neighbors

American Kestrel

Northern Harrier

Eurasian Collared Dove

Great Blue Heron

Western Bluebirds

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Snags

Snags are standing dead or dying trees. In natural forests in the Pacific Northwest, there are usually a number of trees that have died from lack of light, overcrowding, competition and whatnot. Forests older than 150 years are heading into old growth status and by then some trees in these forests have been killed by fungi infecting the roots or trunk (the diseases they cause go by colorful names like stringy butt rot or laminated root rot). Wind is a big creator of snags. There may be some broken tops in trees with sound roots but weak trunks (windsnap) or if the roots are rotten or the ground soft from rain and snow, blow downs (windthrow).

In an old-growth west side conifer forest (250 – 1000+ yrs) diversity abounds: openings where giants have fallen let in light to allow shrubs and seedlings to grow better, there is wood on the ground, standing dead snags, trees growing out of nurse logs, a mossy zone with perennials and groundcovers, a shrub layer, a lower understory tree layer, intermediate to very tall trees. This is all great from an ecologist’s perspective.

An oak woodland has a different character. If a woodland or savanna was burned, it might have an open character. If no fire killed the young trees and brush, it will be crowded with skinny trees reaching over each other for the light, maybe one or two legacy giants that were seedlings 150 to 300 years ago, overtopped by douglas firs; dappled shade, poison oak shrubs, and vines climbing the trees, grasses, a few shrubs (serviceberry, snowberry) and flowering bulbs (camas) and perennials (checkermallow, strawberries) persist in the low light. There will be dead standing oaks in either case, many with dead branches and brittle broken limbs among the live ones. And lichens: many species and a great biomass of lichens.

In a managed forest, the forester does the thinning in order to grow fatter trees for market, like a row crop. When these trees – all the same age – are eventually cut, like giant broccoli, there will be some green trees left and some dead standing snags because the Oregon Department of Forestry requires it.

Why? Why do we value snags enough to write them – however few and inadequate in number – into the forestry regulations? Life. And diversity. A dead tree has arguably more life in it than a live tree. The diversity of fungi, bacteria, and wood decay organisms is enormous. Beetles, termites, ants, and others feed on the dead wood and fungi. These are the base of the food web, the decomposers and recyclers that return nutrients stored over decades or centuries, to the forest.

There are plenty of birds (woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches) who visit the snag to find food, and excavate nest cavities in the softening wood. Others (owls, bats) who can’t excavate a hole, use those made by woodpeckers, in a grand circle of beneficial re-use and mutual aid. A dead tree is a great place for a raptor like a hawk or osprey to nest or sit and watch for prey, possibly a douglas or flying squirrel. Snags are so important to wildlife that getting rid of them endangers species that rely on old growth and dead wood.

Next time you drive through the Oregon Coast Range on the way to the beach, observe the difference between a national forest and adjacent tree farms owned privately or by the BLM. Instantly the trees get bigger in the national forest, the ground level cooler and more diverse, the depth of the canopy is higher and the light changes. Streams look like real streams. This you can tell at 55 miles per hour.

We had a tree next to the house made into a snag. A dougfir that needed to be removed for safety. Our arborist Brian French (that’s him up the tree in photo below) took off the limbs, topped it and crafted a new jagged top – an outstanding fake lightning strike to accelerate fungal invasion. (Final touch was a birdhouse built by birdman Tom Brewster, volunteer with the Yamhill Conservation District, local woodworker, and possessor of the best Willamette Valley accent/drawl ever.) Brian also hollowed out a section of trunk behind a carefully cut piece of bark, then replaced the bark so the birds could move in right away without waiting for the snag to soften up.

Just in time for nesting season, a tree swallow pair scouted it and pronounced it livable. The rest of the flock looks on in envy. For the first time we have tree swallows careening over the house grabbing insects in the new, more sunny and open space. Yay snag.

Delving into mollusks, a little

I was cleaning logs for mushroom inoculation and I came across a large snail. The logs had been sitting around so I thought it might have taken refuge there after foraging on pots of seedlings nearby, as slugs do. My first impulse was to toss it out into the hot gravel on the driveway and let it fry (I know, so cruel. I regret these thoughts, right after they pop into my head).

On second and better thought, since it was tucked up in thick moss on a log that came from the woods, maybe it was a native from the woods and not one of the many invasives that plague our gardens. Turns out (thank you internet) it probably is a native forest snail, Pacific Sideband (Monadenia fidelis), but I should probably confirm that with an expert.

Three things I learned while keeping it in a dish: it moves pretty fast (for a snail), I left the lid off its prison for awhile so it would come out of its shell and had to peel it off the bottom of the bookshelf far below. It took a little over a minute to scoot over the side of this container when I started to photograph it. That and it poops a lot. At 30 mm across, it’s not small. It seemed livelier in the evening, so nocturnal?

From the most helpful field guides here and here I learned that it grazes on lichens usually, so I was right not to persecute it. Perhaps more thought-provoking is that it has several cousins or subspecies that are endangered or rare in Oregon, mainly because their habitats are threatened. They live in discrete regions and locations. The Columbia River is one region of endemism for snails, as it is for many plants and animals.

Since I wasn’t out looking for snails and the like, I might never have found this guy/gal (hermaphrodite) if I hadn’t handled logs for the mushroom project. The snail somehow survived its tree being chainsawed down and cut up into logs, and then tossed in a wheelbarrow, stacked, and cleaned. I am daily reminded of the diversity beneath our feet and how valuable and delicate it is.

I will probably have to collect a hard copy field guide for slugs and snails. I admit to a love of field guides. And I have many. One of my favorites is on oak galls – yes, an entire field guide packed with arcane information. I devour introductory chapters on how the animal or plant fits into its ecosystem, taxonomy, photos, fascinating life histories that others have spent whole lifetimes working out. If you like to go down rabbit holes of information, you can’t do better than a nice field guide.

I took the snail back out to the woods today, it’s probably enjoying a bite of lichen now before sleeping off the adventure. I’ll recognize it when I see it again.

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Birdbox time! Help the cavity nesters. Buy one from YSWCD this weekend in McMinnville.

This just in from the Wildlife experts: this is a good time to CLEAN bird nesting boxes or put up new ones. See all the details below. And if you need a grand nesting box, you can’t do better than the Yamhill County Soil and Water Conservation District plant sale Thurs – Sat 2/4 – 2/6/2016 at the Heritage Center on Hwy 18.

They are made from Oregon white oak and other wood, solid and built to last. They are the next best thing to tree cavities, fast disappearing in our valley.

Source: Crossing Paths – Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Native thistles for hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and birds

LOVE the native thistles. I have purchased some beautiful western thistle seeds to plant in Gopher Valley as ornamentals and nectar plants . Wa-hoo! I hope they germinate and grow well.

Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds

Swallowtail butterfly on western thistle Swallowtail butterfly on western thistle (Cirsium occidentale) Photo: Marvin Keller

Despite their beauty and value for pollinators and birds, native thistle species have long been undervalued. I often hear people make condescending remarks about thistles when I table at events. Someone may see that I have native thistle seeds for sale and make a comment along the lines of: “Thistles are horrible, why would you want to plant those?” What they don’t realize, however, is that native thistles play a critical role in native ecosystems. Native thistles get a bad rap simply because of people’s association with their weedy, invasive relatives like bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) and Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense).

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 8.22.24 PM Swallowtail butterfly nectaring on a non-native, invasive bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Bull thistle was introduced into Oregon in the late 1800s,  and it now occurs in every county in the state. Canada thistle has been around for about the…

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Worth the price of the paywall to view this story

It would be great if ecosystem managers could bring Indians in to help with Traditional Ecological Knowledge to maintain meadows w/ fire. Grazing could be helpful too, because volunteers get worn out doing everything by hand. Long story short: noble firs on Mary’s Peak, relict population from more widespread extent during cold post-glacial times, are invading the meadows on the peak (no more grazing + fire suppression; climate is more conducive now because less snow). So firs are being manually removed and will be hand weeded in future. Otherwise, the biodiversity of the meadows would give way to thick forests. Trees will remain in the historically forested zone. We’ll still have a nice view, native plants will be happy.

Source: Climate change triggers triage in Northwest forests — High Country News

Fires on the Malheur

Appropriate commentary here on a current event unfolding in eastern Oregon. Arsonists do not represent the best face of residents in Oregon.

There is a lot of good collaborative work going on between US Fish and Willdife managers at Malheur NWR and local ranchers to cooperatively manage for best practices and maximum value to ranchers and wildlife. See more on the benefits to the local economy here http://www.gorp.com/weekend-guide/travel-ta-oregon-sidwcmdev_068696.html and here https://catalog.data.gov/dataset/double-o-habitat-management-plan-malheur-national-wildlife-refuge

NDNHISTORYRESEARCH | Critical & Indigenous Anthropology

 

In an earlier article, I wrote about how anthropologenic fire-setting by Native American peoples was good for the land. I suggested that even the fires set by the Hammonds on leased BLM lands which burned onto the Malheur Wildlife Refuge may be seen as positive for the land.

malheurnationalwildliferefuge

However, I have now read through the details of how the Hammonds went about setting their fires, the source of their court convictions, and the reason they lost their lease. This conflict has nothing to do with the cost of their lease. After reading their Grazing lease application decision (denial), the way they went about setting the fires was not in any way positive towards the land.

First they seemed to want to take no responsibility for setting the fires. They originally set the fires to eliminate juniper so more grass would grow for their cattle. In fact the BLM…

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How Green IS A “Green Building” ??

Update: Since this was originally posted, Jeff Acopian kindly pointed out some inaccuracies. His family actually started looking into protecting birds from window strikes in the 1980’s. You can read more on the Birdsavers website.

Also, the American Bird Conservancy has just launched an appeal for help with spreading the word about their own ratings and endorsements for good products for homeowners and commercial buildings. A few of the products below are included. I hope you will consider a donation to help the cause!

Due to a recent upheaval in living arrangements, there’s been a dearth of posts here on Gopher Valley Journal. We retired and moved form the big City Up North to Gopher Valley permanently, and we couldn’t be happier. In the process we replaced our old double wide, aka manufactured home with a new one (also made in a factory). It is a fully eco rated Energystar® model with efficient water fixtures and lots of insulation. It also has beautiful windows and lots of light. These windows are super energy efficient but are also more reflective (think mirrors) than any other window. I knew there would be some work to do when I saw the plans and those beautiful windows.

We had sliding glass doors on a porch in the old place, and more than once birds slammed into them, prompting me to do a lot of research on birds and windows. At the time, the easiest remedy was to paint some vertical stripes with tempera paint on the glass. As funky as it looked, it worked out well and in fact they are still on one set of doors we re-purposed for an art studio. But what about the pristine and, frankly, fancy looking new ones? There was a lot more glass, and even before we moved in, bird-shaped collision marks started to appear.

The good news (well kind of): in his newest book Subirdia, Professor John Marzluff (from whom I took one of the best classes of my second undergraduate career) relates that cats are by far the biggest human-assisted killers of birds. Way more than windows. 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds are expected to die by cat in the lower 48 alone. Every year. Please, please keep your cat indoors. Please. Helpful info at the link.

The bad news: windows are the second biggest cause of bird fatality around homes. Somewhere between 250 million and almost 1 billion birds smack into glass every year, in the U.S. alone. Skyscrapers are responsible for only a fraction of that, with residences and shorter multistory buildings the worst.

What to do?? I went back to the internet for an update. Researchers have helpfully measured the exact dimensions of products that help birds see glass and avoid death and injury that I used for my previous fix. And, there are also some cool new ideas out there. I got a few more tips from the Mid-Valley Birders listserve.

Here below are the results of my search and (trial and error) product testing.

1. External screening by http://www.birdscreen.com/. Thanks to a couple of rave reviews on the birdlist I sent away for a trial amount of this flexible fabric-like screen to try on a variety of window sizes and shapes. I ended up cutting some down to fit on smaller windows that were particularly popular targets for bird strikes. This made the suction cup application a little clunky looking but the ease of installation and modification was a plus. Extremely effective and seems to be holding up to the weather, although the pipe insulation recommended to weigh the bottom down is getting fried on the hot south side. It is as see-through as a window screen. I opted for the attachment method that does not involve drilling into the siding, and it’s only useful for windows that are not on our sliding glass doors. Economical and user friendly. It can be ordered in custom sizes.

This is how Birdscreen (TM) product looks from inside

The view from inside

Birdscreen (TM) product outside

Birdscreen (TM) product outside

Treatments above rely on a weight at the bottom. You can also attach the bottom to the window with suction cups but I ended up using all of those for the multiple smaller pieces I modified from the kit. Here are the smaller window treatments. These were particularly lethal windows, and we have not had problems since adding the external screens.

IMG_1693

The pink tape is to keep us from hitting our noggins on the open casement window.

IMG_1694

2. ABC BirdTape. Sold directly by the American Bird Conservancy, this product is economical and easy to apply. It comes as a roll of tape or wider squares. You can also get long rolls of uncut wide tape. These are all designed according to research that indicates that vertical or horizontal striping or squares of a specific width and distance apart, will help birds see a window, or avoid crashing. The minimum spacing for the stripes is important: 2″ horizontally or 4″ vertically. The tape turned out to be just the thing for the expanse of glass used on our deck panels. If you’re careful, it can be repositioned if you make a mistake, and if you goof up it is not too expensive to discard the piece you have and start over. The product is translucent, so you cannot actually see through it, but it has been fine visually. Visitors often think the glass came that way, and if I had it to do over I would have it frosted like this.

IMG_1695

Birdtape in squares.

Birdtape in strips

Birdtape in strips

IMG_1699

3. Acopian BirdSavers. Another outfit that sells a product they invented just for bird protection. Their product is made  from parachute cord. This product saved us and the birds. It is by far the easiest to apply, and if you want to save money, the website offers instructions on how to make your own. It has the advantages of simplicity and minimal things to go wrong, plus it is low profile. With the amount of glass we had to cover, this was the most satisfactory. Update: A few of these stopped adhering to the siding, and since I did not want to drill into our new siding I used suction cups on a couple of windows, and on others a magnetic strip with holes drilled to hold the strings tucked behind a window flange. I am told by the company that they also offer a permanent attachment bracket that has small screws to mount a bracket which looks very satisfactory in the photos on their website.

Here is how it looks on arrival. I measured my windows and gave them the dimensions to make each one for me (essentially cutting to size and tying the knots) so all I had to do was attach them. They are suspended from a header cord attached to pieces of aluminum with heavy double stick tape on the back. The green color blends in well.IMG_4840Installed, they are effective and low profile. Although they look a bit dark in the photo looking outside, the contrast is not that harsh. The attachment detail can be seen on the product website. Although they mention attachment problems in some applications, we have had very little need to re-attach. When it really gets busy at the feeders, sometime birds perch on the cords for a few seconds!

birdsaver2 birdsavers

Birdsavers cord installed

BirdSavers cord installed, looking out

4. CollidEscape This product seemed like a great idea. It is a mesh adhesive. It was quite pricey even for some samples but I thought it might look better so I tried a few; clear for the deck panels, grey and green to match the siding. The material comes in thick, very adhesive sheets that can be ordered to size, and they will color match for you. It also comes in patterns. I was told it is the material that is applied to buses for advertising. How they get those huge pieces on a bus is beyond me.

The colored film is nearly opaque from the outside, and pretty see-through from inside, although not as transparent as any of the other materials I used, probably because the colored sheets are black on the side that adheres to the glass, plus the holes of the mesh are dense.

If I was an experienced applicator or had an extra person or two to assist it might have been easier. I tried using the methods suggested, but it was a teeth-grinding experience on a hot day. In the end I removed the clear piece I had on the deck because it wasn’t very attractive. I think these photos actually make it look better. To me it just made things look out of focus and did not enhance the glass like the BirdTape.

2014-10-03 15.50.30 2014-10-03 15.50.43

In any case, after my first experience, I tried cutting one piece into the dimensions of the bird tape and applying it according to those specs. After a couple of months I decided it was too distracting and took it off.

IMG_4841 IMG_4842

The one application that seems to work is a couple of windows where I got it on evenly and it blended in well. On the south side of the house (left) it helps keep the house cooler by reflecting the heat and sun. On a small bedroom window (right) the reduced light is minor. The color match is quite good.

IMG_1701 IMG_1702

See below the difference between CollidEscape film and bird netting (left) and the film and BirdSavers cord (right) looking from the inside.

BirdSavers cord on left, CollidEscape film on right

BirdSavers cord on left, CollidEscape film on right

inside view0001

CollidEscape left, bird netting right

These examples show that different solutions work in different areas. The main thing is to do everything possible to protect the wildlife we life with whenever we can.

Because we know better, all buildings must take into account their surroundings. Green buildings can’t be green unless they include bird protection in their design. On the positive side:

  • Some cities have laws about what kind of glass can be used in commercial buildings with birds in mind.
  • Bird-friendly glass does exist.
  • Retrofitting is always an option, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, and not only for new construction.
  • It is really great that LEED building certification includes not only glass specifications but interior and exterior lighting standards for bird protection.
  • Lighting! a whole other story that you can read about in John Marzluff’s great book and also here.

Skinks in the rock pile

Earlier this spring I realized we had accidentally created some nice habitat for western skinks, an entertaining, exotic looking little guy with a beautiful blue tail. There was a lot of driveway gravel and random small rocks piled at the base of our crumbly basalt bank. I saw one weaving in and out of the rocks, and thought myself lucky to have a long look. Then I realized there was a second one, and they were playing hide and seek and chasing each other around, oblivious to me!! Ahh, spring.

According to Reptiles of the Northwest blue color in the tail is temporary – bright on juveniles, fading to grey or grey-blue in adults. I always see the blue tail disappearing in a flash. I have no idea how Alan St. John, author of the field guide, is able to capture them. But capture he does, and writes lovingly and entertainingly of skinks and other reptiles. A great read.

Weeks later I was gardening and flushed one out of the undergrowth. It immediately dashed for a rodent hole, but poked it’s head right back out again. We had a stare down, but the skink had the better skills, because if I looked away for one second, it would advance a centimeter and then freeze. I could not see it move, but there it was, inching forward. At the right moment it disappeared into the rockpile.

These guys are fast – like other lizards they can dash so fast that they can’t be caught, but are unable to keep up the pace, so their strategy is to dash, freeze, dash, and if all else fails sacrifice their tails, which can regrow if they are detached. The detached tail even wiggles to distract the predator while its owner gets away.

You can create habitat that snakes and other reptiles use by hollowing out a protected and dry place in a sunny area and covering it with stones and a little woody material. They will find the spaces beneath and this hibernaculum will be a refuge in the winter too for slug-eating garter snakes and others.

Skink skinking

Skink skinking

Imperceptibly scooting forward....

Imperceptibly scooting forward….

A blue tailed skink's blue tail is usually the only thing you see as it dashes away

A blue tailed skink’s blue tail is usually the only thing you see as it dashes away

The Bipartisan Partnership Behind the Bird-Safe Building Act | Audubon

Following up on the bird protection for windows post with a positive bit of news here:   The Bipartisan Partnership Behind the Bird-Safe Building Act | Audubon.

Milkweed and Monarch Butterflies

Monarchs are probably the best ambassadors for conservation. They are popular, great looking, and they need habitat from their wintering forests in Mexico all the way to Canada. Here on the west coast we have our own population that winters in California. Because the midwestern migration route can be as long as 3000 miles, if farmers can be convinced to use farming practices that help monarchs, it helps a ton of other species, over a huge area. This means no Roundup Ready crops, because that means no weeds on the margins of agricultural fields, and that is where the monarchs are. Even better is organic farming with hedgerows, beetle banks, conservation cover, and windbreaks with some evergreen trees. By advocating for uncultivated margins, Aldo Leopold had the formula in the twentieth century.

Monarchs are dependent on milkweed (Asclepias sp.) because their caterpillars only eat milkweed. Adults lay their eggs on milkweed as they make a multi-generational journey from Mexico each year.

As Monarchs head north, they feed on nectar, stopping at night in protective tree canopies. The first and second generations from Mexico will die before the population gets where it’s going. After newly transformed butterflies emerge from chrysalises they continue on their leg of the migration relay. There may be three or four generations of butterflies by the time the population reaches the farthest point in their travels. In the fall, the last generation will travel all the way back south, looking for sustenance along the way. After overwintering as adults, they will head north again. It’s amazing that this works at all!

Here is an awesome time lapse of the entire monarch lifecycle.

If you’d like to have a look at some nice milkweed and possibly an egg, caterpillar or monarch, check out the gardens at Winter’s Hill Winery and Vineyard. (That is some butterfly-friendly wine, and so delicious!!)

I recently found these clumps of milkweed on the side of the road:

milkweed1_2 milkweed2_2

If no one sprays it before it goes to seed I will collect seed and grow out plants next year. Having planted a few this year, I can say they are a bit slow to get going but once established they thrive on neglect. A seasonally wet ditch in the sun is best. A wet prairie is ideal. That way the monarchs can find them.

While I was photographing these clumps, a honeybee and a western tiger swallowtail butterfly came by.

Milkweedbee_2 milkweedbutterfly_2

It’s Raining – But Only Under This Tree

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.

Link

Closeup on Forests of the Pacific Northwest : Image of the Day.

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 that “checkerboard lands” are very clearly defined on this map. These are our legacy from US government donation of the spoils of conquest to the railroad barons more than a century ago.