Saturday, November 22, 2008

Red-legged frog and Green Heron photos

WREN recently received two fantastic photos from Steve Reed of Albany. The first is a Red-legged frog, which habitats wetland areas of the Willamette Valley. Steve found this one in a pond in an old forest growth area of the upper Siletz River.

The second photo he sent is of a green heron apparently doing yoga! Thank you Steve!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wetland Wander

By Carrie Karl, WREN Education Assistant

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Weather: A canopy of clouds and light rain.

Matt Benotsch, from The Nature Conservancy, lead eleven people along a fire break in the Willow Creek Natural Area during this Wetland Wander. As we travelled Matt narrated the battle unfolding before our eyes between forest and prairie. The struggle for space is constant. Humans have played a deciding role in this battle beginning with the Kalapuya thousands of years ago. The Kalapuya used fire to cultivate food sources and the plants we see today now depend on fire for survival. Without fire, the Tufted Hair Grass would ebb away and the Oregon Ash would dominate.  As this battle is waged there is considerable beauty to behold. As we looked out over the prairie we watched a Northern Harrier swoop low hunting for a mid morning snack. At prairie edges we glimpsed Pacific Green Tree Frogs, a Rough Skinned Newt and a Southern Alligator Lizard hidden amongst the grasses and fallen leaves. Restoration technicians today utilize fire to help the prairie and forest to maintain their space. As areas are burned or mowed, a mechanical way to mimic fire, there is balance and a forging of habitat for a diversity of life. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

A play of color

by Carrie Karl, WREN Environmental Education Assistant

The change of seasons is upon us, fall is in full swing and this year it brings a myriad of color. Our palette of vibrant summer greens has given way to brilliant oranges, yellows and reds. The three pigments that are the main characters in our fall play are chlorophyll, the greens, carotenoids, the yellows and oranges and anthocyanins, the reds and purples. Chlorophyll and carotenoids are always present in the leaf of the tree. Anthocyanins are produced during the fall.

As fall begins in the West Eugene Wetlands temperatures decrease and nights grow longer signaling to plants the approach of winter. Plants reflect this change in season by beginning to seal off their leaves via swelling of a special layer of cells at the base of the leaf called the abscission layer. As this layer swellschlorophyll and carotenoids, are trapped. The ensnared chlorophyll continues the process of photosynthesis producing a build up of sugar in the leaf. Sugars combined with bright light produce the anthocyanins. As the chlorophyll is exhausted the carotenoids and anthocyanins are exposed painting the landscape with bold strokes of color.

Many factors influence the brilliance of fall color. However, the best color occurs after a period of dry, warm sunny days with cool crisp nights. The nights must remain above freezing to allow for a slow swelling of the abscission layer which prevents the sugars from moving out of the leaf. The more sugar in the leaf, the more brilliant the anthocyanins. Carotenoids, however, are always present in the leaf and as a result are usually the same from year to year.

The beauty of the fall colors persist beyond the tree. When the nights cool enough to allow for the abscission layer to swell completely, the leaf is then forced off the tree. The tender leaf tissues would not survive the winter so the tree must shed them. These cast offs will decompose providing nutrients to the soil or food for organisms. The color will eventually fade exposing the tannin, browns, that lie beneath.

The drama of the fall play lies in the passing splendor of the colors, and yet, the real story is the leaf. It sustains the tree while it graces its branches during the summer producing food for survival. As fall begins the leaf radiates its inner brilliance and with the start of winter it falls to the base of the tree replenishing the forest floor and the place, the tree calls home.