Beautiful Moments on the Prairie

Beautiful Moments on the Prairie, 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

Four years ago in April, it was my first day as a volunteer with the Center for Natural Lands Management which leads volunteers for Glacial Heritage Preserve and several other prairie properties. A retiree, I felt I was game to spend the day on the South Puget Sound Prairies pulling scotch broom. I was a novice as far as prairies go but had picked up some knowledge of plants and certainly had experience with digging and hauling from a lifetime of gardens and yards. Besides, I knew that volunteers are the very best group of people to be around and looked forward to learning from them.

I did carry one tool unique to me that day, a camera. For me, every outdoor experience is an adventure of discovery. I view the task at hand as a contribution to the flow of life around me. My reward is to look beyond the task and see a special moment and capture it in an image to share with others. It could be a beautiful scene, a special creature, an intricate bit of life, connecting us to the greater world. There is always wonder and surprise. What would I find this day?

The surprise wasn’t the stubborn scotch broom. Many of you reading this blog know it well. A lover of open spaces and sun, scotch broom moved in and overtook many areas in the South Sound prairies. I remember as a kid when roadsides were planted with this drought tolerant, tough plant to help address soil erosion and provide green landscaping. My childhood home was next door to acres of it. The bounty of yellow blossoms turned into seed pods that twisted and popped the seeds; the sound could be heard like a sort of popcorn across the fields on a hot day. What I didn’t know then was the seeds were carried far beyond and lived up to 50 years in the soil, waiting for the opportunity to sprout. This means that pulling broom is a never-ending task of stewardship.

Volunteers set off for a day’s work, “weed wrenches” in hand. This is Deschutes River Preserve, a protected property of CNLM under restoration near Tenino. It is part of a network of preserved prairie lands that includes the familiar Glacial Heritage. A perk of volunteering is to be able to visit many of these scenic sites. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Volunteers set off for a day’s work, “weed wrenches” in hand. This is Deschutes River Preserve, a protected property of CNLM under restoration near Tenino. It is part of a network of preserved prairie lands that includes the familiar Glacial Heritage. A perk of volunteering is to be able to visit many of these scenic sites. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

But what would be the surprise this day? It was a silkmoth, clinging to the grasses! Apparently newly emerged, it didn’t move much as I struggled to line up my camera about a foot off the ground. Cameras are little computers and this one was new to me so there was fumbling with its menus and buttons. Plus, I was learning that many of my photos would require me to sit, if not lay, on the ground to get level with my intriguing subject. People have often been alarmed to find me spread out in the grasses, unmoving. I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more alarmed they are!

The silkmoth (it is spelled as one word) is mostly nocturnal and does not eat during its short adult life. Photo by Meredith Rafferty.

The silkmoth (it is spelled as one word) is mostly nocturnal and does not eat during its short adult life. Photo by Meredith Rafferty.

 

While I’m down on the ground, I encounter other special residents of the prairie. This is the Silvery Blue butterfly, a mere inch wide in wing span but its bright blue color during flight makes it larger than life. Butterflies are important pollinators of the wildflowers. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

While I’m down on the ground, I encounter other special residents of the prairie. This is the Silvery Blue butterfly, a mere inch wide in wing span but its bright blue color during flight makes it larger than life. Butterflies are important pollinators of the wildflowers. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

 

Look closely for the white spider on the prairie’s iconic wildflower, Camas. Instead of weaving a web, this spider relies on a surprise capture of an insect. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Look closely for the white spider on the prairie’s iconic wildflower, Camas. Instead of weaving a web, this spider relies on a surprise capture of an insect. Photo by Meredith Rafferty.

 

An interesting find will bring a break in the work and a few minutes of sharing (pre-Covid era). The find this time was Broomrape, a plant that draws nourishment from the roots of other plants. At a whopping two inches tall, it requires a low-down view by a photographer.  Photos by Meredith Rafferty.

An interesting find will bring a break in the work and a few minutes of sharing (pre-Covid era). The find this time was Broomrape, a plant that draws nourishment from the roots of other plants. At a whopping two inches tall, it requires a low-down view by a photographer. Photos by Meredith Rafferty.

 

As we worked and talked, I began to see the broom-pulling as part of a much bigger restoration cycle.

There is the clearing and the planting. There is also the collection of seed from native plants growing in the prairies. Cultivated at Violet Prairie seed farm and nursery, the collected seed yields more seed and young seedlings in quantities, which will cycle back to rejuvenated areas and give them a boost.

Intrigued, I wanted to learn more. In future blogs, I’d like to share more of the restoration and life of South Puget Sound Prairies as a volunteer with a camera.

 

A classic view of Glacial Heritage Preserve. No scotch broom in sight, thanks to the years of diligence by volunteers and organizations.  Photo by Meredith Rafferty.

A classic view of Glacial Heritage Preserve. No scotch broom in sight, thanks to the years of diligence by volunteers and organizations. Photo by Meredith Rafferty.

 

Ecostudies Institute Broadens Its Conservation Capacity and Vision

Ecostudies Institute Broadens Its Conservation Capacity and Vision, Post by Gary Slater, images by staff of Ecostudies Institute or as attributed.

Gary founded Ecostudies Institute in 2001 and has worked to identify situations where Ecostudies’ knowledge, experience, and skills can be most effective towards advancing the conservation of birds, other wildlife, and their habitats. In 2020, he returned full time to Ecostudies as part of a transition team broadening the vision and conservation capacity of the organization. Gary has nearly 30 years of experience in nonprofit administration, conservation, and avian research, including work in the Pacific Northwest, south Florida, Venezuela, and the Bahamas. Most recently, his work has focused on conserving imperiled birds in prairie-oak habitats. 

Ecostudies Institute Broadens Its Conservation Capacity and Vision

In the last few weeks, Ecostudies Institute has undergone quite the transformation as a group of conservation scientists and practitioners in the South Sound Prairie community have joined the organization. This group, former employees of the Center for Natural Lands Management, is excited about embarking on a new course and using their skills and expertise to achieve tangible conservation outcomes.

Ecostudies Institute has a long conservation history in the Pacific Northwest. It was established in 2001 as a 501(c)(3) scientific non-profit organization in Washington State with a mission focused on conserving birds and other wildlife and the habitats they rely on in both Washington and Florida. For nearly two decades, Ecostudies has accomplished its mission through a combination of restoration, science, and outreach.

Pine Rockland, Florida. Photo by Ecostudies Institute

Pine Rockland, Florida. Photo by Ecostudies Institute

During its history, Ecostudies has built a strong foundation of conservation work. Ecostudies has coordinated and successfully completed large-scale projects for The National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and collaborated with numerous non-profit and academic institutions and private organizations. In Florida, Ecostudies worked on a number of projects in the Everglades ecosystem, including reintroducing two extirpated cavity-nesting birds, the brown-headed nuthatch and Eastern bluebird, to Everglades National Park. This Florida activity ultimately contributed to work here in the Pacific Northwest, where reintroduction efforts for the Western bluebird in North Puget Sound and Vancouver Island were modeled after those successful efforts.

Brown-headed Nuthatch, Photo by Ecostudies Institute

Brown-headed Nuthatch, Photo by Ecostudies Institute

 

Western Bluebird Release on San Juan Island, photo by Ecostudies Institute

Western Bluebird Release on San Juan Island, photo by Ecostudies Institute

With the recent arrival of new staff and expertise Ecostudies is broadening its capacity and vision. Based in Olympia, Washington, we now focus our efforts solely in the Pacific Northwest, where we will bring over 60 years of combined conservation experience to a region we are continuously fascinated and inspired by. One area where we expect to make a significant and immediate conservation impact is on the prairies and oak woodlands of Cascadia, especially here in the South Sound region where we are based.

Glacial Heritage panorama taken from

Glacial Heritage panorama taken from

 

Although we are still getting our feet under us after a period of inactivity, Ecostudies has already begun helping Joint Base Lewis McChord Military Base (JBLM) through a cooperative agreement. Under this agreement, we will assist our partners at JBLM in restoring, managing, and monitoring their prairie resources through a diverse array of activities, including prescribed ecological burning.

One of the fundamental approaches that Ecostudies will employ to achieve conservation goals is cooperative conservation. This model strives to realize improved conservation outcomes by developing shared goals and vision through partnerships, which, in turn, encourages information transfer, advances in cutting edge restoration techniques, and the development of integrated range-wide conservation approaches. Ecostudies will now coordinate the Cascadia Prairie-Oak Partnership, a community of people and organizations that are involved in prairie-oak conservation and species recovery efforts in western Cascadia.

In the coming months, we look forward to sharing more information about our conservation activities on our web page and social media; such as our new work with two federally listed butterfly species, the island marble and Taylor’s checkerspot.

We hope you check back with us and we look forward to seeing you out on the prairies!

Aiding the Bluebirds

Aiding the Bluebirds.  Post by Michelle Blanchard, photos by Dennis Plank

Michelle had been a volunteer on the south sound prairies since the late 1990’s when she was riding her horse on Glacial Heritage and Dan Grosboll stopped her to tell her it was a nature preserve and horses weren’t welcome.  Rather than get up in arms about it, she asked how she could help and she’s been doing it ever since.

Aiding the Bluebirds

I’d been volunteering at Glacial Heritage for a couple years when I
was asked to help install nest boxes for Western Bluebirds.

We’d been trying to encourage bluebirds to nest on Glacial for a few
years. Dave Clouse and Sam Agnew were banding bluebirds by the dozens
at Ft. Lewis, and we were hoping that we’d get the overflow.

I spent an afternoon with two other folks, nailing bluebird boxes to
the oaks on the edge of Glacial’s riparian zone. I was frustrated.
Being a biologist, a birder and a licensed birdbander, I knew that
bluebirds, like most cavity dwelling birds, preferred a box that was
facing east or south, to catch the morning sun. But, as I was just a
‘helper’, with no say in where the boxes would go, the boxes were
placed facing west. I am sorry to say that, in the years after that I
spent monitoring those boxes, the only things I found nesting in them
was yellow-jackets and, once, a house wren. Not a single one hosted
bluebirds.

Later on, many more boxes were erected out in the middle of the
prairie, all facing south or east, and not only did we get bluebirds,
but also violet-green and tree swallows. Now the bluebirds on Glacial
Heritage are well established and have been raising broods for several
years.

I wanted bluebirds on my property, as well, so I put up several boxes
around my house. I went for several years without bluebirds and then
one day in 2008…jubilation! A pair of bluebirds were shopping boxes
and chose the box closest to my front window. They found it just right
in which to raise a family. In fact, they raised two.

I spent many hours watching the family dynamics. I learned that the
adults will feed the babies as long as there is a smidgen of daylight
left. At sundown, the female would enter the box for the night, and
the male would sit atop it until it was full dark. On several
occasions, I heard him ‘sing’ to the family. Bluebirds don’t really
have a song. They say “pew”. When the male sang, it was a soft, sweet
chain of ‘pews’, telling the family that all was well and he’d been
coming in a moment.

The summer went past, as it is wont these days, far too fast. I had
thought that, once the babies had fledged, that they’d leave. But no!
They seemed content to stay. I didn’t see them as often, but it wasn’t
uncommon at all to see them, hovering over the grass, plummeting onto
their prey like miniature blue kestrels. Late in the summer, I’d see
the juveniles practicing skills they’d need as adults. They’d check
out all the nest boxes, entering this one, perching atop that one,
even carrying grasses into a box.

Then came fall, with its rains, and then winter. 2008’s winter was a
brutal one. We had very cold weather and early in December, it began
to snow. It snowed virtually every day (with one or two days with just
a light dusting) for about three weeks. As snow does, it got deeper
and deeper. We made trails through it to get to the garage, the truck,
the bird feeders.

My home is in a ‘micro-climate’. I learned years earlier that most of
W. Washington was considered zone 8 for gardening. I was a failure at
raising vegetables until I tried growing as if it were Zone7…and
that did the trick. Even so, our weather here is one of extremes. If
the temperature in Olympia is 50°, guaranteed it’s only 40° in
Littlerock. We get higher temps in the summer, colder ones in winter,
heavier fog, more and longer lasting rain, higher wind, and more snow
than anyone else in Thurston County.

I grew up in Michigan so I am more than familiar with snow. I am not
ashamed to say I hate it. Yes, it rains a lot here, but I don’t have
to shovel it. I love living in Western Washington, because if we do
get snow, it’s not often and it’s not much. Except in months like
December 2008, when the snow demons felt particularly energetic and
decide to dump everything they had on my house.

I am not exaggerating that, after three days of  particularly heavy
snow with winds pushing it into drifts, the snow was up to my thighs.
I’d given up trying to keep my truck shoveled out. I was resigned to
being snowbound. I was well prepared for it. It was just snow. Until
the snow demons decided it wasn’t ugly enough. One day, they kicked
the daytime temperature just high enough for the snow to change to
rain.

Of course, it was rain for just a couple hours, then the demons
dropped the temperature again.

The next day, the rain had frozen into a thick sheet of ice atop the
snow. The feeder birds-juncos and chickadees-were skating about on the
surface. They’d done okay with just snow, but the ice locked ground
feeding birds out of their normal winter fare. It was the only time in
my life that I saw 7 Western Meadowlarks, (birds that normally migrate
south when the temperatures drop to below freezing) underneath my
hanging feeders, eating bird feed.

The ice was thick enough that I could slide my filled buckets of bird
feed on the ice without them breaking through.

My bluebirds were in trouble. Unlike many birds, bluebirds like their
food alive and kicking. They eat only insects. They don’t eat bird
feed.

They were fluttering around my house and garage, trying to find
something to eat. One was perched atop the roof, so puffed out to
conserve heat she looked like a tennis ball. At that time I’d been
taking the nest boxes down for the winter, so they didn’t even have a
box in which to shelter. (I keep them up year round, now, for just
that purpose.)

Western Bluebird puffed up to try to stay warm with it's food source covered in snow and ice. Photo by Dennis Plank

Western Bluebird puffed up to try to stay warm with it’s food source covered in snow and ice. Photo by Dennis Plank

I had nothing for them. I even tried putting out raisins, as robins
will eat raisins, and while bluebirds aren’t robins, they are…or
were..considered thrushes. They ignored them.

The snow hung around for three weeks, with the heaviest snowfall and
the ice at the very end. The Pineapple Express came early and was very
welcome. The weather broke and the snow began to melt. I found dead
bluebirds, huddled in little pathetic bundles in the lee of the
garage. I found a total of 6. It broke my heart. Their keels felt like
knife edges under my thumb. The birds had no fat on them whatsoever.
They’d literally starved.

Just another reason for me to hate snow.

It seemed that that winter had killed every bluebird in the area, for
I saw none for several years. Then, one fine morning in 2011, a mated
pair showed up in my front yard. They set up housekeeping in the same
box as my original pair. They successfully raised a brood and were on
brood #2 when disaster struck.

My neighbors at the time (thankfully, they’re gone) allowed their
dogs and cats to roam. They refused to obey the RCW that says it’s
illegal to let your cats roam. Animal Services does not enforce it,
nor does the Sheriff.

I saw one of their cats kill the male bluebird. I swear, if I’d had a
gun handy I would have shot it. I was devastated. And worried…now
the adult female bluebird had babies needing feeding and no male to
help.

I’m not certain why I thought of it, or where I read it, but I learned
that folks back East feed their Eastern Bluebirds live mealworms.  I
found a place in Tumwater (Fluffy and Floyd’s, a most excellent pet
food store*) that, at the time, sold live mealworms. I bought two
dozen. Would the birds eat them? Even recognize them as edible?

I put a bowl of mealworms directly beneath the opening to the nest box.

The adult female bluebird ignored it. She made several trips to the
box but didn’t look twice at the bowl.

My heart sank.

Then, salvation, in the form of one of her juvenile daughters from her
first brood entered the box. In a few moments, she poked her head out.

She looked down at the bowl. She flew out of the box to its roof and
cocked her head, focusing her attention on the worm bowl.

She dropped down to land next to the bowl. She watched it warily for
several moment, making sure it didn’t attack her. Then she hopped
onto the rim, looking intently at the crawling mealworms at its
bottom. She thought, aha! They move! She hopped into the bowl, ate a
worm, then another. Then she began to ferry the rest of the worms to
her siblings in the box!

Juvenile Bluebird retrieving mealworms. Photo by Dennis Plank

Juvenile Bluebird retrieving mealworms. Photo by Dennis Plank

I was indoors, so she didn’t hear my shouts of joy.

Bluebirds are a ‘helper’ species. It is not unusual for the older
hatchlings help feed their younger siblings. In addition, they’re far
more willing to try new foods, ones their parents ignore.

While the adult and the juvenile were gone, I hurried out and dumped
every mealworm I had into the bowl and watched the juvenile feed them
all to her siblings. The next day I bought a LOT more. The juvenile
taught her mother to eat the worms. Even better, several days later,
an adult male bluebird showed up. The mother had found another mate!!

Now, my husband and I feed the bluebirds mealworms starting the moment
we see them hunting boxes in the spring.

Through trial and error, we’ve learned that the best worm ‘bowl’ is a
flat bottomed one, with sides high enough that the worms can’t crawl
out of it. In case of possible rain, we’ll put it under a covered
storage shed so that the rain doesn’t drown the worms.

Male carrying a mealworm to a convenient perch we've set up. Photo by Dennis Plank

Male carrying a mealworm to a convenient perch we’ve set up. Photo by Dennis Plank

We’ve trained them to come to a specific cue. We make a kissing sound
as we’re walking out with the worms. The bluebirds have trained US as
well. They’ll swirl around our heads if we’re outside or chitter when
they hear us on our porch. The males-for we have several pairs,
now-perch in our backyard and say “chuckchuck’. They’ll wait as we,
kissing ’til our cheeks hurt, place the worm filled bowl on the
ground. We’ll back off…not too far, and they’ll land. When they have
babies, the male, especially will take the worms to the box rather
than eat them.

We’ve watched as the male of the pair will encourage a fledgling to
land on or in the bowl, where he feeds it a worm. The babies don’t
take long to figure it out!

Male Bluebird feeding a youngster in a bowl we used to use. Photo by Dennis Plank

Male Bluebird feeding a youngster in a bowl we used to use. Photo by Dennis Plank

They’ve given us so much enjoyment, not to mention the opportunity for
my photographer husband to get some really great shots.

In the past, once they’ve all fledged, we’ve stopped feeding them. But
this is a La Nina year, and I bet my boots we’re going to have a heavy
snowfall. So we’ll be feeding them mealworms throughout the year.

Tonight, (it’s mid October) I placed the bowl filled with mealworms in
its usual spot. It’s actually a Tupperware box, much larger than the
original glass cake pan we’d used. I had to buy a larger container to
accommodate the crowd we have now. This evening, I watched as 11
bluebirds came to the new container and cleaned up the worms. Even as
often as I’ve seen it, it still thrills me. I’m not worried about snow
this year. When the snow demons hit us, I won’t let the bluebirds go
hungry.

One of the mobs from this year feeding. We believe there are at least two groups coming this year. Photo by Dennis Plank

One of the mobs from this year feeding. We believe there are at least two groups coming this year. Photo by Dennis Plank

* Fluffy and Floyd’s no longer sells live mealworms. But the Pet
Works in downtown Olympia,(right next door to the artesian well)
sells several types of live worms.

Wildfires and Prescribed Burns

Wildfires and Prescribed Burns, Post by Dennis Plank with input from Mason McKinley, Sanders Freed, and Ivy Clark.  Images by Dennis Plank and Ivy Clark

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.

Wildfires and Prescribed Burns

The Mima Fire of the afternoon of September 8th caused us to be evacuated and was stopped on the other side of the road we live on.

View Looking toward Mima Road from our driveway after the burn.   We're on the unburned side.  Photo by Dennis Plank

View Looking toward Mima Road from our driveway after the burn. We’re on the unburned side. Photo by Dennis Plank

The Fires:

In the aftermath of this rather traumatic event, I started to consider the difference between the controlled burns I was familiar with seeing and this event. To help clarify my picture, I sent an email to Mason McKinley, the long time burn boss for the Center for Natural Lands Management and an expert in controlled burns of prairie habitat. Here’s a copy of my question and his reply:

To Mason:

The part of the Mima fire east of Mima road ended at the road I live on.  We’re on the safe side so we suffered no damage.  However it occurred to me to white a PAD Blog post on how not to do a controlled burn.  When I proposed it to Sabra, her first question was:  “How hot was it?  Was it hotter than a controlled burn?”  Thinking that over and taking some pictures of various locations today I had the thought that it would be good to get an expert to come down and look it over and tell me how it compared with a controlled burn.

To Dennis:

“Interesting question. You can answer the question of “was it hotter than a controlled burn?” in many ways. From a safety perspective, it was definitely drier and windier that day than a day we would pick to burn. As fuels cure and dry out, and as wind adds more oxygen, the “energy release component” increases for any given fuel. This just means that more of the fuel is completely, rather than partially consumed and the fire needs to use less energy to first drive off water from within the fuel to get the volatile gases to release. That is the same thing that explains why damp firewood doesn’t burn as hot as bone dry wood and it leaves more residue in your chimney because fewer of the released gasses actually get hot enough to combust. So, it is scientifically reasonable to say that more energy was released per unit of fuel on that day than on one of our cooler, more humid and less windy burn days.

But really, the difference in heat released itself might not be a reason not to burn. With cured and dried flashy fuels, they just burn hot and a few extra degrees of temp or less RH doesn’t make a huge difference (though it can lead to more smoldering moss and heavy fuels). Sometimes you want a lot of heat and consumption – you just want to be able to control it. In this case, it was the wind in particular that was bad and the low RH means that broom and fir trees are going to be better able to send embers to quickly create spot fires that in turn can spread fast. Woody broom and firs are also more likely to get really hot and throw big flames in those conditions too (which I think describes the old race track). We would not burn here with that RH and how cured the fuels are and we would have prepped broom and firs to facilitate containment prior to burning. But I have burned other places where they are ok burning with RH in the teens. In the Midwest grass areas, they are not even afraid of stronger winds. It just depends on the burn objectives, types of fuels, what the containment lines are like and the various risks.

Even with that wind and those flashy fuels, if there had been an engine or three on site ready to respond right away when the transformer blew, chances are they would have been able to stop it quickly or hold it at roads or deploy other tactics. That is a huge difference between wildfires and RX. With RX we have the luxury of planning, scouting, prepping, getting equipment and firefighters lined out to address the biggest risks before there is even fire on the ground. Coming into an unscouted situation that has already been burning for 10-30 min, with flashy fuels, obscuring smoke, houses, fences, panicked residents, different fire teams from different agencies showing up at random times adds several magnitudes of chaos.”

So from the point of view of the person controlling the burn, it’s the lack of preparation that makes the real difference between a controlled burn and a wildfire.

The discipline of a controlled burn.  Photo by Dennis Plank

The discipline of a controlled burn. Photo by Dennis Plank

Mason mentions the panicked residents. While I didn’t see any examples of real panic amongst my neighbors; everyone wanted to get back in to see their property and check on animals. They let people in for awhile (we happened to be at dinner then), and when we came back they had quit letting people in because the congestion caused by all the residents on these small side roads was impeding the mobility of the fire crews (of which there were an incredible number, especially considering how many worse fires were in existence at the time). This seems to me a good reason for evacuating residents in and of itself: it gives the fire crews a free hand to do their job and they did it incredibly well in this instance with only one house lost, even though the fire was right up to the walls of several.

One of several houses where the fire burned right up to the house.  This particular house had dense shrubbery around three walls.  Photo by Dennis Plank

One of several houses where the fire burned right up to the house. This particular house had dense shrubbery around three walls. Photo by Dennis Plank

In contrast, in a controlled burn, everyone knows what’s happening, the crews are in place, firebreaks are established and fall-back plans have been developed and are known by the fire crews.

Aftermath:

With the Mima fire, the event essentially ended with the fire being under control and the elimination of hotspots, an activity that lasted from Tuesday, when the fire started and didn’t cease until the following Monday. This seems to be typical of wildfires.

DNR Helicopters spent most of a day after the fire dumping water on the field surrounding a horse facility that spreads it's manure on the fields.  It smolders really well.  Photo by Dennis Plank.

DNR Helicopters spent most of a day after the fire dumping water on the field surrounding a horse facility that spreads it’s manure on the fields. It smolders really well. Photo by Dennis Plank.

A fire crew going in to check for hot spots after the fire.  Photo by Dennis Plank

A fire crew going in to check for hot spots after the fire. Photo by Dennis Plank

I asked Sanders Freed, the Center For Natural Lands Management’s south sound preserves manager and one of his people Ivy Clark, a regular contributor to this blog, for input on what happens after the burn. Sanders, as is typical of him was very brief and to the point. Here’s his reply:

“The general prescription after a fire is an herbicide application- right when things pop back up, which are mostly non-native and invasive like hairy cat’s ear and ox-eye daisy. Then you seed back natives, usually with a drop seeder followed by a harrow to increase soil/seed contact. That’s about it- then you wait for spring to see what grows! There can be alterations of the plan for specific species and burn intensity- but that’s the gist.”

Ivy provided more detail and some graphics to help clarify the process:

Restoration with Burns.  Graphics by Ivy Clark

Restoration with Burns. Graphics by Ivy Clark

“As we are back in the prescribed burning window for habitat restoration, we can see that essential irreplaceable part of prairie restoration that’s scary and exciting all in one. Fire doesn’t just kill weeds like broom and European hawthorn, it clears debris (fuel as we call it) that covers up ground and smothers more sensitive plants. Native prairie plants are adapted to germinate their seeds on exposed soil and when fire is kept out for too long, moss and duff and grasses fill in all the gaps they would need to keep reproducing. Fire clears ground for natives to get ahead. It also knocks back weeds that don’t actually die in fire, like hairy cat’s ear and blackberry.

Controlled Burn in Progress.  Photo by Ivy Clark.

Controlled Burn in Progress. Photo by Ivy Clark.

 

Crews Governing a Prescribed Burn.  Photo by Ivy Clark

Crews Governing a Prescribed Burn. Photo by Ivy Clark

Since weeds are invasive because they tend to grow faster and earlier than natives, they will start regrowing before native plants come back up or seed newly encouraged by the fire germinate.

Hairy Cat's Ear after a Fire.  Photo by Ivy Clark.

Hairy Cat’s Ear after a Fire. Photo by Ivy Clark.

 

This gives a great opportunity to spray herbicide over the burn area so that only weeds will die, making even more room for natives. With this newly cleared area and just about to emerge natives as fall rains begin, we can augment the native population with more seeds, possibly returning species that had been extirpated, further increasing native diversity and habitat function. And since it’s a prairie, it’s all the more beautiful as well. Each site gets a tailored mix of seeds, mostly forbs and plenty of annuals which suffer the most in degraded areas.

A Selection of Seeds to Be mixed with Fescue for Seeding after a Burn.  Photo by Ivy Clark.

A Selection of Seeds to Be mixed with Fescue for Seeding after a Burn. Photo by Ivy Clark.

And of course Roemer’s fescue along with a few other native grasses. For high quality high priority sites that may get a checkerspot release within a year or two, we will also add thousands of plant plugs to boost the population of a few important flowers for the butterflies, ready to bloom for them the following spring.

Volunteers Planting Plugs on Glacial Heritage.  Photo by Dennis Plank.

Volunteers Planting Plugs on Glacial Heritage. Photo by Dennis Plank.

Fire is the start of this chain of restoration events that return health to the area that you just can’t get with any other method. It also kills a few established conifers and releases any oak seedlings struggling in their shade to grow faster into healthy full oak trees.”

And this is just part of the restoration process because fire rarely kills all the Scotch Broom and follow up pulling and/or spraying is required. And, of course this is not a one-time activity. On average, the prairie needs to be burned every four years or so to keep it in a healthy condition.

To me, the saddest thing about a wildfire like this (aside from loss of houses and lives) is the missed opportunity to put them to good use. This fire, coincidentally, followed a corridor from the south end of the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve to a within a five acre parcel and an old gravel pit of Glacial Heritage Preserve.

Some idea of the scope of the Mima Burn.  Photo by Dennis Plank

Some idea of the scope of the Mima Burn. Photo by Dennis Plank

Local Prairie Restorationists have long dreamed of connecting the two and most of the connecting properties are small private parcels that are not farmed, though they might have a few horses or other animals on them. Getting those parcels restored to healthy prairie would go a long way toward creating that larger ecosystem that’s more resilient to damage and degradation. It would take a lot of education of the local landowners and some means of accessing the herbicide and seeding equipment (and seeds-which are not cheap!) for the follow-up treatment. But if it could be done, it might be a way of turning what look like disasters into long term benefits both for the prairies and for the people who now live on them. We’re going to have more of these. Almost every summer brings a scary period where we’re afraid to leave the property for fear of fire and it’s only been a few years since the Scatter Creek fire just a few miles south of here. They’re going to happen, but they can be useful and good native prairie habitat doesn’t burn with the intensity of the non-native grasses and Scotch Broom.

DC-10 Adapted for Fire Retardant Dumping Turning for another Pass at the Scatter Creek Fire in 2017.

DC-10 Adapted for Fire Retardant Dumping Turning for another Pass at the Scatter Creek Fire in 2017.

Wildlife Habitat Improvements through the Natural Resource Conservation Program

Wildlife Habitat Improvements through the Natural Resource Conservation Program, Post and Photos by Sabra Noyes

Although living most of her life in Washington, Sabra had no idea about prairies in Washington until she retired and bought a farm, Rosefield, not too far from Glacial Heritage Preserve. She never ceases to be amazed by the complexity and interdependence of life on the prairie.

Last week the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) posted about their program. As I have held four contracts with this organization, I would like to share how they helped me restore the native habitats on my farm.

When I moved to my farm in Oakville in 2010, there were just a few oaks left, the property having been logged a hundred years or so ago. The Douglas firs that grew in after had also been logged in 1998. As I looked across the landscape, I was confronted with acres of stumps, holes big enough to swallow my tractor. and the most luxurious fields of Canadian thistle, six feet tall, dense, and persistent.

Wanting to improve the picture I contacted the Grays Harbor Conservation District. They brought in NRCS and as a team with a biologist, forester, program manager, and technician we walked the property and they offered suggestions of what could be done. Acting on their recommendations, over the next couple of years, I contracted with NRCS to make significant improvements to the habitats on the property.

The first project was to restore eight acres back to an oak savannah. Cost sharing was available for many practices. The huge holes had to be filled in, blue rye grass seed planted and mulched. Fencing was installed to protect the area.

Oregon oak saplings were purchased, planted, and caged.

A simple to build and inexpensive cage, yet very effective.  None of the 20 oaks planted were lost to browsing.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A simple to build and inexpensive cage, yet very effective. None of the 20 oaks planted were lost to browsing.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

An old maple and a large fir were girdled to create snags for nesting birds.

A "slow kill" of a maple and a fir tree.  Bark was removed emulating wildlife destruction.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A “slow kill” of a maple and a fir tree.  Bark was removed emulating wildlife destruction.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A brush pile was created – a wonderful habitat for birds, bugs, rodents, and reptiles.

Brush piles and snags have a life cycle with stages supporting different organisms.  As  snags and piles mature, new ones are created.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

Brush piles and snags have a life cycle with stages supporting different organisms.  As  snags and piles mature, new ones are created.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

Bird nesting boxes went up. A wildlife corridor connecting wooded patches was created using Oregon ash and native crabapples to provide cover and food.

A portion of the fence cost shared with NRCS protecting plantings in the wildlife corridor.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A portion of the fence cost shared with NRCS protecting plantings in the wildlife corridor.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A second contract was signed for improving a small remnant stand of Garry oaks. The understory of vine maples, cherry, and cascara was cut away from the oaks. This allowed lower branches to form (making for a healthier tree) [707]as well as providing an environment where sprouting acorns could become established. Additional oak saplings were planted such that, over time, there will be a three acre oak forest.

"Lion tailed" Garry oaks created by years of over shading.  Cutting back competing trees, these oaks are now starting to branch out.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

“Lion tailed” Garry oaks created by years of over shading. Cutting back competing trees, these oaks are now starting to branch out.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

Finally, there were two contracts for establishing a prairie. This prairie is described in an earlier blog post. NRCS provided cost sharing on two years of weed killing in preparation for establishing prairie plants, sowing of native Roemers fescue, planting camas bulbs, and wildflower seeding.

As it has been a couple of years since my last contract with NRCS, most certainly their programs and practices have changed. But if you have any inkling of wanting to improve a habitat, please check out their programs. They are a dedicated group with a wealth of knowledge and experience to share.

I am very grateful for NRCS. The environment on this farm has changed dramatically, which could only have been done with help. Every year my count of native birds (76 species) and plants increases, pollinators are everywhere and two years ago the Douglas squirrels showed up. The farm is becoming an island in the archipelago of prairies being restored throughout southwestern Washington.

Working for NRCS and with Landowners: The Wonders Never Cease to Amaze Me

Working for NRCS and with Landowners: The Wonders Never Cease to Amaze Me, Post by Susan Hoey Lees

I have been involved with agriculture in one form or another all my life. I have owned and operated a stable. Horses are still a passion, so I diligently manage our pastures for them and the pleasure of the wildlife that come to graze nearly nightly.

We manage our own forest lands, and I am also passionate for all types of gardens whether they be for edibles, flower/prairie viewing, cut-flowers or purely sharing my heritage fruit trees’ bounties with the wildlife and horses. Watching wildlife on our properties has always been a delight for me; but watching land and wildlife return and thrive on a customer’s property is especially delightful to me.

I am currently working as a Resource Conservationist with NRCS in the Chehalis Service Center, serving ranchers, farmers, private forest landowners and managers.

Working for NRCS and with Landowners: The Wonders Never Cease to Amaze Me

It has been 10 years since I made a rather radical career change to follow my heart and try to marry my passions for healing/restoring the land, the environment, agriculture and technical and design skills all in one. I did not know if I would be able to find my dream job.

I can now fondly recall one of the questions that my potential supervisor asked me in my first phone interview for an engineering technician position for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The question was; why do you want to work for NRCS?

I had innocently answered that I was seeking a position that would allow me to marry my passions and to help people help the land; and I could hear the interviewer starting to softly chuckle. I was horrified and inquired if I said something wrong, to which he inquired if I knew what the agency’s (NRCS) mission statement was. My heart raced and I was abashed and began to feel that my interview was going in a direction that was not boding well for me as he continued to chuckle deeply into the phone. I was mortified and shyly stated; no, I did not know the agency’s mission statement. My interviewer’s chuckle got even deeper, yet it contained a tickle of a hint of delight; finally, he stated that he felt I would fit in quite well with the agency as the NRCS mission statement was “Helping People Help the Land”. He offered me the position as a Civil Engineering Technician. I had in fact found, and was offered, my dream job!

Over the last 10 years I have held a few different positions with NRCS, in a few different locations, and have had the privilege of working with a wide variety of private landowners and land managers addressing a wide variety of resource issues. Often these landowners would seek financial assistance through one of NRCS’s financial programs to implement/install some of the recommendations. The result is almost always “helping people to help the land” through addressing resource concerns, protecting natural resources, and/or restoring degraded ecosystems.

The beginnings of NRCS are rather humble, the agency was formed as a result of the urgings of one man, Huge Hammond Bennett, to Congress to address the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s by conserving the nations precious resources. Conserving resources throughout the nation, not just in Dust Bowl territory, so there would be healthy soils to grow food, clean water to drink and grow crops, clean air to breathe, healthy plants for food, fiber & ecosystems, and healthy animals.

The urgings were so compelling that Congress established a federal agency called the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), and the legacy of using science-based technologies to address resource concerns affecting soils, water, air, plants and animals was developed.

The agency’s vision was and continues to be a simple one; use a partnership approach to work with landowners, community groups, local governments, Tribes, States and other Federal agencies on a voluntary basis. Thus, the agency began and continues to be a non-regulatory Federal agency working with landowners and land managers, offering technical and science-based knowledge for free, through site visits by NRCS staff with a landowner or manager.

The agency’s name was changed from SCS in the 1980’s to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, with that name change also came the Farm Bill programs that began offering financial incentives/assistance to landowners and managers to implement the recommendations shared with them on how to address the resource concerns identified.

Here is a link to explore more about NRCS; who we are, the partnership approach, and a little about our Conservation Assistance. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/wa/about/

The list of NRCS practices (a term used to describe both management and physically installed components) is extensive. Recommended practices are dependent on the objectives of the landowner and the land use and resource concerns being treated, see examples below for common types of practices.

General practices used for many land uses: fencing, irrigation practices, livestock practices

Cropland practices often include: cover cropping, no-till, soil health, pest management, irrigation practices

Prairie restoration practices often include: invasive weed control, brush management, native species reseeding, upland wildlife habitat management

Ecosystem restoration practices often include: early successional habitat development/management, wetland enhancements or restorations, tree/shrub site prep & plantings, wetland wildlife habitat management, wildlife habitat planting (pollinator hedgerow)

Fish passage practices often include: barrier removals or aquatic organism passage elements, channel bed stabilization, critical area plantings, riparian buffers

Forestry practices often include: invasive weed control, tree/shrub site prep & plantings, pre- commercial thinning, riparian forest buffers, upland wildlife habitat management

The 2018 Farm Bill is the newest Congressional authorization that allows NRCS to have funding to incentivize landowners to implement practices to protect or restore natural resources. There are a few programs under this authorization, but the most popular is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Here is a link that covers all the current programs: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/wa/programs/farmbill/

NRCS is taking EQIP applications now, the deadline for all documents to be in is November 20th, 2020. It is a good idea to begin talking with an NRCS staff person to discuss your resource concerns, your objectives and then decide if you want only the advice and information from the agency, or if you want to seek financial assistance through one of the programs to install/implement some of the practices that may be recommended during an on-site visit. Here is a link that will guide you through the basic steps of applying for the EQIP program: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/financial/eqip/?cid=nrcseprd1342638

There are NRCS offices throughout WA. I am working out of the Chehalis Office, in Lewis County, but have worked out of other counties. The attached link can be used to find the nearest local office to you. https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?service=page/CountyMap&state=WA&stateName=Washington&stateCode=53

The wonders never cease to amaze me when technical and environmental knowledge is shared with people who want to be good stewards of the land. Couple that knowledge with some form of financial assistance for the recommendations to be installed, and voila! the land & wildlife begins to recover, it becomes rejuvenated through the restoration process or management efforts. Follow-up visits are typically filled with delights as the landowner’s own passions and awe of the land’s healing process become re-ignited as they embrace a stewardship role for their lands!

 Five-Steps-Assistance-FACTSHEET

In Memory of Don Guyot

In Memory of Don Guyot, post by Dennis Plank

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

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

 

Don Guyot resized

 

Don's original work upon which the background above was derived.

Don’s original work upon which the background above was derived.

 

The following image and text was found on the Guild of Bookworkers website.  Don was a past Vice-President at Large in that organization.  The description of the image is from Don and I suspect most of the short bio was  also as it has the feel of his writing.

Anatomy of Gray, Don Guyot

Anatomy of Gray, Don Guyot Western marbled paper executed using Colophon Water Color Marbling Inks on carragheenan medium and transferred onto Rives Lightweight gray paper; number one in an edition of six, meant to be exhibited side by side to show consistency of imaging. The degree of consistency exhibited on one’s marbled paper is the degree of mastery of the craft the marbler may claim. Since the viewer of this piece will not have the advantage of seeing the remaining five, they will be left wondering whether this particular marbler achieved the mastery sought. Having the full advantage of seeing all six sheets of the edition, the marbler can truly say that he shares in their wondering. 70 x 48 centimeters. Created 1994.

Don A. Guyot was born in 1944. Following college, Don Guyot completed a master’s degree in librarianship and began working at the Seattle Public Library. Intending to become a rare book librarian he completed a second master’s degree in ancient Greek history at the University of Washington. After becoming interested in and diverted by hand bookbinding, he left librarianship and opened a repair bindery in Seattle. He learned to marble paper largely on his own because he could not find the papers he wanted to use in his business, and began teaching workshops throughout the country. In addition to Western-style marbled papers, he also excelled in the art of suminagashi, an ancient Japanese technique of decorating paper by floating inks on water.

You are welcome to leave memories of Don as comments to this post.  Comments are not intuitive.  There’s a place at the top of the screen where it will either say “no comments on this post”  or will list the number.  Click on it to get to the comments screen.

 

Working with Partners for Fish and Wildlife-A First Impression

Working with Partners for Fish and Wildlife-A First Impression, Post and photos by Sabra Noyes

Although living most of her life in Washington, Sabra had no idea about prairies in Washington until she retired and bought a farm, Rosefield, not too far from Glacial Heritage Preserve. She never ceases to be amazed by the complexity and interdependence of life on the prairie.

Working with Partners for Fish and Wildlife-A first Impression

After reading a previous post, “Partners for Fish and Wildlife: Voluntary Habitat Restoration on Private Lands” by Nick George, US Fish and Wildlife Service, I decided to investigate further. Habitat restoration on my farm could use some help.

Starting in 2011, with help from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), returning the land to what it once might have been prior to 1850 became my vision and never-ending labor of love. The woodlands, riparian, and savannah areas are progressing nicely and don’t require much tending. But the prairie – YIKES!

In some places, it does look a bit like a prairie:

An area starting to look like a prairie, photo by Sabra Noyes.

An area starting to look like a prairie, photo by Sabra Noyes.

But overall, there is a range of non-native vegetative nightmares. Where it is wetter, reed canary grass

Reed Canary Grass, photo by Sabra Noyes.

Reed Canary Grass, photo by Sabra Noyes.

 and where it is a bit drier, rat tailed fescue:

Rat-tailed Fescue, photo by Sabra Noyes.

Rat-tailed Fescue, photo by Sabra Noyes.

This is a non native invasive annual whose dead leaves smother everything. Then there are all the usual suspects of tansy, broom, thistles, and broad leaf grasses. Perhaps a bit unusual is that in some areas, the native Roemer’s fescue is just too happy

Roemer's Fescue that's gotten a bit carried away, Photo by Sabra Noyes.

Roemer’s Fescue that’s gotten a bit carried away, Photo by Sabra Noyes.

 It grows so lushly it chokes out all the forbs. Could FWS come to the rescue and help this wannabe prairie?

I contacted Nick and scheduled a site visit. He was here for three hours, most of which was spent walking the land. He wanted to know what my objectives (restoring the prairie) were and then we discussed what actions could be taken. Some actions are relatively simple, such as stopping the growth of non-prairie trees; this maple

A Maple on the Prairie, photo by Sabra Noyes.

A Maple on the Prairie, photo by Sabra Noyes.

 should look like this one:

Dead Maple on the prairie, photo by Sabra Noyes.

Dead Maple on the prairie, photo by Sabra Noyes.

 A standing snag that provides nesting cavities and insects preferred by prairie birds

A much more complex action, and a bit daunting to me, is to do a controlled burn across the area.

We then sat down and discussed the Partners Program and how it works:

is my objective a program fit for FWS, or are there other agencies such as NRCS or the Conservation District that can better help? 

can my objective be met with technical assistance from FWS, or will I also request financial help?

if I request financial help, am I prepared to do a 50/50 cost match? Nick explained that the landowner can do an “in-kind, or sweat-equity” contribution to help reach that 50% match.

and if I do enter into a contract with FWS, am I prepared to hold the contract for 10 years and allow annual monitoring for the first three years?

At the end of the visit, I let Nick know that I was interested in obtaining FWS Partners Program assistance for a burn of the prairie. He agreed to investigate it further. He will gather more information on whether a burn is the best solution and how it could be accomplished. Then there is the matter of how much funding his agency receives for the program, and where my project ranks with respect to other proposed projects.  Should I make the cutoff, it will then be a matter of signing a contract that clearly states the requirements and obligations of each of the parties involved.

Even if the “Partnership” goes no further than the initial site visit, it was time very well spent. Nick is highly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and a good communicator. I know I can call on him in the future for guidance and tossing around restoration ideas. I’ll keep this blog informed as to the progress of my request for Partners Program assistance.

Spring Fling

Spring Fling, 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.

Spring Fling

Summer is full on these days, toasty and dry. Bet you didn’t think back in mid-winter you would be missing the rainy cloud-cover, as you have to regularly water the yard and dodge mosquitoes? As the natural landscape dries out and you battle to keep the horticulture green and spry, how about a look back to the fresh spring and lush blooms we had that are now going into seed? What we see senescing now was a mere baby bud a few months ago. They grow so fast don’t they?

Chocolate Lily just getting started, photo by Ivy Clark

Chocolate Lily just getting started, photo by Ivy Clark

Recognize this little distinct gem? The single flower starts plain and green but that trio whorl of leaves is a dead give-away for a young chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis). The green tepals (not quite petals not quite sepals) would develop into the checkered chocolaty brown, almost purple, for which it is named. They later turn into interesting multi-ribbed seed pods, turning upright from the nodding flower.

Chocolate Lily in full bloom, photo by Ivy Clark.

The nodding chocolaty flowers of Fritillaria affinis in midbloom on Glacial Heritage. Photo by Ivy Clark.

 

Sickle-keeled Lupine, photo by Ivy Clark

Sickle-keeled Lupine, photo by Ivy Clark

The brand new stubby bright green stems of sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis), emerging among last year’s woody stems. It is a mere hint of the Fabaceae grandeur that it will grow to be.

Like so many youths, the columbine (Aquilegia formosa) looks a little awkward as a bud,

Columbine in bud, photo by Ivy Clark

Columbine in bud, photo by Ivy Clark

but quickly develops into the complex drooping star structure best viewed from below and backlit by a crystal blue sky.

Columbine in full bloom, photo by Ivy Clark

Columbine in full bloom, photo by Ivy Clark

For those familiar with Little Shop of Horrors, don’t fear the little cutleaf Microseris (Microserus laciniata). It is a bit Audrey II yes (“Feed me!”), or perhaps like a Paleolithic dandelion, but it is a stellar pollinator-feeding, mid-season bloomer and prairie staple. Look for fluffy globes more dense than the common dandelion seed heads out there now. And feel free to make a wish for more natives as you blow them off the stem.

Cut-leaf Microseris, photo by Ivy Clark

Cut-leaf Microseris, photo by Ivy Clark

 

Pacific Lupine and Golden Paintbrush, photo by Ivy Clark

Pacific Lupine and Golden Paintbrush, photo by Ivy Clark

This is just what we botanists call a sexy plant picture. Purple of the Pacific lupine (Lupinus lepidus) in a tiered spire before the endangered golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) burning yellow columns. They have complementary colors (remember your color wheel?) and very different leaves but are both delights on the prairie. Sometimes they grow and line up just right for you where you have to drop whatever you were doing and take a picture!

After seed dispersal, the Lupinus lepidus is still green but with curly-cue brown seed pods that have flung the brown hard lentil-like seeds outward. The mechanical dispersal is simple and fun to try to catch. You can hear the little popping sounds as the pods slowly dry tighter and tighter until they snap apart and twist under the sudden release.

Lupinus lepidus, photo by Ivy Clark

Lupinus lepidus, photo by Ivy Clark

 

Young Yarrow plant, photo by ivy Clark

Young Yarrow plant, photo by ivy Clark

Awe, look how cute and little those flower buds are! Like a fuzzy little puppy, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is just starting to produce the “million” tiny leaves and nearly as many flowers, for which it is named- “thousand leaves”. Well, maybe not really a thousand, or million, but you know how taxonomists can exaggerate. And you may have heard of its healing properties, hence the genus named for Achilles of Greek myth whose soldiers used the plant to tend their battle wounds.

Yarrow starting to bloom, photo by Ivy Clark.

Yarrow starting to bloom, photo by Ivy Clark.

Recently yarrows have been going to seed, crispy brown frilly cups of tiny seeds ready to grow new clumps of healing gray fluff.

Yarrow in seed, photo by Ivy Clark

Yarrow in seed, photo by Ivy Clark

One of the first wildflowers spotted on Glacial Heritage preserve this year was the shooting star (Dodatheon hendersonii). A well named genus, meaning “of the twelve gods”, these plants and close relatives are just gorgeous and interesting. The flowers start out upside down to utilize dangling bee pollinators.

Shooting Star in bloom with unpollinated flowers. Photo by Ivy Clark.

and then they turn upright to the blue skies after pollination. So if you see small brown cups with little ridges on the rim, upright instead of downward like falling stars, that’s actually their mature fruits. Who says plants don’t move? They can even reposition their fruits. See the mid-spring photo showing the fading flowers pointing skyward and the recently pollinated ones starting to turn. And don’t forget to note the cute lush succulent round leaves anchoring the long flower stalks. I always want to pet their smooth sleekness.

Shooting star showing pollinated flowers pointing up, photo by Ivy Clark.

Shooting star showing pollinated flowers pointing up, photo by Ivy Clark.

 

Solidago simplex in bud, photo by Ivy Clark

Solidago simplex in bud, photo by Ivy Clark

 

Goldenrod in bloom, photo by Ivy Clark.

Goldenrod in bloom, photo by Ivy Clark.

And so the beautiful season seems over and the prairies may look dried and dead and unappealing. But like the “amber wave of grain” we know so well, if you look a little closer, or perhaps a little broader at the full landscape of clear blue sky and hints of mountains aloft, then you can see the beauty still in the senescence season of the prairie. It’s sprinkled with color here and there too and not devoid of birds or other creatures. Take a moment to enjoy the shades of brown, like a sepia photograph, and shake a few native seed pods to give the plant dispersal a hand.

 

 

Bats on the South Sound Prairies

Bats on the South Sound Prairies, Post by Greg Falxa, photos as attributed.

Greg is a member of Cascadia Research Collective and has partnered with
CNLM on bat projects since 2006. He coordinates the bat station for
Prairie Appreciation Day.

Bats on the South Sound Prairies

Most of the nine species of bats in western Washington are nightly visitors to our south Puget Sound prairies. The inventory of bat species on the prairies are essentially the same as in nearby forest, riparian and urban habitats, although their preferred habitat may vary throughout the annual cycle. For mammals of their size they are extremely mobile, with most species traveling from a few to many miles each evening to their favored foraging locations. Being so mobile allows bats to day roost in one habitat – like agricultural buildings, or hollow snags – and “commute” in the evening to a completely different habitat to forage.

A Big brown bat nursery colony in a barn on Littlerock Road (Photo: G. Falxa)

A Big brown bat nursery colony in a barn on Littlerock Road (Photo: G. Falxa)

This mobility works out well for bats feeding on insects over the prairies, because most of our prairies are a bit short on suitable roosting structures. For daytime roosting, bats generally need dark, secluded locations that are safe from predators and meet certain temperature conditions, like structures that don’t get too hot on our nice sunny days. Species that form small colonies like California bats (Myotis californicus) might find this in old decadent trees or snags, while species that form colonies of hundreds of bats, like Little brown (Myotis lucifugus) or Big brown (Eptesicus fuscus) bats will typically find the conditions they need in barns, bridges, or attics of buildings. During the June and July pupping season, the nursery colonies need additional amenities for the 4 to 6 weeks that the pups cannot fly. A warm roost with extra safety from humans and predators like cats and raccoons can be hard to come by for a large group of pregnant bats, so when a suitable location is found it tends to be used every year by the colony. The juxtaposition of the South Sound prairies with agricultural and forest lands, and JBLM, creates a good environment to support bats that can roost near the prairies and include the prairies in their foraging options.

A Silver-haired bat netted (then released) at JBLM (Photo: G. Falxa)

A Silver-haired bat netted (then released) at JBLM (Photo: G. Falxa)

Depending on the insect hatch on a given day, an individual bat may forage along a tree-lined creek or at the forested edge of a prairie, or both habitats in a single night. Some species, like the Yuma bat (Myotis yumanensis) will focus nearly all of their foraging low over open water, usually a lake like Capitol Lake or Black Lake, but during the mid-summer months many can be seen flying low over the Black River, which is almost lake-like along various stretches, including adjacent to Glacial Heritage Preserve. Most species of bats avoid foraging in the open prairie, probably because it is more exposed to being hunted by owls and raptors than forest edges. However, our 3 largest species – the Hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus), Silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans), and Big brown bat – can be regularly heard or seen in the prairie sky. Using ultrasonic bat detectors placed at the prairies over the past 12 years we have documented nearly all of the 9 bat species in this region, and the only species not yet recorded at the prairies – Fringed myotis (Myotis thysanodes) – has been recorded less than 2 miles from Mima Prairie in the Capitol Forest.

A roosting Townsend’s big-eared bat (Photo: R. Davies)

A roosting Townsend’s big-eared bat (Photo: R. Davies)

Shortly after the Mima Creek Preserve was acquired, the discovery of a lone female Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) in an out building led to a 2-month investigation to locate its nursery colony. This species is relatively rare, and no colonies were known in the Black River watershed. By radio-tagging and tracking several individuals in sequence (each radio tag lasted 3 weeks) we finally located a colony of approximately 100 Townsend’s in the attic of a little used building near the Chehalis River. They were foraging and occasionally roosting all along the Black River drainage, feeding in the canopy of trees along forest – prairie boundaries.

Nursery box installed at Wolf Haven (Photo: G. Falxa)

Nursery box installed at Wolf Haven (Photo: G. Falxa)

Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) have occupied the bat box structures that have been constructed and erected at glacial Heritage, Wolf Haven, and various JBLM sites. For the past 10 years CNLM’s Sanders Freed has worked with me to develop bat house designs that are effective in this region. With support from US Fish & Wildlife, JBLM, and CNLM, we’ve experimented with designs to be used as a “nursery box” for the female bats to have a safe place to have their pups and get them to their volant stage, at about 6 weeks of age. The “evolved” design was installed at Wolf Haven in 2012 and has had over 400 adult bats in it the past few years. The bat house sits on the edge of the prairie forest interface, which is likely one of the reasons it is has been a success.

It is important to remember that each species has different habitat and roosting needs, and that a bat box built for one species may be wholly unsuitable for another. The photo below helps illustrate this – Sanders Freed is shown constructing a bat roost structure designed for Townsend’s big-eared bats, located near Muck Creek at the edge of the JBLM Artillery Impact Area. Townsend’s never use the crevice-type of bat boxes, favoring abandoned cabins, roomy attics and similar spaces.

Construction of the “Bat Temple” at JBLM (Photo: G. Falxa)

Construction of the “Bat Temple” at JBLM (Photo: G. Falxa)

In addition to habitat loss (both foraging and roosting) a concern for our bat populations has been the arrival of white-nose syndrome from the eastern U.S. In 2016 we discovered bats infected with the fungus that causes the disease which kills bats, primarily in the winter during hibernation. So far it appears to be affecting bats in the Cascade mountains and foothills, and has not yet been detected in Thurston County.

Links:

Some bat videos at local points of interest:

https://www.youtube.com/user/batsalot/videos

Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife:

https://www.wdfw.wa.gov/bats

Western Bat Working Group:

http://www.wbwg.org