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Bird Migrations at Ebey’s Landing

April 29th, 2012 | Posted by in Field Excursions

This past Earth Day Weekend, the North Cascades Institute hosted the 3rd Anuual Migratory Bird Festival! The event was sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and brought people together from across western Washington for a day to explore the natural history of migratory birds and the cultural heritage of Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve.

Students and elders from Seattle’s International District, Mt. Vernon’s Kulshan Creek Neighborhood, and North Cascade Institute’s NC Wild 2012 program joined together to celebrate and learn about birds by migrating through four different educational stations.

Participants dined on a multicultural feast featuring Chinese food from Seattle’s International District and homemade Mexican tamales and sopes from Yolanda Zamora of Mt. Vernon. Delicious!

The first station was the Sea Lab, where students and elders could see, touch, and learn about some of the marine invertebrates that help fuel the birds’ migratory journeys along the Pacific flyway. This hands-on lesson covered the basics of the ecology and dynamic interplay between Puget Sound’s marine life and the migratory birds that utilize northwest marine ecosystems in order to complete part of their journey.

Graduate student Jacob Belsher teaches students all about the joys of being a moonsnail.

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The Sweet Smell of Winter

February 10th, 2012 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

For field biologists, winter is typically the time of year when we hunker down, pore over data, fix gear, drink lots of coffee, and dream of spring when our field season starts again. This winter is different. This year, the North Cascades Institute has traded excel spreadsheets for snowshoes and hot coffee for THE SMELLIEST SUBSTANCE ON THE PLANET! What? Let me explain:

Graduate students, staff, and volunteers from the North Cascades Institute are working in partnership with the Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project to evaluate habitat connectivity for carnivores in the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE). Specifically, we are spending the winter trying to obtain American marten (Martes americana) hair samples as part of a landscape genetic study.

An American marten investigates a hair snare on the flanks of Sourdough Mountain near Diablo Lake.

American martens are members of the weasel family Mustelidae and, despite the fact that they are rarely seen, are common inhabitants of Pacific Northwest alpine ecosystems. By determining the genetic structure of their populations, we can assess the connectivity of marten habitat within their range. In other words: How closely related is Marten A to Marten B? Like the rest of NCE’s native carnivores (wolverines, lynx, wolves, bears, etc.), martens must be able to roam freely through vast landscapes in order to obtain food, mates, and breeding territories. Wide-ranging mobility is also critical to ensure that populations do not become genetically isolated (population bottleneck).

» Continue reading The Sweet Smell of Winter

The Cascades Butterfly Project: Citizen Scientists Unite!

August 1st, 2011 | Posted by in Institute News

On July 23rd, a group of volunteer scientists joined biologists from the North Cascades Institute, North Cascades National Park and Western Washington University to say farewell to “the winter that would never end” by kicking off the Cascades Butterfly Project.

The Cascades Butterfly Project is a collaborative effort between biologists and citizen scientists, who will work together to monitor butterfly populations throughout North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. 
After a brief classroom session where we reviewed the basics of butterfly ecology and identification, we headed to Sauk Mountain to test our new skills and learn the field study techniques we’ll use to gather this important data.

Satyr Comma perched on the thumb of photographer, graduate student, and volunteer wildlife biologist, Elise Ehrheart.

Mountain ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change, with alpine meadows expected to shrink dramatically throughout the Cascades Mountain Range. Butterflies make ideal indicator species of alpine ecosystem health because they are particularly sensitive to climatic changes, and are relatively easy to identify in the field by scientists and volunteers alike.

Hiking home after a successful day in the field

If you’re interested in joining in on this exciting (and fun!) research, it’s not too late, and no previous scientific experience is necessary.  There will be another volunteer training at Mount Rainier National Park on August 13. For more information, contact North Cascades Institute’s Science Coordinator, Jeff Anderson, at or (206) 526-2574.