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Youth Leadership Ambassador Trip Report: Skagit Flats and Padilla Bay

March 3rd, 2017 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The Youth Leadership Ambassadors program is an extension of our Youth Leadership Adventures summer program. The goal of the program is to further develop leadership and outdoor skills, facilitate service and stewardship in our local communities and ecosystems, and provide college preparedness support to high school students from Skagit and Whatcom County. While serving as Ambassadors, students will participate in work parties, attend field trip and receive 15 hours of college access curriculum. Ambassadors will contribute blog posts covering their adventures throughout the year here on Chattermarks.

Appearing for the first time on Chattermarks are Celeste Guzman and Ana Lopez, who share their field trip to the Skagit Flats and Padilla Bay. 

Youth Leadership Ambassador: Celeste Guzman

The Youth Leadership Ambassadors day was filled with birding at the Skagit Flats and checking out Padilla Bay with Park Ranger Jason Bordelon.

The group listening to Park Ranger Jason. Photo by Celeste Guzman

The group started out at the Skagit Flats where Park Ranger Jason taught us some cool birding lingo. For example, “hand me the bennys” actually means, “hand me the binoculars.” With our binoculars we saw many eagles, snow geese and swans.

After our lesson, the group had lunch outside where it was very windy and cold. After we finished our lunch the group drove to the Wiley Slough where we learned about Padilla Bay and how it’s an estuary at the saltwater edge of the large delta of the Skagit River in the Salish Sea. The group then walked down to Padilla Bay so we could check it out for ourselves. We all had time to think alone while others were skipping rocks.

Fellow Youth Leadership Ambassador, Aaron, walking along the shore. Photo by Celeste Guzman

Later in the day, the group came together and we talked about what we had learned and liked about the day. It was fun being outdoors even though it was windy and cold. It was also exciting to grow closer to other ambassadors during this trip.

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Youth Leadership Ambassador: Ana Lopez

Our second field trip with the Youth Leadership Ambassadors was on February 11th 2017. We started off at the Skagit Valley Wildlife Reservation where we did some bird watching and saw many eagles. It was amazing! We learned some ways to tell the difference between birds, such as their size, the shape of their wings and the sound they make. After that, we went to Padilla Bay and learned about why they were protecting it. Since it is an estuary, which is surrounded by buildings and roads that can contaminate the water from oil, they decided they would build a place where they can teach others about how they can take care of the environment.

While bird watching we spotted two eagles in their nest! Photo by Ana Lopez

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Pacific Wren

Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

November 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

By Rob Rich

I came to the Pacific Northwest for many reasons, but one of them was, well, for the birds. Were those harlequin ducks for real? What was so special about the Pacific wren? And oh, how I longed to see the red-shafted Northern Flicker! These were some of my last thoughts before finally chasing the sun towards the Salish Sea. But since most birds don’t migrate from East to West, I knew I’d need a guide to set me straight.

Thankfully, I’d planned North Cascades Institute’s Spring Birding to be my first stop upon arrival. That’s right, I signed up from 3,000 miles away, tossed out my moving boxes in Bellingham and settled first things first: learning birds in the field with Libby Mills.

If you too feel like a lost goose at times, do not fear. Spring Birding is back, as are a host of other older Institute favorites – and some new ones that look out of this world. Literally. Where else but North Cascades Institute can you take a class that is astronomically synchronized for the nighttime awe of photographers? And where else can you hang out with snake experts, or decipher the clues of wildlife tracks in our precious winterscapes? As always, the great unveiling of the Institute’s January-June courses will expose natural curiosities you never knew you had. Experienced and emerging naturalists alike will both be forced to reckon with a growing list of reasons why the North Cascades are where it’s at.

Night photo

» Continue reading Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

Following the Snowy Owls

March 19th, 2012 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Since first moving to the Environmental Learning Center last August, many people have told me, “You must go see the snowy owls!” This advice has been on my radar since migratory birds began returning to their winter feeding grounds in the Skagit Valley. Who are these snowy owls that everybody speaks of? After doing some research, I learned that not only were these birds magnificent and beautiful creatures, but that this was an unusual year for the North American Snowy Owl. This year is known as an “irruption” year. An irruption is caused by a shortage in the Artic lemming population in the Arctic Tundra of Canada. As a result, snowy owls, whose primary food source are lemmings, must travel in search of additional food and can be found as far south as the United States. This event occurs every four to seven years as predator-prey dynamics change, and in those years snowy owls can be found in hospitable places like Boundary Bay Park in southern British Columbia and occasionally along the Skagit Flats in Washington. The owls are expected to return north sometime this month.

In anticipation of their departure, I knew a trip over the border to Boundary Bay had to be made. The snowy owls were also spotted just north of Bellingham at Sandy Point, but the word on the birder streets was that it was possible to see 20 to 30 of them at once in British Columbia. So we chose to cross over, and the adventure was well worth it.

Here are some pictures from our wondrous day with the snowy owls.

Just off of 72nd Street in Delta, BC, we were lucky enough to witness about 25 snowy owls hanging out along the dyke path in Boundary Bay Park.
These large owls breed in the Artic Tundra, and as you can tell by their unmistakable white plumage they probably blend in very well up there. Females and juveniles are more heavily marked than males. Adult males can be almost pure white.

» Continue reading Following the Snowy Owls

White Peaks, Bluebird Skies, Flapping Wingbeats

February 27th, 2012 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

As graduate students spending a year at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, winter is a contemplative and focused time – a time of respite from teaching Mountain School programs to work on group projects for our nonprofit and curriculum classes. This work, along with an in-depth research project on a Natural History topic of our choosing, comprises the bulk of our academic studies.

This kind of project-based learning allows for us to structure our studies around time spend outside naturalizing and exploring the winter world of the Cascades. A canoe paddle on Diablo Lake breaks up hours of writing and research while giving us a chance to feel inspired by icicles clinging to rocky cliff ledges near Thunder Knob. A hike up to Buster Brown Field allows us to the breath in the deep, crisp air while listening for golden-crowned kinglets that have just returned from their winter migrations. Feeling reenergized, we are able to focus again on the work at hand.

As much as we cherish these opportunities to explore the natural world just outside our doorsteps, sometimes we need time away in different places altogether where new adventures, learning, and inspiration can occur. Cohort 11 recently returned from just such an adventure: A three-day Winter Graduate Retreat at Mount Rainier National Park and the Skagit Flats.

A red fox curled up in the snow. Above, the moon rising in an alpine glow sky at Mount Rainier. Photo by Jess Newley.

We began the retreat with bluebird skies and a four-hour car ride that landed us at the base of Mount Rainier. Many of us were so eager to begin our adventure at the Park that we drove straight up to Paradise Meadows on the southwest face of the mountain at 5,400 ft. After orienting ourselves to the winter ecology, glaciology, and geologic history of the Park at the Visitor’s Center, graduate students dispersed to explore this singular volcano in the Cascades Range. In just a few short minutes of hiking around, a number of us turned to see a red fox sauntering along the trail beside us. We gasped, looking around in wonder as a second fox, this one a silver morph of the first, came quietly behind it. Both had their noses to the ground, and neither seemed to be paying us, or their proximity to the parking lot of Paradise, any mind. These habituated foxes were simply out for a dusk perusal of their territory and feeding grounds. Having never seen a fox at such close distance myself, I was delighted. We watched them for a time, following their trails into the trees. Looking up, we spotted a porcupine in a subalpine fir above our heads munching on needle buds and dropping pellets onto the snow. An hour at the Park and already the wildlife count was up! Our first day ended with a stunning sunset and alpine glow across the wintery beauty of Mount Rainier.

» Continue reading White Peaks, Bluebird Skies, Flapping Wingbeats