Friday, August 15, 2008

It's summer, and the vernal pools are drying,
hidden by tall grasses going to seed.
Spring's night and day chorus of frogs has faded;
tadpoles grown and hopped away.
I stood at Meadowlark Prairie on the last day of May.
Canada geese came and went
with loud announcements of arrivals and departures.
A red-winged blackbird sang,
liquid notes slipping through the willows.
Families on bikes stopped to look out
over the wetlands.
A young girl left her pink coat on the bench,
coming back for it in response to my call.
A great blue heron stalked below the bridge
carefully moving one stilt-like leg at a time--slowly, slowly.
Swiftly the plumed head darted out
and came back with a crawfish crosswise in its bill.
I thought I could hear the crunching of sturdy exoskeleton
when the bird moved the struggling creature sideways,
as if flattening an ear of corn.
With a toss, the crawfish was turned, then gulped and
moved down that long, slender neck,
the way a snake swallows a toad.
The heron went on to repeat
this precise performance three more times.
Although I have only once seen the elusive bittern,
stretching its neck upward,
pretending to be stalks of grass,
there is something deeply mysterious beneath the feathered facade
of its more common cousin.
Great blues carry secrets of past and future,
from Mt. Mazama's eruption and the settling of volcanic ash
into the clay that lies beneath its feet
to whatever may lie ahead,
and I have no doubt
that this bird, this essence of wetlands,
becomes a spirit after dark,
moving across the wet prairie--
an unseen shadow
whose silent passage is marked only by the bending grasses.
The vernal pools are drying.

August Wander

This week's wetland wander was a stroll into the area at the end of Royal Avenue. This site was new to me, a walk along the Army Corps of Engineers access road. Our leaders were Jules Abbott, a WREN staff member with botany expertise, and by the new wetlands' summer site host, Tim Downey. We brushed against the sticky (and smelly!) tarweed, admired the last blossoms for the season of Douglas Spirea, and found Water Plantain growing in a dry vernal pool. Tall grasses, some the non-native reed grass (looks a little bit like bamboo), grew along the edge of the roadway. Restoration work has turned much of the vegetation back to native species.

To my surprise the seemingly dry landscape held large ponds, regulated to maintain water levels. The previous day a family of otters had been spotted in one of the ponds but we found only dry otter scats with bits of orange crawfish shells being their one bright color.
Several great blue herons waited patiently along the edge of one large pond and some distance away we spotted a row of white egrets (10). Kingfishers flew across above the water, sometimes hovering like a kestrel, and then diving. The ponds hold bullfrogs and we saw tadpoles and some minnows along the edges. A viewing platform provides a great place to sit and look about. At this time of the year the platform sits high and dry above a dry vernal pool although another nearby large pond provides an opportunity for watching shore birds and ducks. Birds spotted during the trip included a dowager, pelicans, and those mentioned above.

We also came across the skeleton of an animal but couldn't figure out what it was since the skull was gone. It had long toes though!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The West Eugene Wetlands Site Host Gig

So what are West Eugene Wetlands Site Hosts, and what do they do????”

Well now, I'm glad you asked!

Sometimes we pick up trash along the wetland trails…

…but it sure is easy to get distracted when we hear birdsong…. Hey Tim, the trash is on the ground, not up in the trees!

Our least favorite activity might be removing graffiti….

Our most favorite activity is definitely looking at wildlife, especially when people join us to peer through Tim’s scope at marvels like this Red-tailed Hawk…

…and we have fun learning the names and uses of the wetland plants, like this Gumweed along the Tsanchiifin Trail, favorite dining spot for the recently rediscovered Great Copper Butterfly (how cool is that!).

We love to attend Dragonfly and Butterfly and Wetland Walks….

Sometimes the mechanically-minded half of the team (that's not me – I’m in the trailer, working crossword puzzles!) -- anyway, sometimes he assembles things for WEW, like this watering cart….

….which enables us to pull 150 feet of hose from the Red House to the bike trail….

…so that we can fill two 50-gallon water tanks and seven 5-gallon buckets….

...and lug them (all 1200 pounds of them!) along the bike path to water native plantings….

The plants on top of the bank are watered by the brawny half of the team (not me!) from 40-pound 5-gallon buckets….

The plants down by Amazon Creek are watered by the lazy half of the team (now THAT’s me!)…

Pretty sweet gig, I’d say! We even have time off in the evenings to paint the underside of our trailer, for which we dress up like surgeons in order to keep paint out of our hair. This glamour shot shows why we are happy to be site hosts and will never, ever become surgeons….

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Where Else But Eugene?

You have to laugh. One afternoon a couple of days ago Ann and I had an errand to run. We needed a particular nut to repair a wagon that we use to haul water to some native plants near the Red House. We’d been to Jerry’s and Home Depot without luck.

A bit of searching on the internet led us to Nielsen Fastener Company, across West 11th from Fred Meyer. They have just about every nut, bolt, screw, and what-have-you known to humanity. Nielsen’s just happens to be right on the Fern Ridge bike path, so we didn’t have to drive. Where else but Eugene?

We love the bike path. Ann and I have made friends with quite a few people there and have come to recognize many other friends we have yet to meet. People say hello, cyclists let us know when they are passing slowpokes like Ann and me, and drivers actually anticipate our arrival at street crossings and wait for us to cross first. Where else but Eugene?

As we sat in our little trailer house named Patience preparing to go on our errand, Ann wondered, “What would happen if we rode a distance away and locked our bikes together only to discover that we had forgotten the key?” You see, Ann’s bike lock does not require a key when you get there—only when you want to go home.

You can see this coming I’m sure. As we left Nielsen’s with the appropriate hardware, Ann slapped her pockets with a look of horror. Indeed, she had forgotten the key. She had forgotten all of her keys.

There sat our bikes, locked to each other like Ann and me. We just had to laugh.

Now we are not against walking. In fact, we like to walk. We just hadn’t planned on that chunk of time just then.

We then remembered where we were—in Eugene. We walked to the curb, stuck out our thumbs, and in about a minute and a half had a ride back to the Red House. Where else but Eugene?

A young man from New Mexico, just passing through on his way to the Faerieworlds Festival, was our benefactor. He said he usually did not pick up hitchhikers but that we looked cool. Imagine that, Ann and I looking cool. How cool is that? Where else but Eugene?

Once back at the Red House we found Ann’s bike key, along with the rest of her keys, in the door of the unlocked Patience. Back down to West 11th we walked with a purpose.

Once there, we stuck out our thumbs once more. Less than 30 seconds later a small pickup veered from the fast lane over to the curb and who should step out but Kathleen, one of our friends from the Fern Ridge Bike Path.

Ann and I met Kathleen soon after we became volunteers for the Bureau of Land Management particularly and the West Eugene Wetlands Partnership in general. While Ann and I roved the Fern Ridge bike path through the wetlands over a month ago, we ran into Kathleen and her walking partner Marsha powerwalking on their lunch break. This exercise routine has been a daily ritual for them for over two years. They just love the wetlands and the trails and shared with us some of their observations including the turtles in Amazon Creek. Ann and I were able to share with them a view of an American Kestrel through the spotting telescope.

That very same evening Ann and I ran into Kathleen at a nearby store. We seemed destined to cross paths and indeed we have several times since on the bike path. Our paths crossed once more this afternoon when Kathleen stopped to give us a ride. Where else but Eugene?

Encountering Kathleen in this way, where she went out of her way to give us a hand, got us to thinking. Our connection with Kathleen is through the West Eugene Wetlands. Our connection to the Wetlands is through the West Eugene Wetlands Partnership. The several agencies of the West Eugene Wetlands Partnership, with different missions, different cultures, and different budgets have gotten together to make something important happen for the people and nature of Eugene and the Willamette Valley.

This wetlands restoration project embodies a spirit that seems to us to pervade this town. This is a spirit of caring enough to help, a spirit of hope that this help will make a difference, and a spirit of cooperation and of tolerance. Where else but Eugene?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

strange individual(s) seen wandering the wetlands

This just in from local field scientist - Paul Severns:

So….if you see a guy, about 5 ft 7inches, 175 lbs, with dark brown hair, brown eyes, four-day old beard stubble, cargo shorts, a t-shirt that was once white, wearing a tan visor, strolling (seemingly aimless and slowly) either down the bike path or in the middle of a field, staring off in different directions, occasionally writing something down in a bright yellow notebook, don’t worry…(unless I’m muttering to myself)..I’m just doing my job studying West Eugene Wetland butterflies.this photo taken during yesterday's amble. this Great Copper is inside a 'bug toter'.

Since 2002, I’ve been working on describing the patterns of wetland butterflies and understanding why what species are where and what makes them rare. Hopefully, this information will aid in local butterfly conservation and be useful for successful wetland restoration. Right now, it’s late July/early August and it’s uncomfortably warm in the full, afternoon sun, but these are the conditions under which the great copper prefers to fly. No wonder this butterfly was thought to be extinct from the Willamette Valley…why would any Lepidopterist (one who studies butterflies) in their right mind be looking for butterflies in the dry, hot, wetland prairies when they could be up in alpine meadows, soaking up a nice view and 75 degree sun? A question, I often ask myself.

This year, 2008, appears to be a particularly good year for the butterfly. I have observed more great coppers this year than any of the last four years I have visited the remaining three butterfly populations. I have even observed at least six butterflies this year up to one mile away from the sites where they normally reproduce. Hopefully, these dispersing butterflies will found new populations so that I’ll get to spend even more quality time, sweating, ambling about, and confusing onlookers in the West Eugene Wetlands.Paul and his followers. is it a movement?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dragonfly and River Otters at Finley National Wildlife Refuge

Photos of a dragonfly and curious river otters at McFadden Marsh in Finley National Wildlife Refuge. Thank you to photographer Steve Reed from Albany for sharing these photos! Find a fun river otter photo gallary at

Friday, August 1, 2008

Restoration in action this morning

How do you change a pile of 800 tires into 800 flowers? Send out the West Eugene Wetlands Partnership, of course!

Last September this team of experts took out over 800 tires along with 1800 cubic yards of fill material ranging from red brick, river rock, 4 inch cobble, south hill clay, household garbage (cans, bottles, plastic bags, wire etc.) and construction debris (lumber, conduit, electric junction boxes, scrap metal etc. ), and hauled away 75 cubic yards of brush and wood. Here's what it looked like durning the excavation:
Future wet prarie?

Now look what's there!