Here are three photos of a milkweed seedpod up close. As you may know, milkweed flowers are a favorite of monarch butterflies. North American populations of this butterfly have been rapidly declining.
I got a packet of seeds for free from Deschutes Land Trust, one of our local conservation nonprofits. To find milkweed seeds near you, use the Milkweed Seed Finder courtesy of the Xerces Society.
We planted milkweed starts in our garden this year, but they fried during a week of unusually hot weather. 🙁
My friend, Suzy, planted hers last year and had greater success. This seedpod she gave me measures 4 inches in length. A couple of days ago it split along a seam. Each seed is attached to a little wispy fluff known as coma.
Does this milkweed seedpod remind anyone else out there of the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers?
I’m always on the lookout for beavers when walking the river trails in the Old Mill District of Bend. I listen for the sound of a tail slapping the water and search for the silhouette of a rounded head breaking the water’s surface. Why look for beavers next to a shopping area? Because these industrious creatures found an ideal spot to build a lodge there. I’ve always wanted to know more about beavers, so I visited the Museum’s Dam It! Beavers and Us exhibition.
This multimedia interactive exhibit offers visitors the opportunity to learn all about the North American beaver, Castor canadensis. Tall, cutout panels representing forest trees divide the room. Dappled light shines onto the imaginary forest floor. A re-creation of a beaver dam is tucked into a corner for kids to explore.
In another corner, a large box suspended from a parachute drifts towards the ground—more on that later. An Oregon flag, featuring a beaver, flutters against a wall near the entrance. Video featuring the important connection of beavers with Native Americans plays in another section. A colorful animation featuring the life cycle of beavers plays on a large screen on the back wall.
History of beavers
In the center of the room, displays of articulated skeletons, fossils, and beaver-chewed trees draw your attention. One skeleton shows a North American beaver, while the other shows a giant beaver, Castoroides. As its name implies, the giant beaver was much larger than present day beavers. The extinct giant beaver weighed 198 to 276 pounds, while modern beavers weigh 24 to 71 pounds. Dramatic changes in the landscape after the Ice Age may have led to this large mammal’s demise during the Pleistocene era.
In the more recent past, beavers have played an important part in Native American culture. The Blackfeet Nation considers beaver to be one of the three original animals. They played a key role in the distribution of water and land. Beavers also taught people how to be moral. Though many tribes traded skins with settlers, Blackfeet chose not to because of beaver’s cultural importance. They celebrated beavers in a ceremony called the “Beaver Bundle”, an event passed down through generations.
In the late 1800s, things changed for North American beavers when European demand for their skins skyrocketed. They used beaver skins in creating hats and other products. The mercurous nitrate used in curing felt for hats led to the term “mad as a hatter” because of the chemical’s toxic side effects.
Because of high demand, beavers were overtrapped and prime habitat was destroyed. Beaver populations plummeted. One of the contributing factors was the Hudson Bay Company’s (HBC) decision to destroy beaver populations “as fast as possible” to discourage westward migration from American competitors. In the period from 1823 to 1841, HBC intended to make the Snake River territory a “fur desert.”
Changing perceptions of beavers
By the end of the 19th century, perceptions of beavers changed and conservation efforts began. In the 1920s, they moved beavers to areas where they lived in the past. Scientists recognized the value of the beaver in wetland habitat management.
We know beavers as one of nature’s engineers. The ponds and channels they create support diverse flora and fauna. As the effects of climate change increase, these sites serve as important refuges from wildfire, and they also help reduce flooding.
The exhibit highlights the stream channels beavers help create around rivers in two large-scale images. One features an enhanced image taken near Sunriver. The many abandoned braided channels around the Little Deschutes River stand out in this picture.
The other picture, of the Willamette River, uses LiDAR imagery to show the stream channels that existed over the last 12,000 years.
This exhibition features several examples of current work involving beavers. In 2016, in Birch Creek, Idaho, five beavers released near the creek enhanced the habitat. Rare Bonneville cutthroat trout populations increased after the introduction. The Tulalip Tribes, in Washington State, relocated beaver to streams on treaty lands as part of their watershed management program. Other tribes plan to follow their lead. In Oregon, biologists created Beaver Dam Analogs (BDAs) on East Fork Beech Creek and Bridge Creek. These artificial dams established habitat for beavers and fish populations have rebounded.
Back to the box suspended from a parachute mentioned earlier in this article. Why is this box featured in the exhibit? In the 1940s, wildlife agencies dropped beavers from planes in crates designed to open on impact. This method helped re-establish beaver populations in remote areas.
There is one more item of interest to mention in this exhibit. Did you notice the bottles of alcohol in the display case on the left side of the photo above? Those bottles contain Eau de Musc whiskey. Tamworth Distilling flavors this whiskey with castoreum, an oily substance from castor sacs located under a beaver’s tail. The distillery notes its “bright and fruit qualities (raspberry) and rich leathery notes along with creamy vanilla aroma.” Would you care to make a toast to beavers with a glass of this? I’ll leave that decision up to you, but we should celebrate this engaging exhibit for teaching us more about our remarkable state animal.
This exhibit is on display at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon through October 3, 2021.
Here’s a photo I took in March of three twisted swans at Summer Lake in Central Oregon. The northern shovelers surrounding them seem to be doing some contortions of their own. Can you find a raptor hiding in the background taking it all in?
The three swans have bands on their necks. I saw them there last fall and turned in my sighting to find out where they came from. I found out the young birds were banded in the spring of 2017 at Summer Lake so they haven’t strayed far from where they hatched.
This area hosts thousands of snow geese at certain times of the year. Summer Lake Wildlife Area is open to hunting so in order to avoid confusion, they have this sign posted for hunters. From a distance, snow geese and swans can be hard to tell apart.
Do you want to learn more about trumpeter swans? See my post Swan Song to learn about the conservation success story associated with this beautiful bird.
I have so many Yellowstone favorite places it’s hard to choose. Here’s a collection of photos of things that make the park special. I start this post with a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt who was known as the “conservation president.”
“The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and by jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”
Theodore Roosevelt, April 24, 1903 at the laying of the cornerstone of Gateway to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, with its larger-than-life landscapes, dramatically changing weather conditions, amazing menagerie of wildlife, variety of plant life, and geology in action, is one of my favorite places. It also has a rich history as the world’s first national park.
At this time of year, mule deer are migrating and breeding in Central Oregon. Your best chances of seeing this nighttime-feeding deer are in the early hours of the morning or in the late evening. On a chilly November morning, High Desert Museum Curator of Wildlife, Jon Nelson, led a group of people eager to learn more about mule deer.
Mule Deer in the West
The mule deer is uniquely adapted to the environment of the American West. In the spring and summer they browse on plants in mountainous areas. As winter approaches, mule deer pack on the calories and move to lower elevations. Deer in the Cascades migrate eastwards and have to navigate their way past Highway 97. Underpasses help large numbers of deer make that journey. As the deer continue eastwards, hundreds can be seen in the area between Silver Lake and Fort Rock during fall and winter months.
In Central Oregon, deer feed mainly on bitterbrush, Idaho fescue grass, and sagebrush. They are not as dependent on the availability of water since they get much of what they need from their diet. On the field trip, Sand Spring was one of the few water sources we saw. It’s fenced to keep cattle out but the deer, as you probably know, can easily clear most fences if they want to get a drink.
Should you feed deer in your yard? No. If deer eat food provided by humans, it can have devastating effects. Their gut has evolved to process certain foods. If they eat other foods, it can kill the good bacteria in their stomachs. This can cause illness or even death. Certain diseases are spread to other deer via their saliva so you may not want to give them salt licks either.
Mule deer can often be found in ecotones, edge habitats between two plant communities. They can also find their preferred food plants in areas that are becoming re-established, including those affected by fires and clear-cutting. Deer seek out certain areas using behavioral thermal regulation. For example, they bed down on south and east facing slopes where it tends to be warmer.
Sometimes Nature gives you a special and unexpected gift. In the excitement of the moment, you click a few pictures and later find out they were not your best. Since it was such a special moment, you can’t manage to delete them. Here are a couple pictures from my archives of a caribou herd near Creston, British Columbia, Canada.
At the time, there were few records of this herd and I was pretty excited to see them. My photos helped biologists learn more about the herd. The endangered South Selkirk subpopulation of southern mountain caribou, Rangifer tarandus caribou, currently numbers only about 12 animals. Here’s a link to a recent article about them: America’s Gray Ghosts: The Disappearing Caribou
Caribou and reindeer are the same species so I thought it only appropriate to share these photos today. It was a magical moment when I saw them and I hope you find your own magical moments in the upcoming year.
Have they been “playing God” at Whychus Creek near Sisters, Oregon? I have witnessed the destruction of habitat before but never the restoration on such a huge scale. I went to the Whychus Canyon Preserve recently with the Deschutes Land Trust on a tour of the project. They and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, with the support of several other agencies and nonprofits, started to do field work on rehabilitating six miles of the creek in 2016. It is an enormous undertaking and it’s expected to take around seven years to complete.
Restoration in progress
Whychus Creek is a 41-mile long waterway that has its origin in the Cascade Mountains. It flows through the city of Sisters, forested, and agricultural lands to eventually enter the Deschutes River. Historically, it provided prime habitat for spawning, rearing, and migration of redband trout, spring Chinook, and summer steelhead. Continue reading →
Our National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday this week. I thought it appropriate to share pictures of our parks as works of art – with each framed and matted. Our 59 parks represent diverse and beautiful places and the Park Service works within a framework that helps to protect them. Hope that my “gallery” inspires you to visit some of them soon.
I have only been to 14 National Parks. How many have you been to? Do you have any photos to share of our parks as works of art?
Here’s a picture of bison in Yellowstone National Park. Happy 4th of July from our new national mammal in the U.S., the bison. Their scientific name is Bison bison bison. If only all scientific names were that easy!
Bison are a conservation success story. Due to over-hunting in the late 1800’s, their population was down to a few hundred animals. As a result of the conservation strategies employed by President Theodore Roosevelt and like-minded individuals, the bison were able to make a dramatic comeback.
Here’s a link to a U.S. Department of the Interior page that has 15 interesting facts about them – Bison
His twittering voice kept leading me on through the wilderness. It seemed like every time I raised my binoculars to my eyes, he would make a quick getaway.
I followed him on winding trails bordered by bubbling and spouting geysers. He flitted through pine forests doused by thunderstorms. Gusts of wind kept pushing him just out of my reach.
Finally, finally, I came eye to eye with the mysterious beast. A Yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni. This pint-sized songbird perched in the tree and stared at me as if he was shouting, “Ollie, Ollie in come free!” Our game of hide and seek was over and he stayed in plain sight on his home base.
The tree clung to the side of a cliff overlooking Tower Fall. The little bird had lead me to an important spot in Yellowstone National Park.
It’s ironic that a bird that almost disappeared from the face of the earth has their name associated with the phrase “swan song” that means “final appearance.”
A species on the brink
At one time the population of the Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, was thought to be down to fewer than 70 birds. They were just steps away from their swan song. The birds were overhunted and their feathers were used to adorn hats and make writing quills while their skins were used to make powder puffs. They were also hunted for their meat and eggs.
In 1932, the last known remnants of the population lived near Yellowstone National Park. Their swan song was imminent.
Most people think of habitats classified as sagebrush steppe as looking flat and boring – something you have to drive through to get somewhere else. I was pleasantly surprised to see the following article this morning about some of the animals we will lose if that habitat is lost. Ten animals that will disappear with the sagebrush
Can you find the magpie photobombing one of the pictures in the article?
I have seen all of the animals mentioned in the article except the pygmy rabbit. Many years ago I was in their home range near Ephrata, WA and saw some droppings and burrows but that was about it. After I moved away, a captive breeding program successfully reintroduced them in the region.