Here, a brief article featuring local wildlife, natural history, and important local ecosystem connections. Thanks Statesman Journal!
For a previous item I wrote on gophers, see this post.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Had to share this because it is articulate, beautifully photographed, and seasonally (and in so many other ways) appropriate!
Reason #1: Because baby orcas need milk, and this mother needs a healthy diet of wild salmon to produce that milk. (Orca mother and offspring, Gulf of Alaska)
Reason #2: Because Monica’s pregnant and eating for three. (Brown bear affectionately named Monica by local park rangers, Salmon Creek, Hyder, Alaska)
Reason #3: Because the ocean is full of nutrients which salmon embody as they return to their natal rivers and streams, and salmon forests thrive on salmon fertilizer courtesy of all the bears, eagles, mink, crows, ravens, otters, foxes and other animals that eat salmon. (Wild currants, Ptarmigan Creek, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska)
Reason #4: Because this merganser needs to find fresh salmon eggs to keep her brood well fed and growing. (Common mergansers, Salmon Creek, Hyder, Alaska)
Reason # 5: Because a meal cooked under starlight after a day of fishing with your best friend tastes better…
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Suddenly, the fall rains are here. From our weather station record I see that:
The oaks will be slow to turn brown and drop their leaves, but acorns on the ground are cracking open with new sprouts already taking advantage of the wet.
Rather than waxing on about the weather and seasons, I defer to a very nice post by Verlyn Klinkenborg of the NY Tiimes, [this excerpt will take you to the main page – that’s all the copyright I could afford]
The Silence of the Leaves
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
…I’ve been thinking about the way autumn has stolen upon us. When the first leaves turn — a roadside maple in August — it’s easy to ignore the coming season. But now all the trees are turning in concert, rushing to a foregone conclusion. I’m struck by how silently it happens. The pastures have gone quiet at night. … more
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
I just found out about a migratory event taking place in SE Yamhill County not far from our place. According to the Yamhill birder’s newsgroup, a scientist in B.C. alerted them to the radar signature of 70,000 to 100,000 swallows leaving their nighttime roost in a cornfield at around 6:10 am.
See below to be amazed! The swallows are the burst of green in backwards L-shaped Yamhill County, next to the I-5 marker. On the two mornings I have looked at it, they disperse slightly differently. Today, they veer SE and back NW before dispersing.
Just take a minute to imagine what this looks like from the ground! I am sorry to not be able to go there right now to witness the departure, or the evening return.
If you want to try this at home, go to the weather radar for this area, click “previous” to back up from the current time until you get to 6 a.m. on the clock (upper left of the map). Then you can click “animate” and watch it happen. Yikes
And we’ll be there with the mushrooms logs!
This will be the last day of this month that we’ll be at the market. If you miss us Thursday, you are welcome to use the contact form to get in touch to arrange a delivery, or you can use the payment buttons in the left sidebar.
We’ll be back at the McMinnville Thursday farmer’s market in late September.
Thanks to everyone who came by, purchased a log, and praised the mushroom logs today at the market.
We had a group of excellent, enthusiastic, and fearless log lovers pass by our booth today. Thank you for purchasing logs and liking the whole idea of raising mushrooms in your own gardens!
Please stay in touch and send tales of mushroom growing, questions, recipes, and photos of your logs to the blog. We’ll be back at the Mac farmer’s market in a few weeks. In the meantime, feel free to send your comments via the contact form here in the sidebar.
We packed up mushroom logs, table, signs and market canopy and went off to Mac for our inaugural market Thursday.
It was a pleasant afternoon sitting in the shade of the tents, amid quiet chatter of market goers. We enjoyed meeting neighbors from Gopher Valley, citizens of the burg of McMinnville and points nearby, vacationers from Florida, Georgia, Arizona, California (presumably getting away from the heat and humidity) who could not possibly put a log on the plane or keep it in an RV, and listening to all kinds of stories.
Each stroller occupant, couple, family, and individual provided a fresh opportunity to find out what people think of this whole mushroom log thing. Questions about the logs were remarkably similar, but the range of individual reactions to our invitation to try growing mushrooms were instructive and surprising. One sees the spectrum of approaches to life in general through the prism of log-buying decisions.
People were mostly adventurous enough to taste a morsel – sautéed in olive oil and butter, they were aromatic and exquisitely flavorful.
Kids were fascinated or appalled by the mushrooms. Young men often find them very cool. Some people hesitate because this whole mushroom growing/pet log sort of thing seems a bit arcane, or entails responsibilities akin to adoption, or it’s just weird or maybe too science-y. It’s an opportunity for knowledge-sharers to expound on their own mushroom experiences, preferences, and general outlook on the whole subject, not intending to purchase. Others embrace the idea gleefully with open minds.
Quite a few people approach this small thing (buying a log inoculated with mushroom spawn that will produce something akin to a tomato or an apple) as if it were a major investment – like buying a car. “Well, I don’t know… ” Even gardeners seem to have a hard time with the idea that you just need to KEEP IT MOIST BY SOAKING IT IN WATER EVERY 10 DAYS OR SO AND PUT IT IN THE SHADE. Really, it’s only a log! If you can water a houseplant or a shrub, you can deal with this. If you somehow mess it up, at least it was an adventure. I just want to say, “Here’s a conversation piece, have fun – don’t worry!”
A few of my favorite moments: the young woman with two little girls and a baby in a front pack who bought a log as a surprise for her husband, having missed an earlier opportunity on his birthday or Father’s day. I delivered it after the market closed and the kids’ were just bubbling over anticipating its arrival.
Once, I returned from an errand to see my husband completing a transaction with a young guy who had come by to look earlier; he brought a woman, who was absorbed in cradling the log and looking intently at all the mushrooms growing on it. They were smitten with the whole idea.
People who said they would come back later in the day to buy mushrooms or a log, actually did.
Clearly, mushroom logs engender a very intense food raising experience that tomato plants do not.
Maybe next week I will press a mushroom log on the timid and doubtful and they will take one home and it will be the best experience of their whole year. It will open their eyes to the world of trying new things, and finding out it actually works!
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.
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