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Winter Insects in the North Cascades

February 17th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

For weeks here in the North Cascades, the ground has been blanketed in a thick layer of snow and ice, two or three feet deep in places. It is not the kind of weather in which you’d expect to see many insects out and about—and indeed, most insects go into a dormant phase in the winter, surviving the season in a state of suspended torpor as eggs, larvae, or adults. Yet it turns out that some insects will brave the snow and venture out in near-freezing temperatures.

After some of our recent snowfalls, I’ve gone snowshoeing and found winter insects alive and well, crawling about on the recently fallen snow crystals. Below are a few of the insect species you might encounter in the North Cascades even in the depths of winter:

Illustration of a midge or ‘no-see-ums’ courtesy of Wikipedia

Midges – In late January, fellow graduate M.Ed student Dan Dubie and myself went out hunting for midges after we noticed several of the tiny insects flying outside the window of the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center dining hall. Midges are a type of true fly, meaning they belong to the same family as house flies, bluebottles, mosquitoes, and hundreds of other insects with a single pair of wings. Midges are among the smallest and most delicate members of the fly order, making it all the more impressive that they can survive in winter.

First we set out to find where the midges were coming from. Most midges spend the first part of their life cycle underwater, so I went down to the shore of Lake Diablo to look for signs of them. There, I found what appeared to be the shed pupal casings of a small insect floating in the water. I hypothesized that the midges we’d seen were recently-emerged adults that came out of these cases, just as a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis.

We next caught several in small jars, and I later examined them under a microscope to try to identify them. While I can’t be 100% positive (tiny insects are extremely difficult to identify, and in many cases only experts can make the call with certainty), I’m fairly confident the midges we found belong to the family Ceratopogonidae, the “no-see-ums.” They are also known as biting midges—but they never bit me, leading me to think this particular species must feed on animals other than humans.

In fact most midges, even those belonging to Ceratopogonidae, are completely harmless to people. Midges and other flies are among the most under-appreciated of insects, but they are an important part of the ecosystem and their ability to be active in winter testifies to their tenacity.

» Continue reading Winter Insects in the North Cascades

Weekly Photo Roundup: February 12, 2017

February 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Snow falling on the Skagit River in Marblemount, behind the Blue House residence. Photo by Angela Burlile

The week started off with continuing heavy snowfall in the upper Skagit. The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center accumulated several feet of new snow in a period of just four or five days!

Top photo: Blue skies at the Environmental Learning Center. Bottom: A snow covered Diablo Dam. Photos by Angela Burlile

On Tuesday, the snow let up and we had a brief period of sunny skies. A break in the weather gave us all a chance to dig out our vehicles and clear some walkways around the Environmental Learning Center.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: February 12, 2017

Youth Leadership Ambassadors Trip Report of Little Mountain

February 10th, 2017 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The Youth Leadership Ambassadors program is an extension of our Youth Leadership Adventures summer program. The goal of the program is to further develop leadership and outdoor skills, facilitate service and stewardship in our local communities and ecosystems, and provide college preparedness support to high school students from Skagit and Whatcom County. While serving as Ambassadors, students will participate in work parties, attend field trip and receive 15 hours of college access curriculum. Ambassadors will contribute blog posts covering their adventures throughout the year here on Chattermarks.

Appearing for the first time on Chattermarks are Kali Ortiz and Kendrick Jackson, who share their experience working with Skagit Land Trust in the removal of invasive species near Little Mountain in Mt. Vernon, Washington. 

Youth Leadership Ambassador: Kali Ortiz

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir

This quote speaks a lot to me, not only because it is true, but because I encountered the exact feeling on our first trip as the Youth Leadership Ambassadors.

Youth Leadership Ambassadors (left to right): Kali, Celeste, Maria, Lorena. Photo by Kali Ortiz

On our first trip as Ambassadors, we went to Little Mountain in Mt.Vernon, knowing only that we were going to remove the invasive species attacking our ecosystem. English Ivy aggressively attaches on the trees and blocks the sunlight, impeding photosynthesis– thereby hurting and potentially killing our trees.

Mia showing us how to use the Nature’s Calling Kit. Photo by Kali Ortiz

From ripping ivy off the tree trunk, to Joe cutting down a colossal bush of holly, our group had finally got to work together and create memories. Our last challenge of the day was taking on a steep and grueling hike. Though this was a difficult task, we all stayed together and made sure we all finished together – even if we had to nearly bear crawl.

» Continue reading Youth Leadership Ambassadors Trip Report of Little Mountain

Weekly Photo Roundup: February 5 2017

February 5th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Photo by Annah Young
Photo by Emily Baronich

Photos from SnowSchool, our winter field science program offered in partnership with the Mt. Baker Ski Area and Northwest Avalanche Center. Students study the influence of snowpack in their everyday lives over the course of two sessions – one in the classroom and one at Mt. Baker Ski Area.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: February 5 2017

Mt. Baker SnowSchool: Bringing Students Into the Mountains

February 3rd, 2017 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Abby Sussman

My life is focused in the mountains, so it is surprising how many local young people have never had the opportunity to visit our neighborhood peaks.

“So many kids in Whatcom County see Mt. Baker from the lowlands, but some never get the chance to experience the mountain environment,” says Gwyn Howat, Mt. Baker Ski Area’s executive vice president. “We wanted to facilitate the opportunity to do so.”

This is exactly why, four years ago, Mt. Baker Ski Area and Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) began offering Mt. Baker SnowSchool to local middle and high school students.

In 2015, Mt. Baker Ski Area partnered with the North Cascades Institute (NCI) to expand the audience and broaden the relevancy of the curriculum. Today, Mt. Baker SnowSchool asks students and teachers to consider the greater influence of the snowpack on our everyday lives—from recreation to drinking water, agriculture to fisheries, mountains to bay.

» Continue reading Mt. Baker SnowSchool: Bringing Students Into the Mountains

Winter Birds of the North Cascades

February 1st, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Here in the northern reaches of one of the Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets most rugged and remote mountain ranges in the continental US, winter has brought traditional snows and a quite cool December. For many, winter in these mountains means cold rain, snow, and brief glimpses of sun. The landscape for the most part is asleep, resting under snow waiting patiently for the return of the sun and the life of its warmth. Not all are asleep and if you know who to look for, the forest and rivers are busy with our winter friends.

Birds are amazing creatures and even in these remote snowy mountains, glimpses of them can be seen on a daily basis. Winter is a time of scarcity but for the birds who can eke out a living here, the competition is low.  

Members of the finch family, common throughout northern North American, are regularly found here during both winter and summer. Two species that I have seen throughout the winter are the Pine Siskin Spinus pinus and the bright showy Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra. Both birds are exclusively seed eaters. The crossbills have highly adapted bills that cross over themselves and are used to pry open conifer cones, as their tongue then reaches in and grabs the seed.  Pine siskin have thin strong bills for prying into small cones such as hemlock and for extracting the small seeds of birches and alders. These two species are some of the stars here during the winter and can be noticed quite easily due to their highly vocal flocking habits.

A male red crossbill. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Pine siskin. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

» Continue reading Winter Birds of the North Cascades

Weekly Photo Roundup: January 29 2017

January 29th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Photo by Jihan Grettenberger

Jihan Grettenberger, a graduate M.Ed. student at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center, came across some cougar tracks while walking down the Diablo East Trail this weekend.

Photo by Angela Burlile

The temperature really warmed up this week! Giant icicles began to break off onto the road between Highway 20 and Diablo Dam but were cleared away quickly thanks to Seattle City Light.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 29 2017