Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Willow Creek Wednesday Wander

Liz Myers from WREN, Rick Ahrens (local naturalist), and Jason Nuckols and Charlie Quinn from the The Nature Conservancy led a group of about 20 through the (very) wet prairie and upland prairie of Willow Creek Nature Preserve. We covered quite a bit of ground during this hour walk, which was one of the new informal Wednesday Wetland Wanders in the West Eugene Wetlands. We learned about the various projects TNC is doing to monitor the habitat of this nearly 500 acre beautiful site that is nestled up against the southwest ridges of town. TNC staff and their volunteers control several invasive, nonnative plant species to allow a greater variety of species, and promote the growth of rare plants indigenous to the Willamette Valley. They track the birds and animals who call Willow Creek their home, including the Fender's Blue Butterfly (below).

Rick mentioned the Eugene Chapter of NABA, here is a link to their website. We got a brief glimpse of a Red-tailed hawk, and heard the shreik of what Rick believed to be a Red-shouldered hawk, a bird of prey we are seeing more of as they expand their territory to the north.

Many in the group had not experienced Willow Creek Nature Preserve before. This area is a treasure that not too many know about. However, the trails are open to the public, and a great variety of plants and animals await curious visitors. Here is TNC's web page about Willow Creek: Here are a couple of other photos of Willow Creek taken at different times of the year:



Thank you to all who joined us this morning, we enjoyed meeting and seeing you! For the next Wetland Wednesday Wander we will meet at the view point off Stewart Road to explore Stewart Pond. This will be 9 a.m. January 9. We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Amazon Creek Work Party

And what a party it was!
We had 20 volunteers out here in the wetlands getting down and dirty with native plants last Saturday. WREN has adopted a section of Amazon Creek just outside our interm Education Center (the Yurt). Saturday we planted 300-400 native Willow cuttings, 12 Douglas spirea, 5 Valley pines, Dogwood cuttings, Brodiea species and 12 Showy milkweed.
Above is a photo of one of our dedicated and talented volunteers, Mary Morrison.

Many, many thanks go out to John Hogan for propagating the milkweed in partnership with the Eugene

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Steve Gordon's December Willow Creek Walk

I wanted to post Steve Gordon's account of an early December morning he spent with Cary Kerst last year. This is theatrical story of nature at its best...

This was first posted December 2006 to

Bird Watching at Willow Creek Natural Area in the West Eugene Wetlands
Written by Steve Gordon
See also, the segment by KVAL 13 on the 2006 Lane County Audubon Society Annual Christmas Bird Count, filmed in the West Eugene Wetlands (mainly Meadowlark Prairie).

This morning Cary Kerst and I went out to cover my Willow Creek monitoring route. We picked this morning last week and decided to stick with it despite the weather updates and the darkness that comes with a Monday morning rain. While on the route, we agreed that once you get dressed properly and get into the field, it is always easier and more comfortable than it sounds from in front of the fire at home.

The first half of the route was usual with some sun, wind, rain, and a little mixed snow. The firs on the hills above the Willow Creek Reserve sported a skiff of white snow. We found a Varied Thrush and a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets. We heard a sorry excuse for a Chorus Frog trying to croak.

As we ended the route along Willow Creek's east branch, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew westward across the field and banked with its back to us, giving us a wonderful view of the red shoulders contrasting with the black and white checkered wings. We also saw A flock of Juncos mixed with Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, three Lincoln's Sparrows, and a White-throated Sparrow. American Kestrels had flown by several times. As another Falcon approached it seemed much lager. It flew overhead and landed nearby in a cottonwood - a Peregrine Falcon! I was sure it was a new bird for the Willow Creek bird list, and the best was yet to come.

As we walked back to the pickup along 18th Avenue, we spotted a White-tailed Kite at Luk-wah Prairie. Then the Peregrine returned and flushed a Northern Harrier. The Peregrine would gain altitude and then dive and fly strongly toward small trees; scaring up Flickers each time. Over and over it repeated this behavior, until a Flicker made a fatal mistake and flew west across the expanse of prairie just south of the old speedway. The Falcon hit it in mid-air and grasped the dead Flicker in its talons. Harriers, Red-tiled Hawks, two Kestrels, and the White-tailed Kite were all flying about and the Peregrine dropped the Flicker. Soon it disappeared to the ground to feast.

The walk in cold rain and snow seemed worthwhile. It was all worth it to watch the Falcon hunt Flickers on a Monday morning. And the Peregrine is now bird number 115 on The Nature Conservancy Willow Creek list.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wetland Walking Tour

Many times a year we walk with local students out in the wetlands near our Yurt. Were you one of our students?!? Here are some photos of our trip last week. O'Hara Elementary School joined us in exploring our wetlands. Can you find the cattails on this page? It sure was sunny that day!

Monday, October 29, 2007

On Saturday, October 20, WREN hosted twenty-some local educators for a day of training on using the WOW! The Wonders of Wetlands curriculum. There were may teachers from local schools as well as Oregon State Parks staff from Silver Falls State Park, UO Environmental Leadership Project staff, and several WREN educators. Despite the cold temperatures in the un-insulated yurt, and intermittent driving rain, we all had a good time and learned a lot.

WREN was excited to co-host this event with Environmental Concern Inc. out of St. Michael's, Maryland. Jamie Schofield was the instructor for the day and traveled all the way out to rainy Oregon from the east coast.

The days' activities began with a lesson about watersheds, using a watershed model made from clay that was contained in a paint tray. This activity is a great demonstration of the ability of wetlands to filter pollution and provide habitat.

We made good use of a short break in the rain by looking around the wetlands for signs of animals (the raccoon scat pile just outside the yurt was, as always, a big hit). We also dug a small soil core and learned how our soil fit onto a wetland soil chart by examining its color and texture.

We finished our activities in the yurt by playing with cattails. First we dissected them with our teams and learned some amazing facts about cattail biology! Then, with our dissected cattails we were assigned the task of making a boat. Not only did it have to float in a tub of water, but whichever boat could hold the most pennies won a prize. The winning boat held over 40 pennies before it finally sunk!

What a great way it was to pass a rainy Saturday! Exploring the wetlands, meeting new people and learning how to pass on our knowledge and experience to students!

Monday, October 8, 2007

A cool and cloudy October morning greeted visitors from the Campbell Senior Center today on a walk through the wetlands.

Holly McRae led a leisurely walk with the group along the Fern Ridge Bike Path. These visitors had been out to the wetlands before, but it was a first time with WREN! The tour began at the Meadowlark Prairie Overlook where Holly filled us in on the history of the WEW Project, partners and wildlife of the wetlands. Then we packed up and headed to our starting point at Checkermallow Access. Along the way to Terry Street, we passed by several birds including three Cormorants, several elegant White Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Kestrels, a Northern Harrier, possibly a Red-tailed Hawk, Flickers, Killdeer, Meadowlarks, and several small birds flitting around that are here to winter over in our valley.

Not to discount the grounded organisms in the plant world...Holly pointed out several species dressed in their fall fashion including Lupine, Tufted Hairgrass, golden and shimmering against the dark sky, Cattails (some gone to seed), and Aster. Unfortunately, but inevitably, we also saw the nonnatives such as the stubborn reed canary grass, the prickly teasle, pervasive pennyroyal, and thorny European blackberry. On the bright side, we also learned about some of the ways the WEW Partnership is controlling these invasive species, such as solar blocks, and prescribed burns. There were no otter sightings this time, but we did pass by the active beaver lodge near DataLogic, and what we believe is a muskrat burrow along the bank of Amazon. And of course, no walk for Holly would be quite complete without some interesting scat! Some awaited her right in the middle of the path, and its characteristics, such as tiny bones, hair, and form told Holly it was most likely wild canine, such as fox or coyote.

It's easy to say gazing around at the vibrant, rich colors of fall foliage, surrounded by heavy, dark clouds and hearing the Canada (or were they Cackling?) Geese above herald a change in seasons, that fall is the best time to be in the West Eugene Wetlands. Well, at least until the next season arrives, and we remember the fantastic opportunities for viewing birds of prey, seeing the long-missed vernal pools return, and the winter drizzles that put the "wet" in our wetlands settle in.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

National Public Lands Day 2007

The wetlands saw 65 volunteers arrive last Saturday morning for a day of improvement and enhancement of our public lands here in west Eugene.

We removed blackberry along the bike path... planted lots of camas bulbs (boy that ground is hard this time of year!)... and the Invitrogen employees placed erosion control cloth on the bank of Amazon Creek. They have adopted a section of creek just west of Danebo!

Volunteers also removed non-native rose as well as english ivy.
The success of our wetlands relies on the collaboration of our community, working together to nurture our precious natural areas and improve them for future generations. Thank you so much everyone!!!

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Wetlands are Burning!

For the first time in two years prescribed burning is taking place in the West Eugene Wetlands! On Thursday morning, over 140 fire fighters from several agencies gathered at Meadowlark Prairie overlook to begin the project. Implementing these prescribed burns is a year-long process that requires applications and permits from LRAPA and tremendous planning on the parts of the West Eugene Wetland partners. In order to carry out these burns, weather conditions must be precisely right: wind blowing to the south-east, no cloud cover and high humidity.
Historically the prairies were burned regularly by the Kalapuya people to ensure stable populations of their most important food crops, primarily camas. Today, wetland scientists burn the prairies for a variety of reasons. Many of the native plants in this area have evolved with fire and are adapted to grow back quickly after a burn. Fire also helps to reduce invasive plant cover, such as pennyroyal and reed canary grass. Scientists are hoping to plant native nectar plants in one of the newly burned areas for the Great Copper butterfly, a native butterfly that was recently "re-discovered" in the West Eugene Wetlands.
Several sites in the West Eugene Wetlands and around Fern Ridge Reservoir have already been burned this season. On Thursday 24 acres were burned on the west side of Greenhill Rd., 15 acres at the Willow Creek preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy, and 120 acres of the West Fisher unit by Fern Ridge, owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. Fire fighters began burning at Meadowlark Prairie but the burn was shut down when the wind changed direction. On Friday, around noon, they finished the Meadowlark Prairie burn then headed to the end of Royal Avenue to burn there. They hope to complete burning at Dragonfly Bend sometime in the next week, as well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

a bird in the hand…

Last Monday (Sep 10) WREN staff and volunteers were invited to watch bird banding a Dave’s place. Even though the species found there are not necessarily wetland species, it was a great learning experience. When we arrived just before 8am, Dave was not there but the banding equipment was all laid out on the table.

When he arrived with the box of birds we gathered round to see who had been caught in the mist nets. Dave has 11 nets set up on his property. The two things folks always want to know about bird banding are: 1) Does it hurt them? and 2) Why do it? We will get to that later, Dave tells us. Right now we have birds to band!
Data such as the date, time, and location are always recorded for each bird captured. Dave tells us that the age and sex can be difficult to determine at this time of year. The first species was a little unusual – Hammond’s flycatchers are not common in the greater Eugene area. This is a migrant heading south.

The other flycatchers that Hammond’s might be confused with are the Willow and the Pacific Slope – both of which have a larger bill. The lower mandible of the Hammond’s bill is two toned: yellow fading to black – the Willow and Pacific Slope have solid yellow lower mandibles. Now this kind of detail may be difficult to notice in the field but when the bird is in the hand – it is very clear! Another detail is the eye ring. The Willow doesn’t have one, Pacific Slope’s is whitish yellow and the Hammond’s is white/dingy white. That also may be difficult to see in the field!

This is a young bird – born this year. We know this because the wingbars are buffy – not white. Now heading to Central America, this bird may have been born in the Cascades.

Next up we have a re-captured Black-capped chickadee. Dave tells us that he is always concerned that he might hurt a bird, but he is a little less so with a chickadee – the are pretty tough little guys with thick legs and feet for all their acrobatics foraging in the trees – often hanging upside-down. It is nipping at Dave’s finger when he takes it out of the bag. He shows us the color bands it is wearing… on the right leg is a metal over purple, on the left a light green. No other bird will get that combination. We would not confuse this with a mountain chickadee because they have a different facial pattern – even though both species have dusky backs. This young one was most likely hatched in April and still has some of the feathers it came out of the nest with.

The next bird is also a re-capture – this one is a Chestnut-backed chickadee. This one is an adult – this time it can be aged by the fact that it has been banded before! We can look at its chestnut back.

When the next bird was removed from the net it was screaming, but when Dave removed the Downey Woodpecker from the bag to show us it was quiet. Birds may vocalize in reaction to being handled – not necessarily because they are in pain. When we look in the field guides we notice right away that this is an adult male. Juveniles have red in the front of the head. When they mature, the females lose the red, the males transfer the red to the back of the head.

Then we focus our attention on the tail. The feathers divide evenly into two sections. Woodpeckers have strong tails to balance while feeding on the trees. Dave points out that the shafts of the tail are very stiff – if not they would wear out fast! But these shafts do not go all the way to the tip of the feathers as they might in another woodpecker, a Hairy say, which does a lot more probing in tree trunks. Downeys will also feed on branches. Dave shows us that the outer primary feather is growing in on both wings.

The next bird also screamed when removed form the net. It is a young female Spotted towhee that has be re-captured. Dave tells us that the dull eye and the dull plumage with lots of brown let him know it is young. If it was a male there would have been more orange and red in the eye. When it molts next time it will be darker. This ground feeder has well developed legs and long nails for scratching.

Before we go out to check the nets, Dave tells us that since it is supposed to get into the 90s today (which is hard to believe as we shiver around the table!) that the activity will drop off fast as it warms up. He will probably roll up the nets and close up shop around noon. It is too dangerous to have birds captured during a hot afternoon because they may overheat. Checking the nets is called a “net run” – we move fast so that we don’t scare the birds away from the nets. The group leaves at 8:35 and returns at 9:00am.

Dave removes one of many Swainson’s thrushes (SWTH) from a bag. This one is squawks a bit. Dave examines it, “see this mark?” (a tiny light spot on the feather) that means that it is a juvenile. It has obviously been eating blackberries! Dave begins to show us the shape of the wing and it squawks again. It begins to close its eyes too and Dave decides to let this one go. He can show us the wing on another bird. The place is loaded with thrushes right now, and he is surprised that we didn’t get one in the first batch.

The next Swainson’s thrush has no tiny light spots on it so there is a different technique to determining the age. Dave measures the distance between the tip of the tapered outer primary to the tip of the longest covert. This is a hatching year bird. The wing has projection – meaning that the primaries are much longer than the secondaries - this results in a powerful wing. Since these birds are long distance migrants this design is critical. We also learn that they may not begin to molt until they have begun to head south or even after reaching their wintering grounds.

The next bird has been munching blackberries too. This one is a Song sparrow though. Dave can tell it is a young one – based on its overall plumage: the streaks on the chest are not well defined, fleshy bits at the base of the bill, and the feathers are lax and loose. We ask Dave when it might have hatched. Since Song sparrows can have 2 or 3 successful broods during a breeding season, and this one’s feathers are not showing much wear, Dave guesses about 5 or 6 weeks ago. He shows us the short distance between the primaries and secondaires resulting in a short round wing – perfect for a bird that does not travel far.

When Dave first moved to this property, a retired biologist living down the road discovered a Pine Siskin that Dave had banded. After trapping the bird at his bird feeder, the neighbor called in the band number excitedly, eager to learn where this bird was banded. Dave called him back to let him know that it was captured about half a mile away! Now that Dave had been here for about 14 years and knows his neighbors, some of them are willing to let him band on their property. It would be interesting to find out, for instance, how far some of the young resident birds disperse.

The next bird out of the box was another Swainson’s thrush. We note some abrasion on its wing – I wonder if it was those blackberry thorns. There are no light marks so Dave again measures the distance between the tip of the tapered outer primary to the tip of the longest covert – it falls right in between the age categories!

After another Swainson’s thrush, Dave tells us he has saved the best for last, and says he might have to strap me in! Ooooh! What could it be? A really sharp dresser that’s what -- a male Red-breasted nuthatch! Dave tells us that they are early nesters so the molt is over by now. The black on the head is jet black and the grey on the back is slate colored. Wow! Dave shows us the foot – designed for foraging on tree trunks. We can see it breathing and we ask about the heart rate – it is a rapid trill. Dave puts the bird close to his ear to listen. When he pulled it away there was a small fluffy grey feather stuck to his cheek.

One morning recently Dave was out on his property. It was in the 7 o’clock hour and he heard erratic wing beats coming into the trees, then the whistled note of a Swainson’s thrush. Since most migrants travel at night, Dave suspected these birds were taking a rest. He mentions to us that warblers (among other songbirds) cross the Gulf of Mexico non-stop.

It is now 9:38 – time for another net run! This time I go with. Today there have not been signs of a mixed flock, one with warblers for instance. As far as thrushes go, the Hermit’s will arrive soon, as the Swainson’s are leaving, later the Varied thrushes will arrive. Soon there will be a big change in the species composition.
At the second net we find a Swainson’s thrush. After passing some more nets, Dave stops and I notice the brightest yellow small bird! I was so excited I grabbed Liz’s arm – strap me in! It was a WIWA – more on that later.

We hear a Douglas squirrel, but overall things are pretty quiet. In another net we find another SWTH. This one evidently hit the net hard, for it is tangled. Dave notes that it is heavy. It has put on weight for its journey!

We hear and see a chickadee and head to the “thrush net” – a net set in a narrow thick area. It is empty. Then we pish a flycatcher and see a towhee. We head to the “ultimate thrush net” (even thicker and darker surroundings) and find one waiting for Dave to take it out. Dave surmises that he gets about 3/4ths of his thrushes here.

Back at the gazebo at 10:03. Not bad. First we look at that heavy SWTH. Dave says it weighs twice as much as the others. There is a spot, a long taper on the first primary, and the distance is 3mm. All this leads to the conclusion that this is a hatching year bird. Dave tells us that there is a depression in the center of the wishbone. Right now that area on this bird is filled with fat and Dave can feel it! He blows the feathers to show us that the area is white – if it were muscle it would be red. Wow! Good luck on your way south, junior!

The next young SWTH leads Dave to mention that these migrants are probably coming down at the appropriate time – usually in the dark. Then they start foraging if conditions are good, or move on if not. Birds also queue in on other birds by vocalizations. A good area will have lots of birds. Because Dave’s property has so many blackberries there is a lot to forage.

After looking at the other SWTH, Dave brings out the showstopper. A “wee-wa” aka Wilson’s Warbler. We look at the amount of green in the top of the head. Dave consults the text. He knows that it is not a male, but either a young or adult female. It has an enormous eye, for it prefers -- and is designed -- for dense cover. We then get into a discussion on molting. It is confusing – the “rules” seem to be broken more than they are followed for many species!

Now that we are done looking at the birds, Dave spends some time talking to us about the reasons to band birds. Many people think that banding birds is to see what far-off region they travel to. While this is true, there is the perhaps less glamorous reason of establishing baseline data for an area. On Dave’s property he is trying to determine such things as what species are there, what percentages are adults, what percent are female, and where to the young go. The year-round residents may get colored bands on their legs. This will allow Dave to ID individuals (no two birds get the same color combo) with his binoculars. Others, such as all those Swainson’s thrushes, do not get color bands – they will probably never be here again.

Many thanks to Dave for a wonderful morning!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sandpiper Pond Odonata

The dragonflies and damselflies were active today (Monday, Sept. 10, 2007) at Sandpiper Pond. The following species were out today:

Common Green Darner
Black Saddlebags
Eight-spotted Skimmer
Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Blue Dasher
Flame Skimmer
Common Whitetail
Variegated Meadowhawk
Cardinal Meadowhawk
Striped Meadowhawk
Tule Bluet
Western Forktail
California Spreadwing
Spotted Spreadwing
Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

Dragonfly Yoga

Well, not really. When it is very hot as it was today, perching dragonflies will obelisk pointing their abdomen at the sun to reduce exposure to sunlight in order to stay cool.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Summer isn't over yet!

So we had a great summer camp in the begining of the season we haven't blogged about yet. It was so much fun I couldn't let August go without letting everyone know about it. We partnered with our friends at Nearby Nature in holding a weeklong morning camp for Elementary School aged folks. We learned about wetlands, dragonflies, damselflies, and animal tracks. Our friend Rich Glauber led us in singing and dancing. One of my favorite memories of that camp is walking outside the yurt and hearing the children's voices as they sang about the wetlands. We even got to compose our very own song!

Every day we made a quilt square so by the end of camp all the campers had a beautiful wetland quilt of their own. Amazing artistry!

Thanks Wetland Campers!!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sandpiper/Grimes Pond

Dragonflies and Damselflies flying today at the ponds in the wetlands:

Common Green Darner
Western Pondhawk
8-spotted Skimmer
12-spotted Skimmer
Widow Skimmer
Flame Skimmer
Common Whitetail
Variegated Meadowhawk
Cardinal Meadowhawk
Striped Meadowhawk
Black Saddlebags
California Spreadwing
Spotted Spreadwing
Tule Bluet
Western Forktail

Cardinal Meadowhawk

Common Whitetail

Widow Skimmer

Lets hear it for Grasshoppers!!