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)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

White-Headed Woodpecker May "First Tuesday" Program

On May 7, Jeff Kozma, a wildlife biologist with the Yakama Nation, gave a Methow Conservancy's First Tuesday program on the "Reproductive Ecology of the White-Headed Woodpecker in Washington’s Ponderosa Pine Forests

White-headed woodpeckers are restricted to the western states of WA, OR, ID and CA.  In WA, they are a species of concern and little is known about them - they are the least studied woodpecker in North America. White-headed woodpeckers (WHWP) are the only woodpecker with a fully black body and a white head (the male has red on the back of his head). They are non-migratory and found in conifer forest, specifically ponderosa pine.

WHWP were historically thought to be tied to old-growth forests. Jeff's research, which was the second study to ever be done on them in WA, showed that they do well in either burned or unburned trees and that there doesn't appear to be a strong link to old-growth. They do just fine in managed stands.

Jeff’s study focused on WHWP in managed forests, looking at:
Nest site characteristics
Reproductive success
The role of sexes in feeding and nest cleaning
What were parents feeding young

White-headed woodpeckers show a clear preference for ponderosa pine for nesting, and they tend to prefer fire-cleared habitats like this photo on the right, but they will make cavity nests in other trees. WHWP are weak excavators, so they tend to chip away at dead or dying trees to make a cavity. White-headed woodpecker holes are relatively small and round, very similar to hairy woodpecker holes, but on average they are just 12 feet above the ground. Because they are so low to the ground, WHWP prefer sparse canopy cover because dense shrub cover near their nest brings more danger (squirrels, weasels, martins, hawks) and less visibility.

Jeff and his research team used "tree-top peepers" (see left) to look into nest holes.  They also watched birds to see what they were eating, and which sex was feeding or sitting on the eggs more.  They banded birds and took habitat notes.

Jeff's research showed that males scout out potential snags, and then females decide whether they like it or not. If not, the males keep looking before they excavate. Males do most of the excavating. Females lay one egg a day (perhaps up to five eggs) and start sitting on the eggs after all the eggs are laid. The females stay close to the nest, alternating with the male sitting on the eggs and gathering food (which can be just about any insects but they especially like wood borer larvae and carpenter ants). However, males sit on the eggs most of the time, and catch larger food items. Whether they are a monogamous species is a “gray," unknown area.

Woodpeckers have hooked or barbed tongues and work them like a sewing machine, to grab grubs out of holes. 

White-headed woodpeckers avoid competition for food with other woodpecker species by using different nesting periods.  (Hairy woodpeckers are slightly earlier)

 Figuring out the age of birds is based on primary feathers and molting. Young birds have brown primary feathers until they molt and slowly replace them with with white adult features. Males have dingy brownish white heads that slowly molt into a red stripe at the back of their white hood.

Notes by volunteer Maddie Cogswell.  Thanks Maddie!

Friday, May 10, 2013

On Arctic Ground

On Arctic Ground...Bonus Program on Monday!
By Jason Paulsen, Methow Conservancy Executive Director 

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that just over a year ago, I could not have pointed to the National Petroleum Reserve on a map.  Had you asked me to describe what it looked like, I would have guessed a large area covered in underground fuel storage tanks, somewhere in the deep south.  With time I’ve grown less embarrassed to admit this, as I’ve discovered I was far from alone.

Northern Alaska and the National Petroleum Reserve (NPRA)

Last June, I had a rare opportunity to visit and explore the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, and to experience our Nation’s single-largest unit of public land first-hand.  At 23 million acres, the National Petroleum Reserve continues to exist as a large blank space on many maps, and represents the far western reaches of the arctic slope, north of the Brooks Range and extending toward the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean.  Think of nearly 50 Pasayten Wildernesses, and nothing but open space and wildlife extending to the horizon in all directions.

Enjoying the Midnight in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve, June 2012

Nearly a year later, I still struggle to put words to the experience of exploring this expansive wilderness.  Each hour of every sun lit day and sun lit night brought new experiences and memories I hope never to forget.  These memories include watching a wolverine lope across the tundra within minutes of touching down in the bush plane, observing brown bears which had likely never seen a human before, crossing paths with caribou, discovering cultural artifacts, and marveling at countless birds celebrating the nesting season. 

                         The Utukok River, National Petroleum Reserve Alaska   
Photo by Jason Paulsen

                                                                      Young Caribou on the Move, NPRA  Photo by Jason Paulsen

Thankfully, I don’t have to put too many words to the experience as author and adventurer Debbie Miller is traveling to the Methow Valley to do that for us this Monday, May 13th at the Twisp River Pub.  Debbie will share her new book, On Arctic Ground, Tracking Time Through Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve and an evening of stories, stunning photography, and a glimpse into her lifetime of learning about and working to conserve this unique piece of public land.   Doors open at 6 p.m., a buffet dinner is available for $10 and the free program starts at 7 p.m.  Contact the Methow Conservancy office w/ questions at 509-996-2870.

The Utukok Uplands Special Area, National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska 
 Photo By: Jason Paulsen                          

Wolf Print in Mud, National Petroleum Reserve Alaska

Make tracks to the Twisp River Pub on Monday evening and help us to welcome Debbie Miller to the Methow Valley and learn about an important piece of our public land in one of the most remote areas of our country.

                                                                                 See You There!

                                                                                    - Jason