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The Poetry of Extinction : Holly Hughes’ “Passings”

May 18th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Come down to Village Books in Bellingham on May 22  at 4 pm for a free reading by Holly J Hughes from her new collection of poetry Passings.

Passenger pigeon. Carolina parakeet. Eskimo curlew. Heath hen. In a timely, moving collection of elegies, Holly Hughes gives voice to these and other bird species that no longer fill our skies. If their names sound as a litany of the hundreds of species we’ve lost, these fifteen poems ring as a reminder that their stories are still with us. In clear, well-crafted poems, Hughes serves as witness to these birds’ stories, offering each a poignant account that acts as a cautionary tale for the many species whose habitats now face threats from climate change. In her preface, Hughes introduces us to the birds she first knew and loved, and her impassioned afterword reminds us that it’s not too late to learn from these birds’ extinction and take action to protect the species that remain. “Take note,” she writes. “These birds are singing to us. We must listen.”

Carolina Parakeet
Conuropsis carolinensis

Incas, the last Carolina parakeet, died in his cage at the
Cincinnati Zoo on Feb. 21,1918, only six months after the
death of Lady Jane, his companion of thirty-two years.

From Mexico to New York they flew, tail feathers streaming,
startling in the monochrome of winter’s eastern shore.

When their forests were cut, they swooped to the farmlands
in waves of color — yellow, green, orange — lit in fruit trees,

found the soft squish of peaches, cherries, figs. Descending
three hundred at a time, in crayon-box flocks, they were shot

by farmers defending their crops — who could fault them?
Shot for their tail feathers, all the rage on ladies’ hats,

shot because they would not desert each other, each staying
by its wounded mate until hunters picked them off,

one by each last, bright, exotic, faithful one.

“Holly Hughes’s elegiac meditations on birds that have vanished from earth give us a glimpse of the avian beauty that once filled our skies, and they echo with a sobering reminder of what we still stand to lose. From flocks of passenger pigeons to Australia’s paradise parrot, more than 150 species have fallen silent over the past few centuries. Hughes gives eloquent voice to the voiceless in these poems, and strikes a heartfelt call to awareness.” — Tim McNulty, author of Ascendance

Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Campephilus principalis

I wish I’d been at the sighting that inspired its nickname,
the Lord God bird. I’d love to see this woodpecker,

» Continue reading The Poetry of Extinction : Holly Hughes’ “Passings”

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iNaturalist: Preparing for the Bioblitz

May 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Are your candles ready? Because this summer the National Park Service turns 100! Instead of getting America’s best idea a birthday cake or a gift card, they want only one thing for this special occasion: to get all citizens involved with America’s outdoors. One of the easiest ways to get involved is through their BioBlitz:

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible. In 2016, BioBlitz goes national. The cornerstone National Parks BioBlitz: Washington, D.C. will take place May 20-21, with more than a hundred concurrent BioBlitzes happening at national parks across the county. -National Park Service

One of those concurrent BioBlitzes is happening in the North Cascades National Park. We at the North Cascades Institute can’t wait to participate this weekend in the events happening all over the region. On the checklist of preparation are just two things:

  • Sign up to join a BioBlitz species inventory (including but not limited to lichens, fungi, mosses, beetles and squirrels)
  • Download the free iNaturalist app and join the North Cascades National Park 2016 BioBlitz project

When I downloaded the app and explored my own backyard, I was not only preparing for the BioBlitz but also learning something about the place that I have been living at since December.

» Continue reading iNaturalist: Preparing for the Bioblitz

Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 6

April 4th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Much of the opposition to the recovery efforts of the grizzly in the North Cascades stem from hikers, climbers, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who fear recreating in grizzly country. Where hiking in grizzly country brings more risk, hikers in the Northern Rockies and Alaska will tell you that it brings a new thrill and sense of wildness to the outdoor experience.  Being aware of how to responsibly recreate in grizzly country can greatly reduce some of the risks involved with hiking and fishing in bear country. There are many resources available on how to recreate in grizzly country from the National Park and Forest Services as well as many non-profit organizations such as; Western Wildlife Outreach, The Great Bear Foundation, and The International Grizzly Bear Committee.

What people also fail to realize is that even if the North Cascades were to start recovery of the grizzly population, it would be 25-50 years before people started to see them, and another 100 years before the population recovered completely, due to how slowly grizzlies reproduce.

The problem in the Pacific Northwest as stated above is that we have never had to deal with grizzlies unlike the people in the Northern Rockies. The only thing we know about the grizzly is from what we have seen from American culture, and unfortunately American culture has not painted an accurate portrayal of the grizzly bear. If the North Cascades is to effectively implement its recovery strategy it needs to succeed on two levels; first it needs sound science to back it up, which it has, and secondly it needs support from the public, and the only way that the public will become okay with the grizzly bear walking around in the Cascades is if we begin to tear down these false images of the grizzly and start to properly educate people.

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 6

Joshua Winter 2016

Graduate Winter Natural History Retreat: Class in the snow!

March 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

As the snow is melting and Spring is is coming in full force, winter’s grasp is quickly fleeting from our minds. It’s hard to imagine that just a month ago the 15th Graduate Cohort of the North Cascades Institute was on their Winter Natural History retreat in the Methow Valley, then a winter wilderness! The retreat was the second retreat we had taken this year, in which we delve deep into the natural landscape to get first hand experience with our local wilderness. In this particular trip we learned about astronomy, wolverines, avalanche science and even tracking. Our whole trip had us centered at the Skalitude Retreat Center located in the Methow Valley.

Skalitude Retreat Center

Skalitude

Skalitude Retreat Center located in the heart of the mountains.

After traveling for seven hours into the Methow Valley, for Washington Pass is closed in the winter, the road into Skalitude was the definition of a remote mountain road: covered with animal tracks, steep, and windy. The whole road was encased in a thick forest. As soon as we reached the retreat the trees opened up to showcase the excellent valley and the pristine snow! Living in Western Washington this winter made me forget how much I had missed feet of clean, beautiful snow.

Good meals

Good friends and good food! Photo courtesy of Aly Gourd.

» Continue reading Graduate Winter Natural History Retreat: Class in the snow!

red huckleberry buds

A Phenology Fix

March 24th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Sasha Savoian, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

The shifting of seasons. Temperature begins to rise as the arch of the sun lifts. Winds push and pull pendulous crowns of Hemlock and Western Red Cedar while gusts careen through limbs of Doug fir. Rains drench the lichen and moss covered landscape. Sun surprises. Days overshadow night. Subtle, sweet scents of spring waft unexpectedly in a warm breeze. Buds begin to break. Robins appear overnight.

Red Huckelberry

A Red Huckleberry limb with breaking buds along the Diablo Lake trail at the Environmental Learning Center.

The shifting of seasons. Spring is recently arrived, but the harbingers have slowly appeared up here in the North Cascades at 1,200 feet: buds of Willow, Red Flowering Currant and Indian Plum awaken, the catkins of Hazel and Alder open and dangle in preparation of pollen release, Varied Thrush, Robins and Pacific wrens sing the morning alive, a frog note travels through the air at dusk. At least a few of us up at the Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake are tuned to the frequency of phenology as we have eagerly awaited the firsts to unfurl. Phenology is essentially the study of seasonal cycles in the natural world, paying particular attention to the connectivity of the species within an ecosystem. Phenology encompasses events such as bird migration, phases of buds on trees and shrubs, hibernation and the hatching of insects related to changes in temperature, amount of sunlight and precipitation associated with shifts of seasons.

» Continue reading A Phenology Fix

WANTED: GRIZZLY BEARS?

March 17th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Tireless bear activist Chris Morgan Wildlife has shared a new 7-minute video about grizzlies in the North Cascades. WANTED: GRIZZLY BEARS? is an educational short film that captures the beauty of grizzlies and delves into people’s perceptions and misperceptions of these natives to the North Cascades.

Wanted: Grizzly Bears? from ChrisMorganWildlife on Vimeo.

“We interviewed people from all walks of life for this film short…there are a lot of perceptions of grizzly bears out there and they all deserve to be heard. My hope is that the film will trigger curiosity and perhaps help people learn more about these fascinating mammals that are part of the Washington State landscape,” said Morgan, who has hosted TV productions for PBS, National Geographic Television, BBC, Discovery Channel.

You can learn more about grizzly bear ecology in our ongoing series by Mike Rosekrans at www.chattermarks.ncascades.org/tag/grizzly-bear-series.

Ice_Worm_against_Fingernail

Glacial Ice Worms: Ancient Story Tellers

March 14th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Gavin Willis, graduate student in the institute’s 14th cohort.

So much of natural history is about storytelling. Whether it is telling about the budding of Indian Plum last spring, the migration pattern of Spotted Towhees last decade, or the historical path of a river, the idea of imparting to present and future generations the story of what was once observed is integral to the ideals of natural history. However, the stories aren’t always complete, and the quest to fill those gaps can unearth all kinds of interesting science and research methods.

The first thing that strikes most visitors to the North Cascades is the rugged mountainscapes that surround them. The story of the glaciers that carved those mountains is older than the park itself, by millennia. The most recent story is that of the Puget Lobe of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, which is said to have advanced south from the Waddington Range and engulfed the entirety of the North Cascades. Geological evidence tells the story of its retreat approximately 12,000 years ago, but attempts to determine the path it took while fleeing the area have unearthed as many questions as answers.

There are many different voices that tell the story of the retreat of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Jagged mountain peaks tell tales of the ice sheets’ height, while scarred bedrock told legends of its mighty power. However since I’m a biologist, and not a geologist, I can’t translate any of these stories. Instead, I chose to listen to the voice of the ice worm.

» Continue reading Glacial Ice Worms: Ancient Story Tellers