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orchard mason bee

Mason Bees and Honey Bees: What’s the Difference?

July 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Kevin Sutton

There were some things I knew about bees when starting this project; what I didn’t know was exactly how much I didn’t know.

When someone says “bees”, I immediately think of the western honeybee (Apis mellifera).  Maybe it’s because of the honey bee’s depiction in popular culture (see Honey Nut Cheerios) or maybe it’s because of the long relationship between humans and bees.

Humans have been trying to domesticate honey bees for thousands of years; evidence has been found in cave paintings in Spain, hieroglyphs in Egypt, on coins in Greece, and more and it makes sense; bees give us honey, wax, and all of our food through pollinating our crops.

The term wild bee is used for those species that don’t produce honey.  There are 20,000 species of bee in the world, 4,000 native to North America, and 600 native to Washington alone.  With such daunting numbers, I focused on one particular native bee, the orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria).

While similar to A. mellifera in size and shape, O. lignaria differs in coloring, some physical attributes (fig. 1), and most significantly, social structure:

O. lignaria A. mellifera
Metallic blue/green Classic yellow and black striped
Nest in tubes, holes, hollow reeds, etc. Builds a hive of wax
Solitary but will live near other mason bees Social: lives in colonies up to 70,000
Each female lays eggs Only the queen lays eggs
Average range of 100 yards Average range of two miles
250 – 300 bees sufficient to pollinate 1 acre one hive per acre (30,000 – 70,000 bees)
Gathers pollen by stuffing it between hairs on abdomen Gathers pollen by storing it in specially adapted pockets on the rear legs
Stores pockets of pollen between larva Turns pollen into honey and stores for winter
Eggs hatch in summer, larva hibernate through winter, emerge as bees in spring, repeat Eggs regularly tended, hive comes together during winter (like penguins), become more active in spring

 

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For my project, I wanted to see if there were mason bees at the North Cascades Institute.  To do that, I constructed two mason bee houses and stashed them in a rock wall near my house.  Each house is made of the same materials (wood for a base, support, and backing and a compressed cardboard tube for the shell) but the internal pieces, where the Mason Bees will hopefully nest, are different.  The interior nesting holes in house one are made from commercially drilled slats of wood that have been taped together, while the nesting holes in house two are from pieces of bamboo I cut, dried, and tied together (fig. 2).

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I put the houses outside on May 15, 2015 but as of this writing, June 12, 2015, there is no sign of use.  My research said most mason bees are actively laying eggs in early April and with the unusually early and warm spring we’ve had, I expect the process began much earlier than that.  Both houses will stay up until September when I transfer to Bellingham and if nothing else, will try again in March 2016 when I return to my house and garden in Portland, OR.

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Student learn leadership, love of nature on trips in North Cascades

July 24th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Jessi Loerch for the Everett Herald

Kang Pu stood at the back of a boat in a narrow, winding canyon off Ross Lake. Before him, a group of adults waited to hear his story. Kang, 16, began by saying he had been in the United States for just a year, he was still working on his English, and that it was hard for him to speak in front of a group.

His story, his eagerness to learn and his poise blew his listeners away.

Kang is from Burma. His mother died when he was young. At 13, he went to work in Malaysia to help support his family. While working, he missed his family and he wasn’t able to attend school. Getting an education was a priority for Kang, but he knew it was going to be hard in Burma.

Kang moved to Washington with his uncle’s family. He misses his family and his country, but he is getting an education at Foster High School in Tukwila.

He was in the North Cascades for Youth Leadership Adventures, offered through the North Cascades Institute.

The program takes kids, most of whom have little experience with the outdoors, backpacking or canoeing in the North Cascades in hopes of instilling a love and appreciation for wild places.

The students are racially diverse; many come from low-income families and, if they choose to attend college, will be the first in their families to do so. None of them know each other when they start the program.

That doesn’t last long, said Nika Meyers, the lead instructor on the trip. The trip Kang attended was eight days long. There were nine students and three youth leadership field instructors.

The group hiked a total of more than 30 miles carrying heavy packs. They helped with trail maintenance and learned how to treat water and cook in the backcountry. Along the way, they learned leadership skills and lessons about the natural environment.

» Continue reading Student learn leadership, love of nature on trips in North Cascades

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Amphibians of North Cascades National Park: Their Importance, Sensitivity, Habitats, Threats and Management Implications

July 21st, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Chelsea Elizabeth Ernst, Candidate for Master’s of Environmental Education

The North Cascades are a rugged and dramatic landscape that offers habitat to thousands of plant and animal species and is an epicenter for biodiversity in the contiguous 48 United States. The ecosystem within North Cascades National Park (NOCA) is a popular location for mountaineers and naturalists alike. Many of the people who visit NOCA come hoping to see one of its charismatic megafauna, including American black bear, grey wolf, or the elusive wolverine.

However, an often-overlooked group of organisms that thrive in the Park are amphibians. Not only are these creatures fun to search for and fascinating to study, they are an important contributor to the NOCA ecosystem. Wild and preserved places like NOCA offer amphibians a large landscape in which to thrive, in a world where their numbers are rapidly declining due to anthropogenic effects. Proper research, public education and management strategies can help maintain healthy populations in a group of organisms that are incredibly sensitive to human activity and global climate change.

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Western redback salamander

The Importance of Amphibians to Ecosystems and People

Due to the nature of amphibious life cycles, being both aquatic and terrestrial, they occupy multiple trophic levels — as predators, primary consumers, detritivores, cannibals, and either specialists or opportunists — and provide a variety of ecosystem services. (Hocking & Babbitt, 2014, pg. 6).

As larvae, many salamanders and frogs are aquatic and regulate nutrient cycling in streams, ponds, and riparian areas. Nutrient cycling contribution by amphibians is apparent in every stage of their life cycle: from eggs that do not hatch providing nutrients to larger riparian consumers to tadpoles scraping diatoms off of rocks. As adults, they can comprise a large portion of the biomass aquatic ecosystems.

Amphibians also play a role in providing ecosystem services that affect people. Frogs often eat insects that that are capable of spreading disease among humans. Culturally, frogs have been important as a clan totem for Native American tribes such as the Tlingit in Alaska. According to the Squamish Lilwat Cultural Center website (2011):

The frog is a sign to our people to put away the winter activities and prepare for a new season. The frog symbolizes cleansing, peace and rebirth. In Northwest Aboriginal Culture, a Frog is a great communicator and often represents the common ground or voice of the people. A Frog embodies magic and good fortune connected with shaman or medicine man and with spiritual and therapeutic cleansing. Frog’s songs are believed to contain divine power and magic. Frog is a messenger and communicator between species being valued for his adaptability because he freely travels between and survives in two worlds land and water, inhabiting both natural and supernatural realms. (Animal Symbology)

Frogs and salamanders have been important throughout history to humans physically and spiritually. They also provide nostalgia for many folks who enjoyed tromping about riparian areas as children in search of amphibious friends.

Western toad

Amphibians’ Environmental Sensitivity

Amphibians are considered indicator species in the ecosystems they inhabit. When their populations decrease, it is often the first sign to humans that other organisms are at risk and that that ecosystem may be unhealthy. Certain aspects of amphibians’ physiology and ecology make them particularly sensitive to changes in ecosystems. As a result of these sensitivities to largely anthropogenic-induced fluctuations in their habitats, Hocking and Babbitt (2014) write that “amphibians are currently the most imperiled class, with approximately 41% of more than 7,000 amphibian species on the planet threatened with extinction” (pg. 1).

Because amphibians require water during part or all of their life cycle, climate change has a substantial impact on them. In the west, important amphibian habitats like high alpine lakes and montane wetlands are drying and warming (Ryan, Palen, Adams, & Rochefort, 2014). Their physiology makes them sensitive to climate change, among other environmental factors. Amphibians breathe cutaneously, absorbing moisture through their skin as part of their respiration process and to stay hydrated. They are ectothermic and require water to regulate their body temperature.

In addition to climate change, deforestation can affect this balance of moisture in ecosystems. Amphibian populations are also sensitive to UV light (Adams et al., 2005), diseases like Chytrid fungus (Chestnut et al., 2014), habitat fragmentation (Pilliod & Wind, 2008), and the introduction of non-native species to habitats (Ryan, Palen, Adams, & Rochefort, 2014).

With the variety of anthropogenic factors that have negative effects on amphibians and the increasing human population, the cause of worldwide amphibian vulnerability is clear. This highlights the importance of amphibian research in relatively untrammelled habitats like NOCA.
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Amphibian Habitats in North Cascades National Park

» Continue reading Amphibians of North Cascades National Park: Their Importance, Sensitivity, Habitats, Threats and Management Implications

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Backpacking Beavers in the North Cascades : Youth Leadership Adventures Trip Report #1

July 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Nika Meyers, Youth Leadership Adventures Field Instructor

Our journey into the wild started with an incredible boat ride on the Mule boat on Ross Lake to Little Beaver where the views of the North Cascades were in full force and the stories told by boat captains Gerry and Rob were in full supply. The dramatic vertical relief of the mountainsides shot up into the crisp air, Nohokomeen Glacier filled our rear view and the glassy surface of the lake rippled in our wake.  We had 18 miles to go on boat and then a 4.6 mile hike into Perry Creek for the night.

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At Little Beaver we filled up water, ate our lunch, did some stretches, adjusted our packs and reiterated the importance of dealing with a “hotspot” before it turns into a blister. We hoisted our heavy packs onto our backs and began the first hot climb up and away from Ross Lake. What an introduction to backpacking!

There was a mix of emotions during the first two hours: the beginning of pack rash, sweat dripping from many different body parts, beautiful views and getting to know and trust each other.

“I am not sure if this is what I was expecting,” said one student, just before another accidently kicked a squirrel that ran across the trail at the wrong time.

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“Whoops” of joy were heard through the Western Hemlocks as the front of the group reached Perry Creek campsite. We finished off the day with a sponge bath in the stream, mac n’ cheese and peas in our tummies and a bear-hang dangling our 7 days of food from the sky.

To develop leadership skills, improve communication and learn many important hard skills, each student had the opportunity to serve in different job roles throughout the course. Each day we had two leaders of the day, two cooks, two cleaners, a camptender, a scientist, and a community journalist. By working together we were reminded about the importance of being open minded, to share skills and experiences with respect and curiosity, and the value of being a good leader and a good follower.  We were challenged to be assertive, practice patience and share affirmative and constructive feedback to help us be a strong group.

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Our leaders of the day woke us up to the sound of running water and wind in the trees as we were ready to go meet some of the National Park trail crew staff for a day of brushing along the trail. With weed whips (swizzle sticks), loppers and handsaws in hand we worked our way through 6 feet tall brush shoots revealing the tread way once again to the human eye. “Wow! There is a trail here! Who would have guessed?!” One student said. “Before I did this I always thought that trails were just always there right where you needed them. I never thought about the fact that someone actually does take care of them or they would disappear. I will never look at a trail again in the same way!”

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Is there a trail here??

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We found it!

» Continue reading Backpacking Beavers in the North Cascades : Youth Leadership Adventures Trip Report #1

ELC picnic

Free Anniversary Picnic, August 23

July 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

We’re excited to celebrate that 10th anniversary of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and the 25th anniversary of Mountain School with a free party on Diablo Lake! Join us on Sunday, August 23, for a BBQ picnic with local farms, Diablo Lake Boat Tours, campus sustainability tours, canoe voyages, naturalist hikes, family-friendly activities and live music by Jumbled Pie and New Wilderness Project!

Driving directions, shuttle information and more at www.ncascades.org/picnic.

Binocs

The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

June 21st, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

For the members of Cohort 14, everything is starting to come full circle. The Learning Center looks as it looked when we arrived last July: Pyramid’s faces are bare, Sourdough Creek has slowed to a trickle, the air is warm, and the winds are strong. Many things have changed in the intervening seasons. We taught two seasons of Mountain School, the latter of which ended just one week ago, completed final projects, and attended our last natural history retreat. As I have remarked in previous blog posts (and to anyone I talk to), these retreats have been one of the highlights of this graduate residency. They are a break from our hectic teaching schedule, a chance to reconnect as a cohort, and an opportunity to learn from passionate naturalists and scientists.

While our fall and winter retreats took us to the Methow Valley, we expanded our reach on our spring trip, traveling up to the Sinlahekin Valley. En route, we camped in Winthrop to hike up Tiffany Mountain. On Monday May 25th we hiked up about a mile before meeting large hail and stormy skies.
Foreboding skies over Tiffany.

Tiffany Hail
A sample of the hail

» Continue reading The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

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Youth Leadership Adventures getting ready…

June 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The energy of our youth programs is shifting to Youth Leadership Adventures as staff are preparing to lead 100 high school students in the North Cascades backcountry to canoe, backpack, camp and complete service projects while receiving hands-on training in outdoor leadership, field science and public speaking. Last we checked, Kate, Matt & Co. were packing 924 backcountry meals, which includes 42 pounds of granola, 68 pounds of peanut butter and 330 pounds of trail mix. Yum.

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NEWS FLASH: We still have a few spaces left in our 16-day Science and Sustainability courses this summer for students ages 16-18 from Washington and Oregon. The trip takes place July 15-30! Apply online at http://ncascades.org/signup/youth/YLA. Full scholarships available!