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.


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.


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.


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


An American Robin gobbling down red elderberries at the CLIC:

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

Online photos:

Robin eating red-osier dogwood berries:

Red-breasted sapsucker with salmonberry in its beak:

Song sparrow with thimbleberry:

Juvenile robin eating Oregon grapes:,+American+2010.07.09a+sub-adult+eating+Oregon+Grape.jpg

A salmonberry with a bird bite in it