Solar Eclipse Success!

We traveled half an hour from our house to see the eclipse in the Path of Totality. Success!

Eclipse 2017 Prineville, Oregon 21August2017

Here’s some pictures I took right before the moon covers the sun.

Eclipse 2017 Prineville, Oregon 21August2017Eclipse5 21Aug2017Eclipse6 21Aug2017Eclipse7 21Aug2017

My partial pictures are not quite as good because I was trying to figure out the best place for the filter.

We viewed the eclipse from Ochoco Wayside State Park, just west of Prineville, Oregon. The road up to the park was closed when we arrived there at 6:30 am so we hiked about 1/2 mile up the hill to meet more of our group who had arrived there earlier. Smoke from wildfires gave us an interesting sunrise from the 3,048 foot peak.

Sunrise Eclipse 2017 Prineville, Oregon 21August2017

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Flocking to Malheur

 

Ross's Geese, Chen rossii

Ross’s Geese, Chen rossii (Snow geese were in some of these flocks)

Flocks alighting
Optics focusing

American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus

American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus

Nature’s fireworks on display
Exploding in a timeless rhythm

Say's Phoebe, Sayornis saya

Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya

Wings fluttering
Voices trumpeting

Malheur Birdwatchers

Malheur Birdwatchers

Welcoming visitors to share
In a celebration of Spring

 

Snowshoeing at Mt. Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor

Thinking about trying out snowshoeing? Last weekend I went out for the first time on Mt. Bachelor on a free guided tour. Knowledgeable volunteers take you out for a 90-minute walk in a forested area near the ski runs. The tours leave at 10:00 am and 1:30 pm. Snowshoes are provided (thanks to REI for donating them) or you can wear your own.

A snowy Mountain Hemlock forest

A snowy Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana,  forest

The volunteers will give you a quick talk on a few of the dangers associated with this sport such as tree wells. This is the area that forms in the snow close to a tree that people can fall into and sometimes not be able to get out of. I also learned that predators like to go into them in search of entrances to the burrows of small mammals. Kind of like a vending machine area for them.

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing

This particular tour can be very popular. On the day I went, there were 33 people on the tour. They said there can be 50-60 people sometimes. They stop in several places along the way so it is not a strenuous hike.

South Sister with Gray Jay

South Sister with Gray Jay

We learned about some of the wildlife in the area. The snowshoe hare, Lepus americanus, leaves distinct tracks and one of the volunteers demonstrated how their large hind paws hit the ground before the front paws. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife on the trip but we did see common ravens, Corvus corax,  Clark’s nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana, and gray jays, Persoreus canadensis. As I have mentioned in a previous post, the jays always seem to be near me. See Jays .

Broken Top

Broken Top

The hike goes up a hill to a scenic outlook area. We were lucky to have pretty clear weather so we got a great view of some of the nearby peaks.

South Sister & Broken Top

South Sister & Broken Top

The volunteers also talk about some of the geology in the area and demonstrate how much water is collected after snow melts. The snowmelt here takes 10-30 years to reach the nearby river systems.

The hike is free but they suggest that you donate $5 or more to benefit the non-profit Discover Your Forest program.

Hey look! I took a selfie.

Hey look! I took a selfie.

This was a great experience and I will be doing more snowshoeing in the future.

Swan Song

 

Trumpeter Swan, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

It’s ironic that a bird that almost disappeared from the face of the earth has their name associated with a phrase that means “final appearance.”

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. Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 to help save the Trumpeter Swan. The Refuge is in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The photo above is of a Trumpeter Swan I saw last summer in Yellowstone National Park. Threats such as lead poisoning and habitat loss still exist but the current population in North America is over 46,000. See…conservation can be a success!

Trumpeter Swans, Sunriver, Oregon

Here in Central Oregon steps are being taken to ensure their survival. At the Sunriver Nature Center in Sunriver, Oregon, a potential mate for the resident Trumpeter Swan was introduced last summer. After a somewhat rocky start, the pair bonded with each other and it’s hoped they will produce many offspring in the future. There was a story in the Bend Bulletin about the pair and you can read it here: Swans Find Love in Sunriver.

Trumpeter Swans, Sunriver, Oregon

My photos show the pair floating across a duckweed-covered waterway near the Nature Center. You can see the neckband on one of them. If you ever happen to see a banded or tagged swan, as I once did in the Skagit Valley of Washington State, contact the USGS Bird Banding Lab. Here’s a link to a handout from the Trumpeter Swan Society that gives more info on how to report a sighting: Reporting Marked Trumpeter (and Tundra) Swans – Collars, Wing Tags, and Bands.

 

 

Painted Hills – Central Oregon Attraction

Painted Hills, Oregon

It is easy to see why the Painted Hills are designated as one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders. The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is 3,132 acres in size and it is located nine miles northwest of Mitchell, Oregon. If you visit the Painted Hills after rainstorms move through the area, the colors will look more intense from the recent moisture. The colors are striking no matter what season it is. It is like looking at a parfait of luscious layers spread out before you. The deep crimson and black layers at the base of the hills contrast with the sandy browns and golds of upper layers.

The color of the hills is due to volcanic eruptions and changes in climate. Over 35 million years ago this area was part of a river flood plain covered by thick forests of semitropical plants. Abundant ash fall and lava floods helped to shape most of the formations. Erosion started about five million years ago. The area was later subjected to immense forces that tilted the layers downward to the east. Basalt floods hardened and protected softer layers underneath from erosion. Over time the layers of ash and vegetation-rich soil became exposed.

PaintedHills3

The strata in the John Day formations include Big Basin (28-39 million years ago), Turtle Cove (22-28 million years ago), Picture Gorge Ignimbrite (28 million years ago), Haystack Valley (20-22 million years ago), and Picture Gorge Basalts (16 million years ago).

  • The red color bands formed when weather conditions were warmer and wetter. Rainfall during that time period ranged between 31 – 53 inches per year. Ponds and lakes were common in the area.
  • The yellow and tan color bands indicate drier weather conditions. Rainfall was between 23 – 47 inches per year. Today the average rainfall here is 12 inches per year.
  • The black spots indicate manganese concentrations. Plants that fixed the manganese in the soil likely grew in these areas.

For more information, go to http://www.nps.gov/joda/planyourvisit/ptd-hills-unit.htm

There is a link to a map that gives information on several trails in the area ranging from ¼ mile to 1.6 miles in length.

PaintedHills4

The Painted Hills are extremely photogenic so don’t forget a good camera, phone, or other device. You will want to bring back a memory of the surreal landscape.

Thomas Condon Paleontology Center – Central Oregon Attractions

Thomas Condon Paleontology Center

If you drive just a couple of hours east of Bend, Oregon you will find strikingly painted hills and a center devoted to paleontology. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center will impress you with fascinating information and artfully displayed artifacts. Wow! What a place.

Thomas Condon Paleontology CenterIn 1862 minister and self-trained scientist Thomas Condon learned there were fossils in the John Day basin from soldiers stationed in the area. He began excavating fossils in 1865 and sent specimens to the east coast for verification. There was a great amount of interest in the specimens he uncovered. He was later appointed to be Oregon’s first state geologist due to his many discoveries.

Thomas Condon Paleontology Center Fossil collectors collected as much as they could as fast as they could for many years. In the late 1800’s, John C. Merriam, Professor of Geology at the University of California, developed a new practice when collecting specimens. Detailed notes were taken about the layer of rock strata a specimen was collected in. Merriam, along with Ralph W. Chaney and Chester Stock, led the way in correlating the fossils found in each layer with the geological age of the strata.

Thomas Condon Paleontology CenterAs early as 1903, concerns were voiced over the preservation of the fossil beds. Concerned citizens wanted the area to be designated as a state park. They later pushed for the protection that national park status would provide. In 1975 the area was designated as the John Day National Monument. In 1984 Ted Fremd was hired as the Monument’s first paleontologist. He developed a program of systematic prospecting, mapping of geology, and radiometric dating of the rock layers. Scientists in a wide variety of fields were employed in helping to understand the flora, fauna, and geology of the region.

TThomas Condon Paleontology Centerhe Thomas Condon Paleontology Center was built in 2003 and houses fossils found in the three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and areas nearby. It is located in the Sheep Rock Unit near Dayville, Oregon. Visitors can get a good view of scientists carefully cleaning fossils found in the field as they work in a lab with large viewing windows. Scientists have found 2,200 species of plants and animals in the lands of this National Monument. The Center displays fossils in glass cases and large murals with re-creations of what scenes may have looked like when those animals and plants existed. A small store with fossil and dinosaur-related products is located in the lobby.

Thomas Condon Paleontology Center  The Monument covers 14, 000 acres in its three units. The units are many miles apart and services are limited so plan in advance. There are several trails in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to give you a close-up view of the landscape. Since this is a National Monument, collecting fossils is not allowed.

Digging for fossils is allowed on the hill located just behind Fossil High School in the town of Fossil. I have collected fossils at that location and the site is easily accessible. For more information on collecting fossils there, go to http://www.oregonpaleolandscenter.com/#!wheeler-high-school-fossil-beds/c17uw

To find out more about the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, go to http://www.nps.gov/joda/learn/photosmultimedia/Thomas-Condon-Paleontology-Center.htm

Successful Invaders

JuniperMuse 8-11-2014

Western Juniper

There are certain members of the plant and animal world that have invaded habitats successfully. Some are admired; others are reviled. A few are both liked and despised at the same time.

Where I live, the Western juniper, Juniperus occidentalis, fits into that last category. It is a native species but due to fire suppression and habitat destruction, it has spread like -excuse the reference- wildfire. Juniper has taken advantage of the situation and has significantly expanded its range. I have heard a lot about how much water it can suck out of the landscape – supposedly 30 gallons a day.  Its root system taps downwards and outwards to effectively use the available water. Many people don’t like them for that reason and because at times they have a not-so-pleasant scent.  I’ll always remember listening to a person that lives in the wealthy part of town saying that she eliminated all 18 junipers on her property as soon as she moved in. Eighteen trees.

However, juniper also has its good side. As it ages it epitomizes the image many people associate with the Wild West. I love to photograph them. The form of the tree changes from a pyramid-like shape to a twisted, sprawling irregular one. It can be covered by purplish berries (that are really cones) and these are used in gin production. Wildlife loves it for cover, nesting, and food. Its wood is bi-colored and lasts forever.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark or Starling in Disguise?

Some animals do what they can to fit in so that you won’t notice they are invaders. I have a pair of European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, that nested on my property last spring. I don’t know many people that are fond of starlings. They are referred to as being ugly, dirty birds that many think should be destroyed. However, if you look at their breeding plumage closely it’s actually quite beautiful and iridescent. Anyway, back to my story…the pair on my property produced a brood of young and taught them how to sing and call. The weird thing is that they sound like the much more well-liked Western meadowlark – not starlings.  There aren’t any meadowlarks close by but they do live many miles away to the east.

Some plants moved here from far away and have settled in all over North America. The common mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is one of those plants. It is a member of the snapdragon family and bears long stalks of yellow flowers and produces a lot of seeds. Mullein can grow 5-10 feet high (!) Its large leaves have a thick whitish covering of soft “hair”. It is native to Europe and was introduced here in the mid-1700’s for use as a fish poison. Where I live it is considered a noxious weed whose presence should be controlled and monitored by landowners. It will grow in almost any open area and will push native plants out.

CommonMullein 11-2015

Common Mullein

This plant has some interesting uses. As previously mentioned, it was used as a fish poison. It stuns the fish so that they float to the surface where they can be easily caught. A dye was made from the flowers and was used on hair and on cloth. It also has medicinal uses and has been used to treat chest colds, bronchitis, and asthma. Mullein was also used to treat bruises, rash, tumors, and other maladies. I learned in a high school plant ecology class that its soft leaves can be used as toilet paper in an emergency.

Mullein is easy to pull but I decided to leave a few in my yard. Why? The songbirds, which I do not feed, LOVE them.

There are other successful invaders that have become so successful that they have become a threat to the environment. Consider the white-tailed deer.  White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, have steadily moved westwards, northwards, and to the south in North and South America. There are more than there have ever been – even though hunters use much more sophisticated technology to hunt them. However, there are fewer people hunting them and their natural predators have been eliminated in parts of their range.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

About 100 years ago, small scale agriculture pushed the deer off much of their range east of the Rockies. White-tailed deer were also overhunted in North America in the late 1800’s. Their population dropped precipitously from 24-33 million, down to only 350,000.

During the Industrial Age, farms were abandoned leaving behind a patchwork of habitats that was ideal for deer. Wildlife conservation adapted practices that created green space for populations to become established. Preserves for regulated hunting were set up. The population rebounded with a vengeance! The current population is estimated to be over 30 million and they are much more densely packed than in the distant past. That density has caused numerous problems.

I read an interesting article about white-tailed deer on Staten Island in New York City. The population on the 60-square mile island has increased from 24 to 793 in just six years. That’s a 3,304% increase! The deer cause traffic accidents, eat gardens, and pass on tick-borne illnesses but the far greater problem is that they are destroying habitat. The community can cull the animals with sharpshooters, have hunters take them, apply contraceptive vaccines, or use surgical sterilization. None of these options has been popular with the public so nothing is currently being done. When an animal is given the Disney treatment, in this case as the main star in the Bambi movie, it can become much more difficult to control.

Successful invaders have taken advantage of various situations and many are firmly established in their new range. They have velcroed themselves into their new homes and peeling them away will be a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Sources:

Heffernan, T. (2012, October 24). The Deer Paradox. Retrieved November 3, 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/11/the-deer-paradox/309104/

O’Connor, B. (2015, January 14). Deer are invading New York City, and we don’t know how to stop them. Retrieved November 3, 2015, from http://www.theverge.com/2015/1/14/7537391/new-york-city-deer-problem

The Herb Companion staff. (2009, August/September). Herb to know: Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Retrieved November 3, 2015, from  http://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/herb-to-know-mullein-verbascum-thapsus.aspx

Indian Ford Preserve Walk

Indian Ford

Broken Top, the Three Sisters, and Black Crater

In late October I visited the Indian Ford Preserve, which is located several miles northeast of Sisters, Oregon, with Deschutes Land Trust (DLT) leader Kelly Madden. This is the flagship property of the group and it was purchased in 1995. Preserves are purchased outright, donated, or are protected through easement agreements with the owners. This property is 63 acres in size and consists of meadow, forest, and stream habitat.  Indian Ford Creek meanders through the property. It is on the border of land dominated by Ponderosa pine or Western juniper.

Indian Ford

Willows along Indian Ford Creek

There is a wide variety of wildlife that uses the preserve. I could see sign of mule deer and saw a herd nearby on my drive there.  It was a quiet day for bird life the day I was there but I heard California quail, Steller’s jay, and pygmy nuthatch and saw a song sparrow, bald eagle, and a fleeting glimpse of a warbler. I wasn’t there for long but can tell you that based on the bird checklist for the site and observing the edges of different kinds of habitats; it’s probably pretty active in the spring and summer. DLT is always looking for help in doing bird surveys on their preserves. If that interests you, go here: http://www.deschuteslandtrust.org/get-involved/volunteer/bird-surveys

Indian Ford

Aspen grove with Black Butte in the background

I went on this walk to see fall foliage. I learned that warm fall days, cool nights, and no frost create the brightest foliage. Elevation, moisture, and genetics can also affect how the foliage looks. The golden leaves of quaking aspen fluttered on the west side of the creek but there was little other color on this trip. The drought has adversely affected plant growth and fall color.

I learned more about Western juniper from our guide. This slow growing, long-lived species can change its sex from year to year. They are sometimes hermaphroditic – or both sexes. When the trees are younger than ten years in age, they send down tap roots that are 51” long. At around the age of ten, the roots start expanding out laterally.  The root system can be five times the height of the tree. They like to start to grow under sagebrush but they don’t do as well in shaded areas as they mature. They start maturing when they are around 25 years old and are full reproductive maturity by age 75. Their growth form is pointy and triangular until they are about 100 years old. At around 120 years of age, the tree splits and takes on a more open form.

Indian Ford

Ponderosa pine and aspen with Black Butte in the background

I also learned some new facts about aspen. The main tree in a grove is called the “Grandma” tree while the rest are referred to as the nursery. The grandma has the darkest bark in an aspen stand. We learned that early settlers often left a blaze mark, otherwise known as an arborglyph, on the tree trunks.

I recently saw a sign at a local nursery that said, “Buy one aspen and get one free!” and it cracked me up. Knowing that they are clones and sprout up from one “Grandma” I wondered how many trees an unsuspecting customer might end up with.

DLT has rehabilitated the habitat on this preserve. Invasive and non-native plants have been pulled. Willow has been planted along the streambanks. Cattle and other livestock are fenced out of this piece of property. In the past as many as 30,000 cattle grazed in this region. As a result of the Deschutes Land Trusts’ habitat rehabilitation efforts, salmon have been observed in the creek for the first time since 1964.

Indian Ford

Ponderosa pine and meadow

Native Americans regularly camped in this area and forded the creek here. The Northern Paiute and Molalla tribes lived in this area. It has been used for over 10,000 years.  From here they may have gone on excursions to collect obsidian near Paulina Lake, collect food at Abert Lake, or trade with other tribes. One of the things local tribes here created were ornately decorated gloves. They were much sought after. The gloves were made all the way up until the 1920’s.

Some tribal members went up to the 10,358 foot peak of South Sister on vision quests. It is thought that Native Americans went up there to mourn a death in the family, to celebrate the start of puberty, or to deal with a stressful time in their lives. They made rock piles and likely did not eat or drink and exercised to the point of exhaustion. The 5-6 foot high rock stacks were discovered on the summit by explorer Adolph Dekum in 1883.

Explorers, trappers, and settlers started coming to this area in the 1800’s. In 1825, Peter Skene Ogden, of the Hudson’s Bay Company, camped nearby at Whychus Creek and let his horses graze in the meadows of Indian Ford. John C. Fremont explored areas near here in December of 1843. A military camp was established at Camp Polk in September of 1865 to protect resident miners and settlers. It was only used until May of 1866 and there were never any wars with local tribes. After the military camp was abandoned, Samuel Hindman and his family moved into the area and had a post office and store. In 1888, the post office was moved into present day Sisters. The name of the town was changed from Camp Polk to Sisters after the nearby mountain peaks.  The town was located along the Santiam Wagon Road and it soon prospered from all of the business generated by travelers. In 1901, the town of Sisters was formally established.

Indian Ford

Mt. Jefferson

A visit to this preserve gives you a magnificent view of the nearby peaks and buttes and a look at a meandering creek that has been carefully restored to its former glory. The preserve is rich in recent and ancient history and you can see why native peoples and settlers chose to visit and live here.

Forests & Fire

Skyline forest habitat

How many big stumps can you see here?

I recently went on a Deschutes Land Trust hike just west of Bend, OR to learn about fire ecology. The area we hiked in is known as the Skyline Forest. There were fires in this vicinity in 2010 and 2014 and together they burned about 6,000 acres. The area is currently privately owned but the Deschutes Land Trust has been trying to acquire it.

Our guide, Pete Caligiuri with The Nature Conservancy, informed us that this area has about the steepest environmental gradient in the world. In the Cascade Mountains the precipitation can be as high as 160 inches per year while less than 25 miles away, it can be as low as 10 inches per year. Plants respond to the extreme amount of variability in this gradient. In the past, fire and moisture limited the number of trees in the forest. Now there can be as many as 800-900 trees per acre in this area.

Skyline forest

Lots of shrubs in the understory

We looked around to see how many large stumps left over from timber harvesting we could see. There weren’t many at all. At one time this forest had the trees much more widely spaced. We noticed the high number of young trees with branches reaching down closer to the ground. There was also a thick growth of underbrush that included bitterbrush and manzanita. The forest floor was covered with pine needles and fallen branches. The closer spacing, higher number of shrubs, and accumulation of litter on the forest floor makes this forest more vulnerable to fire.

Changes have occurred in local forests due to fire management practices, tree harvesting, and grazing of livestock.

  • Fires were suppressed instead of being used as a management tool. Every tree that germinated was considered important. In a normal fire cycle here, there are fires every 7-35 years – depending on the moisture gradient.
  • This was the area with the highest harvest rate of Ponderosa pine in the country for a while. The largest trees were cut first and the result was that younger, less fire-resistant trees flourished and crowded the landscape.
  • About three million sheep grazed in this area until the 1930’s when livestock grazing became a less popular industry. Cattle could graze on Deschutes National Forest lands until the 1990’s.
Burned Skyline forest

After the fire

After fires, the plants that begin to grow can be broken down into five categories. Invaders, such as fireweed, are adaptable and take advantage of the changed environment. We saw fireweed and thistle near the trail. Evaders, such as Ceanothus, can burn above ground but be adapted to sprout when the conditions improve. Ceanothus seed can sit dormant for up to 100 years. We saw quite a bit of Ceanothus and manzanita in this fire-affected area. Avoiders include plants such as mountain hemlock, Western white pine, and western juniper. They are not well adapted to tolerating a fire but if they avoid the hottest part of a fire, they may survive. Resistors, such as Ponderosa pine, have special adaptations such as thick bark that allow them to survive a fire. Ponderosa pine can also cast seeds up to 300 feet away. Endurers, like aspen, can sprout from their roots after the fire has passed. The aspen in this area is sprouting like crazy since it no longer has the competition for light that it had before the fire.

After the fire lots of aspen

Aspen are loving the new conditions after the fire

Due to long term changes in climate, some areas are changing from forested to non-forested habitats. Some habitats will only become drier over time. The warmer temperatures can also benefit the pine beetle and other insects that can destroy trees. We may experience more precipitation in the form of rain instead of snow and this will have long term consequences.

Aster

Aster

Five years ago several people from diverse backgrounds got together to form the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. The group is working together to improve the health of local forests in a way that will benefit the needs of the community. For example, a land owner in a forested environment will have different needs than someone who just goes to the forest to recreate. The group is trying to work on active restoration before a fire rather than after it.

Fireweed

Fireweed

There are several ways people are trying to do a better job of managing forested lands. Homeowners that follow some of the guidelines suggested by the Firewise program have a better chance of protecting their homes from wildfires. Development could be limited in forested environments. The acres could be used to preserve and grow trees rather than houses.  The Deschutes Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy are a couple of organizations that work towards preserving land in this area.

One of the management tools used today is prescribed, or controlled, burns. Forests used to be “messy” with some areas affected by localized fires, windstorms and other weather events, and insect infestations while other areas remained relatively untouched. The litter layer and understory beneath the trees was managed by these events. Now, due to fire suppression, too much litter and too many trees and shrubs per acre have accumulated.  Remember Smokey the Bear saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires”? Since fires are used as a management tool now, it’s been changed to “Only you can prevent wildfires”. Many people do not understand the concept of prescribed burns and do not like seeing and smelling the smoke from them. Prescribed burns, along with selective cutting and other tools, can reduce the chances of severe fires.

Ponderosa pine & aspen forest

Ponderosa pine & aspen

Due to the magnitude of acres burned in recent fires, less money is going into forest management since more is going into fighting fires. It only makes sense to have funds to fight fires come from the same funding source that manages other types of natural disaster events. It also makes sense to put more money into research so that we are better equipped to do what we can to manage wildfires based on the best available data. Okay, I’m jumping off of my soapbox for now.

Yellowstone Forest 2015

Yellowstone forest growth after fires

I visited Yellowstone National Park this summer and try to go there every other year. In 1988, I was saddened to see firsthand the effect the big fires had on the land. The fires burned nearly 800,000 acres – more than a third of the park property. After decades of fire suppression, the area was long past due for fire. The fires burned in a patchy sort of way as a fire would do in nature. The National Park Service was criticized at the time for not putting out all of the fires but fires are a part of the cycle of nature. I knew the park plants would regenerate eventually and that the habitats would end up being a mosaic rather than a monoculture. Some of the trees in Yellowstone are slow growing so the changes may not be apparent for quite a while. I close this post with a shot-through-the-window-during-a-storm photo from Yellowstone that shows a healthy forest coming back after the fire. Fire equals destruction, but it also equals a new beginning.

Flutter

Townsend's Solitaire

A fluttering of wings draws my attention.

Townsend's SolitaireLooking out of my window, I see a Townsend’s solitaire beating its wings and attacking its reflection in the side mirror of my parked car. It has been there for hours. Long strokes of white droppings adorn the side of my car. At first I assume the bird must be a male defending its territory.

Townsend’s solitaires are a drab gray relative of the American robin that most people wouldn’t even notice. They are not showy.

Male birds are usually the ones with colorful plumage but that is not the case with solitaires; the male and female look almost identical. I guess they decided not to follow the theory that a male is more brightly colored to attract females and the female has duller colors so she can sit undetected on a nest.

Solitaire3I watch the bird pause in its attack on my car as it flies into a nearby Western juniper tree. An orange crescent of plumage flashes on its outstretched wings only to disappear again as it settles into the tree. The bird is camouflaged by the gray bark on the twisted form of the tree. Its darker flight and tail feathers blend into the cracks and crevasses of the tree’s bark.  It pulls off some of the juniper cones, tilts its head back, and gulps them down quickly. I see the flash of orange again when it flies up to the top of the tree.

In the fall and winter months, solitaires develop a one-track mind about what they will eat. They feed almost exclusively on the small purplish cones, otherwise known as berries, of the juniper tree.  While we may think of these cones as being good for nothing but the production of gin, they provide all that solitaires need.  The adaptable and much maligned Western juniper tree is being removed in parts of the West but solitaires and other animals often rely on it for food and shelter.

As their name implies, Townsend’s solitaires spend much of their time alone. They are a Greta Garbo type of bird. Solitaires often perch atop a juniper in a very upright position like a guard standing at attention.  The bird will remain quiet and motionless until there is a need for defense.

Solitaire2The bird in my yard opens its beak to sing. The melodious song is surprisingly complex. The clear flute-like notes ring out and fill the sky. It starts calling. The one short note is a loud attention-grabbing whistle that is repeated over and over again.  It’s like a bird version of a smoke alarm.

Male songbirds defend their territory by singing and calling around its borders.  They essentially create a musically-charged “fence” around the boundaries. Townsend’s solitaire females also defend their territory. They will aggressively defend an area long past the breeding season. The females take an active role in protecting a productive juniper patch.

The solitaire returns to my car and perches briefly on the mirror. Its head is cocked to one side as it peers at the image of its perceived foe with a dark eye lined in creamy white.

Solitaire4I have learned to accept the unexpected. Those that first appear drab and dull may surprise you. Their colors may be hidden. Their voices may be quiet. They might be female. Give them a chance – look for the flash of color, listen to their song, and admire their strength.

A fluttering of wings draws my attention.

Metolius Preserve Hike

MetoliusPreservekIOSK

Last week I went to the Metolius Preserve on a short hike with the Deschutes Land Trust (DLT).  This 1,240 acre preserve is located about ten miles west of Sisters, OR and was acquired by the DLT in 2003.

Ponderosa pine trees dominate the landscape but there are also Douglas fir, grand fir, incense cedar, and western larch trees. The pine trees near the kiosk are spaced about 30-40 feet apart and bunchgrass forms the dominant ground cover. Though the habitat appears natural, the forest has been restored with the help of Pacific Stewardship. The forest has been thinned and prescribed burns have been planned to foster an old-growth type of habitat. They have even created snags so that some of the 13 types of woodpeckers that live here find a good place to feed and nest. Bunchgrass has also been planted.

MetoliusPreserve Larch

Western larch

October is a great month to visit the area because the vine maple trees are in full color and the western larch is turning its distinctive golden-yellow color. Western larch, aka tamarack, is an unusual type of conifer tree because they drop their needles in the winter. This region is at the southwestern edge of the larch’s range.

We learned that grand fir competes with western larch in this area so DLT has taken steps to manage it. They host a Christmas tree-cutting event in December where visitors are encouraged to cut grand fir so that the larch can flourish.

Brown-eyed sunshine lichen

Brown-eyed sunshine lichen

One of the first things our guide, David Miller, pointed out to us was lichen. Lichens are a partnership between a fungus and an alga and/or cyanobacteria. The lichen we were looking at is called Brown-eyed sunshine. Isn’t that a great common name?

We paused at a small lookout dock to look at Lake Creek and learn about some of the fish in this area. Redband trout are in this area and if they can manage to get all the way to the ocean and then come back, they are then known as steelhead. There are also bull trout here. Kokanee are a landlocked type of salmon and if they go out to sea and come back they are known as sockeye salmon. A lot of effort has gone into making sure some of the kokanee can make it back. They are trucked around two dams. It is hoped that Chinook salmon will one day be a major player here.

MetoliusPreserve Fish signDLT employed the help of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to improve the habitat for fish on the preserve. A road and culvert were removed. Plants were put in by the stream in the riparian zone.  We looked at some of the plants near the creek including black hawthorn, mountain alder, ninebark, chokecherry, serviceberry, willow, mock orange, wax currant,  Nootka rose, bald hip rose, bittersweet nightshade, and horsetail. We saw lots of bulrush in the streambed.

MetoliusPreserve Forest

Drier forest area

In drier areas nearby we saw vine maple, Oregon grape, green-leaf manzanita, chinquapin, snowberry, dwarf bilberry, bracken fern, Virginia strawberry, yarrow, trailing blackberry, and Peck’s penstemon. We saw a silky lupine and also a dwarf form of lupine. We saw some pearly everlasting flowers (another one of my favorite common names), round-leaf alumroot, flax, and salsify. There were few flowers left at this time of the year. Dried tarweed plants were on the trail that we walked on.

Here are a few tidbits I learned about some of these plants:

MetoliusPreserve snowberry branch

Snowberry branch

  • Ponderosa pine trees don’t get reddish bark until they are around 80 years old.
  • Snowberry has leaves with distinctly different shapes on the same branch.
  • Serviceberry blooms at a time of year when little else is blooming so they were used in funeral services by early settlers.
  • Wax currants have a fungal growth that may spread to conifer trees so for a while foresters tried to eradicate them.
  • The bulrush plant was the one supposedly used to make a cradle for the infant Moses.
  • Silky lupine plants have incredibly soft leaves that are covered with many “hairs”.
  • Tarweed was applied by Native Americans to their skin as a way to disguise their scent when they were hunting. To me it REALLY smelled like marijuana at this time of year.

Fall’s Laughter

Close up of maple

Fall begins with joyous laughter and warm caresses that

Nod and wink as they cloak you with a touch of frost

Standing there entranced, you are enveloped by color

FallLaughs2Cool greens evolving into explosions of vibrant

Yellow, orange, and crimson

North winds swirl about you encircling you

FallLaughs4Wrapping you in the scent of remembrance

Snaps and crackles sound under your feet

Inviting you to grab handfuls and throw them into the air

FallLaughs3You smile as the coolness surrounding you is

Warmed by a shower of brilliant laughing tones

Emanating from falling leaves readying themselves for winter

Caption this! Comments & Answer

I had several comments on my Facebook page about how to caption the tree photo I posted here a couple of days ago. If I was guessing what was going on, I might have said, “Tree Hugging 101 class”. Here are captions from Facebook:

  • “Black Legged Sap Sucker – very rare, and that’s for sure”.
  • Lady sniffing tree. “Yes Harry, this is the tree that farted”
  • “Stand back, hide behind a tree and maybe the grizzly bear and the black legged sap sucker won’t notice us”.
  • “My first boyfriend wrote our initials on one of these trees”.

Caption this! - TreesThe thing that was really happening in the photo was that a volunteer naturalist at the High Desert Museum was leading a walk and he had people smelling the Ponderosa pine’s bark. It has a sweet cinnamon-like smell.

Here’s a link to an article that talks more about the tree and its unique scent. Ponderosa pines sweet smell.

 

Fort Rock – Central Oregon Attractions

Fort Rock OregonThe year is 1905 and you have traveled thousands of miles across the country. You spot a fort-shaped rock formation in the distance and know you are finally close to your destination. A sage thrasher perched atop sagebrush seems to be singing its melodic song to welcome you. As you draw closer, you see several buildings clustered around a windmill-driven well. The wind blows the desert dust into your eyes. Blinking to make sure it’s not a mirage; you can’t help but let out a sigh of relief. You made it – you are finally here.

Fort Rock OregonThough that account was fictional, it would be easy to imagine that kind of scenario as you tour the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Village Museum. The site currently contains 12 buildings from the early 1900’s that were moved to the site from various locations in Central Oregon. A replica blacksmith shop was constructed at the site in 2006 using reclaimed wood and other materials. Volunteers restored the buildings and carefully furnished them with artifacts. As you walk into a house with the table carefully set, you really get a feel for how the early pioneers lived. You will be impressed by the attention to detail. There is a small store with items related to the area on the front of the property.

Fort Rock OregonThere are buildings of businesses representative of what would have been present in a small town of that time period. A small doctor’s office sits waiting for the next patient. The Fort Rock General Store welcomes visitors with a wide selection of goods. It is the only building original to the site. It supplied goods to 1,200 people at one time. Sunset School has lessons on Fort Rock Oregonthe chalkboard and rules for teachers to abide by near the door. The pews at Saint Bridget’s Catholic Church are empty now but were once full of people at the only building in the vicinity built expressly for worship. It still serves as a place for weddings and memorials.

Fort Rock OregonSix buildings served as homes for pioneers in the early 1900’s. There was a major influx of settlers after the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 increased the allotment of land from 160 to 320 acres. Fred and Hannah Stratton moved to the area from Michigan in 1912. Their sons, Frank and Lewis, grew up in the house and Frank later married Vivian. Frank and Vivian founded the Fort Rock Valley Historical Fort Rock OregonSociety and opened the Museum in 1988. The Widmer cabin was moved from the Bend area and now houses a large collection of arrowheads and other ancient tools crafted from obsidian collected in the area. George Mekenmaier built a cabin in 1910 before he married Hazel Penrose. Their children, Beatrice and George, played in the area now known as Fort Rock Cave. Many years later, Hazel encouraged anthropologist Dr. Luther S. Cressman to explore the cave. He excavated the cave and discovered nearly 100 sagebrush bark sandals that were later determined to have been made 9,000 to 13,000 years ago. They are the oldest ever discovered and they were arranged in a ceremonial pattern. Simon Boedigheimer came to Fort Rock around 1912 and built one of the few two-story houses in the area. He left his wife and two children in the Willamette Valley while he worked on the house. A carpenter by trade, his house included special Fort Rock Oregonfeatures such as built-in shelving and a stairwell closet. The Websters and their six-year old son moved to the area in 1912. They bred Hereford-Shorthorn cattle and were very successful. Their son Carl went on to become a successful trapper and he kept careful records of his trap lines on the bedroom door casings. Alex Belletable and his wife came to Fort Rock in 1911. He was Fort Rock Oregonone of the wealthier homesteaders in the valley. The couple were French immigrants and they tried farming in the area but were not nearly as successful as they had been in France. They left the area in 1922.

Fort Rock is a short drive away and it is now part of a state natural area. After a short walk uphill, you enter an amphitheater-like setting. The formation is part of a 6,000 foot wide caldera. About 12,000 years ago this area was covered by ice hundreds to thousands of feet thick. Temperatures warmed and a 900 square mile lake formed over the site. Three thousand years later sagebrush replaced the marshlands.

Fort Rock OregonThe Brother’s Fault zone lies beneath the site. Faults allow magma to get to the surface. As the lava hit the water, it caused a massive explosion. This explosion, and the prevailing Southwesterly winds, caused the horseshoe shape of the Fort Rock formation.  The tuff walls are all that remain as it collapsed upon itself. Terraces formed by the pounding action of the waves can be seen on surfaces of the tuff ring.

When I was there in May of 2015 on a Bend Parks and Recreation field trip, wildflowers were in full bloom and cliff dwelling birds flew around the site. There was a thick stand of death camas in the crater. A few bitterroot plants bloomed nearby. Early pioneers quickly learned from the resident Native Americans that the camas was poisonous while the bitterroot root could provide sustenance. Meriwether Lewis ate bitterroot during his explorations and brought specimens back east. The scientific name, Lewisia rediviva, reflects his discovery of the plant.

Tours of the cave where the ancient sandals were discovered are available by reservation only through Oregon State Parks.Fort Rock Oregon

Fort Rock Oregon

Branches

Cling on to leaves all seasons

Brilliant leaves dropping in fall

Profusions of big, bold flowers

Flowers that are quiet and small

Cones that depend upon fire

Tiny, but intoxicating cones

Juicy, sweet abundant fruit

Fruit that is dry as a bone

Delicate and ephemeral

Resilient and strong

Twisting and rough

Straight and long

Furrows in the bark

Bark peeling and red

Running near the surface roots

Deep-reaching roots that are more widespread

Lava Cast Forest

Lava Cast Forest, Oregon

A walk along the mile-long trail of the Lava Cast Forest gives you a glimpse of how recent volcanic activity has affected the local environment. The trail is located several miles directly west of Sunriver, Oregon in part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument .

Lava Cast Forest, OregonThe Newberry National Volcanic Monument was established in 1990 and it preserves some unique features created in the recent geological past.  Newberry volcano erupted 7,000 years ago and smooth textured pahoehoe lava flowed through a series of fissures along its northwest flank. This is known as the Northwest Rift Zone. The lava enveloped the forest creating lava trees and tree molds that are still visible today.

The most recent activity related to the Newberry volcano occurred 1,300 years ago.  You can see the results of that activity by visiting the Big Obsidian Flow nearby.

Lava Cast Forest, Oregon     There is evidence of three distinct lava flows in this area of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.  These are identified as the Lava Cast Forest Flow, the Cascade Flow, and the Forest Road Flow.

The area is slowly recovering from the past volcanic activity and healthy plant communities can be seen along the trail. Ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, white fir, and a variety of shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers are present. At certain times of the year, flowers such as Indian paintbrush and purple penstemon display a marked contrast against the grayish-black volcanic rock. Many plants have established themselves in the wind-blown ash that settled on the soil.

Lava Cast Forest, OregonYou may also catch a glimpse of some of the wildlife living in the area. The small mammal called a pika prefers to live in rocky habitats and you may hear its whistling call. Red-breasted nuthatch birds can be seen working down the sides of trees and heard calling in short nasal tones. Golden-mantled ground squirrels and yellow-pine chipmunks may scurry across the trail in front of you. A red-tailed hawk may drift over you carried by the warm thermals.

Remnants of a lava lake can be seen along the trail. Pahoehoe lava poured through a series of vents and settled into a depression.

Lava Cast Forest, OregonTree molds can be seen in many places along the trail. As lava flowed through the forest, it piled up along the upstream side of the trees burning them out but leaving a “mold” of the tree’s form. Some of the trees snapped off and were carried away by the lava; others fell to the ground and were hollowed out by the flows.

At one point along the trail you can see an island of trees surrounded by a rocky landscape. This feature is called a “kipuka”. This particular spot consists of older cinder cones that were encircled by younger lava.

Lava Cast Forest, OregonTo learn more about this and other volcanic features in the area, be sure to visit the Lava Lands Visitor Center located south of Bend. See this link for hours of operation and additional information.  Note that this center is only open from May 1 to mid-October. http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/deschutes/recreation/recarea/?recid=38394

Sagebrush Steppe Critters

Most people think of habitats dominated by sagebrush as flat and boring and 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.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/09/03/western-sagebrush-is-vanishing-and-these-10-animals-are-just-trying-to-hang-on/

Can you find the magpie photobombing one of the pictures in the article?

PygmyRabbitCI have seen all of the animals mentioned 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 was there, a captive breeding program was started and they have been successfully reintroduced in the region.

Here’s an interesting article about the current state of the recovery program.

http://www.bendbulletin.com/outdoors/3254067-151/pygmy-rabbit-revival-takes-a-large-leap-forward

You Otter Know

North American River Otter

North American River Otter

The High Desert Museum introduced a new North American river otter, Lontra canadensis,  into the otter display last summer. Rogue, the Museum’s 4-year old otter, was anxious to meet the new addition. After a short period of adjustment, they became the best of friends. Here’s a bit more about river otters:

Range: The North American River Otter ranges throughout most of North America including parts of Canada, the Pacific Northwest, the Atlantic states, and the Gulf of Mexico.

TwoOtters CIdentification & unique characteristics: Otters have long streamlined bodies and webbed feet. Males weigh an average of 25 pounds and females weigh 18 pounds. They range in length from 26-42 inches and one-third of that length consists of the tail. Otters have a flat head with small, rounded ears and long whiskers that act as feelers. Their fur is dark brown above shading to a silvery grey on their undersides and throat. The thick coat of river otters repels water and has about 160,000 hairs per square inch. They spend most of their time in the water and OttersFeet Ccan hold their breath for as long as eight minutes. Otters can swim at speeds up to seven miles per hour and dive 60 feet below the surface. They have an acute sense of smell and hearing but are near-sighted.


Behavior & life historyOtterhalfWater C:
This intelligent and curious animal is active year round but may be more active at night during the spring, summer, and fall and more active during the day in the winter. Known for their sense of play, they have been observed sliding down riverbanks and snowy hills, rolling over and somersaulting in the water, wrestling, and chasing one another. They are more social than other closely related mammals and can be seen living together in family groups. Otters communicate with each other with scent-marking and through a variety of vocalizations such as barks, growls, chuckles, whistles, and chirps. They hunt mainly at night and feed on a wide variety of prey including mammals, waterfowl, turtles, salamanders, frogs, slow-moving fish, crayfish, and aquatic insects. River otters live an average of 8 – 9 years in the wild and 18 – 21 years in captivity. They are mature at two years of age. Females raise litters of 1 – 6  young in dens.

Habitat needs:  Otters live near waterways, lakes, marshes, and coastal areas. They have adapted to living in a wide range of elevations and habitats. Their home range may be 15 square miles or more.

OtterUnderwater2 CStatus & conservation: By the early 1900’s, populations had decreased in large parts of their range due to unregulated trapping and development by settlers. More recently, their numbers were reduced due to habitat loss and pollution. Management efforts began in the 1970’s. They have been successfully reintroduced into 21 states where they once lived including parts of the Midwest. Populations are currently stable in much of their range.

OtterUnderwater CInteresting facts: The nostrils and ear holes close when the animal submerges underwater. The right lung is larger than the left and this may help them adapt to living in the water.

Birding Around Bend

A fluttering of wings draws my eyes. An unknown call turns my head. Finding birds and figuring out what they are is like working as an investigative detective. You notice things that don’t fit into the puzzle that forms the background environment. I’m no expert but I look for clues such as the silhouette, size, markings, behavior, and sound. Apps such as iBird and various field guides help you narrow down the list of possible suspects when you are out birding. Sometimes you know what something is right away; other times you need to confer with others. There are times when you have only a fleeting glimpse so then you might refer to the bird as an LBJ – Little Brown Jobbie.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Birding in the High Desert

Though Bend is located in a desert environment, there is no shortage in the number and variety of birds that live here. We are fortunate that there are so many organizations involved in educating visitors and residents about the wealth of feathered creatures in the area. I have been on birding walks with the High Desert Museum, East Cascades Audubon Society, Sunriver Nature Center, and Deschutes Land Trust. People who go on the walks range from novice to very experienced birders.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Many of the guided walks have one thing in common – water. Even in my own yard a water feature attracts birds like some super powerful magnet. Lakes, rivers, ponds, and even small backyard water features, draw birds in.

I see a rainbow of birds in my backyard from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy recliner. The constant flurry of activity includes the brilliant blue of mountain bluebirds, yellow of lesser goldfinches, red of Cassin’s finch, impossibly smooth tannish-brown and butter yellow of cedar waxwings, and soft gray of mourning and Eurasian collared-doves. A sharp-shinned hawk occasionally comes in for a quick meal. I also get to see unusual visitors such as leucistic American robins and dark-eyed juncos. Leucistic birds have plumage that is partially white and they really catch your eye.

Deschutes County has a wide variety of habitats ranging from high elevation mountains with alpine plant communities to lower elevation sagebrush steppe. You might see gray-crowned rosy finches on the way up South Sister or sage grouse on a lek at lower elevations near Millican. Several websites list birds you are likely to see at various locations. The Birding Oregon site has some detailed information on where to go. Here is the Deschutes County link http://birdingoregon.info/Home/DeschutesCounty/tabid/168/Default.aspx .

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Birding hot spot in Deschutes County

One of the hot spots for birding in Deschutes County is Hatfield Lake, a wastewater-treatment facility. Nearly 200 species have been observed at this location just north of the Bend Municipal Airport. It also holds the distinction of producing more rare bird sightings than just about any other location in Central Oregon. There are websites such as http://lists.oregonstate.edu/mailman/listinfo/cobol where people share sightings from this and other locations.

Bird events and guided trips

There are also opportunities to look for specific types of birds. In September and October the East Cascades Audubon Society (ECAS), records the number and types of hawks and other raptors migrating over Green Ridge, located near Sisters, OR. The High Desert Museum (HDM) works in cooperation with ECAS at this event. Up to 16 different species have been observed there during the count. They have seen nearly 500 birds on their best days. In mid-June, ECAS also puts on the Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival where participants go out in search of the 11 species that live in the area.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Damian Fagan, recently hired by HDM, takes participants out on a Museum-sponsored field trip. The Museum and US Forest Service are involved in a bird banding study. Limited space is available on field trips to the study site at Ryan Ranch Meadow.

If you ever want to learn more about birds in this area, take advantage of some of the many field trips available. Participants are always willing to help you spot birds – no matter what your level of expertise is.

Santiam Wagon Road – Central Oregon Attractions

A remnant of the Santiam Wagon Road

A remnant of the Santiam Wagon Road

If you are looking for an interesting historical area to visit that is close to Bend, try following parts of the route of the Santiam Wagon Road as it parallels present day Highway 20 and parts of Highway 126 between the cities of Sisters and Lebanon, Oregon. This particular wagon road is interesting because its purpose was to provide safe passage from the Willamette Valley eastwards into central Oregon. A route was found in 1859 by connecting old Native American trails to a route discovered by Hudson’s Bay Company trapper Thomas McKay. It became the main route across the Central Cascades from 1865 to 1939. In 1939 the Santiam Highway opened.

The road was maintained by the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Wagon Road. Local ranchers formed the company with Andrew Wiley, John Gray, and John Brandenburg, the pioneers who originally proposed the road and scouted a route. Tolls were collected along the route. Settlers used the road to move their livestock eastwards to pasture lands and markets. The new road also enabled trade, commerce, and communication to pass between areas East and West of the Cascades.

Santiam Ski Lodge

Santiam Ski Lodge

On a recent visit, we stopped at an abandoned building just north of Hoodoo Ski Resort. The Santiam Ski Lodge was built in 1939 by the US Forest Service with help from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It is a big lodge-style building with a rock wall base supporting large log beams. It slept 60 people. Now in disrepair, a potential buyer found out that it would cost as much as $5 million to make it usable.

Another bit of local history in this vicinity focuses on a mile and a half of railroad track that was constructed at Hogg Rock. Colonel T. Eggenton Hogg thought he could make a lot of money by creating a rail line across the Cascades which would have connected Newport, Oregon and Boise, Idaho. As a part of his money making scheme, he had workers start at the summit of Santiam Pass and start building a track through the sheer rock face. He only built a small section of track and then used mules to move a boxcar along the tracks to retain the rights to the pass by having a “working” right of way. The line was never completed after Hogg lost financial backing for the project.

Oregon grape

Oregon grape

Our group hiked 2.2 miles starting at USFS Road 2672 near Hackleman Creek. This trail follows the old wagon trail through old growth forests. You can almost imagine what the early settlers had to go through following the slow progress of their wagons along the road. We had to ford a few streams and climb a short hill as we made our way to the Fish Lake Remount Station.  In May, trillium, fairy slipper orchids, and Oregon grape were in full bloom. Winter Wrens made sure we were aware of their territory by singing loudly as we made our way along the trail.  The distinct distant calls, and large cavities observed in Ponderosa pine, cued us in to the presence of pileated woodpeckers.

The meadow that has replaced Fish Lake

The meadow that has replaced Fish Lake

We arrived at the Fish Lake Remount Station in a little over an hour. The seasonal lake had faded away to be replaced by a large meadow. Native Americans hunted, fished, and collected plants in this area long ago. Settlers stopped at Fish Lake to stay in the roadhouse, built in 1867, and get much needed supplies as they made their way along the wagon road. The Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Wagon Road Company ceased operations to Fish Lake in 1907. The area was also popular for camping and it was not uncommon to see 100 wagons camped there in summer months. The saloon and hotel burned down in the 1920’s.

The Forest Service used the site to rest their pack animals and stock up on supplies. Packstrings sometimes had as many as 20 horses and mules tied together.  Three cabins and several outbuildings were built in the 1920’s and 1930’s and are still standing today. The CCC built several of the structures in 1934.

Cabin at Fish Lake Remount Station

Cabin at Fish Lake Remount Station

There is a parking area about ¼ mile away from Remount Station. There are several picnic tables at the site and a great view of the lake (or meadow depending on the time of year). If you want to spend more time there, Hall House, which served as the supervisor’s cabin, is available to rent out through http://www.recreation.gov/.

Smooth

SmoothPhoto3

I moved to the high desert a couple of years ago and thought I left some of my favorite friends behind. One of my favorite birds where I lived before was the cedar waxwing. I felt lucky when I saw one.

If I could use one word to describe cedar waxwings it would be “smooth”.  Whenever I see one I have an urge to reach out and touch it. Its tawny feathers ombre into a creamy yellow on its underparts and gray near its tail. The feathers connect together so tightly that they give it a silky smooth appearance.

SmoothPhoto2Cedar waxwings get their name by a unique feature on the tips of their wings and tail. They look as if they got too close to a craft project that involved melting crayons. The tail is tipped in Sunshine Yellow. Small waxy droplets of Sizzling Red tip the wings.

They seem to wear a disguise on their faces. Black masks bordered with white frame their eyes. They raise a small crest of feathers on the tops of their heads as part of their communication. It alters their appearance so that they look like someone else.

Their voices are a wispy series of notes. I always recognize it even if I don’t see the bird. It is very high pitched making them sound smaller than they actually are. One time I saw a grosbeak feeding one and thought it might be because it mistook the call for one of its young.

SmoothPhoto1At some times of the year, waxwings flock together. I see specks flying high across the sky announcing their identity with their distinctive calls.  I used to be happy to see one or two waxwing birds at a time but now I see flocks in my yard.

I left behind people I had grown close to to move here. I thought I was leaving everyone but now I flock with different crowds. Sometimes they remind me so much of someone I knew before. Are they wearing disguises or did a special piece of my past follow me to my present?

Skeleton Cave – Central Oregon Attractions

Skeleton Cave – the name immediately brings questions to your mind. The designation refers to the discovery of several animal skeletons that were found inside of the cave. This lava tube cave is located south of Bend off of the China Hat Road (also known as Road 18). To date, 690 caves have been discovered in Deschutes County and 577 of them are lava tubes.

IMG_0930There is currently a metal staircase leading down into the cave but in the past it was just like a large pit trap that animals sometimes fell into and then could not escape. Skeletons and fossilized remains of several species of animals have been found within the cave. These included horse, deer, elk, bear, fox, a large hyena-type canid, lynx, a small carnivore, and various rodents. The horse skeleton found in the cave was determined to be that of Equus niobrarensis. It lived during the Pleistocene era that ended 10,000 years ago.

IMG_0942The cave was discovered in 1924, although writing on the cave wall indicates it may have been visited in 1894. An old still was found in the cave. It was surveyed by Walter T. Perry and Phil Brogan. They measured the main cave at 3,036 feet long with a side passage of 1,734 feet. In 1971 Jim Neiland measured the cave more accurately at a length of 3,560 feet.

Lava tubes are tunnels that form when slow moving lava develops a hard exterior crust that thickens as the interior, faster flowing, lava continues to flow through until it drains away.

IMG_0948On the ceiling of Skeleton Cave you can see “lavacicles” which are a variety of stalactites. They form as the lava drips from the roof of a cave and cools and hardens.

The cave is popular with visitors and many people have enjoyed exploring it. The temperature inside the cave averages 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Visitors can walk into the first part of the cave and explore deeper sections by climbing and crawling.

Unfortunately visitors are impacting the habitats within Skeleton Cave and other caves nearby. The number of recreational cavers (or spelunkers) increased as Bend’s population increased. The parking lot was located close to the cave opening and provided easy access. Skeleton cave was known as “The Party Cave”. Vandals spray painted graffiti and left their garbage behind. Some of the sport climbers left bolts and chalk lines that began to accumulate on the cave walls and ceiling. Bat populations in the caves were dropping since people were in the caves during their hibernation period. Unlike other mammals that hibernate, bats have very little body fat so if they are disturbed they may die. There are nine species of bats living in the caves near China Hat Road.

The Road 18 Caves Project Environmental Assessment was designed to “analyze effects of humans on wildlife resources (including bat habitat), recreational opportunities, geologic features, native vegetation, and cultural resources in nine SkeletonCaveGuideJuly2015caves in regards to past, present and future use” in the area located eight miles Southeast of Bend, Oregon. The findings were published in 2001. Some of the recommendations included gating some of the cave entrances, moving parking lots farther away from entrances, preventing entry during the time when bats hibernate, and limiting or removing bolts used by sports climbers. This was a controversial decision because people have a right to explore caves but the caves are also protected under the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act.

In order to protect the habitats within Skeleton Cave, it can only be accessed through private commercial tours. Wanderlust Tours has a special permit to access the caves. They provide helmets, lights, and a naturalist guide.

To learn more facts about caves, visit the Oregon High Desert Grotto website at http://ohdgrotto.caves.org/