From Frogs, Logs, Dogs, Slogs, Bogs, Hogs, and Pollywogs - It's the Methow Conservancy Blog!
Occasional posts - from the quirky to the momentous - on the life and times of the Methow Conservancy.
(What you won't find in E-News)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Corvid Course - Class #1 Intro to Corvids

Our 2016 "Conservation Course" started January 25th with an introductory class by David Moskowitz.  Below are notes taken by Raechel Youngberg and a video by CJ Peterson, both class participants. 

Class #1 - What Makes a Corvid a Corvid?

 Watch and listen to the entire class on this video

Corvids originated from the Australia/New Zealand region around 17 million years ago. Corvids belong to the Passerine or perching bird order. There are currently 23 genera and 120 species across the globe. Corvids are a very successful family and have colonized most of the earth. Corvidae include crows, ravens, jays, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers.

There are very few endangered corvid species. One species of note, the Hawaiian Crow, is extinct in the wild and has dwindling numbers in captivity. A number of factors led to the demise of the Hawaiian crow such as disease, predators, and loss of habitat.

The Corvidae family is often described as intelligent, adaptable and playful. They have a brain to body mass ratio almost equal to that of the great apes and whales. Certain species have been documented using mirrors, which is a sign of self-awareness. There is well documented tool usage by certain species such as ravens and crows (See a video here).

Ecologically, corvid relationships with other animals, particularly predator-type carnivores, has a very long history.  It's even thought that ravens have had an evolutionary impact on wolf socialization and group formation.  Ravens can account for 40% of scavengers on wolf kills which led wolves over time to hunt in packs so they consume their kills faster and keep the food within their family.  Corvids frequently consume kills made by other animals.

Basic Morphology:
-Most are medium to large in size
-Blue, black, iridescent in color
-Racous call
-Stout bill
-Bristle-like feathers on base of bill (unique to corvids)

-big eye sockets
-stout bills
-relatively large brain case

-Stout bills are flexible in how they are used (generally not specific to certain types of food, opportunistic feeders)
-Insects make up a large part of their diet

-Elliptical and flexible wing shape
-Not the quickest wing shape but highly adaptable

Track drawings by David Moskowitz
-Digitigrade animals (walk on toes)
-Versatile movement (for crows/ravens) can walk, hop, jump on the ground
-A foot track on the grade shows that the middle toe hugs the inside toe (specific to corvids)

Many birds produce "cough pellets," something many of us know owls to do, but corvids do as well.  Pellets are the indigestible material a bird consumes that they then regurgitate. Owls stomach acids are unable to digest bones so you often find bones and fur in their pellets. Hawks are able to digest most bones and so you do not find such materials in their pellets. Corvid pellets consist of quite a bit of insect casings among other materials.

-Territorial (depends on species, ex: ravens seem to be more territorial than crows)
-Many species are socially monogamous but sexually exploratory
-Nests vary depending on species but are fairly loosely constructed of sticks and branches, and reflect the size of the animal.
-They spend a fair amount of time rearing young compared to other families of birds

Our Western Corvids (Page numbers are for The Sibley Guide to Birds)
Ravens communicating about a fish by David Moskowitz
Common Raven: Corvus corax (pp 359)
-thick bill
-spade/wedge tail
-often soar
-usually found in pairs (sometimes you see more when there is food nearby)
-more territorial

American Crow: Corvus brachyrhynchos (pp 360)
-cut/straight tail
-never soar
-hang in groups

Northwest Crow: corvus caurihus (pp 360)
-Found on coastal areas in Washington and BC.

Black Billed Magpie: Pica hudsonia (pp 358)
-Distinct coloration
-Long tail
-Associated with open landscapes
Steller's Jay by Mary Kiesau

Steller's Jay: Cyanocitta stelleri (pp 357)
-Often misidentified as blue jays
-brilliant blue coloration
-Associated with forested landscapes

Scrub Jay: Aphelocoma californica (pp 352)
-Arid environments
-Associated w/ oak trees
-missing crest on head
-lighter bellies

Pinyon Jay: Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus (pp 356)
Gray Jay by Mary Kiesau
-Associated with pinyon pine and juniper forests
-easily confused with scrub jays

Gray Jays/Whiskey Jack/Canada Jay (Camp Robbers): Perisoreus candadenis (pp 356)
-Very curious about humans
-Found in subalpine ecosystems

Clarks Nutcracker: Nucifraga columbiana (pp 356)
-Smaller than crows but bigger than jays
-Primarily eat whitebark pines nuts but will eat other pine nuts such as our ponderosa pine

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mary's Grad School Update #6

by Mary Kiesau, Methow Conservancy Educational Programs Director
It's been many months since I posted an update about my grad school work.  I've been back in the Methow and at work at the Conservancy since the middle of March, but every week I get questions about whether I've finished school, whether I'm still commuting to Bellingham, when I'll be done, etc., so I figured a quick update might be worthwhile.  

Plus, I have some fun photos to share!

This spring and summer I've continued to complete credits toward a Masters of Education in Environmental Education through some field-based programs.  In the spring, I helped off and on to "TA" (assisted in teaching) the undergraduate environmental education (EE) "spring block" course.  I would spend time with the undergraduates (which ranged in age from 19-34) intermittently - a week here, a week there, usually in the field such as on Sucia Island in the San Juans, or backpacking outside of Stehekin.  While I did prepare materials for the students, and do some instructing, much of my work was to provide guidance and feedback from a distance -- all while learning and practicing more EE skills myself.  I found my role/task both difficult because I wasn’t fully engaged and was often out of the loop with the other instructors, and extremely interesting and rewarding working with the undergrads and having a view-from-afar perspective.  I enjoyed watching things unfold and develop - people’s teaching skills and the overall group dynamics - while not being heavily involved in either instigating or supervising/debriefing/judging the students.  I was really able to focus on what I was comfortable with and skilled at, as well as see what I'd like to build and practice in myself.

Then, in late June and early July, I took part in an 18-day "Northern Field Botany" course. The course was offered through Western WA University's Biology department and I was able to take it as an elective for my M.Ed. program. Four undergrads, myself and the instructor stuffed ourselves into a rented Suburban with camping gear, food and enormous plant presses. We traveled everyday, hiked and collected plants most days, and saw an amazing amount of the vast British Columbia and Yukon landscape. It was incredible. Below are just a few of my 1400 or so photos!

As we head into fall, I'll begin work on my independent Master's Project (in lieu of a thesis).  I have a few options I'm tossing around now, but I'll settle into the work soon and focus on it through the winter (and continue to work at the MC full-time).  If all goes as planned, I will finish and graduate in March 2016.  All of this final project work will be done from the Methow.  All my other coursework is done and I do not need to attend classes on campus anymore.  
Salmon Glacier north of Hyder, Alaska

Pressed plants everyday.  Saxifraga tricuspida here.

Saxifraga tricuspida leaves
Saxifraga tricuspida, a type of Spotted Saxifrage

Just part of one hike's loot. We were collecting for the WWU herbarium as well as for DNA/genome research.

Sparrow's Egg Lady's-slipper - Cypripedium passerinum
Lapie Canyon, Yukon
Mary & a life-size Pleistocene era "Giant Beaver" at the Beringia Interpretive Center in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Dryas drummondi
The Carcross "desert" in the Yukon

Muncho Lake, BC

Keno Hill, Yukon - a nunatak that is beautiful when not socked in

Abundant black bears but never got a great photo of any

The Common Loon was on every lake, and everyday there were lakes

Lovely moose lady.  Such a beautiful and bizarre looking creature.

Momma "cross fox," a color variant of the red fox

Baby "cross fox"
Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon
*Huge* grizzly while hiking in Tombstone (this is around midnight!)
"Hiking the Midnight Sun" selfie in Tombstone

browsing willows at 2am

55° and drizzle in the Yukon while it was 100° at home
One of two huge and full plant presses

Many moose and many lakes in Canada!

The enormous "Wood Bison" - crazy huge and all over the roads

One of our best wildlife sightings - a wolf (seen through wildfire smoke at 10pm)

Stone Sheep, a subspecies of Dall sheep

Scaling mtns for tiny plants (Muncho Lakes/Stone Mtn area)
Porcupine Caribou in the Muncho Lakes/Stone Mtn area
Prickly Pear (in Alberta!)
Sunset looking into Jasper Nat'l Park
Pyramid Peak in Jasper Nat'l Park

The End!

Friday, April 3, 2015

"It's Complex" Fire Ecology & Recovery 2015 Conservation Course - Class #6 Notes

Summary of March 2, 2015 class by volunteer Nick Thorp and course coordinator Julie Grialou

The final week of the 2015 fire ecology conservation course coincided with what feels like an early spring in the valley. With daytime temperatures well above freezing for several weeks, snow melting rapidly, and shoots of grass popping up, a sense of the the change of seasons and the coming summer is growing. With summer comes fire season and everybody’s question of what this year will hold following the Carlton Complex fire of 2014. The answer to that question follows the theme of the course: it’s complex.

Richy Harrod, Fire Management Specialist with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, joined the class to present his thoughts on what the future may hold for the Methow and ways that we as a community can live with fire. Following an extreme fire event like the Carlton Complex, there is generally a low risk for fire in burned areas. Plants and grasses will begin to repopulate these areas in the next several years without much fuel to allow for flammable conditions. It is not until about 15 years after a fire that dense shrubs will establish and a real fire danger returns. While this may ring true for some burned forests in the Methow from the Carlton Complex fires, other areas are at risk or will potentially be at risk in the future.

Last year’s fires, combined with the Tripod and other large fire events in recent history, have burned from Canada to the Columbia River. But large tracts of land and forests on the western side of the Valley from the Twisp River drainage down to Lake Chelan have not burned in many years. These areas are home to dense, homogenous forests: prime environment for large, intense fire events. Coupled with the threat of cheatgrass, a highly invasive and flammable grass that can take over burned shub-steppe landscapes following a fire, the danger for fires in 2015 remains present.

So how do we ensure that people and structures are safe while allowing fire to play its natural role in surrounding lands and forest? According to Richy, it takes everybody from the Forest Service, to landowners, to communities, in partnership, to achieve that this goal. From a high level perspective, forest restoration is key and several overarching strategies that impact each other need to be at play including:
* Management of whole landscapes
* Management for patterns
* Restoration of native fire regimes
* Placing fire treatments in strategic places
* Restoration of natural patches in landscape
* Restoration of fire tolerant structures like Ponderosa Pine
* Long term planning

As the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest District builds and puts forth plans to include these approaches, each year they are continuing to address the identification and direct treatment of high priority areas, and high fire threat areas. To do so the Forest Service does a detailed characterization and analysis of a watershed broken down in many small sections based on differences in plant type, age, size, tree density, topography, and more. Combined with historical data and future projections, the Forest Service is able to determine priority areas for treatment.

While the Forest Service is working in the woods to conduct fire treatment, landowners and communities can also do their part to protect homes and developed areas. Just as the Forest Service builds fire lines to block fire progression, homeowners should be doing the same to their property. Removing flammable material and sources of ignition from within 30 feet of a home, keeping an irrigated lawn around homes, and ensuring trees within 70 feet of a home are planted sparingly can all go a long way to protect property. Firewise provides more detailed information and recommendations.

To truly protect homes and people, the old saying rings true: it takes a village. Communities and their residents need to work together with each other and with entities like the Forest Service and Department of Natural Resources. Collaborative planning and fire prevention treatment by people, communities, the private sector, and the public sector are key to living with fire.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mary's Grad School Update #5

by Mary Kiesau, Methow Conservancy Educational Programs Director
My time in Bellingham is coming to a close soon, and I'll be back in the Methow full-time in a couple more weeks!  I'll continue to work on projects for my Masters in Education throughout 2015, but I will not have to commute regularly to Bellingham anymore. 

This quarter was been demanding and time-consuming with a lot of very "real world" project work in curricula building, lesson plans, evaluation, data analysis, assessment of learning, essay writing, and more.  Sounds very exciting, right?  Well, it's not exactly fun, but I have been totally engaged, and I feel very fortunate to be able to apply much of what I learn and think about directly to the Methow Conservancy (and my interests) and create graduate school projects that serve the Conservancy.  I love being able to serve multiple purposes!

Currently, I'm working on a large curriculum project on the natural history of the Methow.  It will need a lot more work (and programmatic details) before it might ever be put into practice, but it's a fascinating exercise to think about what to include, what the objectives would be, how to evaluate people, and how to create lesson plans.  

For another course, a fellow graduate student and I conducted 16 one-on-one interviews for a possible assessment/evaluation of the Methow Conservancy's education programs.  A combination of staff, Board members, volunteers and class instructors were interviewed.  They provided insight, suggestions and concerns that will be extremely useful to the Methow Conservancy broadly and with regards to its educational work.  

What makes an assessment fair and valid?
Lately, I've had to teach classes of undergraduates, which is both fun and terrifying for me.  This past week I lead an hour-long session on "Assessment of Learning," where I talked about why and how diagnostic, formative and summative assessments can be done, indoors and outdoors, formal and informal.  A few weeks ago, had someone asked me what these terms meant I would have starred back blankly.  One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it, as the saying goes!

This coming week, I'm "teaching" a nearly two-hour class on "New Directions in Nature Writing and Emerging Authors" to the American Literature of Nature & Place class, in which I'm normally a student. 
Prairie-star will bloom within the month!

With two big projects to finish and two more papers to write, the next two weeks are going to be a blur of long nights and fresh coffee, but I do enjoy the work and feel like the whole experience has been extremely worthwhile and thought-provoking.  Still, I can't wait to be back in the Methow and to go on my first hunt for spring wildflowers!