Saturday, May 14, 2016

Prairie Appreciation Day

     Here in Thurston county, at the southern end of Budd inlet in Washington state, we are fortunate to have some beautiful, very unique prairies.  Historically, this land was covered with trees, especially Douglas fir trees.  However the southern reach of the county marks the final boundary of the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago. 
Gray Hairstreak butterfly on cotoneaster flowers

     As the ice field bulldozed south, it removed all living plants and left huge piles of gravel behind in what is today called a gravel outwash prairie.

     Once the ice retreated, these gravel areas became home to a unique set of plants and animals.  Rather than trees, these prairies are dominated by grasses such as Idaho fescue, and flowers such as camas.  The indigenous tribes of the area:  the Nisqually, the  Puyallup and others used these prairies as agricultural fields, burning them regularly to keep the trees back and keep their food and medicine plants thriving.

     These prairies are still alive.  Once a year, we celebrate them.  Glen and I will be staffing an informational table on butterflies (it turns out that there are butterflies very specialized to these prairies).  

Here is a link on Prairie Appreciation Day:  http://www.prairieappreciationday.org

Here is a link to information about these unique prairies:  http://www.southsoundprairies.org/visit-the-prairies/

If you are interested in learning more about butterflies in the Pacific Northwest, here is a link to our resource page:  Butterflies -- Resources 2016

Janet
Resources:  photo by Nancy Partlow

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Prairie in Bloom

Text and photos by Nancy Partlow ©
 
Every year, I  keep trying to see the prairies at the peak of bloom, but never manage to time it just right.  This year, serendipitously, I finally did.  A few days ago I was driving along  Delphi Road when I noticed that the grounds of the Old Delphi Schoolhouse were a gorgeous carpet of blue camas lilies. 
 
 
Wow!  What a knockout sight.
 
 
This told me that the prairies must be in full flower as well.

So yesterday I drove to the Mima  Preserve trail to check out the show.  But when I got there, I was kind of disappointed.   The bloom was nice, but not what I was hoping for.
 
Knowing that farther south on Mima Road near Bordeaux  the camas fields are more robust, I headed there instead.   Upon arrival, I was not disappointed.  The roadsides were thick with blue stars and the prairie itself  an undulating patchwork of  azure lilies and yellow lomatiam. 
 
 
 
As I soaked in the beauty of the scene, the naturalist in me wondered if the  unseasonably hot weather earlier in the week  had brought on a sudden and intense flowering that usually takes place over a longer period of time. I also pondered whether climate change will eventually cause spring-emerging insects that rely on native flowers for food to miss an ever-earlier bloom period.   
 
Queen Bombus vosnesenskii bumble bee gathering nectar
and pollen from a camas lily

Such gloomy thoughts aside, I also remembered my great-grandmother Cynthia, who lived with us while I was growing up.  Cynthia was born and raised on the Camas Prairie in Idaho in the late 1800's.  Sights such as this must have been very familiar to her.
 
In researching this story, I learned that the camas prairie she knew is now gone.  This makes me grateful that at least some of ours have been preserved.  Long may they flower.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Wild Success: Food

 
Part 3 in a series of stories about the Capitol Lake Interpretive Center

Text by Nancy Partlow©  All photos were taken at the Interpretive Center by Nancy Partlow© or Barry Troutman©

The Capitol Lake Interpretive Center attracts so much wildlife because of its abundance of food.  This is not surprising, since the native plants installed there were chosen specifically for this purpose, to provide a wide variety of fruits, seeds and insects.

Oregon grapes

The CLIC's heavy concentration of berry-bearing shrubs and trees especially contribute to the park's reputation as a birding hotspot.

One species of plant that the familiar American robin  frequents is Red elderberry.  The crimson fruits are eaten so fast  they seem to evaporate.

 
Lonicera involucrata, or Twinberry is another a wildlife favorite.  I was unfamiliar with this shrub prior to seeing it at the Interpretive Center, and was surprised at the play it gets.
 

Twinberry  attracts pollinators with nectar-sweet flowers, and birds with fat, shiny berries.

Anna's Hummingbird sips nectar from a twinberry blossom at the CLIC
Photo courtesy of Barry Troutman
 
 
In the spring, high-pitched calls and rustling shrubbery alert human users of the CLIC to flocks of Cedar Waxwings feasting in the large, trailside bushes.


Omnivorous waxwings may be the greatest beneficiaries of our state capital's most thoughtfully-conceived wildlife area, freely exploiting its bounty of fruits, insects and flowers. 

A Cedar waxwing eats hawthorn berries at the CLIC
Photo courtesy of Barry Troutman

There is an old Madrone tree next to the CLIC's main trail.  It comes alive with swarms of feeding-frenzied birds when the berries are ripe.

A Red-shafted flicker harvests Madrone berries
near the Interpretive Center's main trail.
Photo courtesy of Barry Troutman

Vireos, warblers, robins, flycatchers and wood ducks devour Red-osier dogwood's copious fruits.
 
Red-osier dogwood berries
 
Plush, velvety thimbleberries are a juicy enticement to humans and wildlife alike.
 
Thimbleberry
 
Salmonberries glow with the light of the sun that grew them.  They are consumed by a wide variety of CLIC bird species including robins, tanagers, finches, wrens, bushtits and towhees.
 
Salmonberries
 
Seeds are an additional source of nourishment at the CLIC, where Red alder is the most abundant tree by number.  Its diminutive seed cones provide chickadees and other small birds welcome winter fodder.

Photo courtesy of Barry Troutman

Douglas fir cones extend an open invitation to nuthatches, chickadees and small mammals.                                            
 

Nootka rose hips are eaten by juncos, grosbeaks, thrushes, chipmunks, rabbits and deer.


Some birds use the tough seeds as grit to help them digest food.


Capitol Lake is a fecund breeding pond for diverse species of flying insects that keep CLIC inhabitants fat and happy.  For example, it’s not uncommon to see clouds of “gnats” wafting above the trails. These are actually chironomus midge flies.  In their larval and pupal stages, midges live on the muddy bottom of the lake, where fish, birds and aquatic insects consume them. In their adult flight form, male chironomids create swarms of thousands of individuals swirling in now-you-see-‘em-now-you-don’t whirlwinds.
                                                                 

Male midges have elaborate, feathery antennae, which are used to detect the specific buzz tone that a female fly emits as she enters the swarm to mate.


Their large antennae don’t seem to save them from the sticky webs of spiders, or from the beaks of hungry hummingbirds that pluck the tiny flies from the air with ease.

Another freshwater aquatic insect with an adult flight form is the October Caddis Fly.  Caddis flies breed in the near-shore leaf litter at the bottom of the lake, emerging into winged insects in the fall, although I've often seen them at other times of the year.  Fly-catching birds perform impressive aerial acrobatics pursuing them.


Leaf litter is a valuable nutritional resource.   It mulches and nourishes the CLIC's many trees and shrubs, but also provides a rich larder for ground-feeding birds and mammals that kick up the organic debris in search of fallen seeds, grubs and other small invertebrates.


Of course, the main food at the CLIC is the esculent greenery that supports foliage-munching mammals and insects.

A young deer buck browses scrumptious new growth.

A caterpillar hides out in a thimbleberry blossom to escape
the eyes of hungry birds
 
The Capitol Lake Interpretive Center is animated by creatures pursuing life's prime directive of survival.  This is not by accident, but by design.  In an era when humans are destroying wildlife habitat at an astounding rate, the CLIC extends a small but gracious overture to our earthly companions to share their lives with us.  For that reason alone, it is well worth celebrating.   
 
Many thanks to Barry Troutman for the use of his wonderful photos.
--------
Resources:

Links:

Washington Native Plant Society's list of plants that provide berries and seeds, and the animals that eat them:

http://www.wnps.org/landscaping/herbarium/seedberrylist.html

Videos:

An American Robin gobbling down red elderberries at the CLIC:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYhi09PCiRw

A Song sparrow scratches up leaf litter at the CLIC in search of food:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzDciZQfPJg

Online photos:

Robin eating red-osier dogwood berries:

http://www.butterflyonmyshoulder.ca/Journal/08_09/08_15_09/RobinJ0843.jpg

Red-breasted sapsucker with salmonberry in its beak:

http://birdnote.org/sites/default/files/red-breasted_sapsucker_with_salmonberry_blog_0.jpg

Song sparrow with thimbleberry:

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/3phpNweacgauZcY9tQxED9ByrO_Tq1m8rrMSkgs8uHRP=w1446-h964-no

Juvenile robin eating Oregon grapes:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_GWea75Pvwqw/TDf3PKJ_IjI/AAAAAAAAAPg/muXFIPeWuKg/s1600/Robin,+American+2010.07.09a+sub-adult+eating+Oregon+Grape.jpg


A salmonberry with a bird bite in it
 


Friday, March 18, 2016

Olympic Mountain Vistas from the Capitol Lake Interpretive Trail


Text and photos by Nancy Partlow©

I was so surprised when I first realized that the Olympic Mountains can be seen from the Capitol Lake Interpretive Center. 
 
 
When looking up the estuary, my sense of direction gets all turned around, so it just didn’t make sense to me.  Since then, I’ve learned to orient myself and now enjoy the beautiful views that avail themselves to all CLIC users whenever the clouds lift above Washington’s rainforest peaks.
 
I’d like to share some pictures that I’ve taken from the CLIC dike trail that forms the southern shore of Capitol Lake’s middle basin. 
 
Sun and shadow over the Olympics:

 
Canada Geese fly low over the lake with the Olympics as a dramatic backdrop:

 
The Brothers peak peeks above the nearshore forest surrounding the lake:


Fog below and clouds behind create the optical illusion of a mountain range floating in air:


The city of Olympia is in the process of assessing its downtown “viewsheds” to be protected.  Janine Gates recently wrote about this effort for her Little Hollywood blog:
 
 
Although Capitol Lake is not in Olympia or even Tumwater, (it is part of the Capitol Campus and therefore under state jurisdiction), I still think the gorgeous Olympic Mountains views from the CLIC should be preserved.   
 
    

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Wild Success - The Capitol Lake Interpretive Center, Part 2 - Plants

Text and photos by Nancy Partlow©
All photos taken at the Capitol Lake Interpretive Center unless otherwise noted
 
The Capitol Lake Interpretive Center is a verdant refuge for wildlife.  Its extensive palette of native trees and shrubs provide a bounty of food and shelter for many creatures. 
 
 
Native plants create healthy ecosystems.  Indigenous insects have evolved to eat plant leaves of a certain chemical composition – namely, those provided by endemic flora.  In other words, local insects have evolved to eat local plants.
 
By definition, native insects have shared little or no evolutionary history with alien plants…, and they thus are not likely to possess the adaptations required for using these plants as nutritional hosts. Consequently, the solar energy harnessed by alien plants is believed to be largely unavailable to native insect(s)…- at least until they evolve the behaviors and physiology necessary to eat them – and therefore unavailable to all animals that include these insects in their diets.

From Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy
 
In addition to their chemically-compatible leaves, native plants offer up a wide buffet of flowers, fruits and seeds throughout the year.  Their branches host bark-dwelling insects, and their leafy ground detritus hides countless worms, grubs and other critters that birds and small mammals love to scavenge and eat. 
 
For human users of the CLIC, native plants bestow a subtle beauty to the eye, and the opportunity to observe animals “at home” in their natural setting. 
 
Here are photos of some native plant species growing at the CLIC: 
 
Holodiscus discolor - Ocean Spray
  
Lonicera involucrata - Twinberry
 
Spiraea douglasii - Spirea

Sambucus racemosa - Red elderberry
 
Rosa nutkana - Nootka rose
 
Philadelphus lewisii - Mock Orange
  
Mahonia aquifolium - Tall Oregon grape
 
Physocarpus capitatus - Pacific ninebark

Salix sitchensis - Sitka willow
 
Cornus sericea - Red-osier dogwood
  
Rubus parviflorus - Thimbleberry
  
Rubus spectabilis - Salmonberry
 
--------
Resources:

Native plant species installed at the CLIC in 2004:

Red Elderberry
Salmonberry
Serviceberry
Snowberry
Thimbleberry
Twinberry
Oregon Grape
Nootka Rose
Redosier Dogwood
Red Flowering Currant
Ninebark
Mock Orange
Vine Maple
Western Red Cedar
Ocean Spray
Beaked Hazelnut
Indian Plum
Western Crabapple
Western Hemlock
Sitka Willow
Black Hawthorn
Black Cottonwood
Sitka Spruce
Bigleaf Maple
Cascara
  
Additional natives that were already there: 
 
Spirea
Paper Birch
Alder   

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Wild Success - The Capitol Lake Interpretive Center- Part 1

Text by Nancy Partlow ©
All photos were taken at the Capitol Lake Interpretive Center by Nancy Partlow©, unless otherwise noted.
 
 
My family’s interest in the Capitol Lake Interpretive Center began circa 2010. We were looking for someplace easily walkable, wheelchair accessible, and in a natural setting.  The Interpretive Center on Deschutes Parkway fit the bill perfectly, and it’s been a love affair ever since.
 
The Center’s history is interesting.  According to Washington State Department of Enterprise Services web site:
 
"Development of the Capitol Lake Interpretive Center was made possible with the 1979 dredging of Capitol Lake. In that project, an 18-acre, two-cell dewatering basin was created to process the spoils of future dredge operations. A much smaller dredging operation in 1986 utilized the basins for this purpose. A third dredging operation planned in the mid-1990’s was prevented, however, because portions of the dewatering basins had naturally evolved, were determined to be wetlands, and could not be disturbed.
 
The construction of Heritage Park in 1997 included the designation of these 18 acres as an Interpretive Center with a commitment by the state to establish and maintain a high quality wetlands in the former dewatering basins. These new wetlands mitigate the loss of open-water habitat and the expansion of the park grounds into formerly submerged lake areas.
 
The 2001 Nisqually Earthquake caused considerable damage to the area. However, reconstruction provided an opportunity for considerable improvements.
 
Today, the Interpretive Center holds great promise to provide visitors with an experience that contributes to their understanding of our natural systems. It is one of the most unique components of any state capitol in the nation."
 
In September  I walked the CLIC with Bob Barnes, the landscape architect who along with state horticulturist Susan Buis and Erica Guttman from the Native Plant Salvage Project, was responsible for the 2003 replanting of the trail.  He shared with me some photos from that time.
 
 

Volunteers help plant native plants at the Capitol Lake
Interpretive Center.
 
An enthusiastic proponent of native plant restoration, he conveyed his philosophy by quoting Chief Seattle: 
 
"We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it"
 
The Interpretive Center is a wonderful example of the flourishing web of relationships created by installing a diverse mosaic of native plants.  The result is a magical place, vibrantly alive with wildlife; a natural area that on a small scale rivals the Nisqually Refuge. 
 
A song sparrow throws back its head and sings at the CLIC

A Spring azure butterfly sips nectar from ocean spray flowers 

A cedar waxwing in an alder tree

 
A Bombus mixtus bumble bee nectars from mock orange blossoms

The Capitol Lake Interpretive Center beautifully illustrates the concept of, “Build it, and they will come”.  It is a wild success.
 
The CLIC at the time of its 2003 remodel. 
Courtesy of Bob Barnes
Aerial photo of the CLIC today
From the Thurston County Geodata website