In the greyest part of winter, on those days between snow and sunshine, when the skiing isn’t at its best or maybe even when it’s a blizzard on Bachelor, taking a walk in Tumalo, in an old gravel pit on a foggy morning, isn’t really a very exciting prospect. But then, a flash of blue catches my eye, and then another and another and all of a sudden I am standing in the field surrounded by a sweet little flock of Mountain Bluebirds. Like colorful sprinkles, these birds dot the landscape with brilliant blue.
Mountain bluebirds are graceful little birds. Medium-sized songbirds, their heads are large and round and their bodies chunky. The male is blue all over and the female is blue and mostly brown. They are about 6-7 inches in length and weigh little over ONE ounce.
They like open areas with short grasses and shrubs to hunt small insects and eat small fruits. Mountain bluebirds hunt from perches and drop to the ground to catch their prey--hover, then drop. They can also catch flies and other insects on the wing. These little birds need about 4 grams of food per day. That’s about 12% of their body weight, the equivalent of a 200 pound man eating 24 pounds of food per day!
The Mountain Bluebird builds nests in tree cavities and snags and they will accept nest boxes easily. Nesting occurs in March through August. The female bird builds the nest and defends it, while the male defends territory. The female usually lays 4-6 eggs and the eggs are pale blue. Mountain bluebirds are monogamous through the breeding season and have 2-3 broods per season.
The Mountain Bluebird is a short lived bird: 70% of the birds die before their first birthday. Adults live only a few years. The oldest Mountain Bluebird found was only six years old. These blue beauties also don’t handle temperatures below 20 degrees very well. It’s hard for them to find food if it’s too harsh outside.
I live in the perfect environment for watching these birds. Central Oregon's sagebrush and juniper steppe, mountain meadows, and ponderosa pine forests provide great habitat for mountain bluebirds. Closer to home, a nearby field filled with short grasses, sagebrush, and rabbit brush provides excellent viewing opportunities.
When you spot a mountain bluebird, listen to their “chuck and tew” calls and watch them flit. Mountain bluebirds seem to travel in little flocks. They perch quietly on the tops of the shrubs and then quickly fly a short distance to another shrub; they hide on the ground and hop right back up to the next bush. You can follow the little flock of bright blue from bush to bush and shrub to shrub for hours and hours. Enjoy their sweet song and thank them for the little bit of color and grace that they can give to an otherwise dull and grey winter day.
Sources: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: www.allaboutbirds.org, Birds of Oregon by Marshall, Hunter and Contreras.
The Land Trust just completed our first phase of habitat restoration at Whychus Canyon Preserve. Crews were busy in early January burning piles on the steep canyon slopes of the Preserve. In total, ~100 acres of piles of juniper limbs, trunks, and tops were burned. Those piles were created during our 2012 forest restoration which thinned encroaching juniper to benefit the remaining ponderosa pine and aspen at the Preserve. Take a visual tour of the restoration via a slideshow or video.
Watch a slideshow of the pile burning below. If the slideshow below doesn't appear, watch it here. (Be sure to click "show info" in the upper right hand corner to see the credits.)
Tour some of the burn work with stewardship director Amanda Egertson. Here Amanda talks about our overall forest restoration project:
Here Amanda tells us about decadent bitterbrush:
Last Saturday seemed like a perfect day for an early spring adventure. After months of snow and fun in the snow, I was ready for a change. Saturday morning dawned warm with nice sunshine and the promise of spring. So off we went.
The Alder Springs Trail is off of Holmes Road, down by Lower Bridge Way, tracing the path of the old Santiam Wagon Road. The gate at the trail does not open until March 31, so to reach the trailhead, you have to bike the remaining five miles of road. We unloaded our mountain bikes, walked them up the hill then rode on the dry, flattish road all the way to the trail head.
I am NOT a bicycle rider but it was a great ride, along the top of a canyon, through the sagebrush, in the sunshine and with views of ALL the Cascade Mountains, snow covered and sparkly. We got to the trailhead, had a snack, locked our bikes to a juniper and headed down the trail to Whychus Creek.
Spring had sprung on the trail! Littered sparsely in the dry, flat, sandy, lava rock, the Gold Stars are already out. Gold Stars (Crocidium multicaule) are short, little yellow flowers. They are one of the first spring wildflowers and they weigh in at only six inches tall with yellow petals that are about ¼ inch long. These flowers aren’t super lovely individually, but in a sandy field, the spring populations can be dense and the bright yellow carpet of flowers is a sure sign of the warmth to come. Gold Stars look like little yellow squat soldiers, the first warriors to brave a new season
Winding down into the canyon, we heard a Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus). This bird sings sweet, descending liquid notes echoing off the canyon walls. Canyon wrens are one of the least studied birds in Oregon partly because they have inaccessible habitat in cliffs and canyons. Some of these birds are resident, but some are migratory. When they are singing so sweetly, it means that breeding season is here. Once you hear the song of the Canyon Wren, you never forget it. For me it is the easiest bird song to recognize!
We put on our sandals at Whychus Creek. I fling my boots on my left shoulder and follow my husband across the rushing creek. The water was up to my knees and it was….OH SO COLD. A delicious freezing cold that was bracing to say the least. Not for the faint of heart!
The two mile hike to the confluence went quickly. The narrow trail is lined with thick grasses, and is still muddy in a few places. At the confluence of Whychus Creek and the Deschutes River, we had our lunch, sat in the sun, watched four people hike the Scout Camp Trail across the canyon. We relaxed under the ponderosas at rivers edge before it was time to head back.
On our return, we walked back along the creek, crossed Whychus Creek again and headed up out of the canyon towards our bikes. I stopped for a rest on the rocky ridge and happened to look down, and just at the edge of the rock was a little clump of Prairie Star flower (lithophragma species). This plant is part of the Saxifrage family. It is another one of the first flowers of spring. You find it on the dry sagebrush-steppe, on rocky ridges near grassy hillsides. It has very weak, almost translucent, reddish stem up to 12 inches tall. The flowers are white to pinkish and are deeply lobed. Ending our hike with this delicate and sweet flower was another sure sign of spring.
The best part of our hike: there was not ONE person on the trail! There are only a couple weeks left before the gate opens and once it does, it can get crowded at Alder Springs. Jump now for a great adventure!
Taylor, Ronald J. Sagebrush Country, A Wildflower Sanctuary: Mountain Press Publishing Company.1992
Marshall, Hunter and Contreras. Birds of Oregon, A General Reference: Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon.2003
Spring forward...the old saying to help us remember daylight savings time. It sounds so energetic and well, springy! While I am fully energetic about spring, the loss of one hour of sleep doesn't quite give me a spring in my step. That's why with one eye pried open, I'm trying to focus on the spring part of daylight savings time.
This past weekend was a great way to do just that. My family thoroughly reveled in the blue skies, warm temperatures, and longer days. Somehow the warmth was even enough for my kids to request a sprinkler for cooling off! When I explained it wasn't quite warm enough for that, they settled for running around shirtless and making mud pies with buckets of water.
I was content to putter in my garden, daringly pulling the old leaves from my perennials to give the new growth some air and light. (Let's hope those shiny, bright green shoots don't get nipped by the frosts we'll get until May....oh wait June...or even July!) I delighted in the brave crocuses blooming in the sunniest parts of my garden. They scream spring with their bright colors and open, inviting flowers. I even saw some neighborhood manzanita bushes sporting delicate pink flowers that were nearly ready to open. I love how spring flowers follow the sun and open progressively--it reminds us of the importance of light.
The birds were also in fine form this weekend. A more birdy type would know that certain species herald the arrival of spring. At my house, I hear spring in the raucous chorus that has erupted in the last few days and weeks. In the winter we only hear a few birds calling, but with spring comes loud calls and chatter. I noted the level of chatter to 3 year old Zoe on a weekend walk. She immediately asked why they were calling more, to which I could only answer, they're excited about spring. Now Zoe wanders around the house making her own chatter about how spring is here because the birdies are excited. Works for me!
Mostly, I am focused on spring--and am thankful for spring--because it ushers in the outside. It means more hours to play outside, sit in the sunshine, and watch things grow. I know we'll have to do it with our sweatshirts tied around our waists and our gloves in our pockets--in case an errant snowstorm hits--but I'm thankful just the same!
In an instant the scene—a street with no traffic and no wind ruffling the tall pines—switched from serene to a frenzy of birds rocketing and ricocheting between trees, feathers flashing white and gray. Birds plummeting to the ground. Walking. Pecking. Large gray birds with black wings, white eye rings, and long sharp bills. The most intent were two that found the slice of ice dumped from the bird bath yesterday.
Was it the pancake of ice, gleaming white amid fallen pine needles and last summer’s plant detritus that attracted the Clark’s nutcrackers? Two took turns, crushing ice in their long beaks.
Clark’s nutcrackers extract the seeds from pine cones. According Wikipedia, a Clark’s nutcracker can store 98,000 pine seeds in one season.
I’ve seen Clark’s nutcrackers (not an Alaskan bird) only twice. Last summer on Paulina Peak (nearly 8,000 feet high) we were puzzled over the identity of a large gray bird perched on the top of a pine. The second time, a few weeks ago, I heard pounding and looked out the window to see four Clark’s nutcrackers using their beaks to break pieces of ice from a drift on the roof.
And now, a wild frenzy of Clark’s nutcrackers. All the other birds gone. No Steller’s or desert scrub jays. No doves or chickadees, nuthatches, finches, or robins.
Emily Dickinson offered the bird on her walkway “a crumb.” My offering was only what the Clark’s nutcrackers found on their own in our tiny yard and the lofty pines—ice and water, and maybe seeds.
Within a quarter hour, the frenetic flying and ground-searching ended. The flock vanished, I know not where, whether down the street, over the butte, or into the desert. The air was again uninterrupted by bursts of white and gray.
Later in the afternoon, we went walking in the Badlands Wilderness, trudging through sand still damp from snowmelt, the trail edged by juniper trees and clumps of rabbitbrush with silvery stems topped by tiny dried flower stars. After a couple hours, returning to the car, a raucous call broke the stillness — “Aack” — and we saw a flash of white as a Clark’s nutcracker settled onto the top branch of a juniper tree. The first call was answered — ”Aack” — as another bird swooped into a bare snag, and we walked on, pondering the question of water in the desert, in whatever form.
Emily Dickinson lived from 1830 to 1886. Her poem “A Bird Came Down The Walk“ blends observation and silliness, but also what might be helpful or meddling, the offer of a “crumb” and then the twist at the end where the whole universe gets rearranged. And of course the poem is fun to read aloud.
A Bird came down the Walk
by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.
This blog post was originally published on Katie Eberhart's blog, Solstice Light. Thanks to Katie for sharing!
For the second year in a row, Land Trust supporters Scott and Kristan Collins, along with Scott's parents Don and Pat, took the lead in showcasing the great work of the Land Trust at the Sisters Rodeo Parade. Scott again adorned his classic Chevy pickup with jumping steelhead and shining blue streamers to highlight the Land Trust's work to protect and restore habitat for salmon and steelhead. Land Trust staffers and board members joined the Collins' clan and marched alongside the truck, handing out swedish fish for all the kiddos lining the parade, and sending hearty hellos to the many Land Trust members who lined the route.
"It's a tremendous pleasure to share my support of the Land Trust in such a public forum. It reminds me that the strength of the Land Trust is more than the beauty of a quiet meadow; it's the power of community working for nature," stated Scott Collins. Indeed, the Land Trust is a proud part of the Sisters community, with many of our most visible protected lands just a few miles from town. Participating in the Rodeo Parade reminds us why we love to work in Sisters Country--it's the spirit of the people!
"It's really cool that so many people in the crowd know about the Land Trust," stated Sofia Boone, 11, daughter of Associate Director, Zak Boone. Thanks to everyone who made this year's entry a huge success, and the Land Trust looks forward to celebrating the proud tradition of the Rodeo for many years to come!
When I lived in Portland, the city Parks and Rec department offered walks for parents and preschoolers on Fridays at 10am. They called them “Lady Bug Walks” and they were held at a different City park each week. The children were allowed to borrow a lady bug backpack for the walk that was filled with things to explore nature. They were simple things--a spoon to dig in the dirt, a container to hold bugs, a magnifying glass to see details--simple, but perfect for encouraging the exploration of nature. My daughter and I loved going on these walks as the naturalists who were always able to engage our imagination and teach us something new.
When we moved to Bend, I was looking for a similar experience and discovered the Deschutes Land Trust offered family-focused walks with outstanding volunteer naturalists at Land Trust Preserves. The only thing missing was the backpack...although the butterfly nets got great reviews from our daughter who in one short hike became a butterfly catching and identifying expert!
Last fall I took a friend of mine on a Land Trust walk at Whychus Canyon Preserve and we started talking about the value of getting kids out to experience the preserves as part of their conservation education. She is a mother of two 13-year-old boys and mentioned that they had grown very concerned about the state of the environment and the degradation humans have caused. She was talking with them about ways to make a difference, and remembered the experience she had taking a class at Sara Bella Upcycled here in Bend. Watching how discarded plastic can be turned into functional art inspired her. She realized that the work the Land Trust is doing also inspires her and, in fact, she took her family back to Whychus Canyon to experience the preserve again.
As we hiked along that day, we hatched an idea to get Sara Bella to make backpacks for the Deschutes Land Trust to use for kids on their walks. We saw an opportunity to bring two aspects of environmental protection together to help educate and inspire our community. My friend generously offered to underwrite the cost and I agreed to work with these two amazing groups to make it happen.
And so the Land Trust launches its 2013 hike program with some new tools to help kids explore the Preserves and discover the joy of having access to protected nature. Take a look at these beautiful little backpacks and come test them out at one of the upcoming walks just for kids and families. I hope that using an upcycled backpack in a setting as beautiful as Camp Polk Meadow Preserve or the Metolius Preserve will make you proud of the community we are and will inspire you to give back. And, if you wish you could take the backpack home, visit Sara Bella soon!
~ Gillian Ockner
It was Monday morning, Earth Day, and my husband, Chuck Logsdon, and I were driving from Bend toward Sisters, first on Highway 20 then, after a few turns, on gravel roads through juniper woodlands to a small parking area tucked into the trees for an Earth Day hike. Our leader, Mary Crow, and co-leader, Ginny Elliott, were visiting with the early arrivals.
The last car pulled up and Mary began introductions with some of her background, telling us she is a retired librarian “who knows a little about a lot of things” and a volunteer hike leader with the Deschutes Land Trust. Eight people had shown up to hike through the Whychus Canyon Preserve. We introduced ourselves, and learned that everyone had a passion for nature and the outdoors. One person was a retired forester; another was a wild plant specialist; one man carried a camera with a huge lens. I am working on my Oregon Master Naturalist certificate and blog about nature and literature.
Earth Day is a day of education and action and walking through a nature preserve allows time to consider scenarios of change and protection. Mary asked us to think about what we could do for the earth, a theme that she clearly carries with her every day. She reached into the back of her car and brought out a kitchen scrub brush, explaining the importance of cleaning our boots after hiking so we don’t accidentally carry seeds to the next place we visit.
Introducing the hike, Mary explained that we would follow the Whychus Canyon trail opposite the customary direction because on her previous hike she had been intrigued following the route-in-reverse. I think this is how our brains work. Recently, I had a poetry critique session and the poet who had analyzed my poems showed me the page upside-down, a view which changed the poem I had written into an unfamiliar landscape. The same effect surely occurs when following a trail opposite the customary direction but Chuck and I had not yet hiked in Whychus Canyon Preserve so Mary’s route-in-reverse is now our customary route.
Within fifty yards of the parking, we passed a sign pointing to the trail that would have taken us directly into the canyon but we continued along a fairly level dirt road through mixed woodlands of juniper and pine. The morning was breezy and seemed chillier each time a cloud-shadow sped across our path.
There are many firsts worth remembering. Seeing bitterroot is one. Last spring, still new to eastern Oregon, I encountered bitterroot for the first time as exquisite pink-tinted blooms the size of my palm scattered across rocky ground as if tossed from a bouquet. Now, in the center of the old road, we saw small clumps of long narrow leaves with waxy white blooms. “Sand lilies,” Mary said. Like bitterroot, the sand lilies grew alone, isolated from other plants by an expanse of stony soil, and for me, like bitterroot, were unforgettable.
In the juniper forest, we stopped to look at wildflowers. We stopped again where the woods opened up to a meadow which looked like an expanse of sagebrush and Mary explained that the meadow had been part of a homestead. Along the track we had been following, rusted cans and silvered timbers were the only visible evidence of past habitation. There were no old cabins or barns and the question of water lingered.
Each of us carried a bottle of water. Mary mentioned that no well had been found and we speculated how water might have been hauled out of the steep canyon, whether carried in buckets or using cables and pulleys but no one has found evidence of that, either.
How much water is needed for a homestead, for people and livestock, and to grow crops or gardens during the hot summers? Does this depend on the difficulty of acquiring water?
In the woodlands, wildflowers spread beneath junipers like daubs of bright yellow paint, flowers named “gold field” or “gold star”. I rarely try to identify the truly miniscule wildflowers because I don’t think I can see enough details to find a match in the plant book but now I suspect the problem is that I don’t have a magnifying lens. I looked back and saw one of the hikers, flat on the ground staring through his hand lens at a flower so tiny it might as well have been invisible. When he stood up, he said, “Spring draba. Probably.” I’m now quite certain a hand lens would be worthwhile.
A hike leader has places she wishes to stop so everyone can catch their breath or take more time to observe the surroundings. Mary paused beside a gnarled and twisted juniper with lichen a shade of chartreuse clinging to the lower branches. She asked how old we thought the juniper was. The retired forester in our group suggested two hundred years—long before settlers and homesteaders arrived in eastern Oregon.
Our relationship with junipers is knotty. Over the last century, with fewer wildfires and more grazing, junipers expanded their range and now the conundrum relates to water. A medium juniper can use thirty gallons of water per day, water that otherwise might sustain other species.
Ecosystem management comes with difficulties. One of our group said junipers support twelve species and another mentioned that the Townsend’s Solitaire depends on junipers.
We continued on, the morning warming somewhat. At what seemed to be a bare area Mary warned us “don’t walk there, the crust is very fragile.” What looked like a wasteland was actually a delicate cryptobiotic soil that appeared cracked and dry-looking with mosses and lichens and some low-growing plants, all adapted to survive in an arid environment but also able to utilize any moisture that materializes.
The trail tended downward with more pines and fewer junipers and now also shrubs—antelope bitterbrush, sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and wax currant. The wax currant bushes had already leafed out and were flowering with tiny blooms, taking advantage of moisture that comes from snowmelt and sometimes spring rain.
The plan was to eat lunch on the rimrock above Whychus Canyon. We climbed up a cleft to the basalt edge where the view included houses on the opposite rim and, upriver and to the south, the North Sister gleamed with new snow. Sitting at the edge of a canyon and on top of an ancient lava flow, I thought about how volcanoes reshape landscapes and the power of a stream to carve through rock.
After lunch, we hiked into the canyon on a trail that switchbacked down the steep hillside where junipers had been cut, opening the view which we might think was “for us” but the real value comes from making space for sagebrush, pines, and other plants and wildlife. At one sharp corner in the trail we admired “sagebrush buttercups”. Below us, it was early spring along Whychus Creek and the willows still had no leaves.
Managing nature is a tricky business. Creation of the Whychus Canyon Preserve prevented the sale of lots and no houses will be built along the edge of the canyon where we hiked, but we watched a dog chasing a herd of deer below a house on the opposite rim and heard kids yelling at the dog. Where we hiked, the Whychus Canyon Preserve protects history, letting rusted cans and house timbers disintegrate slowly and without interference.
Other projects in the Preserve come as a result of actions taken decades ago. Mary explained plans to restore Whychus Creek to the more looping and meandering channel from before the mid-1960s when the Corps of Army Engineers channelized the stream. At that time, the response to flooding was to speed water away from the flood-prone area by straightening the channel. In the last forty-five years, approaches to flood control have changed along with the desire to again have streams with fish runs, like steelhead, that existed in earlier times.
We walked upstream along Whychus Creek. At a spot that had been on the floodplain prior to channelization, Mary said if we returned in July or August we would be standing in a meadow of purple penstemon. I imagined masses of wildflowers but then also a very hot climb out of the canyon. Ginny Elliott, the hike co-leader, after talking about efforts to eradicate invasive plants, reached down and picked up a dried plant with long branching roots, that she identified as a spotted knapweed dug up last summer.
The lesson relates to the difficulty of re-creating and then maintaining a place like it was before fast long-distance travel became the norm. There is wisdom in Mary’s suggestion, to keep a boot brush in the car and clean our boots after hiking—to not be the person who brings seeds of non-native and invasive plants into a pristine place.
As we lingered in Whychus Canyon, a butterfly fluttered past so slowly that we could see the orange patches at the tips of its white wings. Another butterfly, with a yellowish tint, alighted on a wildflower, but only for a moment.
The climb out of the canyon was steep. We stopped a couple times to rest and admire the view but then, too soon, we were back where we had parked and Mary asked if we had thought about the question from before the hike: what each of us can do for the earth—an important question indeed, on Earth Day or any day.
The only thing predictable about spring is the unpredictability of spring. Such was the case this past weekend as my wife Brenda and I and our friends Maret and Rod headed east, through warm sunshine and snow squalls, for a long weekend. Our hope was to bird Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and fish the Blitzen River. Three hours southeast of Bend, Malheur Refuge tends to be a bit drier, but a persistent cool wind was a sharp reminder that spring is just beginning to take hold on the High Desert.
Birding highlights of the trip included large numbers of Sandhill cranes, northern shovelers, Northern pintails and long-billed curlews. We also saw the ubiquitous American coot, as well as eared and western grebes, a pair of collared trumpeter swans, a close view of a great horned owl, and yellow rumped warblers.
Pronghorn antelope, mule deer and several coyotes were also seen. Aside from a few hardy buttercups, the native wildflowers have yet to make an appearance. With the Blitzen running cold and clear, rises were few and far between, but as usual Rod's flyfishing artistry produced several large, beautiful redband trout.
Between the great spring birding and some surprising success (for me) on the Blitzen, the trip made me really excited to see what spring and summer will look like at Camp Polk Meadow and Whychus Canyon Preserves, as well as further downstream at Alder Springs.
Our award-winning effort to restore Whychus Creek has also resulted in substantial habitat improvements for a broad range of bird species. As wetlands heal and willow and alder grow in along the creek, new nesting sites should be created for wading birds, waterfowl, and songbirds. Spring is the ideal time to view our resident birds and passing migrants, and there's no better way to just that than on one of our guided hikes with an experienced naturalist.
Our bird walks are designed to both help you view our local birds and keep a respectful distance from nests. Remember: too much disturbance and a nesting site can be abandoned for the season. To help our nesters stay put, we like to remind folks to stay on trails, avoid making a lot of noise, and keep dogs on leash.
So, with warm weather beckoning, consider joining us for a guided walk or hike to explore the beauty and diversity of life in the High Desert… but dress warmly you never know when it might start snowing!
Indian Ford Meadow's attraction comes from its variety of habitats: pine and juniper, sagebrush, grasses and wildflowers, and a meadow with willows, aspen, a stream, and spectacular views of the mountains. Recently I wandered the meadow on a Land Trust Bird Walk. Our group of eight hikers was led by Carol Wall and hailed from Bend and Sisters, California and Ohio (via Sunriver), and the Willamette Valley. Everyone had binoculars. Some people brought bird books, others had birding apps on their phones.
As we began, a robin hopped between sagebrush clumps then flew low, landing in the meadow. A tree swallow settled momentarily on a high branch then flew upward in a meandering route, hunting flying insects.
Birding with a group has a unique dynamic. Someone spots a bird and everyone looks. Some birds we all saw quickly but others were more hidden and someone would point and describe which sector of which tree, or use the clock face as a finding aide– “in the tall juniper at two o’clock.”
A house wren perched on a sagebrush and Carol explained the importance of nest boxes in areas without many snags. Viewed from the front, the wren is a small plain bird and we hoped it would turn and flip its tail up and down, but no such luck. The wren flew off.
For several minutes we focused our binoculars on a large hole in a jagged snag. Carol had mentioned that pygmy nuthatches live communally in tree cavities, the nestlings cared for by a wider family group. We kept watching and when the bird finally darted out it was large and, in flight, showed reddish wings and white rump—a northern flicker.
A few minutes later, Carol picked up a small brown object with flecks of white coating. “Flicker scat,” she said. “If you pick it apart, you’ll find the exoskeletons of ants.”
A California quail, with telltale topknot, perched on a sagebrush. Sentinel, I think, for a flock indiscernible on the ground between clumps of sagebrush. Meanwhile, everyone else was looking up at a medium-sized bird perched in a pine. Through binoculars I saw gray feathers, a crested head, and yellowish breast. The bird flew and Carol showed us a photo of an ash-throated flycatcher. She said it was unusual at Indian Ford Meadow, but possible.
We walked on slowly, in no hurry, discussing possibilities, pouring over bird books, but also watching for any quick movement. A pair of Western Bluebirds flitted between pine branches, the male deep blue with a rusty-hued breast, the female a pastel with barely any blue. Perhaps the pair was building a nest and, in any event, they weren’t spooked by us.
After about an hour, the gravel path ended at a pleasant stone terrace with interpretive signs and benches, overlooking the meadow. Carol explained some of the history, including that Indian Ford Meadow had been platted for development and that the Deschutes Land Trust was formed because the developer said he would donate the sixty-three acre site to the Land Trust.
In the meadow, we halted about twenty yards from the willows, tall shrubs with the leaves still the bright green of early spring. A flock of Wilson’s Warblers flitted among branches, feeding on insects and Carol said this was new, that she had seen only a couple warblers on her previous visit to the meadow.
Wilson’s Warblers are one of my favorite birds—flagrantly yellow with a tiny black cap, and a harbinger of summer. The first time I saw Wilson’s Warblers was hiking along an old mining road in the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska, the sandy surface still soft from thawing and snowmelt. The arrival of warblers marks the moment when you’re certain summer is near. In early March, Chuck and I visited local birding sites in Port Aransas, Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. We were excited to see herons and egrets, white ibises and roseate spoonbills, but the birders who had spent the winter along the Gulf were waiting for the warblers to show up—like swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano.
On a high branch, past the willows and across the creek, a song sparrow tipped its head back, opened its beak, singing a melody that gives credence to the name “song” sparrow.
As if we were the well-rehearsed flock, we spun to look back at the forest edge where a plump dark-colored bird perched on a tree-top. “Brown-headed cowbird,” someone said. Backlit, it was hard to see the gradation of color between brown and black but Carol listed the cow bird’s characteristics: dark brown head, dark eye, dark beak, and a chunky body. Not to be confused, she said, with the Brewer’s blackbird which has a yellow eye and walks on the ground a lot. The brown-headed cowbird took off and Carol redirected our attention to a dead willow favored by a calliope hummingbird.
That is the advantage of having a guide—learning where to look. On our travels in March, we had gone on a bird tour of Padre Island National Seashore. At one point, the ranger parked the van at the side of the road and pointed out a tree some distance off where a pair of white-tailed hawks were nesting. Chuck and I agreed, we would not have seen the white-tailed hawks on our own.
A calliope hummingbird zipped to the dead willow, alighting. Through binoculars, the hummingbird’s green feathers glimmered but even magnified, it seemed impossibly small. Imagine, a bird the weight of a penny flying several thousand miles, between Central America and Oregon, and doing that twice a year.
Half-hidden by a leafy branch, a western scrub jay watched us while the warblers continued flitting and feeding in the willows. We wondered whether the same warblers were keeping pace with us as we walked across the meadow or were there warblers in every willow?
Indian Ford Meadow Preserve provides refuge for wildlife and people. A short walk along a gravel path takes you to the stone terrace and benches with a view of the meadow, a perfect place for anyone seeking solitude among birds.
Take a hike with any of the Land Trust's hike leaders and you'll see that they are a masterful crew of volunteers. Whether they are finding birds in their binoculars or talking about stream restoration, you can tell these volunteers have put in the time to learn their stuff!
The Land Trust is extremely fortunate to have such talented, dedicated volunteers. For some natural history has always been a part of their lives. For others natural history was a new avocation that was adopted with zeal. Regardless of their background, Land Trust hike leaders are always interested in learning more. That's why many of them enrolled in the Oregon Master Naturalist program.
Created by Oregon State University, the Oregon Master Naturalist program is an extension program designed to "develop a statewide corps of...volunteers who enrich their communities...through conservation education, scientific inquiry, and stewardship activities." Similar to its Master Gardener sister, the Master Naturalist program requires extensive training online and in the field. Each of the Land Trust volunteers that completed the statewide and local level training devoted nearly 100 hours to their studies!
What did they learn? All about Oregon's different regions including their waters, forests, wildlife and more. Volunteers also spent several full days in the field with local experts to dig deeper into the ecology of the East Cascades region. When asked about their favorite part, here are a few highlights:
- The Master Naturalist course, especially the statewide overview, was excellent in providing the broader context in which Central Oregon exists. I learned a great deal about the different regions in the state and loved finding places I now know I must visit. ~ Carol Wall
- I loved learning about the huge Crooked River Caldera. It's hard to believe that geologists only recently discovered it! I hope the new information I learned will help educate and inspire people about the importance of restoring and preserving sensitive places. ~ Jane Meissner
- The field courses were my favorite part, of course! Having experts like Ellen Bishop and Stephen Fitzgerald answer my questions about geology and forestry was a remarkable experience. Hiking in Central Oregon always stirs my curiosity, and It was great to have the answers immediately! ~Mary Crow
A thousand thanks to our Land Trust hike leaders for the time they devoted to becoming an Oregon Master Naturalist! We hope you'll benefit from their experience when you join them on a walk or hike this spring.
By Kelly Madden
One of the best parts of being a Deschutes Land Trust Volunteer is meeting folks who are like-minded about the natural world. Last week, Jane Meissner, Derek Loeb, and I headed out for a wildflower hike at Whychus Canyon Preserve. Early on Friday morning as we were driving near Tumalo, we all spotted it at the same time: a HUGE bald eagle about 75 feet away!
Two aggressive and mated red-tailed hawks that had made a nest on the top of Laidlaw Butte attacked the eagle. The birds paid us no mind as they battled. The hawks swooped down on the Eagle, who hopped on its feet and spread its large wings, levitated in the air, caught a draft, and lifted off the ground while the hawks continued their attack.
The red-tailed hawks were half as big as the eagle, but they were relentless and somehow managed to shoo the eagle away. The hawks swooped down to attack and the Eagle did an effortless double 360 in the air to get away. Slowly the eagle drifted over the reservoir and flew back towards Three Creek Lake.
Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are not the majestic and dignified bird that people imagine. I thought for the longest time that they only fished for food and could hunt with “eagle eyes” to get big fish to feed on. It just isn’t like that. Although Bald Eagles are usually associated with water, they can live in any habitat with available prey. They consume many different kinds of prey depending on where they live. Eagles at Lake Billy Chinook eat a lot of kokanee salmon. Eagles near my house eat rodents, carrion and small birds. Wintering and migrant eagles often feed on large mammal carrion, especially road kill deer, domestic cattle that die of natural causes, still born calves and the afterbirth (YUCK!), waterfowl, squirrels and rodents and fish. That doesn’t sound very majestic to me.
After our stunned and reverent observation, we went to Whychus Canyon for a glorious wildflower hike. We saw lots of blooms and I learned and re-learned many of them. We encountered sulpher flower, arrowleaf balsamroot, paintbrush, yarrow, penstemon, and many, many more. I was glued to Jane who knows the name of all the flowers. She is an encyclopedia!
It was such a great day that just thinking about it makes me smile. The best part for me is that we can prattle on for a long time about history, my latest discoveries and all my nerdy activities and they listen and care! I am very thankful to meet such intelligent and kind and committed volunteers. Thanks guys! I will keep an eye on the Eagle for you!
Birds of Oregon, a General Reference: Marshall, Hunter and Contreras. Oregon State University Press. 2003
Sagebrush Country, A Wildflower Sanctuary: Taylor, Ronald, Mountain press Publishing,1992
Who doesn’t want more butterflies in their garden? Not only will it make you smile and give you an instant pigment pick-me-up, your plants will thank you for the extra pollination. Here are 10 tips to make your garden butterfly-friendly.
Tip 1: Plant native blooming plants.
Butterflies and native plants depend on each other. Many butterflies use native plants for food, shelter, and sites for reproduction. They also recognize these plants more easily than most non-natives. The popular, non-native butterfly bush isn’t recommended for planting because it’s invasive. Healthier alternatives would be the California lilac (Ceanothus thrysiflorus) or chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus).
Tip 2: Choose nectar plants that attract adult butterflies.
Certain plants are magnets for adult butterflies. Think of the types of butterflies you’d like to attract and plant their favorite nectar plants. For a list of species and their preferred nectar plants, click here.
Tip 3: Pick plants that immature caterpillars eat, known as "host plants."
When a female butterfly finds a plant that’s a suitable food source for caterpillars, she may lay eggs on it. If you plant the host plants near the nectar plants that a species prefers, you will encourage butterflies to stay in your garden from generation to generation. For a list of species and their host plants, click here.
Tip 4: Think large patches of solid color.
Fun fact: butterflies are near sighted! They are more attracted to a large patch of a single, brightly colored flower than they are to a mix of blooms. Studies have also shown that butterflies are less attracted to flowers that are blue or blue-green. Most butterflies prefer violet flowers and some species are partial to orange, red, or white.
Tip 5: Consider the shape of the flowers.
Large butterflies, like swallowtails, like flowers with large, compact heads. These provide a resting place while they feed. Examples include yarrow, asters, zinnia, goldenrod, and marigolds. Butterflies also like densely packed clusters of flowers like lantana, honeysuckle, and milkweed.
Tip 6: Choose flowers that bloom at different times.
With a round-robin of blossoms you’ll provide nectar through the spring, summer, and fall, drawing different species as they migrate through the area.
Tip 7: Plant a wind break at the edge of your garden, but choose one that doesn't block sunlight.
Protect the butterflies from wind by planting large shrubs, vines or trees that break the wind. You could plant trellis with clematis or honeysuckle—these won’t block the butterfly’s rays.
Tip 8: Make a mud puddle.
Butterflies drink from wet areas around water. They don’t drink from open water. You can make a mud puddle by burying a bucket or non-toxic container in the ground and filling it almost to the top with wet sand. Put a few sticks or rocks on top of the sand for perches. Male butterflies need extra sodium during the mating season, so sprinkle a little salt on your puddle.
Tip 9: Provide a basking site.
Butterflies like to absorb the sun in open, bright areas. A large, flat, light colored rock with a lot of sun exposure makes a great basking spot where the butterfly can warm up.
Tip 10: Maintain a pesticide free garden.
Pesticides have a negative effect on all the stages of a butterfly’s life cycle. If you want butterflies in your garden, opt for organic oils or soaps.
Allen, S., Chambers, S., & Allen, N. (2002). “Create a Butterfly Garden.” Oregon State University Extension Service. http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/ec/ec1549.pdf
There are few things that can send Central Oregonians into a frenzy like the end of summer. The days are beginning to get shorter and cooler, the kids are getting ready for another year at school, and the leaves will begin to turn crimson and orange. We know that our days to get in those outdoor trips and house projects are numbered. What’s left here on our summer to-do lists? Here’s what some of the Land Trust staff said:
Sarah: A trip to the beach where I can dig my toes in the sand… and a camping trip. But not together--no one likes sand in their tent.
Lisa: I still need to eat red tomatoes and harvest veggies from my garden. I also need to get out more with my puppy, Sierra!
Becky: Moving into my new house!
Zak: Cleaning out the garage. We need to get rid of all the kid-related items that are now obsolete.
Brad Nye: I’d like to go on a backpacking trip with my kid in the Mt. Jefferson wilderness. And I want to go to Bumbershoot in Seattle.
Karly: Fishing on the Deschutes and getting to more of the lakes!
What's left on your list to make your summer complete?
By Bob Woodward
Back in the early days of Bend and Central Oregon mountain bike riding, riders were motivated to get away from it all and explore. That meant piecing together rides that combined old forest roads, game trails and singletrack.
Today, it seems most riders want to be out with the crowd and on well-worn and marked, almost groomed, trails.
For those looking for an old-school road/singletrack experience close to town with no crowds at all, there’s Skyline Forest.
Recently, Bend native and former alpine ski coach, Terry Foley, and I went on a Skyline riding binge of 38 days of exploring. What we found was truly amazing. Also note that during those 38 days we encountered only three other riders.
The riding at Skyline is a mix of old Crown Pacific lumber company access roads, motorcycle single track, and some hiking/equestrian trails. Linking them together to form a variety of loops takes time and an instinct for exploring.
To date, Foley and I have identified almost a dozen routes including: Grand Canyon Sweet, Inside Out, Terrytunes, Happy Ending, Skill Builder, and Slippin’ and Slidin.’ All are ride-able by everyone except beginners and most loops take between an hour and an hour and a half to complete. Some of these routes can be seen in the photo slide show below.The terrain is varied. We like to consider Skyline in two distinct sections: east side and west side.
On the east side, there’s more climbing, more long descents, more singletrack and more open terrain. On the west side, you’re down in the forest but with pleasant surprises like fresh water springs.
But best of all, there’s history on both sides from the remains of an old sawmill to a now abandoned spectacular canal that used to divert water from Tumalo Creek to Tumalo Reservoir.
Directing more riders to Skyline is a positive for those who want a less traveled and less crowded riding experience. Once more people ride there they will see what an important piece of Central Oregon this is and how it needs to be preserved for future generations.
Now is the time to get out and explore Skyline Forest before it closes on December 1 for a Deer Winter Range Closure. Stay tuned for more tips and maps to help you plan your own adventures. Or, join the Land Trust for a guided ride in the forest on October 16th. Learn more about Skyline Forest. To find information on the Land Trust’s free, guided hikes and bike rides in Skyline Forest, click here.
***Bob Woodward is a writer, photographer, and former mayor of Bend with a passion for all things outdoors. Bob helped found the Central Oregon Trail Alliance and was an early creator of biking trails in Central Oregon. Bob was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 2012.
By the time I got home from my last hike at Skyline Forest, the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees. My socks were coated with dirt from the long hike, but my face wore a smile a testament to the wonderful hike I had with a lovely trio of women from Bull Springs to Snag Springs and back.
We followed the ephemeral Bull Springs Creek, hiking along in the July heat. The wildflowers were beautiful up there. We saw yellow monkey flower, washington lily, paint brush, columbine, lowly penstemon, lupine, scarlet gilia, and more. Yet the most intriguing wildflowers of the day were the odd, reddish-yellowish alien asparagus, called pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea).
Pinedrops are fleshy, unbranched, rust-colored plants that grow above ground on tall stalks that vary from 30 to 100 centimeters in height. Their seedpods look like tiny pumpkins or lanterns. They are usually found in small clusters between June and August in mixed conifer forests.
The pinedrop is a perennial wildflower, but seems unlike any flower I have ever seen. It has no chlorophyll. It doesn’t photosynthesize, and it isn’t green. It is a mycotrophic plant, which means it has a symbiotic relationship with a fungus associated with pine trees. It’s a second-tier root parasite, feeding on fungi that steels nutrients from conifer roots. Pinedrops are common in humus-rich soil under the needles of ponderosas and other pines. They are more frequently found on the east side of the Cascades than the wetter west.
In some states these woodland oddities are threatened and endangered. Declining forest habitat and the short lifespan of the pinedrop seed have led to small population sizes. In addition, they are reluctant to germinate and they don’t transplant well. In Skyline Forest, however, they thrive.
Frankly, I don’t think pinedrops are pretty, just incredibly interesting. Leftover tall brown stalks from previous years line the trail. New plants punch up through thick, heavy duff and soil, all pale, sticky, scaly and fascinating.
If you want to catch a look at these weird wildflowers, check out the Land Trust's hikes at Skyline Forest. I hope you won’t mind if I don’t go with you, I am still cooling off from my own hike!
Driving to Rimrock Ranch just outside of Sisters, then walking down into the Whychus River canyon is always an exciting trip. Rimrock Ranch is such a special place and I’ve been there with the Deschutes Land Trust to watch birds, look at stars, see wildflowers, and check out all of the river restoration progress. When the opportunity arose to attend the Bat & Owl Night at Rimrock Ranch, naturally I jumped at the chance. Tom Rodhouse is an expert on bats, owners Bob and Gayle Baker are the perfect hosts, and the clear skies seemed endless that night. But for me, the stars of the night were not bats, owls, Tom, or the ones twinkling in the sky. The stars were the kids that attended this party.
Tom managed to trap two bats and he brought each one to a table equipped with scientific instruments: calipers, a scale, and paper to record the information. It was dark and about eight kids clustered around the table, their eyes focused on the tiny mammal in Tom’s hands. They all chattered at once asking questions, telling about previous bat experiences, and quizzing Tom about all things bat. They encroached close to the tiny bat trying to see all of the nuances down to the toenails. Land Trust staff had a colorful handout complete with photos from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife titled Batty for Bats: Facts for Kids, but most kids opted for the real live bat right in front of them! Tom had captured a California Myotis, brown with dark ears and a very tiny mouth. One of the kids became the recording scientist noting the species (Tom spelled it out slowly), the measurements, and the weight, and the remaining kids all seemed to have a suggestion about the work in progress. When it was time to release the bat, Tom and his cadre walked to an open space with Tom explaining how the little bat needed a few seconds to sound its sonar and decide which direction to take off.
It’s fun to see birds and particularly exciting to see such an elusive, tiny mammal that we generally see only as it darts past us in the waning light of day. But, to see this bat through the eyes of exuberant children with no reservations, freely and openly exuding their young spirit with excitement was a delight. I learned a lot about bats that evening, but I also remembered that nature is a wondrous thing. It’s not something we should experience stoically, looking with a blasé acceptance. We need to stop in the midst of our busy lives and look at our surroundings just the way a child would look at it--with a fresh perspective, a thousand questions, and an adventurous spirit. I walked out of the canyon that evening still hearing the chatter from the kids and thinking: isn’t this really why we all work so hard to preserve beautiful spaces like Rimrock Ranch?
Bunny Thompson is an internationally published freelance writer. She cruised on a sailboat for six years and published travel and adventure articles in national and international magazines. Now she lives in Sisters, Oregon and writes for regional magazines. Bunny also publishes a blog called Tales from Wild Goose.
It’s disturbing how similar my mind is to a flashy news program. Different thoughts and opinions compete like arguing newscasters. My grocery list scrolls at the bottom of the screen. An alert flashes in bright red reminding me that I forgot something important at work.
This is precisely why I needed the recent Nature Meditation Walk at Indian Ford Meadow Preserve.
We met at this picturesque Land Trust meadow just as the day began to cool off. The sun was poised to start its descent behind the amazing mountains. The lighting was perfect. Broken Top and the Three Sisters Mountains towered to the west. To the north, Black Butte and Mt. Jefferson stood watch.
A week before the walk, I saw two adult turkeys in the meadow. Their fluffy baby poults bobbed behind them, snatching bugs out of the air for a snack. Later that day, I scanned the meadow again and noticed big ears poking up from the creek. Four deer, escaping from the heat, were resting in the spring-fed current.
Indian Ford Meadow is obviously the place to find peace near Bend and Sisters. Our leader, Maret Pajutee, started by explaining how to do a walking meditation.
“Focus on the sensation of walking,” she said. “Feel the transfer of weight on your feet and, if your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present.”
I listened to the crunch of gravel under my feet while walking on the trail. It was refreshing to focus on the feeling of walking instead of the destination.
After we arrived at the overlook Maret oriented us to the meadow.
“This place has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years,” she said. “There’s a painting of how this meadow looked in the 1800s and it still looks the same.”
She explained that Native Americans used to ford the creek here, giving the place its name. They were on their way to the higher elevations in the summer to hunt game and gather huckleberries.
We sat at the overlook while Maret guided us through a meditation. Her gentle instructions helped me stay in the present and I was able to let go of distractions as they came up. The meditation was calming. Her guidance helped center me, and the meadow’s energy helped me find stillness. I only fell asleep once.
We followed the guided session with another walking meditation. This time we walked in the grasses of the meadow, taking slow, mindful steps along the water.
I left the Nature Meditation Walk feeling grounded. I felt zen and grateful. I hate to admit it, but these are not always typical feelings for me.
I highly recommend the next Nature Meditation Walk on August 7. If you can’t make that date, put it on your list to check out Indian Ford Meadow for a short hike, a picnic, or a sunset.
Do you have any tried-and-true meditation techniques? How do you meditate in nature?