The Black History of Prairies

The Black History of Prairies, Post by Ivy Clark, photos as attributed.

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.

The Black History of Prairies

Caveat: I want to first address an elephant-sized grain of salt to take while reading this. I, Lauren “Ivy” Clark, author of this post, am not Black. My skin is White to the degree that parts never seeing the sun are more like translucent. I need plenty of sunscreen on the prairies, yes. I will try to resist any urge to get on a soap box here or attempt to lecture and certainly cannot speak from experience regarding feeling the historical wound of racial discrimination. I think this information on the Black/African-American history of the prairie ecosystem is interesting and pertinent and should be shared. I am always in favor of sharing factual information because, as you may have guessed, I am a nerd.

On a whim, I decided to look into any history I could find (easily) about a connection between prairies and Black history, since February is Black History Month, and the past year has seen so much racially related news. It seemed like a good time to learn something new in that topic. I did not already know of any link between the two but it was worth a look. Now, my first search yielded information on cute critters like the black-tailed prairie dog, and black-footed ferrets. See pictures below (from Wikipedia).

Blackfooted Ferret and Black-tailed Prairie Dog, photos from Wikipedia

Blackfooted Ferret and Black-tailed Prairie Dog, photos from Wikipedia

Adorable yes; not what I was going for. I searched for any publicized Black researchers working on prairies which only led me to many graduates of a “Prairie View A&M University” which I had not heard of before but I like the name. Then I found a book titled “Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology” by Karina Vernon of the University of Scarborough as a culmination of a PhD thesis and subsequent research. That lead me to a documentary called “We Are the Roots: Black Settlers and Their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies”. Bingo! It opens with this quote: “In 2017, 19 descendants of the Black settlers from Alberta and Saskatchewan were asked to discuss their experiences of discrimination.” The story is one of creating rural farming communities cut straight from the tall grass Canadian prairies. And it goes a little something like this:

Not a photo of an Alberta prairie, but it is a northern site with prairie species, Dan Kelly Ridge near Port Angeles. Photo taken by Ivy Clark.

Not a photo of an Alberta prairie, but it is a northern site with prairie species, Dan Kelly Ridge near Port Angeles. Photo taken by Ivy Clark.

In Alberta in the early 1900s there was a call for people to come homestead the wild region, and over a thousand African Americans left Theodore Roosevelt’s America to immigrate to western Canada. Thousands of advertisements were sent to America from the Canadian government beckoning people to move to the “Last Best West” to purchase 160 acres of land for a fee of $10. Wow, don’t you wish that were still available, even after inflation? From a distance, it seems like a great time in the US though, with the Ford Model T hitting the market and Albert Einstein publishing his “Theory of Relativity”, and the Wright boys building the first powered flying contraption. Then again there was the whole Titanic tragedy and the largest industrial accident of US history killing 361 coal miners in West Virginia, then the infamous Shirtwaist Factory fire (another of the largest industrial accidents in our history, leading to changes in safety for workers). So there were ups, and there also were downs, perhaps those naturally following ‘going up’ too fast with too many unknown factors.

Flier examples of the call for Canadian settlement.  From We Are the Roots.

Flier examples of the call for Canadian settlement. From We Are the Roots.

But that zoomed-out history does not reflect the experiences of African Americans, not long emancipated after the Civil War. The societal push back against that, more so in the southern US, was harsh and accelerating; cue the Jim Crow laws. President Abraham Lincoln declared African Americans free from slavery but it wasn’t like they instantly got all the same rights as every White American. Culture and laws are not like a video game with an ‘undo’ button that changes everything. At the time, only about 20% of African Americans owned their homes compared to the roughly 50% of White Americans. During the Civil War it was North vs South with the North being in favor of African American freedom, so one could presume a general favorable view of anything “northern” for Black people. And living in the south was growing not just difficult but rapidly more dangerous, with violence and lynching on the rise. So when Canada said, [insert friendly Canadian accent] “Hey there, wanna come up here and have a home and land to expand our country, eh?”, it’s understandable a large group of African Americans packed up and moved over the northern border, leaving predominantly from many southern states.

Snapshot from documentary with actor depicting John Ware, late 19th century immigrant and rancher.  From John Ware: Reclaimed.

Snapshot from documentary with actor depicting John Ware, late 19th century immigrant and rancher. From John Ware: Reclaimed.

Not that Canada was an all-welcoming nation with nothing but big bear-hugs for all. The advertisements were not specifically targeted to African Americans, so crossing the border wasn’t always smooth; petitions against this immigration were sent around, and in 1911 the Boards of Trade convinced the Prime Minister to prohibit any further migration of such folks. That legislation didn’t last long and already a large number made it through. They were again segregated from White people, like the Jim Crow US south. This initial separation created communities of mostly Black people in western Alberta and Saskatchewan, the largest being Amber Valley with 300 Black settlers and three White immigrant families, living together without conflict. Life was rough, clearing farming land, building homes and schools with cut timber. But there were also dances and huge summer cook-outs that drew people from many miles away. Children played in the adjacent untouched native prairies with the tall waving grasses reaching above their heads. They played with rainbow-colored foxtails and walked along the railroad tracks until the heat & smell of metal was too strong in the sun, opting then to amble slower through the sweet flowers of the open prairie. Interviewees, those children grown now into elders, talked a lot of integrated communities and help from neighbors, including the White ones, and of integrating immigrants from distant nations as well. Everyone generally just wanted to get along and get by because they were all equally new in this wild and beautiful rural area.

Homestead in western Canada prairie with recently cleared farmland near a tree lined river.  From We Are the Roots.

Homestead in western Canada prairie with recently cleared farmland near a tree lined river. From We Are the Roots.

Life on a Canadian prairie would see more extremes than our milder Washington prairies. The southern pioneers had to adjust to new farming patterns due to the more severe Canadian winters, but still they thrived. Plentiful wild game in the area made up for lower farm yields. Created on very isolated lands, these communities were hewn straight from the local timber with tree branches for school bench legs. They helped build these western Canadian provinces into what they are today. Yet over time, especially during the Great Depression, the community populations declined as families moved to neighboring cities for work. But the prairies were the safe harbor against discrimination and violence.

Alberta’s rural areas left behind.  Photo from Flicker open source.

Alberta’s rural areas left behind. Photo from Flicker open source.

The early 20th century migration was not the beginning of Black people in Canadian prairies. There is documentation of Black fur traders and voyageurs since the 18th century. And today prairies have the fastest growing population of Black people in Canada.

For the classic western fans, you may be interested in a recent documentary about essentially a Black John Wayne- the famous John Ware. John Ware: Reclaimed documents a Canadian prairie icon, a Black cowboy known even among the local indigenous tribes for his horsemanship skills. He arrived in Alberta in 1882 with the first cattle drive there. Ware was a charismatic skilled rancher owning a thousand head of cattle. Even John’s wife Mildred was iconic, being the first Black woman writer on the prairies.

Photo of cowboy John Ware. From John Ware: Reclaimed.

Photo of cowboy John Ware. From John Ware: Reclaimed.

Today there of course is still racism in these regions of Canada. It’s more subtle than in the US, but the journey to equality continues much like everywhere else. The Canadian Black settlers are larger scale story of community and prairie homesteading, similar to our very local Black figure- George Bush (whose middle name was once thought to be “Washington” but found incorrect, perhaps a homage to his part in settling the state or for the president in office at the time of his birth). George and Isabella Bush arrived in the Washington Puget Sound region in 1844 with their four sons in tow and two more born after. George Bush (no relation to the president I assume) brought his and four closely connected families along the Oregon Trail in a wagon train from Missouri. George had already done fur trapping in the western regions and figured the west would be a good escape from southeastern discrimination. He thus was a very useful leader for this first non-indigenous group to settle north of the Columbia River. Originally intent on the Oregon Territory, but with discriminatory legislation having arrived first, the group turned their wagons north to what was then a territory of both the US and Great Britain. The group established Bush Prairie community, farming near present-day Tumwater, WA and building the region’s first sawmill and first gristmill. After Washington became an official US territory in 1852 and the adjoining discriminatory US laws took hold, the Bush’s weren’t legally permitted to own the land they settled. Thanks to the Bush’s friendship with the new Washington Territory Legislators, there was a unanimous vote in 1855 to allow this Black family to have official ownership of their farm of 640 or more acres. This made George the first African-American landowner of Washington State. Part of their homestead is now the Olympia Airport in Tumwater. Keep an eye out for their namesake and history and take a look at the last five acres of historic Bush Prairie Farm, protected as of 2017 by the Capitol Land Trust. The farming skills of the Bush family still show in a grand butternut tree they brought west from his farm in Missouri which is now 174 years old and probably the oldest living butternut tree in the world. It even has a good size offspring now planted at the Capitol grounds (check out this link for fun details). The Bush family was well known for their generosity, giving away some of their own food stores to new settlers, further helping build a successful community and friendship around them. Let us try to remember this founding principle as our now much larger south Puget Sound prairie community grows and overcomes new challenges, while still holding on to as much native prairie as we can.

Photo of three generations of Bush family on their Bush Prairie Farm, date unknown.  From Historylink.org.

Photo of three generations of Bush family on their Bush Prairie Farm, date unknown. From Historylink.org.

The prairie landscape doesn’t care what color you are. It is a place of huge natural biodiversity with complex interactions of many species. Every landscape and community benefits from diversity of all kinds. Take a tip from ecologists who know that is great for building a more robust resilient system. If our South Sound Prairies were ONLY camas, as lovely as those are, it would be vastly less beautiful without the yellow spring golds and buttercups, white field chickweed, pink seablushes, golden fescue inflorescence or occasional evergreen kinnikinnick patches.

Diverse beauty of prairie flowers and golden paintbrush plundered by a bumblebee.  Photo taken by Ivy Clark.

Diverse beauty of prairie flowers and golden paintbrush plundered by a bumblebee. Photo taken by Ivy Clark.

If you would like to watch the moving documentary of Canadian Black immigration for yourself, the link that follows will take you there. https://vimeo.com/257364347

Photos sourced from author, cited materials, or Flicker open source.

Sources Used:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/john-ware-documentary-black-prairie-cowboy-history-1.5732635

https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/perspectives-global-african-history/quest-land-and-freedom-canadas-western-prairies-black-oklahomans-alberta-and-saskatchew/

https://eh.net/encyclopedia/african-americans-in-the-twentieth-century/

https://www.utoronto.ca/news/black-history-month-u-t-researcher-s-work-explores-black-history-canadian-prairies

https://sos.oregon.gov/archives/exhibits/black-history/Pages/families/bush.aspx

http://www.bushprairiefarm.com/bush-farm-history.html

https://capitollandtrust.org/bush-prairie-farm-now-protected-forever/

https://www.historylink.org/File/5645

Hiding in Plain Sight, Invasive Weeds in Prairie Habitats

Hiding in Plain Sight, Invasive Weeds in Prairie Habitats, Post by Casey Risley, photos as indicated.

Casey Risley is a lover of moss, mud, rain, and all things Pacific Northwest. After leaving Washington to pursue a Master’s in Fish & Wildlife Ecology from the University of Maine, she affirmed her love of her home state and has worked in biological sciences and natural resources since 2004. She currently works for Lewis County Noxious Weed Control, focusing on outreach and education.

Hiding in Plain Sight, Invasive Weeds in Prairie Habitats

Much like the weeds we wage war upon, Lewis County Noxious Weed Control lies dormant in the winter months. We wait and we long for the warmth of spring to signal to us that it is again time to don the orange vests, work gloves, and hiking boots; and return to the outdoors to seek out and destroy the noxious weeds that threaten our wild spaces. Prairies and native grasslands are unique, not only in their beauty and their power to evoke wanderlust, but also in the challenges that they pose in invasive and noxious weed prevention, detection, and treatment.

Many exotic species are so common and widespread that we tend to think of them as belonging. We expect prairies to be full of grasses and splendid colors of wildflowers. Rarely does the eye pick out that one purple flower that does not fit in, or that one grass that doesn’t belong. Some plants, like foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), are not native, but they are widely distributed and we’re accustomed to seeing them. Their tall stalks of purple flowers complement the other wildflowers, and luckily, they are relatively benign. Other nonnatives, however, do not play as nicely.

In a prairie habitat, noxious weeds can often go unnoticed for multiple years, because of the ease with which they blend in. By the time that new populations are identified, multiple plants are well established and a healthy seed bank is already set in the soil. An established noxious weed population can take multiple years of repeated treatments for successful eradication. Sometimes, however, the population is too large, and eradication is no longer feasible. The best control measure then becomes containment, to prevent the population from spreading.

Meadow of orange hawkweed and wild carrot. Courtesy of WSNWCB

Meadow of orange hawkweed and wild carrot. Courtesy of WSNWCB

 

The good news in all this is that one way you can help out in the war against noxious weeds is to dally in the wildflowers a little longer. Not all wildflowers belong, and there are a few that are really easy to identify if you know what to look for.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) looks like an orange dandelion, but dandelions aren’t supposed to be orange! Also misidentified as Indian paintbrush because of its orange and red coloring, orange hawkweed is a Class B Noxious Weed, noted for its aggressive behavior in pastures, rangelands, and meadows. Once established, the unpalatable orange hawkweed will outcompete valuable forage for grazers.

Orange hawkweed, often overlooked and misidentified as Indian paint brush, or orange dandelion. Courtesy of WSNWCB

Orange hawkweed, often overlooked and misidentified as Indian paint brush, or orange dandelion. Courtesy of WSNWCB

 

Sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) is often misidentified as wild strawberry or even buttercup due to its pale yellow, 5 petal flowers. However, sulfur cinquefoil is a Class B noxious weed and is a strong competitor with native grasses that will form dense monocultures. It has a high tannin content, making it unpalatable to grazing wildlife and livestock. The leaves are distinct, in that they are palmate, rough and hairy, with toothed margins. The leaves will often be folded up toward the stem, rather than lying flat.

Figure 3a

Figure 3a

Figures 3a & 3b. Sulfur cinquefoil has a simple, creamy yellow, 5 petal flower with hairy palmate leaves that fold up toward the stem.  This noxious weed species is often mistaken as a wild strawberry, or buttercup. Courtesy of WSNWCB

Figures 3a & 3b. Sulfur cinquefoil has a simple, creamy yellow, 5 petal flower with hairy palmate leaves that fold up toward the stem. This noxious weed species is often mistaken as a wild strawberry, or buttercup. Courtesy of WSNWCB

 

There are no native snapdragons in the Pacific Northwest. Should you spot yellow snapdragons in a prairie, grassland, or field you’ve most likely stumbled across Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica ssp. Dalmatica) or yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), both Class B noxious weeds in Washington. The toadflax species are a little happier growing east of the Cascades, but they are known to occur on the west side as well, and they are difficult to control once established. The characteristic snapdragon flower is the most identifiable feature of this weed. As with the other noxious weeds mentioned, the toadflaxes will form dense monocultures, diminishing available forage in prairies and grasslands.

Figure 4a, Dalmatian Toadflax

Figure 4a, Dalmatian Toadflax

Figures 4a & 4b. No snapdragon species are native to the PNW. Dalmatian toadflax and Yellow toadflax are both noxious weeds in Washington State. Courtesy of WSNWCB

Figures 4a & 4b. No snapdragon species are native to the PNW. Dalmatian toadflax and Yellow toadflax are both noxious weeds in Washington State. Courtesy of WSNWCB

 

False brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) is a Class A noxious weed in Washington and is one of the more difficult species to identify in the field because it look like a “grass”. False brome is not yet widely documented in Washington State, but because of its cryptic appearance, there is significant threat of this invasive becoming wide spread. It is a perennial, loosely tufted looking grass with upright stems. Soft long hairs are present and noticeable on the leaves. The flowers will droop or nod in a characteristic manner. Plants often have a distinctive lime-green coloration that persists much of the year.

Figure 5a, False Brome

Figure 5a, False Brome

Figures 5a &5b. False brome is more difficult to identify. Note the soft and long hairs on the stem and leaf, and the general droopy appearance of the grass species. Courtesy of WSNWCB

Figures 5a &5b. False brome is more difficult to identify. Note the soft and long hairs on the stem and leaf, and the general droopy appearance of the grass species. Courtesy of WSNWCB

 

Of course, there are many more potential noxious weed invaders that you might encounter while on your adventure. Our office has had some positive experience using the iNaturalist app for help in making identifications. All County Noxious Weed Boards/Districts are also happy to assist in weed identification. Our offices can, and often do, ID live or dried specimens, however, high quality photographs are our preference. We would rather not have native or endemic plants damaged or removed by accident.

iNaturalist

Figure 6. iNaturalist app for help in identifying weed species in the field

 

If you’ve positively identified a noxious or invasive species (plant, insect, or any other invasive) you can contact your County Noxious Weed Control Board, or you can report the sighting directly to Washington Invasive Species Council using their free WA Invasives app, and the information will be routed to the appropriate governmental agency.

Figure 7. WA Invasives app enables the user to report sightings of invasive species in Washington State.

 

How these noxious weed species are transported is also of concern. As ecotourism increases in the Pacific Northwest, invasive species are being transported at increasingly high rates by hikers, boaters, birders, bikers, campers, and even weed control crews themselves. Seeds of invasive plants species are easily spread by being trapped in the treads of boots, loosely attached to clothing, or caught in your four legged companion’s fur. Brush your boots, clothing, and pup’s fur free of any seeds BEFORE as well as AFTER each outdoor activity to keep the seeds from being moved from one outdoor space to another. Recreational gear such as bike tire treads, boat propellers and trailers, tents, and kayaks should also be inspected and cleaned of any debris before and after each use. Firewood should be sourced locally. Hay and grass feed for horses should be certified weed free. Washington State and County offices are partners in the Play.Clean.Go. Campaign, whose mission is to promote advocacy, awareness, and partnership with environmentalists and recreationalists to prevent the spread of invasive species.

Figure 8. Weed seed can hitch a ride in boot treads or on your pup’s fur.  Be sure to clean your boots, clothing, gear, and pup’s fur BEFORE as well as AFTER recreating to prevent spreading invasive species. Courtesy of Play.Clean.Go.

Figure 8. Weed seed can hitch a ride in boot treads or on your pup’s fur. Be sure to clean your boots, clothing, gear, and pup’s fur BEFORE as well as AFTER recreating to prevent spreading invasive species. Courtesy of Play.Clean.Go.

 

For more information about noxious weeds in Washington State, please visit Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board at https://www.nwcb.wa.gov/

Lewis County Noxious Weed Control can be contacted via https://lewiscountywa.gov/departments/weed-control/

Washington Invasive Species Council and to download the WA Invasives app https://invasivespecies.wa.gov/

To learn more about the Play.Clean.Go. Campaign or to join as a partner, visit https://www.playcleango.org/help-stop-invasive-species-with-playcleango

 

 

Puget Sound Prairie Soils

Puget Sound Prairie Soils, Post by Elizabeth Carp and images as noted.

Lizzie Carp moved to the northwest to work as a wildland firefighter, but after working in two communities devastated by heavy metal soil contamination due to mining, she decided to earn a master’s degree in soil remediation. She now works as a soil scientist for USDA-NRCS, where she is currently mapping the soils of Olympic National Park.

Puget Sound Prairie Soils

The Puget Sound prairies are a unique ecosystem supported by unique soils. Droughty and nutrient-poor, these soils provide a leaner existence for plants than prairie soils in other parts of the country, but that is in part what gives them their unique ecology. This post will describe the origins of these soils and why they matter.

The formation of Puget Sound prairie soils began about 15,000 years ago with the retreat of the Vashon ice sheet, a massive glacier that formed the Puget Trough and terminated in southern Thurston County, Washington. As the glacier melted, it left scattered deposits of sand and water-rounded gravel throughout Puget Sound. Since then, this glacial outwash has weathered to form today’s prairie soils.

A recently formed outwash plain. (http://geologylearn.blogspot.com/2015/07/continental-glacier-deposition.html)

A recently formed outwash plain. (http://geologylearn.blogspot.com/2015/07/continental-glacier-deposition.html)

Five factors influence how a soil develops and behaves: parent material, climate, organisms, relief, and time. Parent material is the geologic origin of the material that weathers into soil. Glacial outwash is a parent material that consists of larger, heavier mineral particles, like sand and gravel, that were deposited by the torrent of meltwater, which carried off the lighter silt and clay. This coarse texture gives Puget Sound prairie soils their low water- and nutrient-holding capacity.

Spanaway, a Puget Sound prairie soil that formed in outwash. Note the water-rounded gravel. Photo by Dan Ufnar, NRCS.

Spanaway, a Puget Sound prairie soil that formed in outwash. Note the water-rounded gravel. Photo by Dan Ufnar, NRCS.

Climate influences what can grow in the soil, the rate of microbial processes like decomposition, and the mineral content of soils. Western Washington’s prolific rainfall washes away nutrients and minerals that balance pH, creating acidic and nutrient-poor prairie soils.

Organisms add, alter, and move materials in the soil. Microbes decompose organic matter and weather minerals. On the Puget Sound prairies, humans historically used controlled burns, which added charcoal to the soil, to maintain grassland cover, such as camas, and prevent forest encroachment. Due to their abundance of fine roots, grasses contribute large quantities of organic matter to the upper parts of prairie soils, giving them characteristically thick, dark surface layers. Roots host fungi that exude a sticky substance called glomalin, which strengthens soil aggregates, improving aeration and water infiltration.

Roots add organic matter and improve soil structure. (https://gardenerspath.com/how-to/composting/benefits-soil-inoculants/)

Roots add organic matter and improve soil structure. (https://gardenerspath.com/how-to/composting/benefits-soil-inoculants/)

Relief, or topography, is the physical shape of the landscape: its slope, aspect, and tendency to collect or shed water and sediment. Soils on warmer and drier south-facing slopes support different vegetation than those on north-facing slopes, which tend to have more moisture. Soils that form on convex, erosive surfaces, such as the shoulder of a hill, are shallower than soils at the bottom of a slope, where they accumulate thicker surface layers. Soils tend to be drier on sloping or convex surfaces, which shed water. Spana, a Puget Sound prairie soil found in swales and depressions, is somewhat poorly drained while Spanaway, a geographically associated soil found on flat or convex surfaces, is somewhat excessively drained.

A topographic map shows the location of different soils. (https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-topography.html)

A topographic map shows the location of different soils. (https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-topography.html)

Finally, soils need time to develop. Older soils function differently than younger ones. With time, soils undergo significant weathering by organisms and rain. Soils acidify, and their original minerals dissolve to form red clays. Leaching carries dissolved substances downward, creating discernible layers called horizons. Young soils, which may have been deposited relatively recently by a river or a glacier, contain the original minerals of their parent material and show little horizon development. At only about 15,000 years in age, Puget Sound prairie soils are considered young soils.

Left: A well-developed soil (Alfisol) with layers of clay and calcium carbonate accumulation (A.R. Aandahl, Soils of the Great Plains: Land Use, Crops and Grasses, University of Nebraska Press, 1982; https://www.uidaho.edu/cals/soil-orders/alfisols#gallery-cbc9288e-2c8a-4900-b81e-210206d4522c--slideshow) Right: A soil that formed in recent outwash in Alaska. (http://web.unbc.ca/~sanborn/Photo_Galleries/Yukon/Stewart-neosol-(nr-Mayo-YT)(L).jpg)

Left: A well-developed soil (Alfisol) with layers of clay and calcium carbonate accumulation (A.R. Aandahl, Soils of the Great Plains: Land Use, Crops and Grasses, University of Nebraska Press, 1982; https://www.uidaho.edu/cals/soil-orders/alfisols#gallery-cbc9288e-2c8a-4900-b81e-210206d4522c–slideshow)
Right: A soil that formed in recent outwash in Alaska. (http://web.unbc.ca/~sanborn/Photo_Galleries/Yukon/Stewart-neosol-(nr-Mayo-YT)(L).jpg)

The five soil-forming factors are a useful tool for understanding soil development, but there is still a soil mystery on the Puget Sound prairies: the mima mounds. These mounds have a thick, dark, less rocky surface and sit atop very gravelly soil. From these observations, scientists have come to different conclusions on how the mounds formed, including from earthquakes, shrink-swell action, or windblown soil. The first theory has been debunked, as recent earthquakes have not been observed to form similar mounds. More recent studies claim that the mounds formed over centuries as gophers built homes above the rocky surface or as plants depleted water and nutrients from the inter-mound spaces, leading to accumulations of soil—the mounds.

Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. (Frank Zack/Shutterstock; https://www.treehugger.com/uncovering-the-mysterious-origins-of-the-mima-mounds-4867783)

Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. (Frank Zack/Shutterstock; https://www.treehugger.com/uncovering-the-mysterious-origins-of-the-mima-mounds-4867783)

Understanding soil is essential for understanding prairie ecology. Relationships between native plants and soils can be specific. Native plants may specialize by nutrient or moisture levels in soil, sometimes because they can live in adverse conditions, like droughtiness or low soil fertility, where others cannot.

If you would like to learn more about soils for prairie restoration, you can see which ones are mapped at your location using NRCS’s Web Soil Survey and SoilWeb. With these tools you can explore soils’ uses, limitations, and intrinsic properties that determine what kind of vegetation they can support. You can also learn how to recognize different soils in the field based on their profile description and where they occur on the landscape. When in doubt, you can always contact a soil scientist!

Web Soil Survey: https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/WebSoilSurvey.aspx

SoilWeb: https://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/gmap/

Seedlings to See Now (Well, After the Snow Melts)

Editor’s Note:  I was supposed to get this posted yesterday.  Now you’ll have to wait for the snow to go away or do some digging.  At least the snow will protect the young seedlings from the very cold nights predicted the next few days.

Seedlings to See Now, 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.

Seedlings to See Now

Doesn’t it feel like lately every spring starts trickling in too early, with plants peeking up through the soil well before you think they should? We have had a warmer January than usual this year. I am already seeing a lot of spring early-blooming species growing vigorously and we are not in spring yet.

So now that we are starting to stare at the ground, and feeling a bit obsessive about it (if you’re like me), first- stretch your neck & check out the clouds for a minute. Second- let’s refresh on a little plant anatomy so we can identify what seedlings and other young sprouts are emerging right now. That way, you can tell which plants are ‘friends’ and which are ‘foes’ while it is easy to clear away some foes to give extra room to the friends. Give the enemy no quarter. We’re going to focus on dicotyledonous plants (those with two “seed leaves”) aka- broad leaf plants as opposed to monocots (grasses, sedges, lilies, etc). It’s only because monocot seedlings are hard to ID with the naked eye.

1- seedling anatomy

To know what seedlings we see pushing up through the soil we may need to refresh ourselves on seedling anatomy. Step 1 in germination is for the seed to absorb water so the embryo inside can start growing. That’s the wee little tiny baby plant that was dormant and waiting for a cue to awaken. That cue can be temperature change or just getting enough water to cross the seed coat to rehydrate the embryo tissues. Smaller seeds generally also need light to germinate because their smaller embryos won’t make it through a significant (dark) depth of soil before they run out of stored energy. A big seed like an avocado pit can grow 1-2 feet long before needing light for photosynthesis.

As the seed germinates, aka- makes a seedling, you will likely see two prominent parts- first the cotyledons and later some small true leaves, both on the young stem called first a hypocotyl (supporting the cotyledons) and then the epicotyl above the cotyledons that supports the true leaves. Cotyledons are very simple-structured “seed leaves”, having made up the major part of the seed. They are food storage for a tiny new shoot tip and the first root of the plant (the radicle) which are tucked between the cotyledons before germination. I think of cotyledons as the packed lunch provided by the momma-plant for its baby, and the bigger the lunch the bigger the seed thus the further it can grow before needing to make its own food via photosynthesis. Though cotyledons don’t give many clues to the identity of the plant, they do narrow it down a bit. It’s like seeing only a person’s feet and legs. Flowers are the face; the most useful in identifying a plant just like with people. But you can still get info from someone’s legs. Some are more athletic, longer or shorter, tanned or very pale. A professional hockey player will have different legs from a bikini model. Big thick cotyledons won’t be on an annual plant that makes many small seeds like a Collinsia but they would be present on a big perennial lupine.

The large fleshy simple cotyledons of a lupine seedling distinct among lush moss.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

The large fleshy simple cotyledons of a lupine seedling distinct among lush moss. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Then of course the small true leaves will give us even more information about what species or at least genus the plant is because they will be the shape of the regular lower leaves you will see on that plant. Knowing all these clues, now we can start identifying some seedlings on the prairie. Location is of course the final clue since you probably won’t find non-invasive horticulture plants on a natural prairie. So a “wild lupine” (L. perennis) will probably not have jumped from the east coast to our western prairies, leaving one likely candidate for a big lupine-looking seedling we see there.

Speaking of lupines, Lupinus albicaulis is already popping up around their big remnant momma plants. They are probably our biggest seeds of the Washington prairie plants, looking like pea-sized pebbles. Below are two at progressively advanced growth showing the palmately divided leaf as it gets bigger.

Big young seedlings of sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis), with hairy cat ears around them. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Big young seedlings of sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis), with hairy cat ears around them. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Other native seedlings popping up right now, and quite early we may add, include biscuitroot, buttercups, larkspur, pink seablush, bluebell, blue-eyed Marys, and (drumroll please!……) lady tresses! I only spotted the lady tresses seedling while looking closely at another species because it was so very small and looked at first like a less interesting non-native plantain. I was definitely talking excitedly to myself and our cutesy prairie orchid baby for several minutes. You know…like we crazy botanists do.

Western buttercup seedling (Ranunculus occidentalis) Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Western buttercup seedling (Ranunculus occidentalis) Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Weed vs wildflower, can you spot the difference?  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Weed vs wildflower, can you spot the difference? Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

The spikey trichomes (hairs) of the leaves on the top seedling give it away as the invasive hairy and very prevalent false dandelion/hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata), which I feel is misnamed because it looks more like a cat’s tongue. Don’t you think? Below to the right is what appears to be a native blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia spp.), an annual that is indicative of a prairie with enough disturbance like low-intensity fires to keep open ground for them to germinate and reseed. They have very round cotyledons with more elliptical first leaves which are similar to a young Hypochaeris but so very much less hairy and have more of a tapered tip from a fat middle of the leaf and a distinct short middle vein indentation. You can’t tell the difference yet between the species of Collinsia, grandiflora versus parviflora.

Another mix of native blue-eyed Marys (middle and lower right, I think) and an invasive ox-eyed daisy to far left and hairy cat’s ear to upper right.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Another mix of native blue-eyed Marys (middle and lower right, I think) and an invasive ox-eyed daisy to far left and hairy cat’s ear to upper right. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Perfect example of how much blue-eyed Mary associates with open ground, as a bunch of seedlings coming up at the cleared entrance of a small animal den.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Perfect example of how much blue-eyed Mary associates with open ground, as a bunch of seedlings coming up at the cleared entrance of a small animal den. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Not really a seedling any more, but a young Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). Note the narrowly elliptic leaves with velvety white hairs, no cotyledons anymore. Don’t be fooled by small plants in clumps as these are older growing up from rhizomes.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Not really a seedling any more, but a young Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). Note the narrowly elliptic leaves with velvety white hairs, no cotyledons anymore. Don’t be fooled by small plants in clumps as these are older growing up from rhizomes. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Pink seablush (Plectritus congesta), not pink but a bright green on delicate thin boxy-round leaves with clear web veination, clearly smaller than the moss’s long sporophyte (the diploid stage of those plants).  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Pink seablush (Plectritus congesta), not pink but a bright green on delicate thin boxy-round leaves with clear web veination, clearly smaller than the moss’s long sporophyte (the diploid stage of those plants). Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

The biscuitroots were the first new growth I noticed this year, being so feathery and bright. They are typically one of the first plants to grow and bloom but this year is a bit accelerated. They were popping up in the middle of January. JANUARY! Kids these days…. Slow down.

Four seedlings of biscuitroot/spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum).  See the non-lobed cotyledons?  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Four seedlings of biscuitroot/spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum). See the non-lobed cotyledons? Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Larger seedling without cotyledons or possibly regrowth on a young rhizome. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Larger seedling without cotyledons or possibly regrowth on a young rhizome. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Distinct fluffy tufts of regrowing biscuitroot seen all over right now.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Distinct fluffy tufts of regrowing biscuitroot seen all over right now. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Super early blooming biscuitroot.  Spring gold?  More like “late winter gold”.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Super early blooming biscuitroot. Spring gold? More like “late winter gold”. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Upland larkspur (Delphinium nuttallii) seedling or young adult.  Cotyledons are generally linear & simple. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Upland larkspur (Delphinium nuttallii) seedling or young adult. Cotyledons are generally linear & simple. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Another more red-edged larkspur with hairs visible along edges as well.  Young Luzula comosa to the right as well, like a long-haired grass but more closely related to sedges. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Another more red-edged larkspur with hairs visible along edges as well. Young Luzula comosa to the right as well, like a long-haired grass but more closely related to sedges. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Young, possible seedling, of a bluebell/harebell (Campanula rotundifolia).  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Young, possible seedling, of a bluebell/harebell (Campanula rotundifolia). Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Some older bluebells flanking a young seedling of hooded lady’s tresses (Sprinanthes romanzoffiana)*. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Some older bluebells flanking a young seedling of hooded lady’s tresses (Sprinanthes romanzoffiana)*. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

This is likely an adult regrowing from its stubby finger-like bulb, but is still a lovely young hooded lady’s tresses. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

This is likely an adult regrowing from its stubby finger-like bulb, but is still a lovely young hooded lady’s tresses. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

*I’m pretty sure that is what these plants are, but it is very hard to find any photos of the young leaves. It’s a bit shallow of plant photographers to only snap the sexy flower photos, if you ask me. So if anyone knows better, let me know. But from my long digging this is our local orchid Spiranthes. Notably they look most like the classic nursery orchids before the inflorescence stalk develops, then the leaves look more grass-like, which is what you see in all the photos available online. Changing that! These are the only monocots on the prairie with fat leaves ending in very bluntly rounded tips and with perfectly parallel linear veins along with what I think of as an alligator color pattern. They are very different from chocolate lilies or shooting stars or the more riparian fawn lilies.

The densely shiny hairy regrowth of a paintbrush (Castilleja spp.).  Until they start blooming, you can’t tell which species (C. hispida or C. levisecta).  Note the small bluebell and larkspur at bottom.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

The densely shiny hairy regrowth of a paintbrush (Castilleja spp.). Until they start blooming, you can’t tell which species (C. hispida or C. levisecta). Note the small bluebell and larkspur at bottom. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Plenty of other plants are regrowing for spring now, like violets, yarrow, strawberries, saxifrage, and self-heal, plus vetches, ox-eye daisy and the various clovers not native to the prairie. But we’re focusing on the baby seedlings and I haven’t seen any of those natives as new germinants. Plenty of species germinate in fall as well, which is a common drought adaptation of going dormant in dry summer months then germinating and developing a good root system in fall and mild winter months to get a jump on spring growth later.

Strawberry’s common alternate form of reproduction which can create large patches of clones- stolon growth, shown as the long thin differently adapted stem connecting the top and bottom strawberry plants.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Strawberry’s common alternate form of reproduction which can create large patches of clones- stolon growth, shown as the long thin differently adapted stem connecting the top and bottom strawberry plants. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Now that you know what natives to look for in the next few weeks, keep an eye out for these non-native seedlings as well. The sooner you can pluck the interlopers from where you don’t want them, the easier it is to make sure they won’t regrow. Invasive seedlings will also likely be at a more advanced growth stage, with plenty adults of perennials having not really gone dormant during our mild winter which we are technically still in. Can someone tell these seedlings that? They think it is April.

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) with very identifiable leaf shape.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) with very identifiable leaf shape. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Sheep sorrel has probably the most easily distinguishable leaves on our prairie, looking like a fancy spear head though the cotyledons lack the basal lobes, so these may be from older roots instead of seedlings.

 

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius). Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius). Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Long young Scotchbroom, probably germinated in the fall and is making a run for bloom-status through our mild winter. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Long young Scotchbroom, probably germinated in the fall and is making a run for bloom-status through our mild winter. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Prairies Can Have Resolutions: And Won’t Break Them

Resolutions: a note from the editor

Now that it’s Groundhog Day and all those resolutions we made have been blissfully ignored into oblivion, maybe it’s time to sit back and look at what went wrong and make some new ones that we can actually achieve. Our regular contributor, Ivy Clark has some great ideas. And maybe we can all resolve to get out and help the planet a little more-whether it’s the prairies or the waters or the forests.

Prairies Can Have Resolutions: And Won’t Break Them, Self-help lessons from the prairie,  Post and images 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.

Prairies Can Have Resolutions, and Won’t Break Them:

Self-help lessons from the prairie

Yes…we’re using that January buzz word in the prairie blog, like pumpkin spice in October. And it may seem too unpredictable and scary in the world outside the gentle rolling mounds of winter-golden prairies right now, but I promise to make it fun & maybe even helpful to YOU if you keep going. Here’s a pretty sunset to remind us the world keeps turning on its axis and the sun will rise again with a new day’s hope and possibilities; or something else from a greeting card.

Recent lovely cloud streaked sunset over Glacial Heritage with smoke from neighbor’s burn pile, not ours. Photo by Ivy Clark

Recent lovely cloud streaked sunset over Glacial Heritage with smoke from neighbor’s burn pile, not ours. Photo by Ivy Clark

In restoration, we always have a goal- a determination- for our prairie sites, usually set at specific times like the start of a new grant or acquiring a new site. Probably more than the average person, we work very hard to keep these “resolutions” for our prairies; the resolution to shed those pesky extra pounds of invasive species, and gain a new six-pack of native ones.

Since you probably have already slacked or even failed on a resolution, if you took part in the custom this year, I have some helpful tips about them to go along how we do them on the prairie. You may have heard before- it’s important to set attainable goals. According to Forbs.com, about 80% of people’s New Years’ resolutions have already failed by February. So maybe our own six-pack abs should be a goal for later years. Make the baby-step goal of a healthier diet, then some added cardio activity once a week, then an attainable reduction in pounds. You get the idea. If you aim too lofty you are likely not only to fail, but also feel terrible and give up entirely, even slip back further from your goals. Our hearts are delicate organs when set on anything. Don’t set them up for failure right at the start. You won’t see us deciding to eradicate every SINGLE non-native plant from a site all in one year, while also keeping the native species- entirely unrealistic. That’s not how we roll…

A furry volunteer-greeter, dubbed “Loppers” by me.  Hitchin’ a ride to work!  Photo by Ivy Clark.

A furry volunteer-greeter, dubbed “Loppers” by me. Hitchin’ a ride to work! Photo by Ivy Clark.

There is also an inverted bell curve in our motivation, which affects a resolution’s success. In the beginning, we are pumped! Our aspirations are sky high, we make a plan, and then jump in! Then the novelty wears off and it feels like work but without any visible gain yet and after the first few all-out efforts, our motivation quickly sounds like a slow trombone slide- fizzles out. If you manage to stick with it, the closer you get to the goal the higher your motivation will climb again. But it’s that valley between that kills most resolutions. Call it “motivation death valley”? It’s actually called the “middle dip of motivation”, but that seems less imaginative. And it can happen fast when we set too high a goal. The cliché personal resolution is fitness and that’s often tackled at a gym (in other years obviously). We can see the results of this motivation death directly through gym memberships, or maybe for this year online workouts enrollment. We see it year after year go up early January then drop dramatically heading into February. One month! That tells me the membership was from a too distant a goal set by a lot of people. But whether it is a goal to get in shape, save more money, volunteer more, get a raise, build a tree house, or learn to cook more than just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (I’m looking at you sis…) the trick to successfully navigating “motivation death valley” is to not make it so extreme; set the end within reach by setting a series of smaller goals on a longer timeline. We won’t get rid of ALL the weeds on the prairies, but we can pull every visible Scotch broom within a certain unit of set acreage. Then next year, pull the neighboring unit. This taps into what’s called the “progress principle” where the perception of some forward momentum will itself give motivation. I’m sure that’s a law of motion too. It will become self-perpetuating if you can make some early progress. If only we could get abs one at a time… right? Similarly, in prairie ecology, initial achievements will lay the foundation for the end goal/ecosystem, such as clearing the trees from an area to open up new sunny land for prairie plants to expand to and that will support butterflies for the end goal of reintroducing our endangered butterflies. You definitely can’t just toss them in a forest edge and expect establishment. Shudder to think!

Cleared overgrown Douglas fir field at Cavness Ranch to expand prairie.  Photo by Ivy Clark.

Cleared overgrown Douglas fir field at Cavness Ranch to expand prairie. Photo by Ivy Clark.

Just like a personal resolution, our prairie goals require a lot more work in figuring out how to achieve them than to pick which one to aim for. We can’t expect 10 more native species to show up on a site without doing anything to make it happen. This is where we set ourselves up for success, the “how”. We figure out where to get the seed from, what’s obtainable in the numbers we need for establishment, and how likely to succeed they’ll be with all the other conditions there. We figure out the many details of a budget, worker hours, timing, etc. And then we get to work and assess progress as we go.

Once you have attainable goals, and planned hard, you can keep motivated and probably won’t fail. That’s good, because failure will come with consequences, even if only as mild as feeling a little bummed and then forgetting about it. Luckily we have a lot more motivation to avoid failing than the average champagne-infused New Year’s Eve aspirational planner, and more risk. It’s like there’s a twisty rope bridge across the “motivation death valley”. It may be scary and very difficult, but we WILL get to the end. Of course life in the field is unpredictable and big things happen like major droughts, sudden budget cuts from economic shifts, or say… pandemics. But those are set-backs, not total stops. Like when your personal trainer understands you can’t do the usual work-out with a broken leg, but you can do some upper body strengthening.

Seems some underground hungry critter found a plug staged for planting overnight.  Plant it anyways!  Photo by Ivy Clark.

Seems some underground hungry critter found a plug staged for planting overnight. Plant it anyways! Photo by Ivy Clark.

If we are all wise, we put buffers into our resolutions, both personal and for prairies. Add a few weeks of wiggle room for finishing some steps because the one thing you can rely on is unpredictability. And it’s all the better to finish early. If all goes well, then we wake up one morning with that savings account already at the set goal amount, or the four pack abs you were going for turns out to be a six pack. Can you get an eight pack, or is six the max? I’m a botanist, not a kinesiologist. Anyway, there is one special distinction that separates the personal resolution path from the prairie resolution path, and that’s the fact that us restoration workers will probably never give up even if we have a big set-back. That’s just not a viable option. We care too much and know there is so much at stake and the scope of effects reaches far beyond the area we can see or touch, probably even imagine. You don’t go into ecology work for the six-pack abs (why is that the example at the forefront of my mind??); aka- a single goal. We have an emotional commitment that most people would lack for mere resolutions. Sorry, but the prairie is bigger than your New Years’ resolution. It’s the special magnetism of such a complex interwoven world that also needs help and has so many interesting organisms in it. We’re suckers for the butterflies, the bees, and the balsamroots. That’s our rope bridge.

Here are some Prairie Resolutions I know we’re working on.

  • Keep Scotch broom weed from blooming & setting seed on any sites that have it
    • Clear more acreage of it entirely and prevent from establishing where it isn’t already
  • Decrease percentage of cover of other non-native plants
  • Increase percentage of cover and number of native plant species
  • Reintroduce endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies (as caterpillars) onto select high quality site(s).
    • Give them immense love and care, talk sweetly to their delicate little furry selves
  • Save more native seed in the “seed bank” for sowing on receptive fields (mainly- post prescribed burns)
  • Open up more acreage to expand prairie habitat by cutting down/girdling Douglas firs at edges
    • Open up sun access for baby Garry oaks
  • Plant more native plugs in future checkerspot release areas
  • Study how cattle can help reduce agriculture weeds, and improve Oregon spotted frog habitat
  • Increase habitat for bluebirds, and Vesper sparrows, and osprey, etc.
  • Get more bats in the prairie nights
  • Burn more acreage to improve and maintain high quality prairie
  • Drink a beer after a hard day’s work & toast to the diverse majesty of the prairies
    • Pour a little out for our lost friends.
The boss working along Dan Kelly Ridge by Port Angeles, making room for more colonizing Taylors checkerspots, working under what would become a DOUBLE rainbow.  Can you spot him?  “Where’s Wal-ders” ;) Photo by Ivy Clark.

The boss working along Dan Kelly Ridge by Port Angeles, making room for more colonizing Taylors checkerspots, working under what would become a DOUBLE rainbow. Can you spot him? “Where’s Wal-ders” 😉 Photo by Ivy Clark.

I hope you feel more inspired to tackle any resolutions you may have, knowing that the prairies are working hard toward their goals with a whole lot of motivation. One last tip: try to think of all the other people your goal will be beneficial to like how widely beneficial prairies are. If you need to save up money for your children’s college fund (not just to reach a number for “future stuff”), then you are more likely to succeed. From us among the mounds, we’re ‘rooting for you’.

Sorry, I’ll leaf you bee…

Fun in the Field – Memories of the Christmas Bird Count

Fun in the Field – Memories of the Christmas Bird Count, post by Mary O’Neil, photos as attributed.

Mary was born an Oregonian, but adopted Washington as her home state in her early 20’s. She lived most of her life in the Puget Sound/Seattle area relocating to Grays Harbor in 2005 when she retired from her career as a Ship Agent. After retirement she took a part time job with the Lake Quinault Lodge as an Interpretive Program Worker leading guided walks in the woods pointing out the birds, animals and plants of the Pacific Northwest Rainforest.

Mary was inspired to take up Bird Watching by her sisters, all 3 of which are avid Bird Watchers. She studied with the Rainier Chapter of Audubon of Washington and continues to expand her horizons with private study through Cornell University and its Ebird extension as well as Bird Canada’s study programs.

Mary has worked with Dan Varland of Coastal Raptors doing Beach Surveys for raptors like Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles. Prior to moving to Grays Harbor, she had assisted in the monthly Kent Ponds Survey which was conducted to prove to the City of Kent, Washington, that the little area surrounding these ponds was vital for the preservation of wild life, particularly birds and water fowl. It was there she enjoyed the very rare sighting of the Baikal Teal and rare to Western Washington Yellow Breasted Chat. Mary has worked with the Shorebird Festival over the last 15 years assisting in guiding various tours. Mary currently serves on the Board of the Grays Harbor Audubon Society. She is active in the Habitat Committee and is the current Field Trip Coordinator.

FUN in the FIELD

Memories of the Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count got its start at the beginning of the last century, but I didn’t get involved until the beginning of the 21st Century. In the fall of 2001, I took a bird identification class through the Rainier Chapter of the Audubon Society (in South King County). Our teacher kept us involved with field trips and bird surveys over the next couple of months. She invited us to join her on the Christmas Bird count although she let us know this was very serious and not normally open to beginners. A number of us tagged along behind her as she methodically counted her territory – the DesMoines, Normandy Park area of South Seattle. I remember we took a break around 2 pm at her friend’s place off of S. 200th and DesMoines Memorial Drive. While some were sipping tea and relaxing, others of us walked a side street where we were very much entertained by a flock of drunken robins. It was fairly easy to count the robins as they would feed on the fermented berries until they would litterally fall out of the tree and flounder on the ground until their stupor wore off enough to return to the tree to continue feasting. The festive mood got a little intense when a Sharp-Shinned Hawk moved in to watch the drunken brawl as well. Our teacher was trying to get us to move along and was a bit reluctant to check out a bird I spotted which looked quite different to me. Finally at my insistence, she set her scope and zeroed in on the Townsend Warbler. It was my first, and she ended up being very delighted to add it to her CBC list.

Townsend's Warbler, photo by Tammy Mandeville.  This is her first Townsend's Warbler and was photographed very recently at the retention ponds in Lacey, WA.

Townsend’s Warbler, photo by Tammy Mandeville. This is her first Townsend’s Warbler and was photographed very recently at the retention ponds in Lacey, WA.

 

After moving to Grays Harbor, I eagerly signed up with the GHAS chapter of Audubon and have participated in their CBC ever since with minor exceptions. One year I helped with a group that covered the Westport area of the Grays Harbor Circle. We parked at roads end near the (now) Shop’n Kart Grocery. One in our group who was far more physically fit than myself and another older gentlemen offered to scout along the edge of the marshland. Meanwhile we were to check out the side streets and park area. It was a biting cold day and few birds were showing themselves. The older gentleman and myself settled in the van waiting for the third person to return. While in the van, I pointed out a distant leafless tree – Big Leaf Maple, perhaps. At the top I could see some birds flitting about. At the time, my optics were very poor and I could make out no details on these distant blips. I tried pointing them out the fellow with whom I was sharing the van. Once he caught sight of them, he said: Common Redpolls. I said, “No. We are too far away for you to be able to say what kind of birds those are.” “Common Redpolls” he said again. “You can tell by the way they are behaving.” Finally he sacrificed the security of the van to brave the icy weather. He set up his scope and, sure enough, Common Redpolls. This was my first and only time I have ever seen Common Redpolls. When the third person in our party returned, he was very cold but very excited about finding one of the rarest birds of that CBC, a Harris Sparrow.

The rag-tag crew is me and my sisters and a nephew:  l to r:  Tanner Pinkal, Rita Schlageter, Mary O'Neil, Margaret Beitel and Cecilia Pinkal at Ocean Shores

The rag-tag crew is me and my sisters and a nephew: l to r: Tanner Pinkal, Rita Schlageter, Mary O’Neil, Margaret Beitel and Cecilia Pinkal at Ocean Shores

 

I think the point I am trying to make is: Even if you do not consider yourself and Ace Birder, your ‘third eye’ is going to be a valuable contribution to the group effort. Beginner, Tag Along or Master Birder – it’s calling attention to that brief flick of motion that creates a scientific record dating back 120 years now. I’ll miss the compilation party this year but hope to make up for it in years to come.

Doug Whitlock

Doug Whitlock

Doug the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

Doug the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

I just received news that Doug Whitlock, one of our staunchest volunteers and a good friend, passed away last night.  He’d been fighting pneumonia for some time and was in the hospital.   It’s unclear whether there was any involvement from Covid.  As it happened, I was out on Glacial Heritage this morning and the Meadowlarks were singing like crazy.  I hope they were welcoming him to the happy hunting grounds (though he quit hunting many years ago).

I’ll post a follow-up when I know more.

Beautiful Moments on the Prairie: Renewed Life from Seeds

Beautiful Moments on the Prairie: Renewed Life from Seeds.  Post and Photos by Meredith Rafferty

Meredith is a photographer who marvels at the world around us, night and day. Her happiest moments are connecting with nature and capturing special moments to share with others. She volunteers with the Center for Natural Lands Management and the Nisqually Land Trust, and is past President of the Olympia Camera Club. She delights in the wonders of the Pacific Northwest, from prairies to mountains, rivers to Puget Sound, morning sunrises to magical night skies. You are welcome to explore with her on Instagram.com/ImageConnections.

Beautiful Moments on the Prairie: Renewed Life from Seeds

Volunteering on the South Puget Sound Prairies is always an adventure. I’ve enjoyed every outing for its discovery and learning. I started with Scotch broom pulling, a straight-forward task, and discovered a larger world of complex prairie restoration.

While out on the prairie, I was of course first attracted to the blooming wildflowers. But there was much, much more to the story of the prairies. My next discovery came inside at the “volunteer house” at Glacial Heritage. Walking in, I found volunteers seated at tables, very engrossed, heads down, with bright lights focused on small piles of debris in front of them. I heard murmurs of “doe-hee” which I thought might be a common name for a plant liked by deer. And “viper” brought up images of a snakelike shape. On the tables were small manila envelopes marked with “SCS” (hmmm, was that Second Class Sorting?}.

The volunteers emptied the contents into round brass tins with screening across the bottoms. They shook the tins and then I could see the seeds falling through, leaving behind much of the bits of leaves, seed pods and such. Many of the seeds were tiny. Placed on a white plate to heighten their visibility, they were further separated from the chaff using hand tools into small piles of very clean, single seeds.

Volunteer Don Guyot, whose hands you see in these photos, was one of the best at the intricate work of coaxing small seeds away from the plant debris. This hand work is reserved for small amounts of collected seed. Larger amounts from the seed farm are processed mechanically as much as possible. Sometimes the seed pods needed to be broken apart to release the seed. In the left photo, Don used a hunk of board to grind the pods and encourage the seed to fall through the tin’s screen. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

Volunteer Don Guyot, whose hands you see in these photos, was one of the best at the intricate work of coaxing small seeds away from the plant debris. This hand work is reserved for small amounts of collected seed. Larger amounts from the seed farm are processed mechanically as much as possible. Sometimes the seed pods needed to be broken apart to release the seed. In the left photo, Don used a hunk of board to grind the pods and encourage the seed to fall through the tin’s screen. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

 

It turned out that “doe-hee” was actually the acronym DOHE which stood for the early Spring wildflower, Dodecatheon hendersonii. And VIPR stood for the yellow-flowered Viola praemorsa. Their seeds had been collected on the prairies at SCS which was the property, Scatter Creek South. Indeed, wildflower seeds are collected at a dozen different conservation sites across the South Puget Sound prairies and the manila envelopes were marked with their locations. The four-letter plant acronyms have now expanded to six letters. Acronyms are formed from the plant’s Latin name, using the first three letters of each part of the name. Accurate identification and labeling are critical to maintaining the genetics, inventory, and production of hundreds of different native plants.

Dodecatheon hendersonii is the unique Shooting Star of Springtime. It presents a photography challenge to get down at eye level to capture its downward pointed shape. The seed pods will form as shown in the right photo (hey, there’s a surprise occupant in the bottom seedpod!) The ripe seeds usually shake right out but are tiny and must be carefully contained. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

Dodecatheon hendersonii is the unique Shooting Star of Springtime. It presents a photography challenge to get down at eye level to capture its downward pointed shape. The seed pods will form as shown in the right photo (hey, there’s a surprise occupant in the bottom seedpod!) The ripe seeds usually shake right out but are tiny and must be carefully contained. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

 

The fuzzy leaves of Viola praemorsa become apparent when viewed closely. The yellow flower will yield a seedpod to be picked when it is ripe. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

The fuzzy leaves of Viola praemorsa become apparent when viewed closely. The yellow flower will yield a seedpod to be picked when it is ripe. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

 

In those earlier days of my first visit, much of the wildflower seed collected from the areas were cleaned by hand. Volunteer Gail Trotter still regularly contributes her experience to help out. But now CNLM staff member Forrest Edelman applies mechanized tools along with hand labor, to produce piles of clean, single seeds. He cleans not only the wild-collected seed but also the quantities produced by the Violet Prairie Seed Farm in the Tenino area.

Forrest Edelman readies a collection of Sericocarpus rigidis, also known as Aster curtus. It is a challenge to separate the seed from its fluffy part (I’m sure there’s a technical name for the fluff). Mechanical extraction works. Other seeds require other machinery. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

Forrest Edelman readies a collection of Sericocarpus rigidis, also known as Aster curtus. It is a challenge to separate the seed from its fluffy part (I’m sure there’s a technical name for the fluff). Mechanical extraction works. Other seeds require other machinery. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

 

Seriocarpus rigidus Seedhead MRafferty reduced

Seriocarpus rigidus seedhead, Poto by Meredith Rafferty

Ultimately, all this preparation of the seeds brings us to the next critical phase of restoration: planting which includes its site preparation. Some types of seeds will be sown directly at their conservation or farm sites; others will be planted in “plugs” in a nursery setting and later transplanted.

Starting seeds in “plugs” enables closer management of their growing conditions and easier transporting to their final destinations. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

Starting seeds in “plugs” enables closer management of their growing conditions and easier transporting to their final destinations. Photos by Meredith Rafferty

 

Pictured are the seed cleaning and nursery operations at CNLM’s Shotwell’s Landing site. Spring brings a burst of life in its beds beside the Black River. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Pictured are the seed cleaning and nursery operations at CNLM’s Shotwell’s Landing site. Spring brings a burst of life in its beds beside the Black River. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

 

The moment of truth will be when the plants start popping up, reaching for the sun, on their way to be part of the prairie ecosystem. But there is more to the journey before planting. Indeed, in the next blog, let’s go to the wildflower seed collection. It turned out to be an interesting and far-ranging process.

Intrepid Inspectors

Intrepid Inspectors, Post and Photos by Keith Muggoch

Howdy everyone, I am Keith Muggoch and I have lived in Washington all my life, with my beginning years growing up in Olympia. Early on I spent as much time as I was able outside. In high school I started hiking and climbing around the Cascades and Olympics and became quite keen on the experiences I had in the mountains. I also enjoyed being on the water around lower Puget Sound. I moved to Leavenworth in the 70s and concentrated on rock climbing for several years, becoming a carpenter to feed my habit. After a time the physical toll my activities took on my body made me rethink my direction a bit. So I went to school and achieved a degree in civil engineering, using my head instead of my body. After graduating WSU 1993 I took a job with Ferry County Public Works working all over the county and living a bit west of Malo. The country thereabouts is very beautiful, a mix of Cascade and Rocky Mountain bio-zones. I spent my off hours hiking about and took up paddling again on the Columbia and Kettle Rivers and enjoying canoeing in the San Juans while on vacation. I left my job in Ferry County and came to work for Lewis County Public Works in 2007, though I kept my house in Ferry County and still spend considerable time there. Since being back on this side of the crest I spend a lot of time paddling about all over between the Columbia and Clay0quot Sound. I still get into the mountains on a hike now and then, as Rainier is so close as are the Olympics. As I am now retired I have decided to give back to the community and help out here at the Chehalis River Basin Land Trust. I love paddling on the Chehalis so it is a real joy helping preserve it. So there is a bit about me, hope to see you at the members meeting on the 16th or maybe even on the water.

Intrepid Inspectors

I am Keith Muggoch and am happy to be a part of a team of folks that monitor thousands of acres in the Chehalis river basin. The Chehalis River Basin Land Trust (CRBLT) are stewards to approximately 4500 acres of land in the Chehalis River Basin.

Lazy Afternoon on the Chehalis, photo by Keith Muggoch

Lazy Afternoon on the Chehalis, photo by Keith Muggoch

This basin is a unique, and for western Washington, a relatively undiscovered and undeveloped landscape. Our stewardship consists of conservation, protection and restoration of the lands under our care. About half of the lands we visit are owned by CRBLT and about half are conservation easements. In order to help manage these properties we monitor them by visiting them once a year and it is a delightful experience. The parcels vary in size and character and each has its own potential, and problems. We set out about twenty times a year on our goings-over. We go afoot mostly but with some kayak/canoe trips too, whichever suits the site’s accessibility.

Intrepid Inspectors on the Wiskah, photo by Keith Muggoch

Intrepid Inspectors on the Wiskah, photo by Keith Muggoch

For most sites a typical visit is hiking through the parcel to determine how the land has changed during the previous year. Our parcels consist of riparian, wetland, prairie and forest environments. Some are easily accessible and others not so much, which is why we take to our boats for some of the parcels. When we evaluate a property we look for; littering, dumping and destruction of vegetation. We have noted anything from illegal docks to the odd couch to the more mundane beer cans and not so mundane cedar piracy. Also we note the invasive species, English Ivy, Scots Broom and Reed Canary Grass come to mind. There are also meandering rivers and occasional erosion problems. These visits are all documented with written reports and are documented on a tablet with photos and GPS; we also fly a drone over some of the parcels, allowing us to view lands not accessible by foot or water. Over time we form a record for each parcel and that gives the CRBLT an excellent overview of the properties.

Green Heron, left and Kingfisher, right, photos by Keith Muggoch

Green Heron, left and Kingfisher, right, photos by Keith Muggoch

With this information we can determine what course of action we believe we should pursue with each property. Much of the property we review is older second growth and is in excellent shape, and so is left to mother nature to manage on her own. We have also looked at a parcel and determined that human intervention has been too intrusive. An old logging railway on the Hoquiam River comes to mind, in this instance a railway embankment cut a brackish slough in two. We were able to procure a grant that will allow us to reunite the two pieces of this slough into one as well as remove several culverts along the railway embankment. So we are able to restore salmon habitat as a result of our intrepid inspectors’ efforts, along with many others help.

Wetlands Near Hoquiam River, photo by Keith Muggoch

Wetlands Near Hoquiam River, photo by Keith Muggoch

We also are able to get a handle on invasive species before they get well established, it’s so cool to be able to remove an ivy patch before it starts strangling the trees and smothering the understory. All of this is very rewarding, but most rewarding is being able to visit these properties knowing that they will be there next year without worrying about whether they will be appreciably changed from this point forward.

Greater Yellowlegs, photo by Keith Muggoch

Greater Yellowlegs, photo by Keith Muggoch

Look us up on Facebook or the web at www.chehalislandtrust.org to get a closer look at how we are helping the beautiful Chehalis River overcome some of the wrongs of the past. Get in touch with us if you would like to become more familiar with this treasure hidden within within our midst.

On the Chehalis River, photo by Keith Muggoch

On the Chehalis River, photo by Keith Muggoch

 

Otters on the Chehalis, photo by Keith Muggoch

Otters on the Chehalis, photo by Keith Muggoch

 

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, 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.

September Sunrise on Glacial Heritage.

September Sunrise on Glacial Heritage.

This year with so many things seeming to go wrong (and a few right) it seemed like a good time to go back to the simple things.

I am thankful:

For Meadowlarks singing, Harriers dancing and Kestrels hovering;

For frost on bracken ferns and dew on spiderwebs;

For the first tiny bloom of Spring Gold and the first Shooting Star.

Shooting Star

Shooting Star

I am Thankful

For a prairie sunrise on a perfect May morning;

For a herd of elk grazing in the distance;

For a Savannah Sparrow tsee-tsee-tseeing in the grass tops.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

I am Thankful

For the first rain of fall and a sunny Prairie Appreciation Day;

For winter oaks blooming with mosses and lichen;

For spring woodlands blooming with Lilies and Trilliums

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Small Flowered Trillium

I am Thankful

For a rainy spring day of pulling Scotch Broom;

For a sunny day in July digging out Tansy Ragwort;

For a crisp November day planting prairie flowers;

Planting Forbs for Butterflies

Planting Forbs for Butterflies

I am Thankful most of all

For each and every one of the hundreds of people

working so hard to restore and preserve

this wonderful ecosystem we call prairies.

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