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)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Home of My Heart

By Mary Morgan, Membership Assistant

I just returned from a fabulous week sea kayaking off the west coast of Vancouver Island with my husband Phil.  On the return trip, as we drove many miles down Vancouver Island towards the ferry at Nanaimo, I started musing on when a wonderful place becomes a great place to call home.  Although a very different type of environment, I had just spent a week in a place that has many of the same characteristics that the Methow Valley holds.

Incredible scenery, wonderful wildlife, fantastic recreation, engaging people.  Maybe even a few more characters than the Valley, if you can believe it!!

My favorite characters were of the animal variety.  Sea otters abound in this area, and display a great deal of curiosity towards those they encounter. This mom and pup were alert and wary, but not too concerned. 

The most exciting encounter occurred during the middle of the night.  As we were sleeping in our tent, a sound awoke us from the beach.  Phil checked it out, no sign of problems.  As we tried to go back to sleep, a wolf began howling, less than 100 yards from the tent.  Properly alert, we remarked on how lucky we felt to at least hear a wolf!  Again we attempted to go back to sleep.  Just as I started to drift off, a low growl came from just outside the tent.  After a brief scream on my part, Phil bolted awake, found his headlamp and checked outside the tent door.  Less than twelve feet away, a wolf was strolling by, looking slightly disgusted at the attention.  Needless to say, it took a long time to go to sleep!

We obviously love the outdoors – it has been an important part of our lives for the past 30 years.

Phil and I first came to the Methow in the early 80’s, drawn by the terrain.  We were cross-country skiers, looking for beautiful places to ski.  We loved to wander in untracked snow on the Methow hills.  We spent our honeymoon at Sun Mountain in 1982, and saw a cougar in a parking lot at a trailhead that later became part of Pine Forest.  By 1994, we had bought “recreational property”.  By 2001 we were building a cabin.  And by 2007, we had moved here permanently.  I tell people we came for the recreation, we bought property for the beauty, but we moved here for the community.

We found people who had a love for the Valley that matched ours.  Lots of quirky ideas, notions that didn’t always seem to make sense, politics we tried to not discuss!!  We love to travel and have seen many wonderful places, but when we return, I always experience a profound sense of peace as we drive back into the valley.  A strong sense of coming back home that is hard to explain since I didn’t grow up here.

But as I was traveling through the waters off the coast of Vancouver Island, I was reminded of what that love of place is all about.  One of my favorite memories of our recent trip was the ride back in a boat provided by a member of the local native band.  LeRoy is probably in his early 20’s, grew up in Kyuquot,  a village on the west coast of Vancouver Island that is only accessible by floatplane or boat.  His dad runs a water taxi service that takes kayakers out to the more remote Islands.

As we headed back to the dock where our car was located, LeRoy mentioned that there were a lot of humpback whales in the area.  Phil said he would love to get some photos if we encountered more whales.  LeRoy grinned and said, “I think we can do that!”

Soon he spotted spouts in the distance down a side channel.  LeRoy pointed and said we could go around the Island on our way back to the dock, if Phil wanted photos.  We quickly agreed.  As we approached the whales, LeRoy throttled back, and drifted closer.  We watched this wonderful humpback whale surface, spout…. surface, spout…. surface, spout.  And then he lifted his tail high, and plunged deeply into the water.  LeRoy and I turned to each other with huge grins on our faces.  I said “magical”!  And he said “yes”!!!  His connection to his place was so real I could feel it. I’m sure he’s seen humpback whales countless times in his life, but it is always magical for him, and he loved sharing it with me.

I love the Methow.  It is the home of my heart.  I wasn’t born here, but I chose this place because of the huge connection I feel to it.  That is why I work at the Methow Conservancy.  My work helps keep this place the magical home that I have found.  What I do isn’t fancy – but it is a small part of what allows the Conservancy to keep the Valley the home I love. 

I love going away, but I love coming home the most!

Mary Morgan wanders into the Methow Conservancy office on Mondays to process donations, send out acknowledgments to our many donors and help with the other tasks that keep an office running.  The rest of the time she is playing with her husband Phil, dog Luke and backpacking with friends in the Pasayten.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hanging out with Dora the Explorer

by Hannah Hogness, 
Methow Conservancy Summer Intern and rising Liberty Bell High School Sophomore

Dora the Explorer
Applying for the internship at the Methow Conservancy this summer, I knew I would be doing some fieldwork, but did not know what to expect. In my 15 year old mind, I painted a pretty hard-core picture: sharp machetes being used to clear new trails, plant inspections and property observations from dawn till dusk. Fortunately, machetes were not needed. On my first day doing field work, we went to two properties between Highway 20 and the Methow River, near Mazama. Mary Kiesau and I parked at the first property. Here, I made my first observation; Mary’s bag. Stuffed to the max with a compass, GPS unit, cameras, notebooks, food, water and other supplies she reminded me of Dora the Explorer. Extreme Dora the Explorer. To this day, Mary still remains a Dora to me and will be referred to as Dora throughout this article.

Continuing on our first property, Dora explained how each conservation easement has certain GPSed “photo-points” that are returned to annually to be photographed. Walking down the road, Dora pointed out the relatively tall strip of grass and weeds growing in the middle of the road. “Fire risk” she explained. “When cars drive over tall, dry vegetation, the heat from the car could potentially set the dried grass on fire during the hot summers.” I made sure to trim down the strip on my road before any Conservancy people came to pay me a visit! Once we reached the land owners house, we talked to him about what he’s noticed, any changes he had made or was planning on making to the property and if there was anything we should know. After that, we went on our adventure to find the photo points. Arriving at the points one by one, we used the photos from prior years to pin point what we were taking pictures of. The main photo points were on the borders of the property. Dora explained later that one reason the Conservancy does that is to make sure neighboring property owners aren’t accidentally disturbing the conserved land. Finishing the day after about 3-4 hours, I looked through some of the photos and compared them to the ones from a couple years ago. The two properties we visited that day had both changed vastly: little aspens growing into large ones, and small shrubs sprouting into large bushes along the river bank, which is good for erosion prevention and stabilizing the shoreline.

Taken in 2002, note the view of the river to the right.

The same photo in 2012, note the vegetation growth, plus many small trees have cages on them.

Pinedrops, a cool plant in the woods
The next time I accompanied Dora on a field work expedition was in mid August. It was much hotter than before and we had two larger easements to monitor. Somehow one property managed to take up five hours! These conservation easements were located up the Twisp River, and they both featured river shoreline, fallow agricultural fields as well as thick forest and brush. During this monitoring visit, the property owners joined us and walked us to the designated photo points, which was helpful since they knew how to get around the large property better than we did. Throughout the walk, Dora explained to me why the Conservancy monitors properties. When the landowners sign the conservation easements, which are permanent, they are agreeing to certain restrictions in order to protect the land. Restrictions vary from easement to easement because easement vary greatly in size and land type (farm land, river land, forest land, etc.).  For instance, most easements don’t allow off-road vehicle use or the development of any new roads; some don’t allow any new homes, though some do; some require that forest management be done. Dora explained that when we are monitoring, we are not just taking the photo-points, but we are also looking for both positive and negative man-made and natural changes to the land since the last visit. Changes could be whether irrigation is happening, if weeds are increasing and decreasing, improvements in the river banks, or other ecosystems. Finishing up our field work for the day, at the peak heat of the day, Dora and I decided to go for quick dip in the frothy Twisp River.

Scarlet gilia on a river bank in June
Throughout my work for this internship for the summer, field work definitely stuck out to me as something I looked forward to. Field work gave me the opportunity to learn about different plants, birds, and environments here in the valley. Thank you Methow Conservancy for the wonderful internship experience!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Everett, Micah and Tundra Wow First Tuesday Crowd
by Morgan Tate and Amaya Gracie, 
Methow Conservancy Summer Interns and Liberty Bell High School Students
Jessica Graham with Everett the American Kestrel
At the Methow Conservancy’s August “First Tuesday” program on August 7th, Winthrop was visited by the WSU Raptor Club. Their representative, Jessica Graham, who is the current president of the organization, brought along three birds to show us all a little of what she does at her school club in Pullman. She explained how every bird in their care has some sort of disability that results in them not being able to survive in the wild. An example could be losing their ability to fly, as were all of the birds she brought with her. They strive to return each bird back to full health even though they live in captivity.

The Raptor Club has a varying number of 50-75 active club members who all share an interest in working with birds of prey. It began without live raptors, but presently has 16 raptor residents, including the American Kestrel, Northern Harrier Hawk (aka Marsh Hawk), and Snowy Owl that accompanied Jessica. The American kestrel, named Everett, is a falcon, a type of raptor. As she walked around with him perched on her hand, protected by a leather glove, she revealed her vast knowledge of bird facts, both in general and pertaining to Everett. American kestrels are known for their sharp, fast dives and ability to see shadows from UV light giving them the upper hand when finding prey. Other falcons, such as peregrine falcons are known to decapitate ducks in mid flight.  Kestrels are also the smallest falcon in North America, measuring at 19–21 centimeters (7–8 in) long. All falcons have something called a “tooth-notch” on their beak, allowing them to insert their beak into the spine of their prey and break the spinal cord.  These birds may be small, but they sure can be fierce!

Next up was Micah, a Northern Harrier who was hit by a combine before he had fledged from his nest in a field. His wing was so badly damaged, it had to be amputated. Since his accident took place at such a young age, the Raptor Club was hopeful that he would learn to balance without the weight and support of his left wing. At almost two years of age, he has succeeded in adapting to his disability. 

Micah had his left wing amputated when he was young but he's managed to learn how to balance.
The third and last bird Jessica introduced us to was Tundra, a fully grown Snowy Owl. The crowd was amazed at her fluffy white face and huge yellow eyes. She was found near Spokane, WA last December, and the club adopted her at 6 weeks old. She suffered from a humeral fracture and dislocated elbow. If not for the dislocated elbow, which no bird can recover from, Tundra would be able to fly, and even carry an animal up to half her weight. We learned that owls have serrated feathers, like a comb, to give them silent flight and help them sneak up on prey. After playing a guessing game, we found out that the large owl weighed only three pounds due to hollow bones for flight advantages.

Most people believe that owls can turn their head in a full circle around themselves, but, in fact, they only have a 270 degree rotation (which is still amazing!).  This is because they have 14 vertebrae rather than seven, like humans. They need the extra rotation of their head because their eyes are so big that they can’t move them the same way we can move ours. If humans were to have the same scale as owls do between the size of their eyes and their head, our eyes would be the size of oranges!

Tundra, a female Snowy Owl.  Females have brown flecks in the feathers whereas adult males are all white.
 After each birds’ show-and-tell, the 200+ people in attendance asked dozens of questions.  People were amazed with Jessica’s knowledge and the accomplishments the Raptor Club had made and were interested to learn more. Children asked question after question while adults awed over Tundra’s massive talons. The Raptor Club presentation was a huge success. In only one short hour, someone who knew nothing on birds became a fascinated learner, ready to discover what part he or she could play in saving another raptor.