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The Birth of Curiosity: Through the Eyes of a Raven Part I

July 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Jennifer O’Toole, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort. 

Curiosity is born from one of the most unlikely of places: boredom. I used to fight the feeling of boredom, as I had been trained to do by the media with its constant barrage of entertainment, the internet with its never-ending information and by my own relentless drive to be productive. But one day I decided to try something different. I was trying to write a lesson plan for my 3rd grade science class the following day and found myself feeling bored with the work. I stopped typing and decided to let the feeling of boredom wash over me, accepting that I was bored instead of rejecting it. I decided to trust that, if I stewed long enough within my boredom, a flicker of curiosity would ignite and reinvigorate my brain to continue its productivity. A few minutes later I heard the pitter-patter of rain starting on my roof and my mind wandered to water as I noted the feeling of comfort that crept over me as I listened. I thought of splashing in the puddles, racing homemade boats down drainage ditches and allowing myself to become soaked. I had a strong desire suddenly to relive the feeling of joy and freedom created in that memory and—curious, now—looked to see what weather was predicted for the following day. More rain! It was decided: my students and I were going outside to play and explore water physics tomorrow.

I have felt, during my 10 years as an educator, the forceful squashing of curiosity. Instead of allowing the space my students need to get used to the boredom necessary to discover their own interests and then pursue them, the curriculum I must strictly shove down the often disinterested throats of my students is so jam packed I haven’t the time to get through half of what I’m expected to. My students must be able to regurgitate the correct answers to the specific questions they must know to pass the tests that will determine the level of stress they will endure for the remainder of the school year. The students who fail to “perform well on” the state and national exams (selecting one too many incorrect multiple choice answers while staring at a computer screen for hours is now considered a form of “performing”) face years of potential medicating, tutoring, extra homework and ridicule from other students. It’s no wonder under such stressed conditions that a child’s ability to perform creatively, focused on topics that interest them, is significantly diminished. I found myself searching for ways to nurture curiosity in my mentoring (I no longer use the word teaching, as it implies something being done to the student as opposed to with them), which I found meant significantly less control on my part and much more on that of the students.

Photo of raven stealing food. Image courtesy of Pixabay

» Continue reading The Birth of Curiosity: Through the Eyes of a Raven Part I

Takin’ Care of Beesinus: United States Native Bee Facts, Threats and Conservation

June 11th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Becky Moore, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort.

Nearly everyone is familiar with the image and idea of a bee. The black and yellow character from Honey Nut Cheerios perhaps, happily making honey in buzzing hives. However, what most people do not realize is that there is a vast, diverse and complicated world of bees outside the classic honeybee, most of which goes largely unnoticed. In fact, there are over 20,000 species of bees worldwide, over 4,000 of which are found in North America. About 600 native species can be found in the state of Washington.

Our honeybee friend is actually not among these; this domesticated species was introduced to North America from Europe in 1640. The majority of native bees in the US are small, solitary species, most of which do not fit any of the classic images people may think of.     

A beautiful metallic green bee (Augochloropsis metallica) visiting a flower. Image courtesy of WikiCommons

These bees have an average size of about 1cm long and live, nest, and feed completely on their own. Females forage to create enough provisions to feed their young, which they encase individually in carefully crafted cells. There are 5 major families of bees, each of which has their own methods of nesting. Some of these tiny solitary bees are miners, digging tunnels underground. Some are leafcutters, lining their nests with perfectly round leaf cutouts, some are masons, creating their nests out of mud and clay, and still others are carpenters, boring holes into wood to lay their eggs. Young bees hatch in the fall, hibernate over the winter, and emerge in spring to mate, begin foraging, and create their own nests, starting the cycle over. Many of these bee species are specialist feeders, meaning that they have co-evolved with specific species or families of flowers and are highly adapted to pollinate them the most effectively. Such plant species would not be able to survive without certain bee species.

» Continue reading Takin’ Care of Beesinus: United States Native Bee Facts, Threats and Conservation

Spring Wildflowers in the Upper Skagit

May 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Spring has come here in the upper Skagit River valley and our April showers have indeed brought May flowers. With the increase of daylight and clear days, the valleys in-between the still snow-covered mountains have turned bright shades of green. The shorelines along the river and its reservoirs are in great contrast against the dark, evergreen hue of the high slopes. While the waking up of the forest rejuvenates even the deepest winter doldrums, there are surprises along the forest floor that bring spring’s energy forth for those willing to go look.

Calypso orchid (Colypso bulbosa) on Sourdough Mountain Trail. Photo by Dan Dubie

Our spring wildflower bloom has begun and is now in full swing. A few weeks ago, as the spring sun started to warm the floors of our valleys and deep forests, the first plant harbingers of spring began to grow. Just as our migrating birds returned to their homes for the summer, our resident perennial and annual wildflowers began their annual strive for life. Quickly after the snow leaves, the first herbaceous flowers to arise are those with energy reserves stored in corms or “bulbs” beneath the ground. These flowers quickly get to work, growing a few leaves and showy flowers that attract the early spring flies and solitary bees. Examples of these are the glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflora), which is known to sprout through snow; the amazingly small calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa); and the bright white western trillium (Trillium ovatum), which shines like a light on our deep, moist forest floors.

» Continue reading Spring Wildflowers in the Upper Skagit

Spring Bird Migration in the Upper Skagit

May 2nd, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Here in upper Skagit River valley – a window into the mighty mountains of the North Cascades – spring is in full swing. Along with the milder temps and the breaks in the clouds, we are also welcoming a flurry of seasonal bird species that call these mountains home for the summer. Over 50 species of migratory birds of all types breed in these mountains and use the Skagit River as their door into the high country.

As the heavy snowpack still hangs to the mountains, the valley is slowly heating up, popping leaves and early spring flowers. Though our first migrating birds have been showing up since February, it’s only been since the middle of March that the breeding migrants have really begun to show up. In the cold spring rain, came the local breeders which have spent the winter in the warm temperate Puget Sound. The song sparrow (Melospiza melodia), northern flicker( Collates auratus), spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) and familiar red-breasted sapsucker (Sphyrapicus rubern) showed up just as the snow was melting on the lawns and a few insects were emerging.

A northern flicker. Photo by Dan Dubie

Then on the first day of spring, March 20, the first swallows showed up. A flock of 15 violet green swallows (Tachycineta thalassina) welcomed spring to the upper Skagit with their acrobatic insect catching flights over Gorge Lake. These birds eat only flying insects and many times are found congregating over fields and bodies of water. That day they were a sure sign of warmer times after a long wet winter.

A yellow-rumped warbler. Photo by Dan Dubie

After an unseasonably wet March, April brought warmer temperatures and few more beams of sunlight. The first week of April saw our first migrating warbler species, the yellow-rumped warbler (Dendroica coronata). A very prolific species, it is the first warbler to show up in many parts of the country. It has a beautiful robust trilling song that usually teeters off at the end. Being very showy, it is seen singing in most forest habitats and is distinguished by its bright yellow, black and white plumage while having bright yellow patches on its rump Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets.

Following this first warbler, we’ve seen many more birds show up over the last three weeks. As the flowers have started blooming and the insects hatching daily, we’ve seen large numbers of the following species:

  • yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata)
  • ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula)
  • white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
  • tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)
  • northern rough-winged swallows Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
  • American robins (Turdus migratorius)
  • song sparrows (Melospiza melodia)
  • pine siskins (Spinus pinus)
  • rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorusrufus)

Other species that have been seen but in smaller numbers include:

  • common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
  • black-throated grey warbler (Dendroica nigrescens)
  • Townsend’s warbler (Dendroica townsendi)
  • Nashville warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla)
  • orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata)
  • Wilson’s warbler (Wilsonia pusilla)
  • Cassin’s vireo (Vireo cassinii)
  • Hammond’s flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii)
  • barn swallows (Hirundo rustica)
  • cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
  • Lincoln’s sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
  • chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina)
  • red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  • western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
  • Townsend’s solitaire (Myadestes townsendi)
  • western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

Out of these bird species, I want to note the types which have traveled the farthest to reside in these deep forests and valleys. Many of our breeding warblers, our one western tanager, some swallows, some flycatchers, our hummingbirds and our vireos, all make an arduous journey which encompass thousands of miles and countless barriers. Some, such as the western tanager, are so bright and colorful that they yell “jungle” and surely they have just completed their journey all the way from the rainforests of Mexico and Central and South America. Many of our warblers, some in bright yellow and green plumage, also take on a huge journey from the tropics to join us here for our warm lush summer.

A yellow warbler. Photo by Dan Dubie

» Continue reading Spring Bird Migration in the Upper Skagit

Photo Roundup: April 30 2017

April 30th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

A beautiful sunset at Washington Park in Anacortes, where graduate students closed day one of their field trip. Photo by Angela Burlile

On Wednesday, our graduate M.Ed. students went to Anacortes for a three day field trip that explored climate change impacts on the lower Skagit through the lens of food production and agriculture.

 

Shannon Point Marine Center staff member, Gene McKeen, giving grad students a tour of the campus. Photo by Angela Burlile
Grad students (Jihan Grettenberger, Smokey Brine and Ash Kunz) having fun at the SPMC touch tank. Photo by Angela Burlile

On the first day of their trip, graduates were introduced to the Shannon Point Marine Center, a Western Washington University marine laboratory located in Anacortes, Washington. During their visit, grad students were able to meet with Dr. Erika McPhee-Shaw, Professor and Director of SPMC, who presented on the topic of sea level rise and ocean acidification here in the Pacific Northwest.

Grad student, Ash Kunz, attempting to identify sea birds just outside of Anacortes. Photo by Ash Kunz
Harbor seals as seen through a pair of grad binoculars. Photo by Angela Burlile
Alexei Desmarais and Kay Gallagher can’t contain their excitement about bird identification! Photo by Angela Burlile

On the final day of their trip, staff at Shannon Point Marine Center took grads out on their research vessel for the opportunity to view marine and bird life around Puget Sound. Harbor seals and peregrine falcons were just a few of the species spotted during their time out on the water.

Grad student, Kay Gallagher, biking down Highway 20 past the road closure. Photo by Kay Gallagher

With the road closure beginning just miles down the road from our Environmental Learning Center, grads and staff are taking advantage of the empty highway before WSDOT clears all the accumulated winter snow.

The most recent update from the WSDOT Highway 20 reopening page states:
“The west side crew cleared to within 2 ½ miles of Rainy Pass and the eastside crew is about the same distance from Washington Pass. The difference is on the west side the snow is three feet deep. On the east side, snow is 7 feet deep and the Liberty Bell avalanche zone is still ahead where there’s 45 to 55 feet of heavy wet snow on the roadway. 

On the westside the work is progressing well with a plow truck and the loader-mounted blower. On the eastside, the two big caterpillars have begun cutting down the huge piles of snow in the Liberty Bell avalanche zone.” 

*Find weekly updates on the WSDOT webpage*

Animal tracks on the Evergreen Trail at Rockport State Park. Photo by Angela Burlile

Grad student, Sarah Clement, spotted these cougar tracks during a run around the Evergreen Trail at Rockport State Park. The tracks seemed to be quite fresh, as they appeared during her third loop around the park!

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: April 30 2017

Photo Roundup: April 16 2017

April 16th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

After a month long hiatus, the roundup is back! Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Capstones are a culmination of the work and passion behind each graduate students’ studies. For her capstone, Annah Young delivered an experiential presentation on food sovereignty and justice. Photo by Kay Gallagher

At the end of March, we celebrated the graduation of the 15th graduate cohort (C15) here at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. This group of individuals arrived to the ELC in the summer of 2015 and began a year long residency of teaching and learning in the North Cascades. Having just completed their final quarter at Western Washington University, grads returned to the Institute to present their capstone projects and receive their certificates in Non-Profit Leadership & Administration and Northwest Natural History.

 

The Passing of the Paddle ceremony with C15 and C16. Photo by Aly Gourd

During this week of capstone presentations, a little known ceremony – Passing the Paddle – occurs between cohorts. This tradition is a time for the graduating cohort to pass down a paddle to the newest cohort, symbolizing that they are now in control of the direction and movement of the program. Along with the paddle, the graduating cohort offers the newest cohort their final words of advice and wisdom and the expectation that this ceremony will continue on for future cohorts to come.

Top photo: Emma Ewert and Joe Loviska graduate in style. Bottom photo: C15 poses with graduate director, Joshua Porter, graduate coordinator, Lindsey McDonald and graduate professor, Nick Stanger. Photos by Joshua Porter

After the week of capstone presentations at the Institute, grads, family and friends headed down valley to attend the official graduation ceremony at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Photo by Angela Burlile

After what seemed like months of darkness and rain, the sun came out and it started to really feel like spring this week! There is still a lot of snow in the upper elevations but many of the trails around the Environmental Learning Center are clear!

Photos courtesy of WSDOT Flickr page

On Wednesday, we woke to news that a rockslide occurred on Highway 20, between Newhalem and Diablo. Unlike the avalanche that extended the stay of Henry M. Jackson high school, students participating in Mountain School were able to leave that day. The road remained closed to traffic into the weekend while WSDOT crews worked to move and break up the large pieces of rock that had fallen onto the highway. On Saturday afternoon, WSDOT opened the road to both lanes of traffic (though the highway still remains closed at mile 134 near Ross Dam trailhead). Check out more photos here on the WSDOT Flickr account.

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: April 16 2017

Weekly Photo Roundup: February 26 2017

February 26th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Cohort 16 graduate students relaxing at Skalitude. Photo by Angela Burlile

On February 18th, graduate M.Ed students began their week-long winter natural history intensive in the Methow Valley. Staying at the Skalitude Retreat Center, students focused on winter ecology, snow science and winter camping skills.

The main lodge at Skalitude Retreat Center. Photo by Melissa Biggs

The Bermhouse suites. Each room has 2 or 3 bed and composts toilets. Photo by Kay Gallagher

Graduate Program Director, Joshua Porter, explaining how to properly document animal tracks.  Photo by Melissa Biggs

On the first day of the natural history intensive, graduate students practiced their tracking skills around the 160 acre Skalitude property. By the end of the day, grads had identified and documented coyote, bobcat, cougar, snowshoe hare, grouse and more!

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: February 26 2017