I speak for the bees

(note: if you receive this post by email you may need to go to the post on WordPress to see all content)

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

Creature and Blooms update Fall 2016

A quick post to showcase creatures we are enjoying here in Gopher Valley in NW Oregon.

Note: if you get this post by email, the videos will not show up. So try coming to the blog page to read.

Crickets this year are abundant.Their chirps monopolize the bandwidth of evening sound. We have two kinds: the slow-singers and the fast-singers. Perhaps bush and tree varieties. During hot late August and Sept evenings, one highly successful individual got the volume past the point of enjoyment for us mammals indoors.

In this video below you can hear the fast singer competing with the slow guys in the background. Apologies for the low res, but you can get the idea.

img_2434

Snowy tree cricket or maybe another kind.

Evening primroses (Oenothera sp) are not a native flower, but they bloom their hearts out all spring and summer into fall and the extended color, fragrance and nectar is a gift to insects and humans. Crickets perch on the stems, light evening primrose fragrance is released into the air each night when they open after dusk. Flowers open so quickly you can see the petals move! Easy to grow from abundant seed, too.

 

A couple of snakes. Some gopher snakes are very tame, but others are aggressive and defensive. I found a baby on the road that gathered all of it’s 6 inches into a compact spring and leaped toward me as I stepped back from taking a photo. This big one we petted as it toured the patio methodically looking into each and every corner for some dinner, and it hardly noticed us.

gsnake20160001

Adult gopher snake

A rubbery rubber boa. They are usually underneath something.

rboa_2

Rubber boa

 

Despite the heat, good old Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) came up from winter-sown seed in the hedgerow-in-progress, and bloomed by the end of the summer. Thank you, best native plant friend! And that is narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) keeping right up with it. Easier to start this year than the showy milkweed, and still native to our region. Contact me if you would like growing or seed source info.

ORSun0001.jpg

The Scientific and the Sublime

Oak leaves with galls

2016: Reposting something from the archives here, because of an article in the news. Forest Bathing has become a tourist activity around the world!  http://www.seattletimes.com/life/travel/forest-bathing-a-mindful-walk-in-the-woods-no-getting-wet/

 

2010: Many plants sport growths (galls) caused by insects, and Oregon white oak has some spectacular large stem galls, as well as smaller, more fragile leaf galls. Here’s what the US Forest Service  has to say:

“Many gall wasps are found on oaks; those prominent on Oregon white oak include Andricus californicus, which forms large, persistent, applelike galls on twigs; Bassettia ligni, which causes seedlike galls under the bark of branches that often girdle and kill the branch; Besbicus mirabilis, which forms mottled, spherical galls on the underside of leaves; and Neuroterus saltatorius, which forms mustard-seed-like galls on lower leaf surfaces that drop in the fall and jump around like Mexican jumping beans caused by activity of the enclosed larvae.

Adults lay eggs in the leaves, twigs, or bark and the developing larvae signal the plant to produce the galls. According to A Field Guide to Insects and Diseases of California Oaks

“Adults are small wasps, typically no more than about 4 mm long . Larvae are small, whitish, and legless and develop completely inside larval chambers that form within the galls. Depending on the wasp species, each gall may have either one (monothalamous galls) or many (polythalamous galls) larval chambers.

Gall wasp larvae can apparently only induce galls in undifferentiated meristematic or cambial cells, [blogger’s note: these cells at the tips of growing points on the plant have not received the hormonal signal to become a particular type of tissue so the wasp larva is superceding the plant’s signal] so female wasps must lay eggs in specific host tissues (buds, leaves, etc.) when the tissues are at the correct growth stage.

Developing larvae produce substances that induce the plant to form a larval chamber of a structure that is unique to the wasp species and generation. The gall wasp larvae typically remain small while they induce the gall to grow rapidly. As the gall nears its mature size, larvae feed on nutritive tissue produced in the center of the gall and begin to grow rapidly. As the larvae mature, they induce lignification of the gall. In detachable galls, lignification may induce the gall to fall off the plant.

Larvae pupate within the gall and adult wasps emerge from the galls to initiate the next generation.

Many oak gall wasp species have two alternating generations; a sexual generation with females and males followed by an asexual generation with only females, which can lay fertile eggs without mating. Each of these generations produces a unique gall, often on different parts of an oak.”

The galls on the leaves in the photo above, formed by egg laying of the delightfully named Besbicus mirabilis are relatively new. At the center is a tiny hard nodule that contains the larva or, at this stage, perhaps the egg. Surrounding this is some white web-like porous tissue, all inside the thick-walled shell of the gall.

I found several large stem galls broken open on the ground recently, as if a bird or squirrel had been snacking on the larva inside. I took a stem gall – the one called an oak apple – from a cluster on an oak twig and opened it up. Suspended in the pithy tissue was a very hard round object. Inside this were two chambers full of wasp larvae you can see here [warning: close up of insect larvae, might remind you of maggots – skip ahead if you prefer!]

“oak apple” gall with wasp larvae

gall wasp larvae (likely Andricus californicus)

Hyper-parasitism – a parasite of a parasite – is not unusual in the insect world; parasites of caterpillars are themselves parasitized by even tinier wasps. So, besides the resourceful animals that know to break open these galls to get to the larvae, there may also be other wasps that lay eggs inside these larvae. Considering the armoring (both the outside of the gall and the chamber), it would be interesting to find out if there are any wasps that have evolved to gain access to these larvae.

You may be surprised by the females’ ability to reproduce without mating – this is also common in the insect world, especially among the species that have large population booms like aphids (born pregnant – not kidding!)

Okay, that was scientific. Now for the sublime:

While we were taking a break from sawing up a pile of slash from the restoration logging, I heard a woodpecker and walked toward the woods to get a closer look. We looked across a ravine at a downy, or a hairy woodpecker (according to Tom, who is the bird identifier) as it vigorously pecked away at the bark of an oak, possibly extracting insect larvae or beetles – organic pest control via the food web.

As we stood there, I was reminded of a great story in the NY Times about a study in Japan on the beneficial chemicals exuded by trees. The unfortunate scientific moniker applied to these wonderful substances is phytoncides, which sounds like something that kills plants, but actually was coined to mean “killed BY the plant”. These protective chemicals, produced to ward off insects and disease, have been found to benefit humans in subtle ways by regulating physiology and feelings of well-being.

Japanese researchers have been quantifying these effects, but the benefits of trees have not been news to the Japanese or many other cultures, which for millenia have recognized and sought out deep tree-connections).

The term for soaking up beneficial effects by spending time in the woods is Shinrin-yoku or “forest-bathing”. To me this is a good description of the sense of well-being and mental relaxation you get from immersing yourself in the forest experience. As Tom pointed out, all the time we spent in trees during our evolution should still influence our biology.

Gazing at a stand of oaks in the summer sun as their mature leaves reflect the light, is a qualitatively different experience from looking at conifers – which are a flat green whose needles seem to absorb light. The reflected green light of the oaks produces a corresponding lightness of being. Savoring this delightful moment, I was glad I had taken that break to get out of the blazing hot sun, and wandered off to look at a woodpecker.

 

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/

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

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!

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.

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…

View original post 799 more words

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

 

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…

View original post 863 more words

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.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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