Deciding I like the bugs’-eye view
If you are an Oregonian (or a resident on planet Earth) this is important.
I had an arresting experience when I went out into the woodland the other day. It has been extremely dry this winter in Oregon, but there is often a lot of fog. As I walked under one of the larger Douglas firs there was a sound of dripping rain on dried oak leaves and yet, it was not raining.
I’m not sure if I have ever experienced fog drip first hand in quite this way. I learned about it many years ago as a very significant (in the statistical meaning) source of ground water and soil moisture in the western Cascades.
Have I ever been in the woods when they are dripping? Yes, but standing under one single tree, that is collecting and dropping water is kind of eerie when everything else is quiet, the ground is dry, and it’s just very foggy. Being present as a tree essentially waters itself and channels the water into ground storage, reveals how trees = water = more trees and life.
So, come along with me and experience it for yourself. You might be able to see the raindrops falling in this cellphone movie:
Here, stand in the open where no rain is falling, and look back toward the mixed oak and the big Doug fir in the ravine. These trees were left behind when the forest was logged the first and/or second time in the last century. We left them too, when we thinned trees to revive the oak woodland. They protect a riparian zone of seasonal streamflow – the source of some of that flow is now apparent! That’s a Steller’s Jay imitating a Redtailed Hawk in the background.
So, why fog drip under conifers and not oaks (I asked myself)? I believe that the answer lies in leaf architecture. Moisture runs off the vast surface area of thousands of needles intercepting fog. Oaks are leafless in winter, but besides that, they support a huge biomass of lichens and mosses, which are designed to soak up nutrients and water from the air, as it’s their life support. Hence, lichens and mosses may tend to increase the humidity around a tree, but they sponge up rather than repel moisture like fir needles. Fir needles don’t need the moisture – they send it to the roots where they can use it. Wow.
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.
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.
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.
A lichen is the result of an association between one or more algal species and a fungus.
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.
Lichens are adapted to alternate wetting and drying. They go dormant when their moisture content is low enough, and as they moisten up, they begin to photosynthesize.
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.
-A Gallery of Gopher Valley Lichens click to view-
A Gallery of Gopher Valley Lichens
Thanks to lichenologist Katherine Glew (Univ of Washington) for teaching me about lichens. I can remember some of it.
If you missed the news this late summer about the patches of oak devastation near Sheridan and other places in the Willamette Valley, here’s a hyper-local update (our property). When the damage is in full spate (i.e. the larvae are making oaks and doug firs look dead and blighted) it’s all about the caterpillars. Right now (mid November) I am seeing these moths everywhere flopping around on the ground. Their diaphanous 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.
It’s oyster mushroom season here in the Pacific NW. This is the domestic variety on our Oregon white oak logs. Soon it will be time to cut and inoculate a new batch. I think the next one will be combo logs of both shiitake and oyster. Should it be warm or cold weather shiitakes? Vote early and often using the contact form!
Great birding this spring and early summer here in Gopher Valley.
Since I finished Birding by Ear with Lisa and Don through the Corvallis Environmental Center, I have been obsessed with all the bird conversation going on. I took the class so I could learn to listen in on who is here, and I was not disappointed! I have been making some recordings (to come in future posts) and have identified many formerly unknown songs.
I found out there are birds out there I’ve never seen, and may never be able to see – Pacific Slope Flycatcher for example. Tom finally pointed out the elusive Swainson’s Thrush yesterday, when we visited Miller Woods, but we can’t seem to see our own, despite the fact that they sing practically all day long.
One great thing about our newly cleared oak woodland, is there is space between the trees – through which birds fly, and when they land, we can see them. Thus I was able to photograph the exotic, tropical-looking Western Tanager today. I think they live behind our house, because I hear their crickety chirping call from the trees. There seem to be two adult males here in the photos, the less exuberantly colored one is a non-breeding male, I think. Perhaps one of the kids. All the bird babies are out trying their wings and hunting skills.
The day before I took on the Scotch broom (previous post) I indulged in a day of scouting for birds and plants. It is so much easier to see birds since the tree thinning! I finally got a picture of the white breasted nuthatch (there are at least 2) in its element, with a tasty morsel of some kind – nowhere near a feeder!
There is a class of weeds that are legally defined as NOXIOUS. This is a special term applied to weeds that are so aggressive as to be considered economic and ecological dangers. They can completely alter an ecosystem by changing the soil nutrients, pH, or forming a monoculture that excludes other plants. Dandelions may be weeds (a weed control specialist once termed them obnoxious), but they are not designated as noxious because they are not capable of destroying crop value or ecosystems. They and many others are “background weeds” we live with.
The people who decide who gets noxious weeds status are the state and county noxious weed control boards. The Department of Agriculture is the supporting agency for these boards, because noxious weeds were recognized as an economic problem for agriculture. Controlling noxious weeds also protects ecosystem integrity in natural areas. Many weeds that don’t seem that bad to the average person can be very bad when they are unleashed in the countryside.
Scotch broom (or Scots broom) is a noxious weed. Its natural enemies are back in the homeland (Europe) so it can spread at will here. However some insects that eat seeds and vegetative parts of it have been introduced and may help control it.
We are dealing with the legacy of soil disturbance from grazing, logging, and trail blazing followed by Scotch broom invasion. When our restoration work was done, huge patches of it were mowed, and mowed again in subsequent years. But mostly just keeps the plants short. To kill it, one can cut large stems during summer drought, spray when it’s in bloom (highly effective), or pull small ones. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. In an area where the seed has fallen and built up in the soil, it can take many decades to exhaust the seed bank. Pulling can bring seeds up to the surface and result in a whole new crop the following year.
Which brings me to my latest small project: due to weather and other circumstances, a couple of our scotch broom patches had not been mowed for one or two years, and it had grown taller. This actually makes is easier to spray, since when it’s short it is hard to kill because it doesn’t have enough leaf area and doesn’t bloom.
This winter I tried using a dormant spray on the evergreen stems which were more ‘alive’ due to the mild winter we had. It is more difficult to get all stems covered with a dormant spray, but easier to avoid killing the plants you want, as they have all died back. A combination of Triclopyr (Element 4A), and an oil/adjuvant (Mor-Act) seemed to do the trick, although it takes a heap-o-spray to get total coverage. I sprayed again during bloom, which was very effective.
One problem area was the nectar plots where we had planted wildflowers. The broom had invaded them over the years. Suddenly after a couple of years of no mowing, it was blooming. I couldn’t spray it without killing the wildflowers.
I hauled the weed wrench up the hill and brought along my spray bottle of herbicide and loppers. The ground was still soft from recent rain, so I thought perhaps I could minimize disturbing the seed bank by careful use of the weed wrench to pull the broom. It’s a satisfying plant for pulling – the taproot comes easily out of the ground with a ripping sound and not much fuss. But this was a rather slow operation. Actually weed wrenches are often more attractive as an idea than a tool. They are fun and easy to use, but the soil disturbance frequently outweighs their benefit.
I thought perhaps I could test the effectiveness of various methods, and speed things up too, so I switched to cutting with loppers, spraying the ends immediately with a 1:3 mixture of triclopyr (Garlon) and water from a spray bottle with a little surfactant – a variation on the “cut and paint” method. The weather was hot, the broom plants numerous, and so I decided to also add a third treatment – just cutting. I am curious about how late in the season cutting alone will kill broom. Ideally, that’s a method for older large stems that have more trouble resprouting and it is supposed to be done in the hot dry summer to make it doubly difficult. Some of the stems I was cutting were smaller, and we subsequently had several weeks of cold damp rainy weather, so I don’t expect those to disappear. However, at least the wildflowers had some light to grow.
same plot three weeks later – rose checkermallow in bloom. dead broom mulch
Get an FSC certified log of your very own!
Intrigued by the idea of growing your own mushrooms? I am happy to offer FSC Certified, inoculated mushroom logs, hand cut and inoculated by me. Also fresh mushrooms, on occasion. These logs will fruit multiple times per year – how many times depends on whether one forces them or lets them fruit naturally. They can be forced every 2-3 months, or allowed to fruit when they feel like it (warm weather Shiitakes like the hot July weather, Oysters prefer the cool spring/fall, and I now have a cool weather Shiitake strain in production). They last two or more years, before the carbon is used up (digested) by the fungus and the log is spongy and ready to add to your compost or garden beds.
These logs are on their second year of production and still going strong:
These are so so fun – who wouldn’t want a conversation piece like this in the garden?? If you like tasty, heathful Shiitakes, or lovely Oyster mushrooms, AND you live in Oregon’s NW Willamette Valley get in touch about ordering one or several. Payment is by paypal buttons in the sidebar.
NOTE: logs need to be kept outdoors in the shade so they get sufficient light and air. Just soak in a tub of water about once a week or ten days during dry months to maintain the fungus body (mycelium) in the wood. Rain will water them in the winter. If you would like some more information before purchasing, please use the contact form to request info sheets from Taylor Gardens.
If you don’t mind having a log that is not currently fruiting, I have a collection of logs that have fruited and are resting. As they age, the number of mushrooms increases; later crops cover the log from top to bottom! Each crop can weigh up to a pound. My logs fruit once a year and usually there is a smaller flush after the first one. I saute and freeze the extras. It is much like having a fruit tree that gives you all your crop in a concentrated period.
Just when I had given up on new discoveries, up pops a plant not yet seen on our place (by me anyway). Here is it in bud:
It’s quite impressive at a foot or more tall, still in bud. How long has this bulb been growing in the deep shade, getting large enough to bloom? Was the ivy and Vinca from the yard smothering it all these years and now – like the plants on the savanna and woodland – suddenly released, it appears? Wow. Another name for it is rice root. Indigenous tribes used the bulbs for food. The plant also produce small, rice-grain-like offsets.
Here’s another. I thought we had just one patch of these in the woodland. Now, on the hill above the house where we had trees removed almost 2 years ago, they appear magically! Shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii) – recognizable by their spoon-shaped, slightly succulent leaves. This is a photo from 1 month ago just before bloom time.
Although not new, here is a reminder of what emerging Rein orchids (Piperia elegans – the fat leaves), sweet cicely (Osmorrhiza sp), hairy cat’s ear (Calochortus tolmiei – single grass-like leaf), sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis – lower left), and self heal (Prunella vulgaris – lower right) look like as they’re just waking up.
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!
This is unscientific, because their appearance coincided with an improvement in my birding skills, but I noticed three bird species last summer that might be new arrivals: Purple Finch, Western Wood-Pewee, and Lesser Goldfinch, plus the aforementioned White-Breasted Nuthatch this fall and winter.
Hoping that we had some rare and important new species, I cracked open the Land Manager’s Guide To Bird Habitat and Populations in Oak Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest (note that link goes to part II). Of the six “obligate or near-obligate” species (don’t live anywhere else, or if they do, then much fewer outside this habitat), only two – Acorn Woodpecker and Slender Billed White-breasted Nuthatch have ranges in our part of the Willamette Valley. When we have a resident Acorn Woodpecker, we’ll have all two of them and the champagne corks will pop.
Moving into the more numerous “highly associated” species part of the list, we’ve seen or heard 13 of 20. The authors note that “highly associated species are those that are abundant in some other habitat(s), but reach some of their highest densities in oak habitats.” So not all of these are bell-ringers, so to speak.
The 13 in our neighborhood:
- Bewick’s Wren*
- Black-capped Chickadee*
- Black-headed Grosbeak
- Chipping Sparrow
- House Wren
- Lesser Goldfinch
- Purple Finch
- Spotted Towhee
- Western Bluebird
- Western Scrub-jay
- Western Tanager
- Western Wood-pewee
*For the record, these are pretty common in urban Seattle neighborhoods too
I think the neighbors’ 92 acres to the south are providing a lot of this habitat. We are watching closely for signs of a land sale at that location. It would be a tragedy if it was cleared, following the trend to plant crops on former woodland.
So, back to the ones that cropped up on the radar recently. Lesser Goldfinch prefers tree/shrub and shrub/tree edges and open areas. We saw them foraging on the open savanna area last summer on weeds (weeds!). They like the thistle and sunflower-family (Asteraceae) seed, and they were dancing around over the false dandelions in the savanna.
Purple Finch Listed as a short-distance migrant. Abundance is higher in larger patches (>25 acres). Since ours is 20 acres, the adjacent habitat is probably improving the chances of having them here. Here is a fuzzy photo of one at the feeder last summer.
Western Wood-Pewee. The guide lists this species as a “potential ‘early responder’ to overstory thinning or conifer removal that opens up the canopy of oak or oak-fir forest”. Ah-ha, I’ll take credit for that! I watched one fly to a nest in the fork of a tall skinny oak in the newly thinned woodland. They may have been here previously and we mistook it for some other sort of flycatcher, but they are making the most of the new habitat. They are really easy and fun to watch when they’re feeding because they perch near an opening and fly out and back catching insects. There is an audible ‘snap’ of their beak as they make contact.
Here is someone else’s Youtube video of one in Arizona
I was sorry to learn from The Sibley Guide that “recent population declines in…the Western Wood-Pewee may be due to major losses of wintering habitat in the South American Andes, the result of human activity”. The double liability of habitat loss for long distance migrants in both breeding and overwintering areas is a very complicated issue for conservation.
White-breasted Nuthatches are residents (non-migrating), and they use edges and small habitat patches. So they should be better off if the acreage in woodland restoration continues to increase. If I do nothing else this year, I am going to get a photo of ours that’s in focus.
Lesser Goldfinch. Another resident and edge-user. Good prospects for our population because we’ve got edges galore! Here is someone else’s Youtube video of one at the Tualatin River NWR not far from us – and a really great place to visit.
Feb 26, 2013: Overnight Low 30° F 9:20 a.m. 34°F Rainfall since 2/25/13 .55″
Feb 27, 2013: Low 38° 9:40 a.m. 45° Rainfall 0
I really enjoy checking the weather station stats on the indoor display console several times a day.
Although it rained like crazy, between showers it was bright and warm, the sun was blinding, actually, as I puttered among the weeds in the garden looking for native plants that I’d sown from seed in years past. Some are not yet up, but many are bright and chipper, looking as if maybe they never died back completely, despite protracted sub-freezing temperatures this winter.
Meadow checkermallow, Sidalcea campestris, forms crowns early and spreads easily once it germinates.
Perhaps the ground-huggers find it easier to overwinter. The champion germinator of broadcast or row-planted natives, Prunella vulgaris marches on. Maybe that’s why it’s called self-heal. Nice ground cover and lovely purple flowers over a long period for nectar and pollen.
Potentilla glandulosa and P. gracilis (five-fingered cinqefoil and sticky cinqefoil) set many tiny seeds (think strawberries without the juicy part) but did not germinate in great numbers when broadcast. Those that did, survive happily, however.
The gray remains of last year’s Oregon sunshine, Eriophyllum lanatum, seen above new growth just getting started.
In the half-day shade on the west side of the shed, these Pacific madrones, Arubuts menziesii, have not been watered since sowing in winter 2010. Easy from seed (and not fresh seed at that- it was collected in 1999). I transplanted some to the hedgerow this winter, and will eventually distribute them around hoping for their continued survival.
Several thousand – literally – great camas, Camassia leichtlinii are on their second year. I separated and replanted most of the thickly sown seeds-now-bulbs that formed the first year until I wore out. So some are still in their previous crowded pots, like clumps of grass; those are the ones that are sending up the first shoots! (See below).
To say these are easy from seed is an understatement – I have to share with you the comment I received from one of my customers in the UK who purchased Camas seed from me to round out his collection,
“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy!”
Just a quick note to say that the Camassia seeds are coming up now, a bit like mustard and cress, so I hope I have enough space in the pot I sowed them in. Wee beasties aside, I should have a veritable forest of Camassia in a few years time.
From one very happy gardener on the other side of the pond.
A gathering of robins, festooning the trees at dusk, kept me company. Great horned owls began moving from woods to meadow edge, conversing between themselves. Across the valley a western screech owl tooted out its ‘bouncing ball’ call.
Here, belatedly, is a short video of my Willamette Valley Specialization group in the Oregon Master Naturalist Program. This was the field portion of a day learning about birds and plants of the endangered Oregon White Oak Woodland and Savanna ecosystems. (With regard to Oregon white oak vs. Garry oak, see the note on Oregonian naming practices, on my other blog.)
20& to 30% slopes, very little level ground, lots of noxious weeds, stuff to carry for planting. I thought long and hard about equipment to get stuff up the hill (in the wet, in the blazing sun). I spent years carrying herbicide in containers, on my back, in a wheelbarrow, etc, dreaming of just the right conveyance. We need to haul rocks for daylighting our stream crossings. I need to get the mushroom logs down to the house.
Things that you ride, like ATVs, tip over, and they don’t have tracks – which I think is essential for secure maneuvering. Big machines like the skid steer, (which is a dream come true) are huge, and expensive. The one thing we tried that seemed comfortable was this baby: