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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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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.

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Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

May 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

While shopping around your local grocery store, you might have seen projects in the organic section with the brand title “Cascaidan Farm Organic: Founded in the Skagit Valley, WA since 1972.” The products can be found in stores nation wide. Last week, however, I took a bicycling adventure to the Roadside Stand of the farm. It serves not only as a great place to get snacks on a long road trip, but also serves as an environmental education tool in the valley.

I’ll let them tell their founding story:

The story of Cascadian Farm begins with the story of our founder, Gene Kahn. 40 years ago, Gene was an idealistic 24-year old grad-school dropout from Chicago, who just wanted to make a difference in the world. He recognized the delicate balance between nature and humans. Inspired by reading “Silent Spring” and “Diet For A Small Planet”, Gene wanted to go back to the land and farm in a way that would not harm the natural beauty of the earth or her inhabitants. So he set out to farm organically on a little stretch of land next to the Skagit River in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. –Cascadian Farm

That farm grew and grew over the years into the powerhouse it is today. You can take a virtual tour of their whole farm to see how they work in and with the landscape.

My little excursion started last Saturday in the bright, sunny afternoon. Biking about eight miles from the Blue House Farm, I reminisced on my first experience with stand; last summer within the first few weeks of my graduate residency. Since it is closed during the winter months, I peddled with great anticipation to experience Cascadian Farm again.

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Blue Berries not quite ready to be picked.

» Continue reading Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

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John McMillan’s Cabin: Traveling the paths of ghosts

April 14th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

By Hannah Newell, a M.Ed. Graduate student of the Institute’s 15th Cohort

Where would one place their grave in these woods? And how could one bury themselves? These two questions came to me as I was half delirious with exhaustion, wandering around on the west bank of Big Beaver Creek along Ross Lake. My cohort member and work study compliment, Joe Loviska, and I were on a two day excursion into the Ross Lake Recreation Area to document wildlife and for him, phenological stages as our season turns to spring. I was on a personal quest as well. The previous months leading up to this trip, I had been in contact with a number of resources to lend a hand in my discovery of the history of trapping in this area of the North Cascades.

The trappers and homesteaders were few and far between in this vast landscape of pinnacle mountains and dense forests. One could get lost among the giant cedars and accidentally wander into a forest of Devil’s Club without notice until their fate was sealed with this prickled plant. This is not a forgiving land to those foreign or unprepared for their travels.

I had heard John McMillan’s name in my first round of research into the topic of fur trapping and soon started to hear stories of his cabin. All that was shared with me about the location of this cabin was that it is somewhere on the west side of Big Beaver Creek, before the marsh and after the stream.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Joe and I had the advantage of hearing about first hand accounts of finding the homestead through the use of roughly drawn maps and a faint trail that was previously used by McMillan and the Forest Service before Big Beaver Trail was established.

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Trail map around Diablo Lake. Photo courtesy of the United States Forest Service.

We found this faint line of a trail that lead directly into a fresh patch of fluorescent green moss and downed trees. We had immediately lost the trail, but continued on to meandering through the woods experiencing the true wonder of wandering among the old growth.

» Continue reading John McMillan’s Cabin: Traveling the paths of ghosts

Conversation at Curriculum for the Bioregion 2016

Down Valley Conference Adventure: A Grad’s Perspective

February 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Living at the Environmental Learning Center near Diablo, WA changes how we approach everyday decisions. Little trips, for instance, turn into a three day down valley adventure! This last weekend the 15th graduate cohort (along with a few from the 14th) traveled to two conferences in three days: Storming the Sound and Curriculum for the Bioregion.

Our first leg of the journey had us hit the road at 6 am from Diablo. After so many wilderness journeys with my cohort it was strange to see what “gear” changed and what didn’t with this adventure into civilization. No tents. No trekking poles. But some still packed in their hiking backpacks! After a few hours travel along SR 20, we arrived in La Conner.

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First leg of our three day trip. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Storming the Sound is an “annual conference for environmental educators in the north Pudget Sound region.” Since 2000 in Padilla Bay Reserve, the event has brought environmental organizations, teachers and students together to not only learn from one another but to better connect the environmental education field in the Puget Sound region. There were thirty one sponsor organizations this year which gave us graduate students a great view of how strong the environmental education presence is in this region. This year’s event was held in Maple Hall in La Conner, WA.

» Continue reading Down Valley Conference Adventure: A Grad’s Perspective