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Plight of the Pollinators

November 30th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Kay Gallagher, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

Imagine yourself walking down to the local summer farmer’s market down by the town square. It’s the first warm day and you cannot wait to make a large juicy bowl of fruit salad for lunch. Summer time in the valley is your favorite, all winter you have eagerly anticipated the first fruits of the season. With your list in hand that you scribbled down this morning, juicy red tomatoes, green zucchini, bright yellow summer squash, perfectly round peaches, you set Chinese Teapots.


Produce from the local Twisp Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Kay Gallagher

After a short walk, you arrive at the farmers’ market, ready to fill your basket to the brim. You walk around and notice the usual vendors. The local bakery selling loaves of freshly made artisan bread, the various craftsmen selling their woolen blankets and knit scarves, the goat farmers selling their savory cheeses and assorted dairy products. Then you notice there are no fruit stands. No vegetable stands. There isn’t so much as a rogue berry in sight. Where are the fruits of summer you have been dreaming about since that first warm day of spring? It’s almost as if they have vanished overnight. They’re not there.


The colorful mosaic landscape of Patterson Mountain. Photo courtesy of Kay Gallagher

You leave the farmer’s market quite perplexed, and decide to hike your favorite summer trail instead. On your drive to the trailhead you can picture the lush mountain sides and vast fields full of a colorful array of wildflowers from last summer, you can visualize the river coursing its way through the landscape in the valley below, with animal life whirring and scattered about. You arrive at the trailhead, and hop out of the car, eager for your adventure in the colorful mosaic. As you begin to hike, you notice that things aren’t as colorful as they used to be. There aren’t nearly as many wildflowers, the earth seems dry and crumbly with serious signs of erosion along the river bank below. The landscape is made up of various shades of brown. The air is noticeably quieter, without the hums and whizzing of winged insects flying about. The chatter of birds is absent, and the silence seems a little eerie. It’s a little too quiet. Something is missing, and then you realize …” Where have all the pollinators gone?”

» Continue reading Plight of the Pollinators

Better with Beavers: How partnerships with a rodent are helping restore watersheds in the Pacific Northwest

October 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Rob Rich

“In the beginning, there was nothing but water and ice and a narrow strip of shoreline,” says the oral tradition of the Nuxalk, the coastal people who have lived for millennia near present-day Bella Coola, British Columbia. As the last ice age waned 12,000 years ago, their ancestors found home in that fertile rim of land and sea. And as temperatures rose, the once-frozen land must have churned in a vast soupy spillage, learning with ice-melt the forms we now call river, stream, pond. In this great thaw, when the earth emerged soaked and naked and surging to green, I trust a beaver knew what to do. I trust beavers were there, and also farther south in present-day Whatcom County, Washington, where I live. Before the county – and the creek, town, and lake – took the Whatcom name, I trust beavers were near the creek mouth and fish camp the Nooksack people dubbed Xwótqwem after the sound of water dripping, fast and hard.

» Continue reading Better with Beavers: How partnerships with a rodent are helping restore watersheds in the Pacific Northwest

Studying Moths in the North Cascades

June 11th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Nick Engelfried, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

To my mind, it isn’t truly spring in the lush, green landscape on the west side of the Cascades until the first half-white carpet moth (Mesoleuca gratulata) has flown. This small insect, with its delicate wings of white, gray, and dark brown, is a sign that sunny days and warmer weather have finally arrived.


Mesoleuca gratulata. Illustration by Nick Engelfried

I chose the hundreds of moth species in the North Cascades as the subject for my in-depth study of a natural history topic at North Cascades Institute this spring. I was drawn to moths partly because of their vast diversity—there are some 11,000 species in North America, far more than the 750 or so butterflies—and partly because of how deeply underappreciated they are. If you spend time outside in western Washington, you’ve probably seen an M. gratulata at some point—but most people who take time to notice it at all will likely mistake this day-flying moth species for a small butterfly. Most moths are even less noticed, due to the nocturnal habitats, nondescript colors, and tiny size of many species.


Platyprepia virginalis. Illustration by Nick Engelfriend

This spring, I embarked on a project to seek out moths wherever I could: below lights on the outsides of buildings after dark, hiding on the bark of trees and walls by day, and—for day-flying species—flitting across trails in patches of sunlight in the North Cascades forest.

I identified as many moth species as possible, including those I found this spring as well as specimens collected last summer and fall. I relied on Jerry A. Powell and Paul A. Opler’s excellent reference book, Moths of Western North America, as well as the expertise of editors at the citizen science website Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).

In addition to seeing as many species as I could myself, I generated a list of all moths from eight target families reported on BAMONA from Whatcom, Skagit, Okanogan, and Chelan Counties. This list includes nearly 150 species. For reasons of feasibility, I confined myself to “macromoths,” largely ignoring the smaller and even more numerous but very tricky to identify “micromoths.”

One of the most rewarding parts of studying moths this year has been following the emergence and disappearance of different species as their “flight periods” come and go. Most moths in the North Cascades live in this region year-round, but for much of this time they reside only in the egg, larva, or pupa stages. The length of the adult phase ranges from months in species like the tissue moth (Triphosa haesitata)which overwinters as an adult and emerges to fly in very early spring—to only a few days in the giant Ceanothus silk moth (Hyalophora euryalis), which lives just long enough as an adult to mate and lay eggs.

» Continue reading Studying Moths in the North Cascades

Stories of Change: Storytelling as a Means of Climate Communication

June 11th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Hanna Davis, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

There are various facets to graduate life at North Cascades Institute: taking classes, a teaching practicum, work study positions. And throughout every aspect, nearly every of my residency this past year, a common theme has appeared: climate change. Specifically, how do we, as environmental educators, talk about climate change? It’s a topic that comes up so continuously in my work here that hardly a day goes by that I’m not talking about how to talk about climate change. So naturally, my natural history project is all about how we can improve climate literacy, specifically here at NCI.

If you’ve gotten a chance to look at NCI’s new Strategic Plan, you may have noticed the goal to “Strengthen the Institute’s impact and meet the needs of diverse communities by pursuing new opportunities for programs, partners and audiences [by]…integrating and expanding climate literacy throughout Institute programs.” Now, a strategic plan may seem like a mundane obligatory document, but if you can get past the admittedly dry language, you’ll find the heart of NCI: these are the values we believe in, the goals we strive for. So by including climate change literacy in this plan, we are saying: this work is crucial.

» Continue reading Stories of Change: Storytelling as a Means of Climate Communication

30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

December 31st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

As today marks the last day of 2016, what better place than Chattermarks to look back at the memories and highlights of the year here at the North Cascades Institute. I have only recently joined as a contributor to the blog and many of the posts this past year were submitted by guests, naturalists, C15 graduate students and Ben Kusserow – our previous blog editor who left intimidatingly large shoes to fill! Before I started the graduate residency program, I frequently came to Chattermarks to get a better idea as to what my life would be like in the upper Skagit and the work being done by the Institute. The first hand narratives, naturalist tidbits, and expertise of all these contributors painted a rich picture, helping to prepare me for this year of living in the North Cascades. I hope you’ve found their contributions as helpful and informative as I did. Enjoy this look back at 2016!

Mountain School

One last group photo before these 5th graders head back to Bellingham after three days of Mountain School.

In my mind there isn’t a program at NCI that can compete with the energy and enthusiasm of Mountain School. Hundreds of students from all over the state participate in the program during fall and spring, spending three to five days exploring the trails and learning about mountain ecosystems through interdisciplinary activities.

  • We always hope that when the students leave, they are taking with them positive and lasting memories. This year, instructors shared some of the letters they received from students in the post, “Dear Mountain School,” affirming our hopes.
  • In October, we were all excited to see Mountain School in the cover story of National Geographic. The article highlighted the importance of getting young people and people of color into our National Parks.

 

Naturalist Notes

Photo courtesy of Ben Kusserow, from his natural history project on bats in the North Cascades National Park.

2016 was full of educational opportunities here on Chattermarks. If you feel like your naturalist skills could use a brush up or you just want to learn something new, look no further. This year seemed to have a little bit of everything, from fungi to fire lookouts.

» Continue reading 30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

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

lichen "roots" Katherine

The Social Lives of Trees: Part 3 Underground Partnerships

September 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Emma Ewert, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort. Take a look at part one and part two of her series on the social lives of trees!

While the partnerships between trees and fungi that I have been discussing in my previous posts are fascinating, what really intrigues and excites me is how these mycorrhizal networks we have been talking so much about help trees connect to each other, and how they form the basis for almost every aspect of the forest ecosystem. The relationships between trees allow them to survive and adapt to the world around them. It certainly helps explain why a tree that relies so much on access to the sun would choose to live so closely together that their ability to photosynthesize might be compromised.

At the moment, what we know is that mycorrhizal fungi not only play a huge part in keeping trees alive, but they also connect trees and plants, creating a forest ecosystem where almost every plant in any one square mile is directly connected to every other plant. This underlying mycelial structure allows trees and plants to share resources and warn each other of dangers.

» Continue reading The Social Lives of Trees: Part 3 Underground Partnerships