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Natural History Field-Excursion: Migrating Raptors over Chelan Ridge

December 18th, 2017 | Posted by in Field Excursions

This post is the first of a 3-part series describing graduate students’ ten-day field excursion to the Methow Valley, as part of their fall Natural History Course. Below is writing by Brendan McGarry, graduate student in the North Cascade Institute’s 17th cohort

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was frost coating the inside of the rainfly. I could hear the crepuscular stirrings of my fellow campers, and gave myself a silent pep talk to get moving despite the chill. This was going to be an exciting day after all, we were here to see raptors. 

My cohort and I were part way through the field section of our Natural History of the North Cascades course when we trundled up to Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch Station. It was only October, but we’d seen the hints of winter coming to the high places. The hawks we hoped to see migrating were another hint that the seasons were changing.

The rugged terrain stretching down toward Lake Chelan; photo courtesy of Brendan McGarry

The Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch station was established in 1998 in a partnership between the Okanogan-Wenatchee District of the US Forest Service and HawkWatch International. The goal was to learn more about the raptors migrating through Washington, down the Pacific Coast Flyway. Here, starting in late August, ending in late October, intrepid biologists scan the skies, and count hawks. With luck, they also lure them into traps to band the birds and release. While we were grumbling about the cold, they were already out doing their jobs.

The first bird, an immature Cooper’s Hawk that zipped by during breakfast, was spotted by Kent Woodruff. This was apt because he was our host. Kent, a retired Forest Service biologist who established the station, was full of stories about the wildlife of the North Cascades. Yet, never was he more animated than when he spoke of the birds overhead.

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Zachary with Hawk

Beavers and Hawks: Graduate Fall Retreat Seminar 2015

November 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Woke up at 0555 to a pack of coyotes (Canis latrans) howling and barking in a playful manner with one another for about ten minutes. During this time a barred owl (Stix varia) was making some small hooting. Still very dark, the weather was mostly fog with a 70 yard visibility at 40*F.

This is how my journal entry for the 2015 Fall Natural History retreat started on October 8th, 2015.  As part of the Graduate Program at North Cascades Institute, the fifteen of us students  in the newest cohort along with our instructors Joshua Porter and Lindsey MacDonald went over to the Methow Valley to get first hand experience with our natural home. As future environmental educators, it is vital for us to understand our local ecosystem through experience so that we can lead the next generation in outdoor experiences.  With this trip in particular, the first day focused on beavers, while the second on hawks.

We had spent the night in the Gardner Hut on Rendezvous Pass.  When we awoke we heard a chorus of coyotes and owls, but could not see them due to two factors: low visibility due to heavy fog and little sunlight, and rather comfortable and warm sleeping bags. Despite this, we packed up, ate breakfast, and heading for Winthrop.

Ponderosa at Gardner Hut

Packing up from our night in the Gardner Hut. Two Ponderosa Pine are pictured.

» Continue reading Beavers and Hawks: Graduate Fall Retreat Seminar 2015

From Teacher to Student and Back Again

October 16th, 2011 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Last weekend Cohort 11 graduate students had the chance to step away from our roles as Mountain School Instructors and again return to being students of Natural History during our three day Fall Grad Retreat. After weeks of training and teaching 5th and 6th grade youth about the diverse ecosystems of the North Cascades, the respite from such high activity was much appreciated by all. Our explorations took us by hand and knee through douglas fir forests near home, and by car and foot through the ponderosa pine and fire-scarred forests in the Methow Valley.

Day one of the retreat was spent near the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center campus with M.Ed. graduate alumna and mycologist Lee Whitford discussing the amazing yet unfamiliar world of fungi and their fruiting mushroom bodies. After learning some basic facts and characteristics about our earthy friends, we set out to do some local harvesting of our own (on Forest Service land, of course!). It took some time to adjust our eyes and hone our observational skills to the often unnoticed specimens hidden between leaf, detritus, and tree trunk, but half an hour and handfuls of mushrooms later our forage had yielded an impressive and diverse variety of them.

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