Prairie Field Day Arrives – May 31


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

March marches on

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!

Woo-hoo! Another Happy Day…

In my post last week, I had to re-edit to mention that I actually did see a white-breasted nuthatch on our trees and at the feeder. I was probably so excited to report it that I mistakenly edited out that part.

This week, a news item just out reports that the Fender’s Blue butterfly numbers are up at a large reserve near Eugene in the Willamette Valley. Many have rallied around this small, but charismatic species. Unlike the nuthatch and acorn woodpecker, the Fender’s Blue is on the endangered species list. (The birds are slowly sliding toward it in some locales, but their numbers are still up).

A thought or two about insects: perhaps they can recover more quickly than some species (i.e. the spotted owl, mentioned in the article) because their populations have a quicker response time, or because their territories are smaller and more easily managed.

Many things going on there – they don’t have the competition from bigger more aggressive species like the spotted owl does. Insects also tend toward boom and bust cycles because of weather, food, disease and such, although some more than others (think aphids – at the bottom of the food chain and also designed for rapid reproduction). If their numbers drop, or rise, it may depend on environmental conditions other than the management strategies that people are using.

Nevertheless, these strategies are undeniably beneficial. It does one good to start the year with positive news. Maybe we’ll have some Fender’s Blues on our place soon. We have a patch of their larval host plants, some nectar sources, and it would be great if the Conservation District would decide we are worthy of burning the fields! I’m still pestering them about that…wbn

Fender's Blue on Kincaid's Lupine

Fender’s Blue on Kincaid’s Lupine

What Is A Habitat Conservation Plan?

While the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it illegal to negatively impact listed animal species (known as “take”), a permit (called an incidental take permit) can be issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows a limited amount of incidental take if the following conditions are met:

(1) A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is developed that describes how the impacts to the species will be monitored, minimized and mitigated.

(2) Funding to implement the HCP and procedures to deal with unforeseen circumstances affecting the species, its habitat or the HCP are ensured.

(3) The incidental take identified in the HCP does not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild (USFWS 1996).

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973. If a species is “listed” as endangered it is legally protected. Listing is a prolonged and not always successful process, involving study, counting, and documenting extinction danger. Once listed, a further requirement is formulation of a plan for building up populations and habitat for them so that the species can increase to the point where it is no longer endangered.

Landowners who are lucky enough to have property that is home to an endangered species can keep using their land – to grow crops, for example – by signing on to, and following An HCP. If they don’t, then these activities might actually be prohibited entirely, so participating in the HCP protects them from prosecution.

This is sometimes hard to get across to people who are worried about limits to the use of their property – joining allows you to continue an action that might harm an endangered species (you have a permit), as part of a plan that makes up for it in other ways. Not joining could mean less freedom to use your property.

The main reason for an HCP is not to allow take, however, but to establish best management practices to avoid it, and help people take care of their land and the species that belong to all of us.

I participate in a landowner advisory group with the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, which is writing an HCP for Fender’s Blue Butterfly (endangered) and its larval host plant, Kincaid’s Lupine (threatened). I hope that the limited number of landowners in the county who have these species on their property will join us in caring for the habitat that supports them. It is so seldom we can say that our actions make a difference – what a wonderful opportunity!

Spring shoots, bizarre fungi, welcoming birds

It’s been awhile since I went out with the camera, but I got some timely photos of emerging shoots, early bloomers and – oh yes, some alien pods – possible leftovers from last fall….

Here is a beautiful photo of an Anna’s hummingbird from Lisa who posted it on the Mid Valley nature blog. We discussed the lichens in the nest – they work great as camouflage; these lichens may have some antimicrobial properties against parasites and disease.

On the topic of birds, I diligently researched the best ways to keep birds from crashing into our sliding glass doors. I am sorry to say ours have been responsible for knocking a few birds unconscious and a few deaths. According to an American Bird Conservancy study, vertical white lines 4″ apart on the outside of the windows should work (my stripes are wider because I was too impatient to make them tiny and neat), and we are now ready for the birds to raise their babies.

windows painted to reduce bird strikes

If you don’t find the new shoots below particularly exciting (always better in person!) Plants can be found on the In Bloom in Gopher Valley page as they look later on in spring and summer.

Lilies abound, and it’s not clear which these are, as many have onion-like leaves. Many leaf out, but not all will bloom. Some need to grow larger to have the resources to send up a flower, others may just be in a spot that is too shady. Here they are growing up through the invasive ornamental Vinca minor.

Onion-like stems of lilies showing red at the base

The fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) are recognized by their speckled leaves – like a fawn. They’ll soon be in bloom.

And of course the great big bulbs of Camas are sending up fatter leaves. Unfortunately, the deer will probably eat them before I get a chance to see them bloom and collect seeds. These are very much bigger than the little oniony ones above – see the dougfir cone for comparison as these are not so close up.

Camassia leichtlinii

Trillium albidum

Here a clump of Trillium albidum is just emerging with flower buds at the center. These knocked my socks off when I first saw the in bloom – magical!

Although I’m not a big fan of snowberry in landscaped areas because of its tendency to turn into an amorphous thicket, in the wild, it’s quite modest. These tender new leaves attracted my attention, and now I see something has been nibbling the branch tips. Possibly a rabbit. Deer would leave a raggedy, shredded end, but these are cleanly pruned.

Early snowberry leaves

They are not arresting at this stage, but this one patch of shooting star (Dodecatheon sp) is the only occurrence I’ve found on our property and therefore a treasure that I watch for every year, hoping to collect seed and propagate more. I have gotten a few to sprout but none survived.

Shooting star leaves March

Indian plum with hazelnut catkins

Hard to believe all these leaves and flowers were packed into a couple of buds on the Indian plums; their time is spring and early summer. As summer drought wears on, their leaves yellow and drop, and they disappear in the woods. Right now their blossoms seem to float in front of the conifers and ferns. The hazelnut catkins are out early too – most of ours are either escaped cultivated ones or hybrids between domestic and native.

It’s almost invisible, but last year’s brown flowering stalk on this orchid (Piperia elegans) is still attached. Wide leaves are emerging from the bulb-like underground storage stem, surrounded by the ferny leaves of sweet cicely [Osmorhiza sp]. The orchids will spend 3 more months gathering the energy to bloom.

This photo of just the leaves may help in finding the cryptic leaves in the previous photo. This is a month earlier in mid-Feb:

The tiny single, wide leaf in the photo below is one of several giant houndstongue seedlings I planted at various locations. These in the oak woodland seem to be surviving. The long-established mother plant I harvested seed from is sending up huge fat shoots (second photo).

Giant houndstongue sending up shoots from a giant rootstock.

Cynoglossum grande

I find meadow checkermallow (Sidalcea) here and there, and although we have planted some, the indigenous plants are always my favorites. Like finding easter eggs hiding from the years of grazing, logging, and whatnot. Here they are just peeking out, and easily confused with sanicle or the ubiquitous invasive shining geranium or dovesfoot geranium.

Sidalcea campestris

I am delighted to see some Kincaid’s lupine made it through a second winter. I have been trying to get this endangered species established, but they are still not there yet. Hoping for more chances to plant this year. Someday the Fender’s blue butterflies may find these.

Kincaid's lupine seedlings planted in 2009

And now, for something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! Take a guess what this might be:

I saw a group of these next to the lupines in the oak savanna. Vaguely remembering a photo and description, I confirmed that it is the fruiting body (similar to a puffball) of a fungus called an earth star. Check out the whole story here.

They are reminiscent of the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And they have a uniquely strange ability to rise up out of the ground and expand when moist (when the spores in the white puff would have a chance to germinate); with the tough, leathery star part retracting back underground when dry.

Here is what the underside looks like – I think these must be left over from last fall and winter because they seemed to have detached from their underground parts or mycelium. The one I brought home is dry and curled up again – might be a fun kid’s toy that curls and uncurls when you get it wet like those sponges in the shape of animals.

Earthstar underbelly

Stay tuned for more natural history surprises from the oak savanna, and oak and fir woodland of Gopher Valley Road and the Willamette Valley!

Oregon white oak - still dormant

Endangered Species

Well, this is not one of them. However, this Silvery Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) looks very similar to the endangered Fender’s Blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi).  But Fender’s blue has a row of faint markings, at the edge of the hindwing, like ghosts of the dark spots.

I was ecstatic the first time I saw a Silvery Blue until I learned about the second row of spots. I still am very enamored of these guys though. You have to wonder why the flamboyant STRIPED antennae? Such wonderful details!

Our oak savanna and woodland project probably would not have been supported were it not for the Fender’s Blue. Support for habitat improvement often comes in the form of money for the management of endangered species. Once a species is on the endangered list, the agencies responsible for watching out for them are required to come up with a plan to bulk up the population – plant or animal – and try to make it possible for them to reproduce and expand on their own (the official term is “recovery”).

Our project is providing more habitat close to existing Fender’s Blue populations, and I have planted the preferred food plant of the larvae – Kincaid’s Lupine. Kincaid’s Lupine is a plant that needs an upland prairie or savanna habitat, and is one of those species that is disappearing with the oak habitat – it is designated as threatened in some areas, endangered in others. My lupines are still small, but here are some of the current crop I am still trying to establish (not as fantastic looking as the butterfly, I know).