Author Archive for Dennis Plank – Page 4

“We Should Do Forbs!”

“We should do forbs!”, Post and photos by Andy Hopwood

Andy Hopwood is a native seed specialist with the Center for Natural Lands Management, South Sound Conservation Nursery and a co-manager of the Native Plant Salvage Foundation’s nursery.

“We should do forbs!”

Aquilegia Formosa, Red Columbine.  Photo by Andy Hopwood

Aquilegia Formosa, Red Columbine. Photo by Andy Hopwood

Native Plant Salvage Foundation encourages gardening with native plants. In 2016 we were challenged to expand the foundation’s nursery’s focus to propagating our native woodies and broadly to, “do forbs”. Our herbaceous palette began with those few species we could find during our regular winter salvages in the woods. Finding plants in January and February is challenging so we extended our winter salvages into spring, beyond the emergence of Trillium ovatum. Don Guyot, plant rescuer and South Sound Prairie friend, helped us turn rescued Trillium into our first propagated native perennial. Start with the hard plants.

Don Guyot, Intrepid South Sound Plant Rescuer at work with Trillium ovatum.  Photo by Andy Hopwood

Don Guyot, Intrepid South Sound Plant Rescuer at work with Trillium ovatum. Photo by Andy Hopwood

Trillium is an unmistakable plant in a garden but is challenging to grow. Don suggested, since we had some years to wait for the Trillium, that we make a leap and broaden our palette to South Sound Prairie plants. What should we grow? How would they fare in gardens? Would people use them? We started growing small blocks of a few showier perennials that we thought gardeners would find interesting. Aquilegia Formosa, Columbine, is a wonderful addition to sunny spots. Erigeron speciosus, Showy Fleabane, brings a summer burst of long-lasting color. Symphyotrichum subspicatum, Douglas Aster, can be grown as a seasonal privacy screen that holds color into fall.

Erigeron speciosus, Showy Fleabane.  Photo by Andy Hopwood

Erigeron speciosus, Showy Fleabane. Photo by Andy Hopwood

In most instances, prairie plants fare well in a garden as long as they aren’t too shaded. Quite a few grow more robustly when afforded some shade and the extra moisture of a watered garden. All should be able to survive without watering. The variety of prairie species affords opportunities throughout a garden. The selection of native plants is an individual gardeners choice but one with advantages. Native plants are adapted to local conditions and serve as important food sources. Pollinators love them!

Plectritis congesta, Rosy Plectritis or Sea Blush with pollinator.  Photo by Andy Hopwood.

Plectritis congesta, Rosy Plectritis or Sea Blush with pollinator. Photo by Andy Hopwood.

What started with growing a few perennials has expanded to a collection of perennials, the use of graminoids, and the introduction of annuals. Gardens can be outlined with bunch grasses, with large statement perennials, and splashes of competing and changing annuals. If you are gardening, you should try some of our forbs.

Two of Andy's garden beds.  Photo by Andy Hopwood

Two of my garden beds. The primary plants are Gilia capitata, Blue Thimble Flower, and Sidalcea hendersonii, Henderson’s Checker Mallow Photo by Andy Hopwood

To learn more about the Native Plant Salvage Foundation and their nursery and plant sales check out their website. You can learn specifically about the nursery on their Facebook page.

 

 

Update on Potential Seatac Size Airport in South Thurston County

Update on Potential Seatac Size Airport in South Thurston County, Post by Dennis Plank

The County council turned down the idea of an airport here and the Port of Olympia specifically turned down the idea of a South Thurston County airport by a vote of 3-0 and the idea of expanding the existing airport by a vote of 2-1.  This issue looks dead for now, but these things have a way of rearing their ugly heads again and there are plenty of other development hungry folks eyeing all the “empty” space in this part of the county, so keep your eyes open.

Thanks to everyone who provided their input to the County Council and the Port Council.  Without active citizen participation, our government often does very stupid things.

Scotch Broom Ecology and Management Symposium on YouTube

Scotch Broom on the march. The road edge of an undeveloped lot, Photo by Dennis Plank

Scotch Broom on the march. The road edge of an undeveloped lot, Photo by Dennis Plank

We announced the Scotch Broom Ecology and Management Symposium a few weeks ago in this blog.  We’ve now received word that the entire session is available on Youtube.  You can go to The Washington Invasive Species Council website to connect to it.  Lots of good information on the continuing fight against this pernicious invasive.

Scotch Broom Seed Density. Photo by Dennis Plank

Scotch Broom Seed Density. Photo by 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!

Fire on the Prairies

Fire on the Prairies, Post by Kelsey King and Samantha Bussan, Photos by Rachael Bonoan, Samantha Bussan and Kelsey King

Kelsey King (kelsey.king@wsu.edu): Kelsey is a PhD student at Washington State University. For her dissertation, Kelsey is investigating the potential of resource mismatches between butterflies and nectar plants, as well as demonstrating the ways nectar resources can impact population dynamics.

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.

Fire on the Prairies

If you’ve been following the prairie appreciation blog you’ll know that we have mentioned prescribed fire a few times. This post is dedicated to talking about the why and whats of prescribed fires. In previous posts, we’ve discussed how the South Sound prairies ‘improve’ once this management technique is used. Here we’ll give you some more specific information!

The left side of the prairie was not burned in the fall, but the right side of the prairie was burned the previous year. Note the floral diversity on the right. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

The left side of the prairie was not burned in the fall, but the right side of the prairie was burned the previous year. Note the floral diversity on the right. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

In prairies across the United States we know that a combination of wildfires and intentional burning by Native Americans maintained the seas of grass, and in our region camas (Camassia sp.) that we now call prairie. For the past century or more, those that study grasslands underestimated the management of these lands by Native peoples, and recognition is still infrequent today. However, the link has long been clear for Puget Trough, South Sound, and Willamette prairies that contained the root vegetable, camas. The recognition came from the knowledge that wherever camas grew native peoples consumed, traded, and propagated this plant, which features a nutritious bulbed root, and the plant floods recently burned prairies. See this excellent blog post to learn more about camas as a food crop. 

Prairie in early spring, with many camas blooms following a fall burn, photo by Samantha Bussan

Prairie in early spring, with many camas blooms following a fall burn, photo by Samantha Bussan

If you want to encourage camas to be dominant on a prairie, you can light a flower, which clears the ground of tree seedlings, reduces shrub density, and removes thatch, or layers of dried grass, as well as typically leading to decrease in invasive species cover. The benefits of fire on the South Sound prairies can best be seen the following spring with the spring bloom of wildflowers. In addition to camas, other native flowers produce many more blooms in the areas following the burns such as the Lomatium sp. below. 

Lomatium sp blooms after a fall prescribed burn at West Rocky Prairie, photo by Samantha Bussan

Lomatium sp blooms after a fall prescribed burn at West Rocky Prairie, photo by Samantha Bussan

Today we burn in fall because this is when the fire can burn hottest, due to the plants being dry, which is thought to kill the seeds and roots of invasive plant species, which are usually not adapted to fire. Management goals for South Sound prairie prescribed fire today include killing Scotchbroom (Cytisus scoparius) plants, which has a clear tendency to exclude other native plants, and turn grasslands into monocultures of Scotchbroom. Another goal is to decrease the invasive grass cover. How can you tell without identifying grass? Many native South Sound prairie grasses are bunchgrass, which means they form hummocks or clumps and do not create lawns.

Scotch broom that was mowed and burned in the fall (picture taken in the early spring). This area was covered in Collinsia sp. blooms a few weeks later. Photo by Samantha Bussan

Scotch broom that was mowed and burned in the fall (picture taken in the early spring). This area was covered in Collinsia sp. blooms a few weeks later. Photo by Samantha Bussan

Today, those who manage lands are often interested in supporting an ecosystem that is not dominated by invasive species, recognizing that it is impossible to remove them completely, and/or supporting specific native wildlife. Promoting specific wildlife is common amongst land management today, in part due to the Endangered Species Act and other conservation laws or interests. South Sound prairies are burned in combination with other management techniques to maintain quality habitat for some of the unique butterflies such as: Puget blues, Taylor’s checkerspots, Valley silverspot, and mardon skipper. There are many species that live in these prairies and now we want to preserve them, and ensure that these ecosystems do not disappear. Learn more by checking out our other posts!

Puget Blue butterfly, photo by Kelsey King

Puget Blue butterfly, photo by Kelsey King

 

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.

South Sound Lupines

South Sound Lupines, Post by Kelsey King, Photos by Kelsey King et al.

Kelsey King (kelsey.king@wsu.edu): Kelsey is a PhD student at Washington State University. For her dissertation, Kelsey is investigating the potential of resource mismatches between butterflies and nectar plants, as well as demonstrating the ways nectar resources can impact population dynamics.

South Sound Lupines

The typical palmate leaf pattern of the Lupines, photo by Kelsey King

The typical palmate leaf pattern of the Lupines, photo by Kelsey King

 

If you have visited a South Sound prairie lately, you have probably seen blooms of purple-blue peeking over the top of grass. These flowers are probably lupine, which is a leguminous plant with distinctly palmate leaves (a leaf split into multiple lobes or fingers). There are three species of lupine most common in the South Sound prairies, with many more present throughout Washington. The biggest, and most bush like species, is sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis). This lupine is one of the most distinct species because it has prominent keels, part of the flower that is shaped like an upward pointing thorn, that stick out prominently after the flower has been visited by bees. This trait, along with the height of the flowers (up to 3 ft), will help you distinguish it from many lupines without having to dig out a field guide.

Sickle-keeled Lupine inflorescence, photo by Kelsey King

Sickle-keeled Lupine inflorescence, photo by Kelsey King

Sickle-keeled lupine is a host to many arthropods. It is a favorite of bumblebees to pollinate and a nectar source and host plant for some blue butterflies including the Silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) and the Puget blue (Icaricia icarioides blackmorei). Silvery blue caterpillars consume the flowers, while Puget blues consume the leaves, which is part of the ecological phenomenon known as resource partitioning. Resource partitioning is when multiple species use the same resource, say a lupine plant, but consume separate parts of the plant and therefore they do not compete so heavily for their food!

Sickle-keeled with silvery blue butterfly egg, photo by Kelsey King

Sickle-keeled with silvery blue butterfly egg, photo by Kelsey King

The other two lupines on the prairies are small and low to the ground, often not taller than the surrounding grass. Bicolored lupine (Lupinus bicolor) is an annual lupine that typically flowers a few weeks before our other lupines start to flower. It grows in dry areas and has sharply contrasting flower petals in white and blue/purple, which is why we call it bicolored lupine. This lupine is used by smaller bees than you might see on sickle-keeled lupine, and there are typically only a few flowers on each raceme. When the plant is not flowering you might mistake it for a plant in the carrot family until you look closer.

Bicolor Lupine, Lupinus bicolor, photo by Rachael Bonoan

Bicolor Lupine, Lupinus bicolor, photo by Rachael Bonoan

Our final lupine is an amazing plant found in areas that have been recently disturbed. Pacific lupine, prairie lupine, or dwarf lupine are all names for this lupine (Lupinus lepidus), commonly found in grasslands after rockslides, severe wildfire, or as one of the first plants on the pumice plain after the Mt. St. Helens eruption. Historically, you can imagine this plant as one of the first plants to appear after the Cascades volcanoes erupt and create new peaks valleys, and pumice plains. The unique nature of legumes as nitrogen-fixers makes them perfect facilitators. Facilitators are those species that make the place they are found more hospitable for other species. Prairie lupine does this by creating the first leaf litter as a base to the soil and fixing nitrogen, which gets released into this newly created soil. Nitrogen-fixing plants partner with bacteria to take nitrogen gas out of the air and use it to grow. This allows the plants to add nitrogen to soil that is very poor in nitrogen, which over time makes the habitat hospitable for other plants.

Lupinus lepidus, photo by Dennis Plank

Lupinus lepidus, photo by Dennis Plank

These three lupines of the South Sound prairies are pops of color on the prairie, but also important components of the ecosystem. You can find all three of these in the same prairie, but each might be abundant in different locations. The native insects often rely heavily on lupine for pollen or other resources as these lupines can sometimes stay very abundant even when there is a high invasive species component in the prairie; generally, this leads to native plants being pushed out. However, the invasive plant Scotchbroom (Cytisus scoparius) is especially harmful to lupine dominated prairies as this plant disrupts the microbial community lupines rely on and may also alter the nitrogen cycle into one that favors the non-native plants. Prescribed burns are one of the tools often used to promote lupine and native plants. Watch for new posts soon to learn more about prescribed burns and other land management!

Sickle-keeled Lupine in all its glory, photo by Kelsey King

Sickle-keeled Lupine in all its glory, photo by Kelsey King

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