An artist’s wish

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park 5June2015

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Sometimes an artist’s greatest wish is that others will be able to see the emotion and spirit of a place in their work. I hope you can feel some of what I was trying to capture in this photo from Yellowstone National Park.

Art is about expressing the true nature of the human spirit in whatever way one wishes to express it. If it is honest, it is beautiful. If it is not honest, it is obvious.
Corin Nemec

Weekly Photo Challenge – Wish

Spasmodic Geyser

Spasmodic Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, WY 3June2015I have always had a special feeling about Spasmodic Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Why? I think part of it has to do with the interesting name. Check out this short video and  watch for the butterfly that tempts fate.

Eruptions from this geyser range from a few inches to 20 feet in height. The time between eruptions varies but is usually in the range of 1-3 hours. Spasmodic Geyser has a temperature of 198° F. This geyser was named by Geologist A.C. Peale when he was doing work with the 1878 Hayden survey team. Peale chose this name due to the geyser’s erratic behavior.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Names

Grounded 2

Thermophiles Yellowstone NPkLook beneath your feet
And notice

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colors blending Yellowstone NPk

Notice the textures
Notice the colors blending
And bold

Textures Yellowstone NPk

Near Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone NPk

Bold and brilliant hues
Bold and distinct edges
And patterns

 

 

 

 

 

Ridges Yellowstone NPk

Patterns of cracks
Patterns of smoothness
And transitions

Pebbles Yellowstone NPk

 

Transitions Yellowstone NPk

Transitions moving towards new
Transitions moving in a rhythm
And beat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone NPk

Beat into the earth
Beat into your memory
And soul

I am re-posting one of my favorite posts in celebration of one year of blogging and 100 entries. Hope you are enjoying my blog!

Bison celebrating 4th

Bison in Yellowstone National Park 13 June 2011

Say hello to our new national mammal

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  

Lewis & Clark Critter Quiz

Bison at Yellowstone National Park, WY

Hmmm…a predominantly pink woodpecker named after a famous early American explorer and a wily relative of the crow named after his partner. That might make for an interesting bit of writing. I started to research the topic.

Little did I know there was controversy linked to the plants and animals “discovered” on the Lewis and Clark expedition. The expedition supposedly discovered 178 plants and 122+ animals previously unknown to science. Or did they?

Other sources say they “encountered” or “reported” certain wildlife and plants. Due to discussions as to the accuracy of previously published lists, one recent list is divided into two sections: Discovered (for the first time by European Americans) and Described. Some of the flora and fauna species had been discovered in other parts of North America (or the world) prior to the time of the expedition while others had been a part of native people’s life for many years.

I am lucky to have seen many of the wildlife species that Lewis and Clark discovered and described. Here is a quiz that includes pictures of wildlife encountered on the expedition.

Did the Lewis & Clark expedition Discover them or Describe them? The answers are at the end of the quiz.

Sandhill Crane at Malheur NWR, OR

1. Sandhill crane, Grus canadensis

Clark's Nutcracker at Mt. Bachelor, OR

2. Clark’s nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana

Bison in Yellowstone National Park, WY

3. American bison,  Bison bison

Channel Catfish by Siobhan Sullivan

4. Channel catfish,  Ictalurus punctatus

Lewis's Woodpecker in Bend, OR

5. Lewis’s woodpecker,  Melanerpes lewis

Red Fox at Yellowstone National Park, WY

6. Red fox,  Vulpes vulpes

Pronghorn at Yellowstone National Park, WY

7. Pronghorn,  Antilocapra americana

Mergansers Bend,OR

8. Common merganser, Mergus merganser

The answers:

  1. Sandhill crane – Described
  2. Clark’s nutcracker – Discovered
  3. Bison – Described
  4. Channel catfish – Discovered
  5. Lewis’s woodpecker – Discovered
  6. Red fox – Described
  7. Pronghorn – Discovered
  8. Common merganser – Described

Grounded

Thermophiles Yellowstone NPkLook beneath your feet
And notice

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colors blending Yellowstone NPk

Notice the textures
Notice the colors blending
And bold

Textures Yellowstone NPk

Near Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone NPk

Bold and brilliant hues
Bold and distinct edges
And patterns

 

 

 

 

 

Ridges Yellowstone NPk

Patterns of cracks
Patterns of smoothness
And transitions

Pebbles Yellowstone NPk

 

Transitions Yellowstone NPk

Transitions moving towards new
Transitions moving in a rhythm
And beat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone NPk

Beat into the earth
Beat into your memory
And soul

Twitter

Audubon's Warbler

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.

Audubon's warbler

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.

In 1871 the U.S. Geological Survey sent an exploratory expedition to the Yellowstone area. Artist Thomas Moran was a member of the team and he painted  a picture of the falls  that showed the public one of the area’s natural wonders.  William Henry Jackson was also part of the expedition and he took black and white photographs of the area. Due to the Moran paintings, Jackson photographs, and the observations of early explorers, the area was designated as the world’s first national park in 1872. Moran’s colorful paintings were instrumental in convincing Congress to preserve the region.

Tower Falls 6-2015

So you might say that this twittering bird had lead me to the place where a short message – in the form of an image of the falls – saved the land for generations to come. It was like a “tweet” in its time that was seen by thousands.

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.

 

 

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.