Nature

Bryan Carlson on November 19th, 2012

While reading through the latest Douglasia, the journal of the Washington Native Plant Society, I learned that our very own neighborhood canyon is an official preserve! We posted about the canyon before when it was just a proposal. Thanks to Joe Arnett and all the hard work from the WA Natural Heritage Program (and others), Peter Goldmark signed Order 201211 on April 25, 2012 to designate the canyon as a 1,060 acre preserve. The land transfers are not finalized, but things are looking good!

I think most of those that live in Northport are aware of the unique beauty of the canyon. But everyone should still watch this excellent (but low video quality) talk by Joe Arnett during a DNR public hearing:

Continue reading about Trombetta Canyon Natural Area Preserve — It’s Official

Bryan Carlson on February 9th, 2012

Below is a video taken during one of our Adventures. In the clip you see Gerhard Carlson explain some of the wonderful uses of cattails.

Continue reading about Cattails – a Survivalist’s Dream

Lauren Kelly on November 6th, 2011

A moose spotted in the wild

It is the beginning of May, and I’m bundled up in three layers of shirts under a winter jacket. My hair is tucked under a thick, wool cap, my feet fit snugly into mismatched black snow boots, and I am still struggling to free my fingers from a warm pair of gloves. Our car has the heat blasting, the radio blaring, and thermoses of half-consumed hot coffee lodged in every cup holder. Through the window, I stare at a mountainside blanketed in snow, firs poking up from the ground like candles in a cake. It is the beginning of May, and I am about to see my first moose.

Our caravan’s main purpose is not, in fact, moose-spotting. As part of a field ecology course at Washington State University, we are characterizing community types throughout Washington, mainly by examining vegetation. As a graduate student who studies plant invasion, I will be the first to admit that plants are awesome and often underappreciated members of an ecosystem. However, I will also confess that as we pull over and my advisor points animatedly to the open patch on the other side of the road, no one is gawking at the trees.

These Moose were Made for Walking (and Swimming!)

Our moose is female. She is smaller than a male bull, and lacks his characteristic antlers, which can span up to 6 feet. I later learn that the number of points per antler depends on health and age; after approximately five years, the forked antlers of young males develop into the palmate spread associated with the species. She watches us cautiously for a few moments before returning to forging. Tall shrubs, grasses, and pinecones are all on the menu until food becomes more plentiful. Her strong hooves can also scrape snow from the ground, exposing moss and lichen for consumption.

 

The Breakdown: Horns vs Antlers

Horns

Antlers

Unforked

Forked

Permanent

Shed annually

Family Bovidae (Bovids)

Family Cervidae (Deer Family)

Often found on males and females

Only found on males (except caribou)

 

Though her hooves are helpful for finding food, they serve many other functions as well. On land they act as snowshoes, allowing her to navigate even soft snow, and in the water they transform into effective paddles—moose can swim for several miles at a time and even be completely submerged for up to 30 seconds. Our moose moves leisurely now, but, if prompted, she could reach a top speed of 35 miles per hour. As my friend Angela pulls out her camera, another student excitedly exclaims, “I think there’s another one!”

Another moose sighting likely signifies one thing: a calf. Excluding cows and their calves, moose are solitary creatures, who come together only to mate in September and October. Females are attracted to a male bull’s loud bellowing, and competing males may clash with antlers. Females give birth to a single calf (or rarely twins) when spring arrives. Indeed, our group spots a gangly young moose half-hidden behind a tree. She is even more wary than her mother, and has yet to reach her full size of between 600 and 800 pounds. Mother and daughter will stay together until the next mating season, when yearlings are often chased off so that another baby can be born.

Do Not Mess with a Moose

Our discovery is undeniably exhilarating; however, the presence of a mother and her calf warrants extra caution. Moose can be aggressive, especially if a mother feels her calf is threatened. Our group remains on the other side of the road, making sure to give the pair enough space. Other tips for a safe moose encounter like ours include:

  • Avoiding hiking and camping with dogs in moose country (moose have been known to attack dogs due to their resemblance to wolves)
  • Yielding to moose on the road while driving (attempting to move the moose may provoke it)
  • Never feeding a moose
  • Watching for signs of aggression (stomping, swinging head, raised hair on shoulders, ears flattened)
  • Running if under attack (unlike predators such as cougars, moose are unlikely to chase you far, and you can move around obstacles faster)
  • If knocked down, curling up, covering your head, and staying still is best until moose moves on (movement can trigger another attack)

 

References

Continue reading about Moose Watching

Bryan Carlson on September 2nd, 2011

Trombetta Canyon

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently made public their proposal of a new Natural Area Preserve (NAP) near Northport, WA.  The proposed Trombetta Canyon NAP, located about 2 miles south of Northport and right at SMOS’s backdoor, will protect two ecosystems that are rare in Washington – limestone dominated scrub-shrub and limestone dominated wetlands.  The proposed preserve is a responsible decision for our environment and opens up wonderful opportunities for SMOS.

As a child, growing up at the northern mouth of Trombetta Canyon presented me with many great wilderness experiences.  I have many memories of watching moose and elk meander out of the canyon, of a red-tail hawk attacking a mallard in mid-flight, and watching an injured cougar run into the canyon for safety.  The point of the preserve, however, is not only to protect these animals, but it is to protect the entire ecosystem that they depend on.  I didn’t know this as a child, but the limestone cliffs are rare in Washington and contribute a special type of habitat for plants and animals.  The way that the limestone rock breaks down from rain and other processes creates a type of water and soil chemistry that only certain plants are adapted to.  This, combined with other environmental factors, allows Trombetta Canyon to host rare plant species and other species important for conservation.  The DNR’s decision to protect this unique ecosystem is necessary to conserve the canyon’s natural beauty and rare species.

The preserve will not only protect the environment, but it will also benefit SMOS.  The Natural Area Preserve program sets aside land for conservation, research, and education.  In the past, DNR has monitored over 350 studies and utilized NAPs to serve as outdoor classrooms for K-12 schools and colleges.  The purposes of the NAP program are directly inline with the purposes of SMOS.  Having a large preserve (the canyon itself is approximately 270 acres, the formation includes about 960 acres) adjacent to land already utilized for SMOS functions is a huge potential boon for our outdoor school.

 

Limestone Cliffs of Trombetta Canyon

The boundary for the Trombetta Canyon Preserve is not set in stone.  DNR is still accepting public comments at this time.  I urge all of you to attend their upcoming meeting (details below) and show your support.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will hold a public hearing to provide information and receive testimony on the proposed boundary of Trombetta Canyon Natural Area Preserve (NAP). The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, 2011, in the lunch room at Northport Public Schools, 408 10th Street, Northport, WA.

Continue reading about Trombetta Canyon Natural Area Preserve

Jenny King on June 10th, 2011

Eastern fairy-slipper orchid in northeastern Washington

When most people think about the flowering plants orchids, the mind inevitably drifts to images of warm, vibrant, and humid tropical forests. The general association of orchids with the tropics is not misplaced, as this enormous plant family finds a great majority of its species rather restricted to habitats around the world’s equator. Certainly some orchid blossoms grow in unique and delicate shapes so that they look more like exotic jungle birds or butterflies than basic flowers. However, like the few rebellious members found in any large family, a small set of orchid species have spread and adapted to the colder, drier environments of more northern latitudes. Thanks to such evolutionary diversification, the Canadian Rockies ecoregion is home to several orchid species; Eastern fairyslipper orchids (photo above, Calypso bulbosa), American Frog orchids (Coeloglossum viride), coralroot orchids (photo below, Corallorhiza striata), Bog or Fen orchids (Liparis loeselii and Platanthera), and White Piperia or White Pearl orchids (Piperia).

Description of a typical northern orchid

The sight of such intricate wildflowers in forests with the harsh winter climate of the Canadian Rockies ecoregion is often a pleasant spring surprise for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. All wild orchids in northeastern Washington grow on the ground, and so are called terrestrial or geophytic species. Their flowering stalks, which on orchids are commonly called “spikes,” typically extend straight up from the ground and range in height among the species in this region from several inches to almost two feet tall. This spike will contain either a single or numerous individual flowers depending on the species. Orchid flowers are distinguishable by their irregular arrangement of 6 petals and sepals; 5 are generally small and similar in color, but one petal is larger, “lipped,” and usually more distinctive in color and pattern in order to signal insect pollinators and serve as their landing platform (Koopowitz 2001).

Ironically, however, the showiness of orchids to woodland insects does not always make them easy for a human eye to spot in a casual sweep of the forest floor. The same intricate spike and flower markings that create a target to the eyes of wasps or butterflies can just as easily camouflage some orchids from hikers or other animals (likely a handy survival trick evolved by escaping herbivores!). This is particularly true of the shade-loving species that thrive among underbrush or in similarly dim places. Finding orchids is therefore much easier if you know what to look for before heading outside.

How to find an orchid

The prime time to be on the lookout for wild North American orchids is now (late spring/early summer), with the exact timing of bloom each year varying just as in other wildflowers. These growth-timing patterns are known as “phenology,” and much more information on this topic in numerous plant species can be found through the program “Project Budburst” on their interactive website. Unusually early or late growing seasons such as this year may influence the phenology of orchids severely; in extreme cases the plants may not sprout or else bloom successfully at all.

While the initial finding may be tricky, another exciting trait of terrestrial orchids is that spotting one plant likely means finding a whole patch. Most orchids spread through vegetative propagation more easily than seeds so that, once established in a favorable spot, whole clumps of clonal orchids will reappear each year that weather permits and attempt to spread slowly outward. All of the orchid species in this area have extremely specific growth requirements and so seem restricted to a select few patches of landscape, but once a patch is found it can be an exciting place to return and monitor for change each year. Besides, this elusiveness is one of the traits that make an orchid in the wild exotic and its’ finding fun. Although no orchids in the Canadian Rockies ecoregion are edible, their rarity may inspire a hunt in anyone who also enjoys seeking the mysterious local favorites of the forest floor, huckleberries and morel mushrooms.

The coralroot orchid – a Northport local!

One species I have seen over multiple years and in several locations around Northport, WA, making it a good candidate to look out for anywhere in the area, is the coralroot orchid. These beautiful wildflowers produce tall (1-2 foot) spikes of multiple, delicately striped blossoms. This orchid also happens to be one of the most fascinating plants to grow in this region because it does not use leaves to capture energy from sunlight (the typical process plants use, called photosynthesis)! Instead, coralroot orchid roots surround the roots of mature trees and work with specialized fungi to harvest sugars produced by the much larger and protective plant. Coralroot orchids therefore have no leaves and can only be found by their tall, elegant flower spikes. The two locations where I have happily spotted coralroot orchids in Northport are both east-facing slopes within roughly 20 feet of bodies of water, and both sites are heavily shaded by Douglas-fir trees. Although the exact requirements and plant relationships of coralroot orchids may vary across broader ranges, the similarity of sites here in Northport suggests that the Douglas-fir are what the orchids rely on for nutrition, and that wet soil and dense shade are essential.

Coralroot orchid in northeastern Washington

What to do when you find an orchid

Finally, a general tip for enjoying the wild orchids of the Canadian Rockies ecoregion is to take no more than pictures. Since Victorian times, orchids have become well-known and increasingly collected for their unusual shapes, striking colors, and sometimes strong perfumes. Some species have even become commonly cultivated by the floral industry – think of that all-important orchid corsage from high school prom! However, the orchids that survive in this region have a list of traits making them completely unsuitable for potting or picking (both practices are actually considered poaching and illegal on public lands!); these plants are highly sensitive to disturbance, have uncertain growth requirements, are slow-growing, and are increasingly rare in the local habitat. What you can do to help the wild orchids is document sightings through photos and GPS locations, which are gladly collected by the Washington State Native Orchid Society. For more information on any of the species listed here, to submit orchid location information, or for help identifying orchid species you find, visit their website.

Continue reading about Orchids in Northern Washington State