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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

Grizzly reintroduction in the North Cascades: Make your voice heard!

January 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Public Invited to Open Houses on Proposed Alternatives for Grizzly Bear Restoration in North Cascades Ecosystem
Public comment period open through March 14, 2017

The National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) invite the public to participate in a series of informational open houses regarding the proposed alternatives for the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem. The alternatives are described in the draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (draft EIS), released today by the two agencies. The meetings are one part of the public’s opportunity to comment on the draft EIS.

The purpose of the EIS is to determine what actions, if any, should be taken to restore the grizzly bear to the North Cascades Ecosystem. Although there are six populations of grizzly bears in North America, the last-known siting of grizzlies in the United States portion of the North Cascades Ecosystem is 1996. The goal of the public comment period is to gather comments regarding the draft EIS; public comments received on the draft EIS will be evaluated and considered in the identification of the preferred alternative, which will be published in the Final EIS. The full draft EIS is available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis.

The alternatives analyzed in this draft EIS include a “no-action” alternative, plus three action alternatives that would seek to restore a reproducing population of approximately 200 bears through the capture and release of grizzly bears into the North Cascades Ecosystem. The alternatives were developed by a planning team with input from the public, local, state and federal agencies, and the scientific community.

In addition to the open houses, the public also is invited to submit written comments at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis. Comments may also be submitted through March 14, 2017 via regular mail or hand delivery at: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284

In order to maximize opportunities for public input, webinars are scheduled for Tuesday, February 14 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Pacific Time and Sunday, February 26 from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Pacific Time. For more information about the open houses and to register for the webinars, visit: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis and click on the “Meetings” link.
The public open houses will be held from 6-8 p.m. at the following locations:

Cle Elum – February 13 at the Putnam Centennial Center
Cashmere – February 14 at the Riverside Center
Winthrop – February 15 at the Red Barn
Omak – February 16 at the Annex Facility at Okanogan County Fairgrounds
Bellingham – February 21 at the Bellingham Technical College
Darrington – February 22 at the Darrington Community Center
Sultan – February 23 at the Sultan High School
Renton – February 24 at the Renton Community Center

» Continue reading Grizzly reintroduction in the North Cascades: Make your voice heard!

Naturalist Notes: Hair Ice

December 23rd, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

A cold afternoon walk led to a beautiful winter discovery on the Deer Creek Loop trail around the Environmental Learning Center. The temperature had dropped significantly overnight and along with a fresh dusting of snow, we found fine hairlike strands of ice covering numerous down trees all along the trail. Aptly named “hair ice”, these delicate strands of ice form on moist, dead wood when temperatures drop below freezing and the air is humid.

After a little research, we found that this peculiar ice formation is caused by the presence of a fungus within the tree, exidiopsis effuse. Christian Mätzler, the physicist who discovered the conditions needed to grow hair ice, explains how this formation occurs:

“The driving mechanism responsible for producing ice filaments at the wood surface is ice segregation. Liquid water near the branch surface freezes in contact with the cold air, creating an ice front and ‘sandwiching’ a thin water film between this ice and the wood pores. Suction resulting from repelling intermolecular forces acting at this ‘wood–water–ice sandwich’ then gets the water inside the wood pores to move towards the ice front, where it freezes and adds to the existing ice.”

The fungus acts as a “recrystallisation inhibitor”, allowing the ice to form into the hairlike structures.

 

All photos courtesy of Daniel Dubie, Cohort 16 Graduate Student. 

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Seasons In The Skagit: Fall

November 17th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program


Fall
Hello everyone! We are moving towards the end of fall and the beginning of winter in the Skagit Valley.  The leaves are falling from the trees here at Lake Diablo. As the days march slowly towards December we see the seasons changing all around us. The sun rises later in the morning and disappears behind the mountains early in the afternoon. The maple trees are close to bare. The Skagit gorge is awash with new cascades bolstered with fall rain.

Phenology at the ELC
What is phenology? Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal changes in nature, especially in regards to climate, plants, and animals. At the Environmental Learning Center and the Marblemount NCI property (the Blue House) we have several phenology plots that grads and staff regularly observe.  We engage with phenology in the graduate program by conducting weekly plot checks on a weekly basis. Here are some notable changes that we have recorded in some of the plants at the ELC:

A Pacific Flowering Dogwood (Cornus nuttalli) near Sourdough Creek displayed its dramatic transition with vibrant colors.
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» Continue reading Seasons In The Skagit: Fall

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Nature of Writing Speaker Series book reviews

October 12th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Village Books teams up with the North Cascades Institute every spring and fall to offer the “Nature of Writing” speaker series at the Readings Gallery in the storied Fairhaven bookstore. With a focus on nature writing, science and the natural and cultural history of our region, the free series of readings brings some of the best writers on the natural world to Bellingham.

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Two authors have already visited and shared their new works. Leigh Calvez’s The Hidden Lives of Owls (Sasquatch Books) reveals the natural history of 11 different owl species, including the Spotted, Snowy and Great Gray, while weaving in explorations of human-animal connections, mythology and owl obsession.

Robert Steelquist’s The Northwest Coastal Explorer (Timber Press) is a beautifully designed field guide to the varied habitats and marine life of the Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia coasts. From the Pacific banana slug and Pileated woodpeckers of coastal forests to harbor seals and sea otters of the Nearshore to eelgrass and salmon of the estuaries, Steelquist handily covers the complex weave of life that inhabit our shores.

Coming up Sat., Oct. 8, Hob Osterlund’s debut Holy Moli: Albatross and Other Ancestors (OSU Press) blends memoir with her close study of Laysan albatross. When a distant relative—her grandmother’s cousin, a respected cultural anthropologist who wrote the book Hawaiian Mythology—appears in Osterlund’s dream, the author interprets it as a sign to move to the islands.

With only a few hundred bucks in her pocket, Osterlund relocates to Kauai and a series of serendipitous events puts her on the path to studying albatross, or molias they’re known locally. These magnificent birds spend many months alone at sea, “gliding on gravity and wind” over vast distances across the Northern Pacific, until each November when their instincts, or the “ancestral GPS in their cells,” pull them thousands of miles back to their lifelong mates and nesting grounds.

Osterlund writes the life stories of several individual albatross, sharing their names, their quirks and personalities until we too are hooked on these peculiar, endearing creatures and their seemingly impossible life quests. She also explores the Hawaiian concept of aumakua, or “guardian ancestors in animal form,” and finds that her intimacy with the birds provides healing for past familial trauma.

On Fri., Oct. 14, Kim Stafford, son of the late poet William Stafford and founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College, celebrates a new 30th anniversary edition of his critically acclaimed collection of essays,Having Everything Right. A deeply felt meditation on the history, folklore and natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, this essential title reveals how nature, culture and community overlap and inform each other in our special corner of the country.

For the writers in our community, Stafford is also teaching a Chuckanut Writers class on the same afternoon at Village Books: Local Knowledge is Advised on Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. This creative workshop invites participants to tell the story of your place, to be the local bard, the singer. Stafford will lead the class along as they jot fragments for development into poems, essays, stories, and songs. These could be a profile of the local character, an evocation of a neglected place, a field guide to creatures you have met and other short forms of “salvations” — concise writing to save an encounter, a discovery, an incantation from daily life. Come see what your natural surroundings will inspire you to create! Class is $45; click to register.

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Exceptional Mountains: A Cultural History of Pacific Northwest Volcanoes, by University of Montana Professor O. Alan Weltzein, critically examines the relationship between the looming, glacier-clad volcanoes and our Cascadian regional identity. He takes a hard look at the impacts of outdoor recreation, particularly the mountaineering industry, set against population growth and affluence in the Northwest. He’ll visit Bellingham Fri., Nov. 4.

And last but not least, the Nature of Writing Series wraps up Sun., Nov. 13 with one of the most celebrated writers of the Pacific Northwest bringing not one but two new books to share. Robert Michael Pyle has a new collection of poetry, Chinook & Chantrelle, as well as a reflective memoir, Through a Green Lens: Fifty Years of Writing for Nature.

Originally published in the Cascadia Weekly, 10/5/16.

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Rarely Spotted : Northern Spotted Owls

September 12th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Guest post by Leigh Calvez, author of the new book The Secret Lives of Owls. Join us Thursday, Sept 22, at Village Books for a free reading from this great new title from Sasquatch Books, the first event in our Fall 2016 Nature of Writing Speaker Series in Bellingham.

Perhaps the most iconic of all owls in the Pacific Northwest is the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis). I was excited to look for these owls in the wild, in the ancient trees where they live, before they disappear altogether. Sighting one seemed to me to be as epic, and just as improbable, as sighting a unicorn. Yet from all I’d heard from the biologists called “hooters”—for the hooting call that they make either electronically or with their own voices to determine if Spotted Owls are nesting in the area—these owls were still out there. Still, even the experts were finding only one or maybe two nests in their survey areas each year. Tracking them would be more of an adventure than I could yet imagine.

Through the grapevine of owl biologists, I contacted Stan Sovern, a Forest Service biologist who has been monitoring the Spotted Owl population in Washington State, both on the Olympic Peninsula and in Central Washington, for the past twenty-eight years. He invited me out for an afternoon check of one active nest site. I met Stan and Margy Taylor, another longtime Forest Service hooter, at the Cle Elum Ranger Station. Then we drove east along I-90 to the forest edge, where the habitat abruptly turns to shrub-steppe, as if a line had been drawn through the state.

Just before we took the Taneum Creek exit to the interstate, I could see fields full of tall windmills turning in the breeze blowing down from the eastern Cascade slopes. There are spotted owls here? I wondered.

We then turned and headed west into some of the last remaining old-growth forest in Central Washington. It was here that we met William Meyer, a biologist from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who knew Margy from the days they had counted Spotted Owls together on the Olympic Peninsula. He now specializes in restoring beavers—once an integral part of the landscape—to their natural habitat and reclaiming watersheds that have dried up since beavers were removed from the land.

» Continue reading Rarely Spotted : Northern Spotted Owls

Dogwood First Leaf

A Question of Scale: Plant Phenology Across Time and Space

September 5th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Joe Loviska, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

March 20, 2016. I’ve been keeping an eye on the western flowering dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) out in the parking lot of the Learning Center. It’s a small tree, maybe twelve feet in height. Its gray trunk and branches are spindly, filling out the vague shape of a mop standing on its handle. This dogwood grows at 1,220 feet above sea level on the west slope of the Cascades. It occupies a site that has good southern exposure, with dry, well-drained soil and a closed canopy of Douglas firs above. All of these facts and more dictate the beginning of the spring season for this particular tree, which is today. Today its leaf tips are poking out. Yesterday they were not. My friend the dogwood tree is awake.

Now it just so happens that today, March 20, the 80th day of the year (DOY), is also the vernal equinox. That is, the year-long wobble of Earth’s axis has tilted in such a way that the equator is squarely facing the sun. Translation? Equal amounts of day and night across the globe. In the Northern Hemisphere, this means the first day of spring, right in time for the dogwood to open its buds. Coincidence? You decide.

» Continue reading A Question of Scale: Plant Phenology Across Time and Space