I speak for the bees

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It’s no secret that bees are having a hard time lately.

If the image of a honey bee just popped into your head, you would not be alone. Domesticated and brought here in the 1600’s, honey bees are iconic. They have been our civilized companions for centuries. They tolerate being carted around from place to place, and of course, there’s the honey. However, honey bees are not native to North America, and they are not even the best pollinators!

Native bees do not make honey, they mostly do not live in large colonies, but they are great pollinators. Their diversity is phenomenal: in Oregon (a hotspot of bee diversity) there are at least 500 different native species! Let’s take a look at these fabulous creatures that live here with us.

Our state’s diverse geography contributes to higher native bee diversity than many parts of the U.S. But 500 species may not be all the bees we have! It turns out, entomologists’ knowledge of Oregon’s native bees is based largely on documented collections from only four sampling sites in the state. Enter the Oregon Bee Atlas.

In a fortunate moment for science, the current Farm Bill included funding for the study of native bees, and one goal in a larger project is to train up citizen scientist teams to collect bees and data throughout the season, for four years, to find out how many and which bees are here. This will help experts assess the health and changes taking place in their populations in this critical time of species extinctions and adaptation to climate change.

I am on one of two teams in my county, and our sampling site is our property here in Gopher Valley. I am super excited to have the opportunity to contribute to this important work, which enhances all our conservation work while making a contribution to science and bees. My friend Emily Gladhart has the other site at Winter’s Hill Vineyard which has a fantastic native plant garden and oak woodland.

Why bees are important

Pollination is the first step in fertilization. Pollination occurs when a pollen grain is deposited on a plant’s stigma – the female plant part. Fertilization occurs when the pollen grain germinates and grows a pollen tube down inside the style to deliver sperm to unite with the ovule. That is the beginning of a seed.

flower parts

Copyright© 2010 by P. Pearle, K. Bart, D. Bilderback, B. Collett, D. Newman, S. Samuels Accessed 4.2018 at http://physerver.hamilton.edu/Research/Brownian/index.html

 

Bees pollinate crops. But biodiversity is also a critical part of the story. Native plants support whole ecosystems and rely on pollinators for seed production. Bees move pollen (genes) and increase genetic diversity. Some bees specialize on certain plants, and without their pollinators those plants can’t reproduce. Other bees are generalists. Some generalists (like honey bees or orchard mason bees) can be managed to pollinate commercial crops. Those that don’t lend themselves to such management can be encouraged to nest near crops by providing good habitat, which is like raising your own crop of bees along with your plant crop.

Native bees are food for nest parasites, birds, spiders, and other creatures that can use the protein-packed snacks of bee larvae, pollen, and bee bodies that help make the world go around. These hangers-on are not necessarily a detriment. They are part of the food web and have co-evolved with their hosts and prey.

Native bees live unique lives

The nests of native bees vary by species, but many are solitary, gregarious, or semi-social. Some species are completely solitary. Others nest in a group but still maintain their individual nests. There are species that live in a communal nest; bumblebees have a nest with division of labor (workers, queen). A typical life cycle involves

1. An overwintering stage. Bumblebee queens overwinter alone, wake up in the spring and start foraging to provide pollen for their eggs.

Solitary bees emerge from cocoons where they have been pupating or overwintering as immature adults. They chew their way out of their nest cells.

2. Reproductive stage. Bumblebee queens lay eggs to start their nests. When enough eggs hatch, the queen switches to egg-laying only and lets others take over the tending and foraging duties. New bumble bee queens then mate at the end of the season, the old queen will die and the new queens will find new nests in which to spend the winter.

Solitary bees mate on emergence in Spring, and begin building nests with cells containing one egg and a food packet (pollen loaf) in each cell for the larva that hatches.

3. Nest activity: bumble bees live in larger cavities such as rodent holes or inside trees or buildings, because they need space for the group nest.

Other bees may have nests inside twigs, soil, or cavities, composed of individual chambers for each egg and pollen loaf package. They deposit an egg on the pollen ball and close up the cell (generalized illustrations below), never to see their offspring. Some bees line their nests with leaves, cut in neat circles from plants. Bee nests are varied, amazing, and species-specific.

 
Illustrations by Steve Buchanan from Bee Basics:An Introduction to Our Native Bees USDA Forest Service and Pollinator Partnership

Clearly, protecting bee nests is a big part of conserving the mind-boggling number of bees we have.

The easiest way to do this is to:

  • provide undisturbed areas for bees to excavate for soil nests
  • maintain cavities in rocks or wood, and have softer pithy dead stems for them to excavate (elderberry, blackberry and other canes, roses, wildflowers, etc).
  • there should be a concentrated source of food, such as blocks of flowering plants throughout the season.
  • pesticides are a particular danger to bees, so using none is best; there are less-toxic pesticides, and application guidelines are available to minimize the effect on bees. There is information on alternatives at the Oregon Dept of Agriculture website here: http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/Pesticides/Pages/PollinatorIssues.aspx

In no case should neonicotinoid pesticides be used or tolerated in nursery stock. Be sure to ask your nursery if they can certify that their wholesalers do not use these persistent, deadly chemicals when they grow plants. More info available here, for landscapers, gardeners and foresters.

A hedgerow is an excellent way to build a successful bee haven.

Here are a few scenes from our collecting project so far. It has been cold this spring, and blooms are a bit scarce, so it’s a slow start but weather effects are also important to document. It’s a long game, and data gathered over years or decades will show important trends. Click for more info below.

 

Some action shots from our collecting activities:

https://www.facebook.com/TaylorGardens/posts/1753753841314691

 

A special thanks to Ed Sullivan for his photo of the Ceratina bee featured in this post’s header and gallery above. See more of his work at https://www.flickr.com/photos/canoebait

 

Links to additional information

https://www.arboretumfoundation.org/getting-to-know-our-native-bees/ A great article on all the important things about PNW native bees.
https://xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/plant-lists/pollinator-plants-maritime-northwest-region/ Fact sheet on native plants for pollinators in maritime PNW
https://xerces.org/fact-sheets/ A page of fact sheets. For clarity and brevity I recommend 4 Principles to Help Bees and Butterflies

A look back: The year and a decade in review

2017 marks a decade since we started our conservation projects in earnest.

How timely then, that we were scheduled for a review by the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC logo you see on your recycled and green wood products indicates the product has been certified to actually be “green”. Members adhere to specific standards that make their forests more planet-friendly. An agency – in our case, the Northwest Natural Resource Group – holds the certificate for its members, shepherds us along, and makes sure we report pesticide use and generally keep to the righteous path. Every few years the FSC audits a portion of the properties that are members of NNRG. This year we were asked to compare current practices to our management plan and explain how we measure our progress. Short answer: mainly by looking, because our “crop” is conservation, so it’s pretty simple compared to an actual tree farm.

It was helpful to look back and see where we are. The original plan was to restore oak savanna and woodland throughout the property. Some areas needed to be logged, others could be sheared and mowed. We have stuck with projects laid out by the Conservation District which differ from the management plan done by a consultant because some of the steeper areas are just too difficult or expensive to access.

Below, a few reflections, photos and assessments.

Progress is incremental. Everything takes time. We will get the scotch broom corralled eventually. Some increments that I appreciate are:

The savanna (really almost a bald) is still savanna-like. Scotch broom was as tall as the tractor when we started but thin soil and hot exposure have slowed down growth.

In all parts of the property, legacy patches of native wildflowers continue to expand and I enjoy finding the odd new plant or population, which gives me great hope, even though there will always be weeds and non natives.

The woodland oaks have more space and continue to put on growth after being crowded for many years. These things are best seen in contrast with previous condition.

 

Maintenance is forever. Yes, it is. Scotch broom is not forever, but it seems like it.

Getting new stuff to grow is a challenge, but Roemer’s fescue has really been a friend. California oat grass was hanging on when we arrived, we’ve seeded more of it and it’s a lovely bunch grass.

In the absence of fire, a good mowing makes everything better. I would like to burn more. but we don’t have fire available for management (land area too small, too close to neighbors, too expensive, etc), so we must pick our battles and do what we can.

Early- or mid-summer is the best time to mow for our objectives, because this often will kill mature scotch broom. But it is difficult to find a mower operator who will do this when we need it. Tom’s walk-behind has been a great help to reduce the non-native grass thatch in many places and a get to some of the broom in a timely fashion after the natives are done blooming.

Some firs have died of drought in the last few years – a sign that they are not suited to this site and/or climate change in this location. Possibly the thinning took away some of their support system.

dying fir. 2017

Douglas fir dying from the top down from repeated drought

Trees that were girdled to make space in the Land of Moose and Squirrel are toppling over but the big snags live on, with their tufts of branches still green, for now. The plan was to make them last as long as possible and right now they pose little threat to the surrounding oaks while offering a perch and some cavities for birds and squirrels.

Some oaks will unfortunately be on the losing end as conifers outgrow them in the inaccessible areas. On the positive side, our steep slopes provide many niches that are home to a variety of species, and some prefer a mixed forest, or a more closed canopy and patchy landscapes are natural. The thickest scotch broom was even favored by common yellowthroats in past years, although that will not save it from the knife I’m afraid.

Our squirrel survey revealed that western gray squirrels were using some pretty dense vegetation, and we see them in conifers around the house. On moister lower slopes, birds like Pacific slope flycatchers and black-throated gray warblers prefer our damp, cool headwater streams, shaded by a mixed conifer/oak forest that protects the water table and is the source of our springs. Sword ferns and moss carpet the ground. Wilson’s warblers return to their low perches here every year. It is a cool and welcome spot during the longer, hotter summers.

2017-12-20 edge.wdlnd.mixedforest

Mixed woodland, young firs will overtop oaks in time. Dead scotch broom in foreground.

 

Current Projects

In partnership with the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation DIstrict, we are working to get the broom under control so we can manage it better. The woodland areas have a more benign microclimate and deeper soils than the savanna. Hence more weed invasion. Removing tree cover plus soil disturbance, while beneficial to oaks, has had the predictable result of releasing scotch broom to grow rampantly and outpace our control efforts. Repeated mowing early on kept the broom short, but did not kill it and it rebounded in the last few years. We were able to hire a contractor to spray and mow the worst of it this year.

In one area there are a lot of native plants hiding underneath, including rein orchids. We tried hand cutting and painting first (at my request) to see if we could avoid broadcast spraying. But after a morning of slogging, with the prospect of even taller and denser broom to come, I relented and agreed overspraying was a better choice. Fortunately James, our contractor, was quite careful (he really liked the orchids, which were new to him), and by the time he came back to mow, the orchids and other wildflowers were mostly underground, post-bloom. The wintertime “after” photo below makes me so happy!

Next year we’ll go in for a cleanup to spray regrowth missed on the first pass and make a plan for the seedlings – likely a combination of careful pulling and spraying in the dormant season. One mistake we will not repeat is to keep mowing the broom when it is small, since that just grows bigger roots for growth the next season.

In the third year of the project I plan to spray out non-native grass in several otherwise “clean” areas for a broadcast sowing of native plant seed. Non-native grasses are the second most vexatious problem we have. Burning a few smaller piles of slash works well to pave the way for broadcast sowings of California oat grass and Roemer’s fescue plus wildflowers. Checkermallow (Sidalcea spp) is still germinating from sowings more than a year or two ago, and slowly we are increasing the ratio of native to non native. I will be keeping an eye out, especially in the woodlands for new populations of natives(like the mystery lily below) and hand-weeding life rings around them .

Finally, aside from weeds, one of the challenges in the last few years has been unusually heavy winter rains that scour our small headwater streams. Adjacent land that formerly was covered with forests in various stages of regrowth has been cleared for agriculture, or just cleared and gone to broom. This means rainwater doesn’t get intercepted and soak slowly down to the water table like it used to. A rain drop takes hours, instead of days, to reach the creek across the road. We do what we can to slow it down, but as you can see, there is a large watershed area off the property. Our little paths have undersized culverts where they cross the streams, so the culverts get plugged up.

Again the Conservation District came through to quantify catchment areas and re-size some culverts that will be replaced, to handle the increased water volume. Eye opening views of our hydrology came to light in these maps. Ouch, no wonder there’s such a torrent.

We are slowly making some progress to bring back more native habitat and native plants. The weeds will always be with us, but we continue to make headway and enjoy our animals, birds, and plants through the seasons and the years.

The Truth

Over the last ten years, we have enjoyed the benefits of assistance – financial and technical – from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) an agency of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Our local conservation district has brokered cost-sharing from NRCS for our projects. These efforts improve the quality of our land for wildlife and native plants. They increase resilience in the fabric of the natural systems that provide clean water, clean air, and healthy soils that can sequester carbon. These agencies provide invaluable expertise and assistance to landowners across the nation who steward a vast amount of acreage.

All of these efforts can be undone by precipitous climate change, caused by humans. This fact is one of the greatest threats to our continued existence on earth. Yet, the current Administration in Washington D.C. is bent on wasting time clouding the issue, and refusing to address it for the emergency it has become.

The Guardian newspaper ran an article revealing email discussions and instructions within the USDA and NRCS, beginning in January 2017, to modify language to eliminate certain straightforward terms in public communications.

According to the article, “A missive from Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, lists terms that should be avoided by staff and what should replace them.”

“Climate change” is in the “avoid” category, to be replaced by “weather extremes”. Instead of “climate change adaption”, staff are asked to use “resilience to weather extremes”.
The primary cause of human-driven climate change is also targeted, with the term “reduce greenhouse gases” blacklisted in favor of “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency”. Meanwhile, “sequester carbon” is ruled out and replaced by “build soil organic matter”.

–The Guardian Monday 7 August 2017

Soil organic matter comes under the purview of government agencies that help farmers. It’s a big deal because it is an especially powerful way to change the course we are on with climate change. We should be able to discuss that openly. Damage to our soils over decades and centuries has reduced carbon storage and that’s one reason there is so much carbon dioxide in the air now. It’s not politics, it’s biology and physics.

This is more than just substituting different words and continuing to do the same work, changing the message because your boss has changed the message, hoping your budget won’t be cut to the bone. Words matter more than ever. Precision matters. Telling the truth makes a difference when truth and reality are being assaulted at every turn by those who hold power over policy and budgets.

I am disappointed and appalled that the USDA and the NRCS have caved to use “newspeak” instead of true and appropriate scientific terms. If department heads stand up to this pressure, they lose their jobs; perhaps they feel staying with their agencies is important to the survival of the few good things they can still accomplish.This bad behavior, the shameful generation of fear and lies, can be resisted. And it must be resisted at every turn.

 

Birds Tell All

I follow another blog called Cutter Light. It is a chronicle of an extraordinarily adventurous couple’s life working and living in remote locations. Illustrated with high quality photos and good writing, it is always a pleasure to read. I want to share two recent posts here that capture the essence of living in nature (whether urban, rural, or wilderness). Both essays involve birds and what they mean to us personally but also how birds are, uniquely, messengers from beyond the world where we are tethered.

Birds travel, migrate, sing. Their messages to us are as loud as a blaring siren and as obvious as a giant billboard if we tune in. These beautiful essays show us that language at work.

Memory and great horned owls:

2:00 AM: The Owls of Chignik Lake and Clarion River’s Gravel Lick Pool

Climate and species expansion, also limits to our knowledge of species at the edge:

The Week a Grosbeak Landed on my Head, a Chickadee Perched on my Tripod, and I finally got good Photos of Golden-Crowned Kinglets

 

Caddisfly

I did not expect newly emerged winged things to be coming out Oct 31, but here is a caddisfly (Halesochila taylori). One or two came to the house lights. I am still researching their biology. They live in healthy wetlands and near stream and lakes. So, Yay!

I love their elegant antennae and modern-art wing pattern.

img_2635

Caddisfly adult 10/31/3016 Gopher Valley OR

This trout fishing page has info on life cycle: http://www.troutnut.com/hatch/12/Insect-Trichoptera-Caddisflies

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

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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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

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.

From Someone Who Loves The Rural Life

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.

Farewell – NYTimes.com.

Looking back at some posts you may have missed

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 so…likable!!

Although very important, they are under-appreciated. The spongy, moist, fungus-friendly winter is dark and depressing to us mammals, but it’s high season for lichens.

That grey-green color of the oaks in the GVJournal masthead?   Lichens!

Here’s are galleries with some fun facts.

Oak branch with a load of assorted lichens

  • Biodiversity.

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.

Lobaria pulmonaria – “lungwort”

Pseudocyphellaria anomala – “netted specklebelly”

  • Some people are under the impression that the “load” of lichens is damaging to trees and shrubs, but this is not the case.

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.

  • The colorful common names of lichens indicate their longstanding interest to us. Many are important to a number of wildlife species, and to humans historically and in modern times.

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.

Some medium long Usnea longissima

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.

Dry Summer Lichens – bumpy leafy one is Lobaria pulmonaria

The same Lobaria species when it’s moist

-A Gallery of Gopher Valley Lichens click to view-

A Gallery of Gopher Valley Lichens

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Thanks to lichenologist Katherine Glew (Univ of Washington) for teaching me about lichens. I can remember some of it.

Lichens of North America, by I.M. Brodo, S.D. Sharnoff & S. Sharnoff, and Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest, by B. McCune and L. Geiser

Western Oak Looper – Beginning A New Generation

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 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.

Western Oak Looper Used with permission:Jerald E. Dewey, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org Lambdina fiscellaria somniaria image #2252041

Western Oak Looper adult
Used with permission:Jerald E. Dewey, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Lambdina fiscellaria somniaria

Swallow update

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

Prairie Field Day Arrives – May 31

Gallery

This gallery contains 13 photos.

Many thanks to Amie Loop-Frison of the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District and her prodigious organizing skills to pull this off. It was a beautiful day, a fun tour, and an inspiration to see so many people interested in … Continue reading