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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

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

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

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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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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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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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Integral Ice : A Creative Residency reflection

June 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Manasseh Franklin

For much of the lower 48 states, it’s easy to consider glaciers as distant, sometimes extraordinarily so. A great deal of my research and writing focuses on closing this distance in order to give access to the beauty, vitality and total importance of ice on the decline throughout North America. To do this, I rely on intimate first hand experiences, scientific counsel and the compelling narrative of the landscapes themselves.

I came to the North Cascades Institute to write about ice. Fittingly, this region is home to the largest concentration of glaciers remaining in the lower 48. What I didn’t realize prior to arrival, however, is just how much that ice is integral to the livelihoods of people in this region, and how accessible that makes it on a day-to-day basis, both on the ice itself, but primarily off.

Being stationed at Diablo Lake provided the perfect starting point: glacial waters flowing through hydro-electric dams that power neighboring cities. Waters that, without glaciers, would not be able to provide the growing capacity of electricity needed in those places.

Through conversations at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, I was able to see the bigger picture not only of water and electricity but also glacial melt and how both its temperature and flow are integral to salmon runs. Glacial melt and its contribution to irrigation for orchards that supply fruit to the entire country. Glacial melt and the incredible milky emerald hue Lake Diablo took on during the final weeks of my stay in early June.

Not only did the landscape provide access to these integrated systems, but my encounters with the Environmental Learning Center did also, both for me and for the many groups of children and adults who were stationed there when I was. I found the mission of the center to resonate with my own mission in writing: using intimate and educated experiences in the outdoors to inspire conservation (and appreciation) of diminishing resources.

Of course, the landscape provided that connectivity as well. Evidence of ice resounds in the countless waterfalls, hanging valleys, and the glaciers themselves—roughly 300 in the park alone—perched in high valleys and cirques. They, like glaciers throughout the world, are diminishing, but still very physically present in the lush landscapes of the North Cascades.

I can’t express enough how much I appreciated my time at the Environmental Learning Center. Not only was I able to be physically proximate to actual ice, but I was also able to integrate in a community of people passionate about sharing the intricacies of this incredibly diverse and inspiring ecosystem with others.

* * * * *

Top photo of Mount Baker by Skagit photographer Andy Porter, available for purchase on his website at www.andyporterimages.com

Manasseh Franklin was a Creative Resident at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center in the Spring of 2016. She is a writer, mountain guide, educator and adventurer who seeks big, hearty landscapes, and then writes about the experience of them. Franklin graduated from the University of Wyoming with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing and Environment and Natural Resources and seeks to bridge the gap between science and experiential narrative. Her words have appeared in AFAR, Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, Western Confluence, Aspen Sojourner, Yoga International and Suburban Life River Towns magazines, in addition to several newspapers, blogs and websites. Learn more about her work at http://glaciersinmotion.wordpress.com and http://manassehfrass.wordpress.com.