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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

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Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

November 8th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Chompers and Lewisa, the new beaver residents of Beaver Creek, quickly became much more active as their wire cages were placed in the cold creek, splashing about and looking to explore. The beavers looked on disdainfully as we humans created a small dam in the creek, to give them a suggestion of where to build their new home. We then opened their cages and they immediately swam out, eagerly exploring their new territory.

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The NCI graduate cohort was on our Fall Natural History Intensive. We spent a week in the Methow Valley, observing classes at Classroom in Bloom (a community garden that works in conjunction with the Methow Public Schools) visiting salmon restoration sites, printmaking, and continuing our coursework. On this day, we had the opportunity to help out with the Methow Beaver Project. We had started the day at the Winthrop Hatchery, where beavers from the Methow Valley Restoration Project were held in the time between being removed from problematic areas (areas where beaver dams would flood homes or buildings) and being moved to new homes where the ponds they create would benefit the entire ecosystem. Beaver ponds not only create vital open habitat that increase biodiversity, they also act as a storage area for fresh water, decreasing flood possibility, decreasing erosion, and recharging water aquifers.

» Continue reading Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

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VOCALIZE: A Natural and Cultural History Project

June 20th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Emily Ford, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

“VOCALIZE” attempts to share the Natural and Cultural History of the Loon through multiple ways of knowing. This project blends Indigenous Education and Scientific Study through the following list of topics, in order to create an ecological and social learning platform for all: Etymology, Art, History, Biography, Archeology, Astronomy, Taxonomy, Phylogeny, Poetry, Geology, Mapping, Natural History, Anthropology, Biology, American Literature, Conservation Studies, Storytelling, Indigenous Education and Pedagogy, and Place-Based Learning.

The multidisciplinary nature of Natural History allows both cultural and scientific knowing to be shared and valued. The Common Loon (Gavia immer), is not only the focus in this project, but also provides a lens to investigate Environmental and Social Justice, especially as it pertains to North America’s Native First Peoples. The Loon’s hauntingly visceral “call of the wild” has spoken to humans throughout the centuries, and offers a vessel for silenced cultural perspectives to come to light.

Within the project booklet, you will learn about the appearance, habits, and vocalizations of the charismatic Common Loon. Dive beneath the water, and you will also experience the emotions, voices, stories, and values held by the Loon. As we observe and interpret the Loon’s being, we must also recognize the human context of engaging with nature. “VOCALIZE” serves as an example and call to action for all readers to be open minded, aware, and inclusive of diverse human experience and beliefs. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
It demonstrates the importance of listening to and valuing every voice, including the voice of the Earth, as we come to realize our interrelations.

For example, I examine the word “vocalize,” often used to describe the loon’s various calls. In English, “Vocalize” means to articulate, or to sing vowel sounds, and comes from the root ‘call out’, or ‘cry.’ I pair this with the many Ojibwe definitions, in order to value their language and roots of their words. This serves as an example of how language is a form of power, and it is important to present more than just one perspective. I also use this word to reiterate the layered metaphors of indigenous oppression throughout the project. A loon’s call in the night comes out of the silence, and echoes with a wounded mournfulness, yet stands strong in people’s memory of wilderness and beauty. Paired with these concepts, I also include scientific studies of the four loon calls and their adaptive uses for communication.

Similarly, I investigate the bird’s many names. Loon’s scientific name is Gavia immer, from Scandinavian roots. In Ojibwe, “Loon” and “brave” are the same word: “Maang.” I then share the creation story of the loon, from astronomy, to Indigenous creation stories, to evolution and archeology.  

My poetry is scattered throughout the booklet to reinforce the subject topics and include my own reflections and voice. This poem follows the investigation of our naming of the loon and its vocalizations, as well as a discussion of layered metaphors about the power and oppression of language use. Accompanying the poem is art by Ojibwe artist Jackson Beardy who fought as an activist, educator, and artist, for the rights of Canada’s First Peoples and the revitalization of woodland cultures.

» Continue reading VOCALIZE: A Natural and Cultural History Project

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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”

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.

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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, Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
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

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Natural Notes on the Pacific Wren and Saw Whet Owl

February 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Hannah Newell, a M.Ed. Graduate student of the Institute’s 15th Cohort

Pacific Wren

This avian is a year round resident in our coniferous forests but to me has gone unnoticed until fall when all the other commanding voices of spring and summer have slowly disappeared. The first one I noticed was on a typical rainy fall day with leaf litter covering any empty space on the forest floor. This unfortunate wren had gotten stuck under a leaf just as big as it’s tiny body and was trying desperately to fly away from my forthcoming presence. After a few flitters and hops around, it was able to free itself from the leaf and left me laughing to myself in a quiet forest.

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Pacific Wren. Photo courtesy of seeingbirds.com

As we’ve come into the colder months of winter their call has morphed into a short and quiet chirp that they use as they hop around the forest floor looking for food. More often than not, I hear their hopping before I see their bodies emerge from the leafy debris under my feet.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
To my amazement they seem at home in the cold, snowy forest. One has to wonder how their tiny bodies cope with the extreme cold.

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Hannah’s notes on the Pacific Wren (bottom right) in her journal.

I’ve heard that in summer and spring they make intricately woven nests of moss that are attached to root balls or thickly branched trees. Their call becomes strengthened and elongated to rival those of the big shots (pileated woodpecker, american robin). I’m looking forward to my continued observation of this small yet powerful bird.

» Continue reading Natural Notes on the Pacific Wren and Saw Whet Owl

SWW 2015 Mike

The Practice of Presence: Responding to Inner & Outer Landscapes Field Notes and Poems (Part Three)

December 30th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

North Cascades Institute hosted a class called Sit, Walk, Write: Nature and the Practice of Presence. Participants began their days with a sitting meditation, followed by writing and sharing poetry and short nature essays, walking meditation, and exploring the woods around the Learning Center. Here are some participant poems that came out of this unique weekend in the North Cascades. Other pieces from this year can be found in parts one and two.

Poems in Response to “Voices from the Salmon Nations” by Frances Ambrose

A Fire

By Mimi Gorman, dedicated for those who witnessed fires along the North Cascades during the summer of 2015

Wind carried sorrow
through flame illuminated skies.
Devoted hearts ache.

Waterfall Haiku

By Kurt Hoelting

Sound of mountain stream
Cuts all the way to the bone
I am water too

High ledge waterfall
Barely any flow today
Too long since it rained

Clouds swallow mountains
Big leaf maples luminous
Fresh air fills the lungs

Fancy Fall

By Holly Hughes

Vine maple leaves hang
bright yellow against green firs
becoming the sun

The sun leaves each day.
Days shorter, nights lengthening.
Look: leaves still hold the light.

SWW 2015 Looking Up

» Continue reading The Practice of Presence: Responding to Inner & Outer Landscapes Field Notes and Poems (Part Three)