Author Archive for Dennis Plank

Prairie Parasitism

Prairie Parasitism, post and images by Christopher Jason

Christopher Jason is a technician currently working for the Conservation lab in Washington State University, Vancouver. Passionate about insects (especially butterflies and moths) and wildlife photography.

Prairie Parasitism

Prairies are beautiful places with abundant flowers and insects. Most are familiar with insects being pollinators and pests. But insects can also be parasitic. For the past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on Johnson Prairie on Joint Base Lewis-McChord land with the Conservation lab in Washington State University. While my work focuses on butterflies, I had the chance to encounter other insects that have very interesting ecology.

One of my favorite groups of bees are the nomad bees (Nomada spp.), also commonly known as cuckoo bees. Nomad bees are kleptoparasitic on mining bees (Andrena spp.), in that they lay their eggs in nest cells of other bee species. When the eggs hatch, the larvae then kill the mining bee eggs in the nest and consume their stored pollen and nectar. Nomad bees also exhibit a unique way of sleeping. They hang on to a substrate only with their mouthpart.

Nomad Bee Sleeping, photo by Christopher Jason

Nomad Bee Sleeping, photo by Christopher Jason

The mining bee is also a host for another insect, the blister beetle (Meloidae). These beetles’ first instar larvae are called triungulin, they are mobile and can be found on flowers and on adult bees such as mining bees and striped sweat bees (Agapostemon spp.). These triungulin attach to adult bees to then be carried to the bee’s nest. Many triungulin in the Pacific Northwest remain undescribed and are understudied.

Mining bee and hookedspur violet with triungulin. Photos by Christopher Jason

Mining bee and hookedspur violet with triungulin. Photos by Christopher Jason

Blood bees are high contrast and therefore easily noticeable with their black body and orange-red abdomen. The female blood bees will search for nests of sweat bees (Lasioglossum and Agapostemon) and mining bees. She then replaces the eggs in the nest with hers. Afterwards, she exits the nest and covers it as it was found. The larvae then hatch and feed within their nests.

Blood Bee on Camas, Photo by Christopher Jason

Blood Bee on Camas, Photo by Christopher Jason

 

Striped Sweat Bee on biscuitroot, photo by Christopher Jason.

Striped Sweat Bee on biscuitroot, photo by Christopher Jason.

 

Sweat Bee on false dandelion, Photo by Christopher Jason

Sweat Bee on false dandelion, Photo by Christopher Jason

This past spring, as I was looking for silvery blue butterflies, I came across a vibrant maroon colored wasp with what looked like a long tail. I took some pictures of it and learned that the ‘tail’ was actually a very long ovipositor – an organ to lay eggs – a trait that is shared with many wasps in the family Ichneumonidae. Ichneumon wasps are parasitoids, using their long ovipositors to lay eggs in or on various insects and spiders. The larvae will then feed inside or on the host’s body and eventually kill it. Despite Ichneumonidae being one of the largest families in the animal kingdom, wasps belonging in this family are relatively understudied and have a reputation of being one of the most challenging insect families to identify down to species level.

Ichneumon wasp with long ovipositor. Photo by Christopher Jason

Ichneumon wasp with long ovipositor. Photo by Christopher Jason

Possible Seatac Size Airport in South Thurston County

Possible Seatac Size Airport in South Thurston County, Post by Dennis Plank

I’d like to preface this post with the caveat that I have a personal interest in the outcome of this issue. I live on five acres a couple of miles south of the southern boundary of the proposed airport complex. We have put enormous amounts of labor and money into maintaining that five acres as prairie and turning it into extraordinary wildlife habitat. We have also put a lot of hours into restoration of the local prairies, such as Glacial Heritage, Mima Mounds and Scatter Creek. I do not want to see all that torn up and turned into another city.

Possible Seatac Size Airport in South Thurston County

There have been articles in The Daily Chronicle and The Olympian on the need for a second SeaTac size airport in Washington and the possibility of siting it in South Thurston County. The article in The Chronicle included a map indicating it’s location. I’ve approximated it’s boundaries on a couple of Google maps and indicated some features that I think relate to the environment in general and prairies in particular that would be affected by such an airport.

Map Showing Proposed Airport Location and Environmental Areas of Concern. Google Maps with annotation by Dennis Plank.

Map Showing Proposed Airport Location and Environmental Areas of Concern. Google Maps with annotation by Dennis Plank.

This map shows the specific environmental areas of concern of which I am aware within the immediate vicinity of the airport.

The estuary of McLane Creek hosts in excess of 100 Bald Eagles during the winter Chum run. Eagles and commercial aircraft do not get along well together.

The Black River Unit of the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge runs from the south end of Black Lake along the Black river for the entire length of the proposed airport area as indicated in this map of the refuge.

Map of Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National wildlife Refuge from their website.

Map of Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National wildlife Refuge from their website.

The Description of the Black River Unit according to the USFWS is:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/10/26/2016-25367/grays-harbor-national-wildlife-refuge-and-black-river-unit-of-billy-frank-jr-nisqually-national

1.2.2 Black River Unit of Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Unit is southwest of Olympia, Washington (see Map 4). The Black River is an important tributary of the Chehalis River, the second largest watershed in Washington State. The Unit boundary encompasses the northern portion of the Black River, the most intact lowland river system left in western Washington. The Unit consists of a large, complex mosaic of wetland, riparian, and some upland habitats surrounding the low-lying river. The Unit’s diverse habitats include river and tributary channels, bog, shrub swamp, riparian forest, emergent marsh, seasonally flooded nonnative grassland, dry nonnative grassland and mixed forest (see Map 5). Bog habitat is considered locally rare. Both the upper Black River and associated wetlands are some of the last remaining lowland wide floodplain systems in the Puget Sound Trough/Willamette Valley Ecoregion. The Unit contains spawning and rearing habitat and migration corridors for steelhead and cutthroat trout and Coho and Chinook salmon. At least 150 species of migratory birds, including waterfowl and neotropical songbirds, use the wetland and riparian habitats. The Olympic mud minnow, State-endemic and State species of concern, is found in the Unit. The Unit is one of only three sub-basins in Washington to support the federally threatened and Statelisted and endangered Oregon spotted frog. The complex system of wetlands within the Unit supports two major areas of frog activity, and drainages into the river support other frog activity areas. Management programs on the Unit are focused on protecting and enhancing the unique habitats for fish and wildlife, including rare or declining species, migratory birds, anadromous salmonids, amphibians, and other wildlife. Land areas within the Unit are closed to public access. The river bed is State-owned aquatic land managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). The river itself is open to the public by boat only, with boat access at one location on county land.

Not included in this description is that at the south end of the refuge, just north of Littlerock, the refuge hosts in excess of 100 elk (I’ve counted them) in the winter and they are occupying the area during the spring and summer in increasing numbers and appear to be coming into it earlier in the fall.

According to the prime contractor for the Seatac 3rd runway project, Icon Materials, the surface area of the runway and shoulders was 260,000 square yards. Therefore, three runways would cover 780,000 square yards. With taxiways, roads, parking areas, and buildings, the total impervious area would probably be in excess of 1,500,000 square yards. This cannot help but affect the hydrology of the Black River system no matter what kind of precautions are taken.

There are several preserves further south on the Black river, most of which is in one form of conservation or another all the way to the conjunction with the Chehalis.

Three of the premier prairie preserves in the South Puget Sound region lie within 5 miles south of the airport as well. Although they will theoretically not be directly impacted by the airport aside from noise and air pollution issues (note that airports still run during smog advisories and a large percentage of the fuel for a flight is burned in take-off and shortly thereafter), I believe that they would be impacted by the surrounding development that comes with a major airport.

The Port of Seattle’s Economic Impact Statement for 2017-2018 stated that there were 46.8 million passengers through Seatac in one year and over 87,000 direct employees. There were over 8,000 Hotel rooms in the area of the airport. These facts are cited because the greatest danger to the prairies in the South Sound is not the direct impact of a large airport, but the implications for development of South Thurston County. Most of this part of the county is zoned for agricultural use or 5 or 10 acre minimum residential parcels. These parcels provide some ability for exchange of genetic material and movement of species from one isolated prairie pocket to another. The building of a large airport would turn the surrounding area to commercial and industrial uses and the necessary transportation infrastructure to handle all those passengers and workers would further isolate various fragments of the remnant prairie ecosystem (see map below). The additional population pressure on the use of areas like Mima Mounds and Scatter Creek (and probably the glacial Heritage County Preserve) could not help but overburden the already strained ecosystems on those properties. The vast increase in impervious areas in south Thurston county would also inevitably impact the flows of the creeks and rivers that run through or adjacent to these properties.

A larger Scale Map showing the proposed Airport location and the roads likely to require major widening and reworking projects and likely to support large traffic volumes. This assumes that existing roads would be used as starting points, rather than building all new roads. However, certain areas would require straightening to support higher speed traffic. Those areas are primarily near rivers.

A larger Scale Map showing the proposed Airport location and the roads likely to require major widening and reworking projects and likely to support large traffic volumes. This assumes that existing roads would be used as starting points, rather than building all new roads. However, certain areas would require straightening to support higher speed traffic. Those areas are primarily near rivers.

 

Also, please take a look at the Black Hills Audubon Society article on this subject.

The most pertinent part of that article by Charlotte Persons is quoted here:

“At their meeting on June 22, the Thurston County Commissioners unanimously voted “no” to the early July deadline because of lack of information about the proposed airport. They may revisit it later if contacted by the State Commission.

However, the Port of Olympia Commissioners have not yet voted, and two of the three commissioners seem to be leaning toward a “yes” vote. At the suggestion of Port Commissioner E.J. Zita, they agreed at the June 18 Special Meeting not to vote until there are opportunities for citizen input at public meetings.

Please check the POO Commission website to weigh in on this important issue. Follow this link and click on Agendas to see when public meetings will be scheduled on this topic. However, the next regular meeting will be 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 13, and probably will be the next opportunity for your comments.

At the date of writing this article, during the Covid-19 shutdown, POO Commission meetings are on-line. Citizens must send written (emailed) testimony by 9:00 on the morning of a meeting and must sign up by the same time for live testimony. Please check to see if meetings are on-line on July 13–if not, protocol for public comments will change.”

Prairie Workdays Resume on Tuesday, July 7th

Reproduced here is the newsletter announcing the resumption of volunteer workdays with the Center for Natural Lands Management.

Please join us if you can.  The prairies are in dire need of some help after our time off.

Tuesday July 7th, 9:00am-3:00pm Glacial Heritage Preserve


Restoration Work Party:

Join us at our first volunteer restoration project of the summer! We have missed hosting our volunteer restoration projects and are glad to open our projects up to the public again. We will spend Tuesday pulling the abundant broom, focusing around a future prescribed (restoration) burn unit.
This spring has brought us the heaviest broom bloom in memory. We need your help pulling these plants before their seed ripens and disperses onto the prairie. Please join us!


Please note:

We want to keep everyone safe. Please do not come to volunteer with us if you are sick or someone in your home is sick.
Hygiene protocols are posted at our restoration sites, please take note and follow the directions to minimize unnecessary risk to everyone.
We require that all volunteers arrive to our volunteer events with facial covering and keep them on while we are gathered as a group.
We will eat lunch out on the prairie, you are welcome/encouraged to bring a personal camp chair to sit on.
Please respond to this email or email us at ssvolunteers@cnlm.org if you have any questions!

See below for directions to Glacial Heritage Preserve.

 

Saturday July 11th, 10:00am-3:00pm Glacial Heritage Preserve

Restoration Work Party

Join us in restoring Glacial Heritage Preserve. We will be removing invasive scotch broom from this beautiful fragment of prairie and enjoying the late season wildflowers. We look forward to your help!

Please note:

We want to keep everyone safe. Please do not come to volunteer with us if you are sick or someone in your home is sick.
Hygiene protocols are posted at our restoration sites, please take note and follow the directions to minimize unnecessary risk to everyone.
We require that all volunteers arrive to our volunteer events with facial covering and keep them on while we are gathered as a group.
We will eat lunch out on the prairie, you are welcome/encouraged to bring a personal camp chair to sit on.
Please respond to this email or email us at ssvolunteers@cnlm.org if you have any questions.

See below for directions to Glacial Heritage Preserve.

 

Volunteer with us, outside of regularly scheduled events

Volunteer with your family or friend group

We understand that our restoration project schedule doesn’t work for everyone. If you are interested in volunteering with a group of friends or family, at a time of your choosing, please contact us at ssvolunteers@cnlm.org.


Glacial Heritage Preserve from I-5:

  • Take exit 95 (about 10 miles south of Olympia) and head west on Maytown Rd. toward the town of Littlerock.

  • At the stop sign by Littlerock Elementary continue straight onto 128th St.

  • 128th street will ‘T’ at Mima/Waddell Creek Rd. Take a left at the ‘T’ and follow Mima Creek Rd. for about 2.7 miles.

  • You will see a small sign with a tractor on it followed by a brown sign marking Glacial Heritage Preserve.

  • At the brown sign turn left onto the unmarked gravel road and follow it through the white gate to a four way gravel intersection.

  • At the intersection turn right and follow the road up the hill, staying on the road that leads you to the left.

  • We will meet you in the parking lot.

  • Please put on a face covering before you exit your vehicle to keep everyone safe.

  • See you there!

Prairie Update, June 30, 2020

Prairie Update, June 30.  Post and photos by Dennis Plank

Dennis has been getting his knees muddy and his back sore pulling Scot’s Broom on the South Sound Prairies since 1998. In 2004, when the volunteers started managing Prairie Appreciation Day, he made the mistake of sending an email asking for “lessons learned” and got elected president of Friends of Puget Prairies-a title he appropriately renamed as “Chief Cat Herder”. He has now turned that over to Gail Trotter. Along the way, he has worked with a large number of very knowledgeable people and picked up a few things about the prairie ecosystem. He loves to photograph birds and flowers.

Prairie Update, June 30, 2020

The spring rush is over now and the rate of new species coming into bloom has slowed considerably. Mid-April to Mid-June have such a rush of activity that is seems impossible to keep up. There’s not time enough to take a ll the pictures and write something sensible about what’s happening. Suddenly, just about the official start of summer, things begin to slow down a bit, though it’s more of a shift to a different kind of activity. In addition to the new species coming into bloom, there are all the earlier species starting to set seed, creating new looks to the prairie, some of which rival in beauty the blooms themselves.

In the rush of new blooms, it’s easy to miss the seeds of the very early species, such as the Shooting Stars (though I’ve heard from the seed collecting team that they had a bad year for seed production, and indeed, I didn’t see very many of them where they are usually quite abundant). I also missed photographing the Small-flowered Wood Rush in seed, and probably many, many others.

Now the grasses are so high that most of the flowers still coming into bloom have difficulty rising high enough to be easily seen. However, there are several new ones that have been appearing lately.

First is the Showy Fleabane, Erigeron speciosus. This beauty forms clumps and blooms for quite some time. The plant that this spray came from was planted near our backyard water feature and is overcome by grasses almost every summer when I seem to run out of time to control them. Yet it comes back underneath every year and continues to enlarge itself. The purple ray flowers and yellow disc flowers make a very nice showing and it’s a great mid-season nectar source. I accidentally clipped this stem when trying to remove grasses from around it, so I took it inside to photograph where I didn’t have to deal with the wind.

Showy Fleabane, photo by Dennis Plank

Showy Fleabane, photo by Dennis Plank

Another beauty that tens to favor areas with just a bit more moisture and/or richer soil is the local Delphinium, Upland Larkspur or Nuttall’s Larkspur, Delphinium nuttallianum. While the flowers hardly have the size and range of colors of the commercial cultivars, they are still a beautiful plant. Most Larkspurs are toxic, so this is definitely not recommended as a salad garnish. One of our neighbors asked for help in identifying a flower under an old apple tree. It turned out that she had a beautiful patch of these growing there. I’m jealous, as we have none on our property.

Upland Larkspur, photo by Dennis Plank

Upland Larkspur, photo by Dennis Plank

Another recent addition to the bloom scene is Harvest Brodiaea (which I always try to spell incorrectly). The scientific name is Brodiaea coronaria and it’s also known as Crown Brodiaea. The extremely thin and rather long stems make this one difficult to photograph in any kind of wind. By sheer luck, we mowed over a small patch earlier in the season and they still bloomed but at a lower level just above the regrown grass where they weren’t subject to the wind as much. I’ve found quite a few of these buried in dense non-native grasses (we have way too much on our property) and seeming quite happy to do so. The seeds don’t seem to spread too far, so I usually seem to find it in small to medium sized groupings. In the morning, the blossoms start out closed but as the sun gets higher and it warms up the petals keep spreading until they curve back quite a ways and seem to thicken. In any state of opening, it’s a very pretty flower.

Harvest Brodiaea, photo by Dennis Plank

Harvest Brodiaea, photo by Dennis Plank

Another species that is omnipresent on the prairies currently is Self-heal or Heal-all, Prunella vulgaris. This is apparently a combination of an American subspecies and a European subspecies. Pojar and MacKinnon, in “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast” say that it is now present on all continents (perhaps excluding Antarctica?). The Self-heal label is from traditional medicines. this plant has been used to help heal wounds in cultures all over the world. It’s also a pretty and interesting looking plant and blooms for quite some time on our prairies.

Self-heal, photo by Dennis Plank

Self-heal, photo by Dennis Plank

During the last few weeks, most of the grasses have also been blooming, including the non-natives. Unfortunately, I don’t know my grasses at all well, and haven’t been able to get the pictures I’ve taken identified. However, if you look closely at grass flowers, you’ll be astounded by the beauty hidden in them. This one I know to be Roemer’s Fescue, Festuca roemeri, a native and one of the basic structural components of our prairies when they are in good condition. Please pardon the artsy presentation of this image-I was having fun with the grasses.

Fescue in bloom, photo by Dennis Plank

Fescue in bloom, photo by Dennis Plank

I mentioned above that the seeds have started forming and that I’d missed quite a few species already. I have managed to obtain images of a few.

Spring Gold, Lomatium utriculatum, is one of our earliest bloomers and one of the earliest to form seeds. I took some pictures of the seed head when it was about half developed which gives a good idea of the structure of the umbel and yesterday, I found a few late seeds (possibly sterile?) on one, so most of them have already gone to increase the population.

Spring gold in seed formation.  The foam is from a Spittle Bug (or Spit Bug), photo by Dennis Plank

Spring gold in seed formation. The foam is from a Spittle Bug (or Spit Bug), photo by Dennis Plank

 

The last few seeds left on the raceme, photo by Dennis Plank

The last few seeds left on the raceme, photo by Dennis Plank

The iconic prairie species, Camas, Camassia quamash, did not bloom very profusely this year and to my eye, it seems that the seed set was even worse than the bloom. My wife has a semi-cultivated patch that seems to have done alright, but I’m finding very little of it on the open prairie either on our property or on Glacial Heritage. We refer to these seed pods as “castanets” because in normal years as you walk through the prairie in July there’s a continual rattle of Camas seeds in their pods. This year it won’t be that way. However, these bulbs survive and prosper under a covering of Scotch Broom for years, so one bad year of seed production won’t affect the population seriously. The picture below shows the empty seed pods of one I stole from my wife’s patch.

Common Camas seed pods, photo by Dennis Plank

Common Camas seed pods, photo by Dennis Plank

Another oddity of this year’s seed production (at least it appears so to me), is that we had a super-abundant bloom of Cut-leaf Microseris, Microseris laciniata, yet I haven’t been able to find a single seed pod on our property. I went out to Glacial Heritage last Thursday to pull Scotch Broom and dig out Tansy Ragwort and I walked over an area that I knew had a great abundance of this species a couple of weeks earlier. I did find seed heads (that’s where I photographed this one), but they were no where near as abundant as the blooms had been.

Microseris seed head with half the seeds already dispersed, photo by Dennis Plank

Microseris seed head with half the seeds already dispersed, photo by Dennis Plank

Though superficially of the “dandelion” form the Microseris seed head looks considerably different from our invasive dandelion look alike, Hairy Cat’s Ear, Hypochaeris radicata.

Hairy Cat's Ear seed head.  Note the differences from the Microseris, photo by Dennis Plank

Hairy Cat’s Ear seed head. Note the differences from the Microseris, photo by Dennis Plank

For those of you who are interested in seeds and think you might want to try wild seed collection, send an email to ssvolunteers@cnlm.org and they can hook you up with the seed collection team. They’re back in business while practicing social distancing, so training might be a bit difficult, but I think they can figure it out. They’re out every Tuesday looking for seeds.

The Colors of Gold

The Colors of Gold, an essay in images.  Post and photos by Dennis Plank

Dennis has been getting his knees muddy and his back sore pulling Scot’s Broom on the South Sound Prairies since 1998. In 2004, when the volunteers started managing Prairie Appreciation Day, he made the mistake of sending an email asking for “lessons learned” and got elected president of Friends of Puget Prairies-a title he appropriately renamed as “Chief Cat Herder”. He has now turned that over to Gail Trotter. Along the way, he has worked with a large number of very knowledgeable people and picked up a few things about the prairie ecosystem. He loves to photograph birds and flowers.

The Colors of Gold

an essay in images

Goldfinches that is. To be specific, American Goldfinches to differentiate them from the Lesser and Lawrence’s Goldfinches that are also present in North America, though rarely in this area. We have had a Lesser show up once or twice. Goldfinches are an edge species. They get their sustenance from mostly open country plants (well known for liking thistle and, as the seed farm can attest, Balsamroot seeds). However they build their nests in trees and shrubs.

It seemed to me that we were getting more grayish looking female Goldfinches than normal this year, and we also have a partially leucistic male coming to our feeders. That got me to thinking about the variations in plumage I’ve seen in this species over the last 15 years of living with a woman who’s been catering to them for a long time and attracts hordes every summer. I’ve been photographing those birds since at least 2008 and it occurred to me that I probably had a reasonable record of plumage variations. That thought led to the idea for this post.

So here they are in all their glory.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

As a person who likes to think of himself as a gentleman, well give the ladies precedence here.

Female Goldfinch 1

Female Goldfinch 1

 

Female Goldfinch 2

Female Goldfinch 2

 

Female Goldfinch 3

Female Goldfinch 3

 

Female Goldfinch 4-a grayish variation from this year

Female Goldfinch 4-a grayish variation from this year

 

Female Goldfinch 5-another grayish female from this year

Female Goldfinch 5-another grayish female from this year

 

Female Goldfinch 6

Female Goldfinch 6

 

Female Goldfinch 7

Female Goldfinch 7

 

And the Males:

Male Goldfinch 1

Male Goldfinch 1

 

Male Goldfinch 2

Male Goldfinch 2

 

Male Goldfinch 3

Male Goldfinch 3

 

Male Goldfinch 4

Male Goldfinch 4

 

Male Goldfinch 5

Male Goldfinch 5

 

Male Goldfinch 6

Male Goldfinch 6

 

Male Godlfinch molting

Male Goldfinch molting

And my favorite plumages  and to my eye the only really “gold” finches, the juveniles:

Juvenile Goldfinch 1

Juvenile Goldfinch 1

 

Juvenile Goldfinch 2

Juvenile Goldfinch 2

 

Juvenile Goldfinch 3

Juvenile Goldfinch 3

 

Juvenile Goldfinch 4

Juvenile Goldfinch 4

 

To round things out here are some images showing two or more together:

Two Female Goldfinches

Two Female Goldfinches

 

Male and Female Goldfinches-courting behavior

Male and Female Goldfinches-courting behavior

 

Male and Female Goldfinches

Male and Female Goldfinches

 

Adult Male and Juvenile Goldfinches 1

Adult Male and Juvenile Goldfinches 1

 

Adult Male and Juvenile Goldfinches 2

Adult Male and Juvenile Goldfinches 2

The mob at a feeder:

Late Summer mostly Juvenile Goldfinches

Late Summer mostly Juvenile Goldfinches

 

Special Announcement: Webinar to Celebrate Pollinator Week June 22-28, 2020

Webinar to Celebrate Pollinator Week, June 22-28,  Notice from Mary Phillips and Caitlin Maraist

Mary Phillips is Senior Director, Conservation Innovation, Garden for wildlife.  Caitlin Maraist is Habitat Stewards Program Coordinator, AmeriCorps Member, National Wildlife Federation.

Please Join the Garden for Wildlife and Communities Teams in sharing how to’s and pollinator information during Pollinator Week.

Please share this webinar with your interested networks!  Thank you Dave and team for organizing this!

Saving Pollinators One Garden at a Time

Bees, butterflies and other pollinators are on the decline worldwide, but you can make a difference for them right in your own garden. Celebrate Pollinator Week and join National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski for a fun and informative talk on how to plant a beautiful garden that also helps declining pollinators. David will introduce the different kinds of pollinators, give his expert tips on how to make your own space pollinator-friendly and show you how you can get it recognized as an official “Certified Wildlife Habitat.”

Thursday, June 25 from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm, Eastern time (12:00-1:00 Pacific time)

Please register HERE.

 

 

Local Bird Update, June 7th

Local Bird Update, June 7th.  Post and photos by Dennis Plank

Dennis has been getting his knees muddy and his back sore pulling Scot’s Broom on the South Sound Prairies since 1998. In 2004, when the volunteers started managing Prairie Appreciation Day, he made the mistake of sending an email asking for “lessons learned” and got elected president of Friends of Puget Prairies-a title he appropriately renamed as “Chief Cat Herder”. He has now turned that over to Gail Trotter. Along the way, he has worked with a large number of very knowledgeable people and picked up a few things about the prairie ecosystem. He loves to photograph birds and flowers.

Local Bird Update, June 7th

It’s been quite some time since I gave the status of the birds that inhabit the prairies of the South Sound and I certainly don’t know what’s going on with all of them, but I can cover some of the more local ones that we see more or less regularly.

The pair of Western Bluebirds that nested in a box on our property fledged their first brood on May 23rd. We watched one come out and a second kept everyone in suspense until we gave up. However, they were all out the next morning. We’re not positive, but they fledged either 3 or 4 young which are now coming in with the adults, but still being fed by them. That won’t last long as the adult female has been carrying new nesting material to the box for the last three days.

A fledgling Western Bluebird from last year.  This year's haven't been as cooperative thus far.  Photo by Dennis Plank

A fledgling Western Bluebird from last year. This year’s haven’t been as cooperative thus far. Photo by Dennis Plank

Evening Grosbeaks showed up that same day in a group of about half a dozen and one pair seems to have stayed on. There are also two male Black-headed Grosbeaks coming to our feeder station and at least one female-I suspect there are two of those as well, but haven’t seen them together.

Cedar Waxwings have been popping in now and then to take a quick bath. I had one in point blank range of my camera a few days ago and then through a glitch managed to accidentally delete the files before I downloaded them.

A Cedar Waxwing in place of the one I accidentally deleted.

A Cedar Waxwing in place of the one I accidentally deleted. Photo by Dennis Plank

Earlier this spring, there was a pair of Violet-Green Swallows that had obviously claimed one of the boxes in the back yard, but weren’t ready to actually start raising a brood yet. As nearly as we can figure out, when the swallows were out foraging one afternoon a pair of Black-Capped Chickadees discovered the box and liked its looks even though it’s huge for them. For awhile it was completely confusing with both species perching on top and going in and out of the box. Eventually, the Chickadees seem to have prevailed and have raised a brood (my wife saw an adult feeding a fledgling) and are working on their second. Hopefully the swallows found another box as there were several still available.

The Chickadees have been very circupspect about approaching the nest box, so I don't have any shots of the birds approaching the box, but this is from earlier this year.  Photo by Dennis Plank.

The Chickadees have been very circupspect about approaching the nest box, so I don’t have any shots of the birds approaching the box, but this is from earlier this year. Photo by Dennis Plank.

Some of the Tree Swallows have already fledged and there’s a box in front of the house with young sticking their heads out, so it won’t be long for them. Though the books say tree swallows aren’t supposed to double clutch, most of ours appear to do so, though we don’t monitor them really closely and it is possible that it’s couples that lost their first brood.

Tree Swallow getting anxious to fledge.  It probably has another few days.  Photo by Dennis Plank.

Tree Swallow getting anxious to fledge. It probably has another few days. Photo by Dennis Plank.

Judging by the number of shell fragments on the ground, most of the Cliff Swallows in their colony on the end of our garage have hatched young some time ago and they will be starting to fledge before long. Interestingly, we have six nesting cups on the garage for them and I’d put cedar roofs over a couple of them because they seemed to like a close overhead save mud. This year we have seven pairs because one built their nest on the roof of another.

The Cliff Swallow Duplex.  Photo by Dennis Plank.

The Cliff Swallow Duplex. Photo by Dennis Plank.

 

Cliff Swallows on nest cup from last year.  Photo by Dennis Plank

Cliff Swallows on nest cup from last year. Photo by Dennis Plank

The American Goldfinches are here in force and we’ve started seeing mobs of males chasing females around, so it looks like they’ll be settling down fairly soon. They’re later to breed than most of the songbirds as they don’t feed their young on insects but Goldfinches feed theirs a strict diet of regurgitated seeds, so they have to wait until sufficient seeds are available.. We have a partially leucistic male this year and it seems like a lot of the females are more grayish than normal, though I have no idea why that would happen.

Partially leucistic male American Goldfinch.  Photo by Dennis Plank

Partially leucistic male American Goldfinch. Photo by Dennis Plank

A very gray female American Goldfinch.  Photo by Dennis Plank

A very gray female American Goldfinch. Photo by Dennis Plank

The Purple Martins are starting to nest and lay eggs. At last count, one gourd had 5 eggs, another 3 and a singleton. The Martins are rather odd in that we have six gourds, but always seem to have more than 12 adults hanging around. This morning we counted 20 and there may have been more.

I count eighteen in this image.  There are only six gourds.  Photo by Dennis Plank

I count eighteen in this image. There are only six gourds. Photo by Dennis Plank

We’ve seen young Juncos and young Savannah Sparrow for the last week or so, but I hear Savannahs singing on territory, so they’re probably working on a second brood.

Our pair of Kestrels still seems to be doing fine, with regular visits from the male to bring food to the female. It’s been going on long enough that the chicks should be hatched by now and I’m expecting both adults to be foraging for the young pretty soon.

Kestrel on box.  Taken last year.  After last year's nesting failure, I'm being very cautious with them.  Photo by Dennis Plank

Kestrel on box. Taken last year. After last year’s nesting failure, I’m being very cautious with them. Photo by Dennis Plank

Further afield, with things opening up now, I’ve been able to go out on the Glacial Heritage Preserve a couple of times to pull Scotch Broom even though formal workdays haven’t resumed yet. While out there I’ve seen a Meadowlark fledgling and heard a number of males still singing on territory. I had the privilege of hearing one male singing unusually softly and going through his entire repertoire. It was a marvelous experience. When I told my wife, who is really into Meadowlarks, about it, she said it was a kind of contact song to his females to let them know he was about (and probably that he’d protect them from that ugly two-legged monster).

I have a tough time getting near our local Meadowlarks.  This was from Northern California in February.  Photo by Dennis Plank

I have a tough time getting near our local Meadowlarks. This was from Northern California in February. Photo by Dennis Plank

Butterflies, Cows and Caterpillars: Can Cattle Grazing Help Butterflies?

Butterflies, Cows and Caterpillars: Can Cattle Grazing Help Butterflies?, Post by Samantha Bussan, Photos by Samantha Bussan and Christopher Jason.

Samantha Bussan is a PhD Candidate in Cheryl Schultz’ Conservation Biology Lab at Washington State University Vancouver. Her work is focused on conserving native species in working lands. She can be contacted with further questions at samantha.bussan@wsu.edu.

Butterflies, Cows and Caterpillars:  Can Cattle Grazing help Butterflies?

Curious cattle inspecting us in the pasture. Photo by Samantha Bussan

Curious cattle inspecting us in the pasture. Photo by Samantha Bussan

Fields full of cows are a familiar sight around the South Puget Sound. But did you know that much of what is now pasture used to be prairie? South Puget Sound prairies have suffered a dramatic decline since European settlement due to fire suppression, urbanization, and conversion to agriculture. This severe habitat loss puts many native plants and animals at risk of extinction. Some people believe that the only way to provide habitat for these plants and animals is to remove cattle grazing and restore the prairies.

However, there is research showing that cattle grazing may benefit grassland butterflies, plants, and many other groups by increasing plant community diversity and the proportion of flowering plants, and by preventing the encroachment of woody plant species which would shade out grassland plants. Much of the research on cattle grazing and butterflies has taken place in semi-natural grasslands in Europe. There is comparatively little work in the US, and most of the US-based studies have focused on Midwestern prairies.

My work aims to understand whether there is a potential for cattle grazing to contribute to prairie butterfly habitat in the South Puget Sound. I have two main projects related to cows and butterflies.

My two study species. Left: Silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) male. Photo by Samantha Bussan. Right: Ochre Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia eunomia). Photo by Christopher Jason.

My two study species. Left: Silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) male. Photo by Samantha Bussan. Right: Ochre Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia eunomia). Photo by Christopher Jason.

The first project used butterfly behavior as an index of habitat quality under different types of management. The first type was “conventional” grazing, which I defined as cows having access to the whole pasture throughout the season. The second type was “conservation” grazing, which I defined as rotational grazing, where cows are moved around to give the plant community more time to recover between grazing periods, and a spring rest period, where cows are kept off the pasture in early spring when many plants (and caterpillars) are more vulnerable to grazing. There were also two native prairie sites, Johnson Prairie on Joint Base Lewis McCord, and West Rocky Prairie which is owned by WDFW. I followed adult butterflies of two common native species (silvery blues, Glaucopsyche lygdamus; and ochre ringlets, Coenonympha tullia eunomia) to see how they behaved under the different management types. Anecdotally, I found that as long as the host plant and nectar resources that they needed were present, the butterflies seemed to use them regardless of grazing management. This tells me that there is a potential for conservation grazing to contribute to butterfly habitat in the landscape.

My second project, which I am working on this summer, is comparing adult butterfly habitat preference with larval performance. I am working on a ranch with two different grazing treatments that are similar to the conventional and conservation grazing types described above. I release butterflies along the border between treatments to see if they have a preference for one type of habitat over another. I will also place caterpillars in the treatments and compare their residence times (how many days we were able to observe them), which is a proxy for survival. I am currently about halfway through data collection for this project, so stay tuned!

While more analysis is needed before I say for sure, conservation grazing may help maintain or improve habitat for butterflies by increasing nectar and host plant availability, which butterflies seem to recognize as good habitat.

Pastures that are managed in a way that provides resources for butterflies as well as cows may have a potential to contribute to butterfly habitat in the landscape.  Left: A pasture with lots of Camas bloom.  Camas is an important nectar plant for early season butterflies.  Right: A female silvery blue butterfly lays eggs on lupine in a pasture.  Both photos by Samantha Bussan.

Pastures that are managed in a way that provides resources for butterflies as well as cows may have a potential to contribute to butterfly habitat in the landscape. Left: A pasture with lots of Camas bloom. Camas is an important nectar plant for early season butterflies. Right: A female silvery blue butterfly lays eggs on lupine in a pasture. Both photos by Samantha Bussan.

Prairie Flower Update and Special Announcement

Prairie Flower Update and Special Announcement, Post and photos by Dennis Plank

Dennis has been getting his knees muddy and his back sore pulling Scot’s Broom on the South Sound Prairies since 1998. In 2004, when the volunteers started managing Prairie Appreciation Day, he made the mistake of sending an email asking for “lessons learned” and got elected president of Friends of Puget Prairies-a title he appropriately renamed as “Chief Cat Herder”. He has now turned that over to Gail Trotter. Along the way, he has worked with a large number of very knowledgeable people and picked up a few things about the prairie ecosystem. He loves to photograph birds and flowers.

Prairie Flower Update and Special Announcement, May 29th

Another good find from Gail Trotter for those who want to make their property more wildlife friendly.

The National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward training

Are you interested in creating habitat for wildlife? Do you want to do your part to keep Thurston County wild? Now is your chance to become a Habitat Steward.

The National Wildlife Federation is offering a specialized, multi-week online workshop to teach you how to help others create and restore wildlife habitat in backyards, schoolyards, and other private and public areas. Workshop sessions will take place the first four Tuesdays in June from 6:00 – 9:00 pm via Zoom.

During this online workshop, you get to meet and interact with local conservation professionals and other similarly interested folks while participating in this engaging, fun and highly informative training! Expert speakers from the community will present on topics such as: gardening for wildlife, improving water quality, managing noxious weeds, prairie restoration, and more! 

The cost of the training is $25 to cover program materials. Note: scholarships are available! No one will be turned down due to lack of funds. To register for the training, please visit: http://thurstonhst.brownpapertickets.com or contact us at WAEducation@nwf.org or (206) 577-7816.

Prairie Flower Update

On the late spring bloom front, the star of the show has to be Oregon Sunshine, Eriophyllum lanatum, with that lovely silvery blue-green foliage and the prolific yellow daisy-like flowers. It’s just getting started now and the nice weather this week has produced a few larger patches of bloom.  For this I preferred to concentrate on the simplicity of a single bloom.

Oregon Sunshine, Photo by Dennis Plank

Oregon Sunshine, Photo by Dennis Plank

 

Another favorite yellow composite that is just barely getting started is Cutleaf Microseris, Microseris laciniata. I like this plant in its immediate pre-bloom stage almost as much as when it’s in bloom. The large buds on their long stems bend down in an elegant curve against the beautifully cut basal leaves. In bloom, they look somewhat like an over sized dandelion until you look closely and see the difference in petal structure. As of yesterday, I had only found two that had started to open and both had another couple of days to reach the fully opened condition.

Microceris Bud, Photo by Dennis Plank

Microceris Bud, Photo by Dennis Plank

 

Cut-leaf Microseris. Photo by Dennis Plank

Cut-leaf Microseris. Photo by Dennis Plank

 

Speaking of composites, though they aren’t welcome from an ecological perspective, it is very difficult to miss the Oxeye Daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare beginning to whiten the Mima Mounds or the Hairy Cat’s Ear, Hypochaeris radicata imitating dandelions all over the prairie.

The daisies seem to grow best on the mounds themselves and I have encountered them in such concentrations when trying to get at Tansy Ragwort that I’ve nearly denuded the mound to get at the weed of most concern. I have to admit that there’s a bit of love/hate relationship with this species as it is a handsome flower with attractive foliage. The other morning, after a heavy dew, the love part came to the forefront.

Dew covered Oxeye Daisy in early morning light.  Photo by Dennis Plank

Dew covered Oxeye Daisy in early morning light. Photo by Dennis Plank

 

The Hairy Cat’s Ear is also known as Flat Weed from the habit of the leaves to grow flat against the ground. It has two amazingly effective habits for proliferation. It continues to send up new bloom stalks all summer no matter how many times they’re removed and in any reasonably mild fire, the blooms seem to mature seed heads overnight without the need for external pollination. I recall a burn on Glacial heritage where that happened and the post-burn treatment couldn’t be done due to weather conditions. The whole burn became a sea of this weed until the next time it could be burned under better conditions.

Hairy Cat's Ear.  Photo by Dennis Plank

Hairy Cat’s Ear. Photo by Dennis Plank

 

Leaving the Composites, the next lupine in line, and to me the most obviously beautiful of our locals, the Prairie Lupine, Lupinus lepidus, is in full bloom. While far from the exuberantly enormous blooms of some species, I like the relatively delicate structures of the leaves and conical bloom heads and the color of the individual blooms is beautiful.

Prairie Lupine, Photo by Dennis Plank

Prairie Lupine, Photo by Dennis Plank

 

Ivy’s post “Faded Prairies Renewed” contained a flower that I had not encountered previously, and I was astounded to find it on our property where I had sown some prairie annual seeds that couldn’t be used in conservation areas. It’s the entrancingly lovely little Baby Stars, Leptosiphon minimus. Luckily these are so tiny that they’re pretty much out of the wind and it was possible to photograph them, though DSLRs aren’t really designed well for getting that low to the ground and still operating them easily.

Baby Stars.  Photo by Dennis Plank

Baby Stars. Photo by Dennis Plank

 

Sea Blush or Rosy Plectrities, Plectritis congesta, is in bloom now as well and is forming large patches in places on some of the prairies. It’s a welcome splash of a different color.

Sea Blush, Photo by Dennis Plank

Sea Blush, Photo by Dennis Plank

 

A patch of Sea blush,Photo by Dennis Plank

A patch of Sea blush,Photo by Dennis Plank

 

The last of the flowers for this week is the first Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia, of the year. Though my wife doesn’t find this flower attractive, I love it. The blue (or rarely white) bells on the very thin stems dance in the prairie breezes all summer and even into early winter. I don’t know if this one bloomed early because of the spit bug or if it was just a favored plant, but I was happy to see it regardless of why it was out. Late note:  I’m seeing more open since I wrote the draft of this post.

Harebell, Photo by Dennis Plank

Harebell, Photo by Dennis Plank

 

Shake The Dirt Off

Shake the Dirt Off, Post and Photos by Ivy Clark

Lauren ‘Ivy’ Clark studied the hybridization of Castilleja levisecta and C. hispida in restoration sites for their Masters thesis at the University of Washington before becoming a restoration technician for the Center for Natural Lands Management.

Shake Dirt Off

A broom parody of the Taylor Swift “Shake it off” pop song

By Taproot Shift, produced by IV Clark

Note:  If you wish to try singing this, here’s a link to a karaoke version of the Taylor Swift song.

I stare at my plants! Got worry in my brain!

That’s what invasives do to me, mmm hmm, the weeds that I can see, mmm hmm

Gotta kill too many weeds! But can’t do enough to please!

At least that’s what you may think, mmm hmm, that’s what you may think, mm hmmm

So I keep pulling, can’t stop, must keep killing

It’s like they’ll take over every inch in the warm Washington sun

20200512_122314(1)

Cause the broom’s gonna bloom bloom bloom bloom bloom

And the seed’s gonna spread spread spread spread spread

Baby I’m just gonna pull pull pull pull pull pull

Then shake it off, shake it off

If soil comes up with the root root root

It could still bloom bloom bloom bloom bloom bloom

Baby you just gotta shake shake shake shake shake

Shake dirt off, shake dirt off

20200505_152404

 

I never miss a weed! Can’t let em go to seed!

And it makes them all afraid of me, mmm mmm, yeah they all afraid of me, mmm mmm

I’m pulling on my own (pulling on my own), I’ll take some friends when they can go (friends come on lets go)

They can’t kill as much as me, mmm mmmm, can’t kill as much as me, mmm mmm

20200504_135715 (2)-Edit-2

 

So I keep pulling, can’t stop, must keep killing

It’s like they’ll take over every inch in the warm Washington sun

Cause the broom’s gonna bloom bloom bloom bloom bloom

And the seed’s gonna spread spread spread spread spread

Baby I’m just gonna pull pull pull pull pull pull

Then shake it off, shake it off

If soil comes up with that root root root

It could still bloom bloom bloom bloom bloom bloom

Baby you just gotta shake shake shake shake shake

Shake dirt off, shake dirt off

Shake dirt off, shake dirt off

I, I shake dirt off, shake dirt off

I, I shake dirt off, shake dirt off

I, I shake dirt off, shake dirt off

broom root with soil

Hey hey hey!

Just think when those invasive plants get the habitat down ,with their dirty dirty tricks

You could be making a difference, with these sweet tips

My weed wrench pulls more than just broom

Pulls hawthorn and holly, and even some blackberry

It kills them with such ease with some aim and then a squeeze

When you pull it on over, baby, then you shake shake shake, yeah oh

20200417_092359

Cause the broom’s gonna bloom bloom bloom bloom bloom

And the seed’s gonna spread spread spread spread spread

Baby I’m just gonna pull pull pull pull pull pull

Then shake it off, shake it off

If soil comes up with that root root root

It could still bloom bloom bloom bloom bloom bloom

Baby you just gotta shake shake shake shake shake

Shake dirt off, shake dirt off

Shake dirt off, shake dirt off

I, I shake dirt off, shake dirt off

I, I shake dirt off, shake dirt off

I, I shake dirt off, shake dirt off

Shake-it collage

 

Shake dirt off, shake dirt off

I, I shake dirt off, shake dirt off

I, I shake dirt off, shake dirt off

I, I shake dirt off, shake dirt off