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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

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

Seasons In the Skagit: Winter

January 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Hello and welcome to 2017 everyone! I am very pleased to greet you in the new year and share with you some of the changes we have recently seen in the Skagit. As we start winter and a new cycle around the sun I invite you to embrace the beginning of our calendar year and perhaps start phenological practices of your own. Welcome to winter!

Highway 20 is very quiet in the upper Skagit. Massive icicles are hanging from the rocks in the Gorge. Most of the trees are bare and almost no birds are heard singing in the branches. Winter has settled into the Skagit Valley. As fall ended and winter began we saw some notable phenological events in our watershed:

  • Nov. 19: Four Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) feeding on fish carcasses across the river from Cascadian Farms. Eagle sightings are increasing.
  • Nov. 21: Washington Pass on SR 20 closed for the winter.
  • Nov. 25: Mt. Baker Ski Area opens for the season.
  • Dec. 3:Daniel Dubie (C16 M.Ed. graduate student) saw approximately 20 Bald Eagles at the Samish Flats!
  • Dec. 4: The first snow fell at North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.
  • Dec. 8: Nine Bald Eagles spotted on the drive between the Blue House and the ELC, two of which were juveniles.

Although it may seem quiet in the valley and upriver there are still many things changing around us, whether we notice them or not.

» Continue reading Seasons In the Skagit: Winter

Youth Leadership Ambassadors: A Pathway For Youth

January 6th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

This last August I was grateful to fill a newly created position at the North Cascades Institute, that of College Access Coordinator. The position was specifically created to support and strengthen opportunities for participants of our Youth Leadership Adventures and Mountain School programs. The AmeriCorps position is made possible by the Washington Campus Compact “College Access Corps” grant. This grant is funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, and supports local economically disadvantaged youth to become more academically engaged in their education, increase preparedness for post-secondary education, and become more knowledgeable about the college application and financial aid process.

The grant allows selected college campuses, nonprofits (the North Cascades Institute!), or grade 4-12 educational institutions to place an AmeriCorps member (me!) to help coordinate college access programs in their local communities. While I have been graciously accepted into the closely knit Institute community, I have had the opportunity to serve on the planning committee of the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit, present a workshop at said conference (“College: Planning For What’s Next & What To Do Now), volunteer at the Migrant Youth Leadership Conference, attend multiple Kulshan Creek field trips, and participate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee meetings.

While all of these opportunities stand out in my mind as highlights of my first five months in this position, getting a new program extension off the ground and running has been the most fulfilling and rewarding aspect of my work. 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 trips, and receive 15 hours of college access curriculum. Our first field trip of the year is in collaboration with Skagit Land Trust to remove invasive species on Mt. Vernon’s Little Mountain. Examples of some of the other scheduled field trips include visits to local community colleges and universities, trips sponsored by National Park Service Park Rangers, and an overnight trip to our Environmental Learning Center for a stewardship weekend.

14 local Skagit and Whatcom County high school students have been selected to participate in this pilot school year opportunity. The students attend 8 different high schools including Burlington-Edison, Mount Vernon, Concrete, Mount Baker, Bellingham, Sehome, Lynden, and Meridian.

Having never previously worked with youth in an environmental education setting previously, I am looking forward to collaborating with Institute staff to help facilitate Ambassador events. Additionally, I am eager to share my background in college access work with students, many of whom aim to be the first in their family to attend college.

» Continue reading Youth Leadership Ambassadors: A Pathway For Youth

Outline of a Hollow Bird: Poems by Evan Holmstrom

December 20th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

As is evidenced by the rich cadre of writers who have found inspiration in the North Cascades, this region is almost eerily conducive to writing. Maybe it’s the short, bright blinks of summer or the fog and rain always promising mystery. And not only writing, but simply reflection on life in its splendor, difficulty, and variety is greatly facilitated by the natural character of this area.

This year as a Naturalist Educator turned Creative Resident I’ve been fortunate to develop a familiarity with the North Cascades. Through teaching we deepen our own relationship to the subject and the particular spirit of learning that we teach 5th grade students here is one of wonder and curiosity. What a convenient way to remind ourselves of that essential inclination. In my instruction I encourage not just creative expression, but creative im-pression as well. That is, I always remind students to be aware of just how much they’re taking in as they go about Mountain School. As a creative person, that causes me to accumulate mountains of inspiration alongside the students.

For my residency I’m finishing a book of poems called Outline of a Hollow Bird. It’s essentially my poetry journal for this year refined into a chapbook. My hunch is that it documents some personal growth and transformation. There is a great trove of wonder just beyond the grasp of our words. As a poet, that provides me with a zesty challenge. My book is intended to begin in the trope of the solitary wilderness poet, flap its wings through transformative moments, and then to bring the reader to something unfamiliar, just beyond logic.

Many thanks to NCI for employing me this year, and granting me a residency. It’s been quite a year. What I’ve accomplished here adds a rich line to the poem of my life.

The following is a piece taken from ‘Outline of a Hollow Bird’.

Unfelt Wind

ash later paradise is drier

so we      brought fruit

              to burn

 

reclaimed bellyaches while standing against    air

flying air carrying bits of new desert

 

   slash the tether       moist promise

   calling us or maybe just you up

   to mix juice with the dust

 

paradise darkening our faces    we sliced

thinly the vitality to keep

pack the hymnals in alongside

 then in that moment

               where             you’re tottering

 

        rocks purple with seawater

    skyline fractures      it runs into you filled

  with a sudden vacancy     your shards falling

     
tide takes them in



out of the gap in the sound

rhythmic blanks

somebody’s eyes crackle    force light

into themselves    battered ribs   battered recollections

               

the beach aches

    aligns itself

       under the whiteness remembering its mandate

 remade this time of sand

 eroding with the hush       hush

 piled on each other visit our old

                    realm in the reeds

   no longer easier on our bodies

   than kelp and foam

  walking as they do

  from old gates in the trees of legged things

  will they see in the sound

robbed of dimension in that way

we carried out rites

to draw their skin to our currents

 

Written by Evan Holmstrom. Title photograph courtesy of Angela Burlile.

About Evan Holmstrom

No stranger to stunning landscapes, Evan Holmstrom has spent time in Alaska (where he is originally from) and Montana before making his way to the North Cascades. His initial arrival placed him in the upper Skagit, where he spent several months at a meditation center. He then joined the North Cascades Institute to work as a Naturalist Educator last spring. A man of innumerable talents, his skill and knowledge greatly contributed to programs like Mountain School, Conferences and Retreats, Base Camp and Family Getaways. You can find a copy of his work, ‘Outline of a Hollow Bird’, in the Wild Ginger Library at the Environmental Learning Center.  

confluence garden 1

The Confluence Garden: A Space For Growing Community

December 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

Here at the Confluence Garden we’re gearing up for winter. That means bringing in the irrigation hosing, tucking in the garlic bed with a blanket of straw, building row cover structures to protect our more tender perennials, and battening down the hoop house hatches to enable some winter planting. It also means starting to think about next spring. And, let me tell you, we’ve got some big plans for next spring! We’re hoping to ramp up production in order to supply some veggies to programs at NCI’s Environmental Learning Center, to support the summer graduate program, and to provide fresh produce to the Marblemount Food Bank. We’ll also be expanding our educational programming—working with community partners in the valley and with NCI programs to welcome more students and community members into the garden space than ever before.

confluence garden 2

Graduate students construct a bamboo row cover for the herb garden.

confluence garden 3

Gathering up the irrigation hoses for winter.

confluence garden 4

The Confluence Garden hoop house.

We hope that you join us at one of our community work parties this Spring! Because this garden is more than just a space for growing food and teaching hands-on lessons about food systems, gardening practices, and plant biology. It’s first and foremost a space for growing community, for getting our hands a little dirty as we build connections between one another and the land here in the upper Skagit.

confluence garden 5

The Blue House and Confluence Garden space in Marblemount.

Thank you for your support! Stay tuned to ChatterMarks for more about what’s happening at the Confluence Garden!

Title photo includes Rachael Grasso and Dan Dubie picking herbs during the fall harvest party at the Confluence Garden. 

Written by Alexei Desmarais, Cohort 16 Graduate Student. All photos courtesy of Angela Burlile

Ash Kulshan Creek 7

S’more Knowledge, S’more Fun: Kulshan Creek at Lyman Slough

December 5th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program is a year-round educational program that engages young people ages 5 to 18 from two Skagit Valley neighborhoods in a series of monthly field trips to explore the outdoors and learn about our local watersheds. 

The weather is ominous. Big, gray rain clouds, wind and chilly temps definitely impacted the number of students that turned out, but the smaller number does not diminish the palpable excitement.

A big yellow school bus sitting in the parking lot is the backdrop for our greeting. As we approach the kids standing around it, they come running, big grins plastered on their faces and brimming with excitement and energy. Their enthusiasm is contagious and Kay and myself find ourselves just as giddy! After initial introductions we all eat lunch together, but instead of sitting down, we have to dance around the shelter in order to stay warm. There is nothing better than bonding through dance!

Before we head down to Lyman Slough, Ben led a rousing round of the Starfish warm-up! Shake it out!

Ash Kulshan Creek 2

We walk a short distance from the park down to the slough where we get to learn a little bit about what a slough is and what the Skagit Land Trust does in this area with restoration and land management.

Then we get to play!

When learning about a watershed, one of the most important concepts to understand is the water cycle.

PRECIPATAION-SATURATION-EVAPORATION-CONDENSATION

Kay brought GIANT dice for us to make the water cycle happen, plus we also got to make a super cool bracelet.  Each student starts at a location where water is stored in nature – clouds, ocean, rivers, lakes, groundwater, plants, animals, soil. There is a dice at each of these locations with at least one side representing that location, and all the other sides representing all the different places the water could travel to, based on the process of the water cycle. At each of these locations there is also a colored bead. The kids collect a bead at each location and roll the dice to see where they get to go next and collect the next bead. At the end they had a unique bracelet as well as a visual representation of all the places that they, as a water molecule, had traveled.

Ash Kulshan Creek 5

It was incredible to watch these kids experience the water cycle and have a tangible take-away from the lesson, rather than simply lecturing and giving them the facts and basics of the process.

» Continue reading S’more Knowledge, S’more Fun: Kulshan Creek at Lyman Slough