Category Archives: Plants & Wildlife

Ice Ice Baby

For those of you who have wisely chosen to stay away this past week while the Gorge pounded out its first windy ice storm of the season, I thought we’d share a whip of the tempest.

Ice in the Parking Log

The sun’s reflection on the ice that coats Rooster Rock’s parking lot.

 

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The effect of that ice.  An accident on I-84 that sent rangers scurrying home.

 

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Weather changes quickly in the Gorge. On November 7, our big leaf maples looked like this.

 

Snow and Maple Leaf

By the following week, the trees sat naked, leaves lodged in snow.

 

Ice on Cliff

Icicles form at water seeps along the Columbia River Highway.

 

Shepperd's Dell and Bridge

Trails and bridges are coated with ice . . . and will be slow to thaw in the shadows of the Gorge walls.  This is a look at Shepperd’s Dell.

 

Shepperd's Dell

Shepperd’s Dell hourglass waterfall.

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The trail at Latourell is closed due to ice, but you can still admire the contrast of the icy falls and the glowing lichen from the lower viewpoint.

 

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When I arrived at Multnomah Falls (not a State Park, but a flagship of the Gorge), two visitors were beyond the fence at the lower pool side (not permitted).  While there are many reasons waterfall pools are closed, it is especially dangerous in the winter — water seeps into cracks between columns of basalt rock and then expands when it freezes . . . peeling off slabs of rock and sending them flying onto whatever lies below.

 

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Mystery Photo Answer

Did you figure out last week’s mystery image?  Do you still have a few questions?

Before I reveal the answer, let me show you two more photos and give you a few more hints.

 

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Material Hint: Look closely at the mid-right section of this photo. See the (dangerous) piece of flair woven into the object? It should help you reel in the answer.

 

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Object Hint: Take a peak inside this object — it has a soft lining of moss and lichen.

A few other things to mention:

  • This was found after ranger fell a hazard tree near Benson Lake — Benson is located near Multnomah Falls, between the Historic Columbia River Highway and I-84.  There is a lake, a pond, a creek, and the Columbia River nearby.
  • It was hanging suspended from a cottonwood tree branch about 20 feet up.
  • The dimensions of the object are 3 1/2″ wide by  5 1/2″ long.

Ready for the answer?!

Okay, here it is:  . . . We do not know.

That’s right.  We do not know.  Well, not everything at least.  We know that it is a bird’s nest.  And we know that it is constructed of fishing line and lined with moss, lichen, and a strand of carpet.  What we are not 100% certain of is its maker.  Our first three initial guesses out of the birds who weave nests were wren, bushtit, or oriole.  Bushtit nests look more like long hanging socks.  And while some wrens weave nests, the wrens in the Gorge are not great weavers, and this nest is a piece of art.

Our best guess for the maker of this nest is the Bullock’s Oriole.  These are common at Benson; they often nest in cottonwood trees near streams and waterways; they are marvelous weavers of hanging basket nests; and they’ll use hair, twine, or grass for a nest (or perhaps fishing line!)  Our only hesitation is that the nest seems a bit small for this medium-sized bird.  A quick search reports that the average Bullock’s Oriole nest is 4 inches wide and 6 inches deep — our is 1/2″ shy of each of those.  So it may be a smaller Bullock’s nest.  Or it may not.

And this is how naturalist studies often go.  A definitive answer is not always possible.  More research is often required.  And not the kind that is found on the Web or in a book.  No, the best research here will be done at Benson State Recreation Area during the Bullock’s mating season.

So, I’ll see you at Benson between this coming May and mid-July!

 

 

Mystery Photo Challenge: What Is This?

A few of the Gorge rangers were out at Benson State Recreation Area yesterday and found this gem.

Questions for the readers:

  • What is this?
  • What is it made of?
  • Who made it?
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View from the front.

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Close-up of the material.

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Object with a large paperclip for a size reference.

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Profile.

 

Post your best guesses in the comments field below, and we’ll get back to you next week with the answer!

The Beach Is Back

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A sandy Gorge beach awaits you at Rooster Rock.

The beach is BACK . . .

. . . And it’s free of rubble

(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)

We see it wavin’ better come out on the double

(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)

The wind has died down and the sky is mostly blue

(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)

So come out now ’cause it’s quite a view

(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)

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Kiteboarders enjoy bounding from shore to shore in early season winds this year.

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Meanwhile, windsurfers take their chance to perform a river dance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s true; the beach is back at Rooster Rock State Park.

As many of you know, Rooster Rock used to be the place to go for sandy river-level picnics, sandcastles, and swims—but things have changed over the years beginning with the floods of 1996 that swept massive amounts of beach downriver.  Today, a wide, rambling shoreline is a rarity.  And the perfect wind and weather window is now.  So, if you get a chance, take a drive out to exit 25, and enjoy the sand between your toes while it’s here and while it’s warm.

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Turkey Vultures are the custodians of the beach – -here, they clean up a carp carcass.

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A Great Blue Heron finds a lunchtime snack along the pole dikes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wondering what the beach used to look like?  Take a peek!

 

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Rooster Rock’s parking, c.1960.  Check out those cars!

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Rooster Rock’s beach, c.1960.  Note the clothing and hairstyles.

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Rooster Rock’s beach-goers, c.1960.  Imagine your family here!

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Hope to see you here soon!

 

For the Love of Lupine: A Naturalist Study

The other day, I was driving through one of our Oregon State Parks, and a sea of purple flowers caught my eye.  Lupines.  A towering field of the beauties in full bloom.  I made a mental note to stop back with a camera.

Lupines_Field of in Early Evening

Hanging out in a field of lupines is the perfect, peaceful end to a day.

Early that evening, I drove by a second time.  I couldn’t help myself.  I leapt out of the truck and headed straight for the field.  An hour later, I emerged.  Late for dinner and grinning from ear to ear.  In 60 minutes, I traveled no more than 10 feet and took 100 photos.  I had a million questions.  I have been scouring my wildflower guides and the internet since, and rather than less, I now have even more.  Although I know far more about the lupine than when I set off to study them, I find now that I feel like I know less than ever.  So goes the journey of discovery.

Below is the condensed version of what I found:

Lupine, the Plant

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Lupine in bloom – a side view. These plants were about a head shorter than I – so up to 4 feet tall.

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The view from above of a lupine in full bloom.

Flowers_Early Side View

Another side view of lupine – this one is early in its blooming stage. You can see the upper flowers have not yet opened.

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View from above of an early bloom.

 

Flower Arrangements

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When I looked more closely at the flowers, I found that some of the flowers spiraled up the stem – like a string of DNA!

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However, on other plants, the flowers were arranged in a circle like a wagon wheel with tiers stacked upon one another. Are these two the same species?

 

A Closer Look at Flowers

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Here is a close-up of the lupine flower – the top part is called the “banner petal.” Note how curved it is! The lower petals are two and called “wings.” Tucked inside the wings are two more petals forming the “keel.”

Flower_Up Close Inside

Here is an inside peek into the lupine flower – I learned by watching the bees, that a light pressure on the top of the wings causes the keel of the flower to pop out. The two petals that make up the keel protect the inner workings of the flower. Inside are the male and female parts of the flower – including the pollen that the bees are after.

 

Leaves

Leaf

The leaf of a flower is an important part of identification! Unfortunately, it is this leaf that is throwing off my ID. This flower is the size of a “broadleaf lupine” (few other lupines are as tall!) – but the leaves do not seem particularly broad or as round as described. A mystery.

 

Seeds

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The lupine seed!

Lupine_Seed in Dried Flower

Here you can see the banner petal, wings, and keel surrounding the seed. It gives an idea of how it all unravels!

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Going backwards, here is a flower just before seeding.

Lupine_Flowers in Various Stages of Seeding

One plant will have flowers in various stages of seeding.

 

Bumble Bees

Bumble Bee

While I stood among the lupines, a soft buzz filled the air. Bumble bees were everywhere!

Bumble Bee_Giant Pollen Baskets

Check out the GIANT pollen baskets on this bee!  The bees store pollen on the tibia of their hind legs (the lower portion of the last set of three sets they have.)

Bumble Bee_Working on Flower

After pushing open the wing petals, the bee dives in with its hind legs to gather pollen.

Bumble Bee_Leaving Flower

Then the bee pushes off and heads to the next flower. From my observations, the bees tend to start low on the plant and then spiral their way up making frequent stops. Check out the keel petals still poking out from the wing petals!

Beyond the Fall: A Latourell Loop Hike

Most of us, when we go to Latourell Falls, pull off the Historic Columbia River Highway into the parking lot, walk the 25 yards or so to the viewing point, snap a few photos, and then jump back in our vehicles to zoom off to the next waterfall.  I’ll admit, I’ve done this very thing numerous times. 

A few of us walk down to the base of the falls and then wind around under the Highway to find ourselves in some weird park we’ve never seen before and then scurry back to where our vehicles are parked.  I’ve done this, too.

Even fewer of us do what I (after rangering for nearly 7 years in the waterfall wonderland of Silver Falls) now highly recommend.  Which is this:  Park at Guy W. Talbot State Park on the north side of the Historic Columbia River Highway just west of Latourell Falls (follow a state park shield with a picnic table) – technically, Latourell Falls is IN Guy W. Talbot, but few know this or park here.  Use the very nice restroom if needed.  Follow the braided, paved path uphill, keeping right.

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Penny postcard of Latourell Falls. What has changed since this was taken?  (Besides the spelling?)

What you’re about to do is hike the Latourell Falls loop backwards.

Backwards, you ask?  Yes.  Here’s why.  If you’re willing to hike 2+ miles, it is worth it to see the upper and lower falls at Latourell – most of us, as I mentioned, only see the lower falls and miss out the upper.  Waterfalls, as we all know, are quite a treat.  So, for this (and I’d argue, all) waterfall hikes, do the work first – hike uphill in the forest first, and then, as you wind downhill, you’ll be rewarded with first the upper falls, and, finally, the lower falls.  A couple more hundred yards, and you’ll be back at your vehicle.  And a nice restroom.

I just hiked the loop backwards (having already completed frontwards) and confirmed, at least for myself, that it is the best direction.  And don’t worry, your forested hike up has a few things in store for you, too.  Take a look . . .

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Fairybells. Easily confused with a handful of other similar lilies.

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Larkspur – what a handsome flower!

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Piggy-back Plant is in the saxifrage family; one of the odd purple-brownish flowers in the Pacific Northwest forest.

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The Salmonberry flower is always an eye-catcher and typically one of the early bloomers.

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Pacific Bleeding Heart – about ready to seed!

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Our striking white Trillium flowers turn a gorgeous purple as they age.

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Fringe Cup, also from the Saxifrage family.

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Corydalis – somewhat similar in looks to a Bleeding Heart when you first learn wildflowers, these two blossom around the same time and can be find in similar habitats.

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Banana Slugs are everywhere once you train your eyes to see them. This one was about 4 inches long, but they can be over 9!

Stop and ID the Flowers

Twayblade

Twayblade – This subtle little guy is actually an orchid!

A couple of us rangers are attending the PCTA Trails Skills College in Cascade Locks this weekend and couldn’t help but to stop and ID the flowers.

Near Tooth Rock Trailhead:

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Not my first of the year, but the Calypso Orchid is always a treat to find!

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If you remember your mythology, Calypso was a beautiful nymph, hidden in the woods.

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Wild Ginger was the surprise wildflower of the day! This is one of my favorite flowers to hunt for in the spring. Gently lift the Wild Ginger leaves to find this purple-brown beauty.

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Wild Ginger was all over the place above Tooth Rock Trailhead – look for the heart-shaped leaves.

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Surprisingly, Vanilla Leaf was in bloom in a few spots. You can guess what this dried leaf might smell like.

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Twayblade is so small, it is easy to cruise right by. Found this one while marking a trail – and dropped everything for a quick photo!

Wild for Wildflowers

Rangers have been hiking the Gorge on their work and free time and capturing fantastic shots of wildflowers.  

Here’s the first round from the “Crown Point of the East”:

Rowena Crest and Tom McCall Preserve

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Columbia Desert Parsley

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Buttercup

Glacier Lily2_TMC_April 5 2014

Glacier Lily

Gold Star_TMC_April 5 2014

Gold Star

Grass Widow_TMC_April 5 2014

Grass Widow

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Lupine with Water Droplets

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Prairie Star

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Paintbrush

NW Balsamroot2_TMC_April 5 2014

Northwest Balsamroot

Lance-leaf Spring Beauty2_TMC_April 5 2014

Lance-leaf Spring Beauty

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Shooting Star

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Small-flowered Blue-eyed Mary

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Upland Larkspur

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Yellow Bell

In the Footsteps of Explorers: Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area

A few days ago, I set out to explore Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area.  Literally less than 1 mile from my doorstep, I had yet to visit this seemingly benign park in the West Columbia Gorge Management Unit.  A parking lot, a restroom, a boat ramp, an interpretive nature trail . . . I was sure 45 minutes would suffice.

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An explorer’s view! A flooded Sandy River from Broughton’s Bluff, Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area, Oregon.

2 1/2 hours later, I emerged back in civilization muddy, sweating, hand tingling from a wrestling match with stinging nettle, and glowing from the aftermath of an unforeseen adventure.  I did not walk through the parking lot, did not use the restroom, visit the boat ramp, or wander the interpretive trail.  No, I discovered Broughton’s Bluff.

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Towering walls of basalt columnar joints make up this near-Portland climbing mecca.

Broughton’s Bluff is in Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area – it’s the cliff and ridge to the east.  It’s actually the geologic dividing line between the Willamette Valley to the west and the foothills of the Cascades to the east.  And it’s named after an explorer.  Nothing to do with the park’s namesakes of 1805, Lewis & Clark, but, rather, a British naval officer, Lt. William Robert Broughton who explored the Lower Columbia in 1792 and navigated up as far as the entrance to the Gorge –  “Broughton’s Bluff” – named after him in 1926.  (He was also the guy who and named Mt. Hood – for Lord Samuel Hood, another British naval officer.)

Although not well-advertised, you can get your own explorer on and visit Broughton’s namesake.  A steep, braiding, slippery trail winds you through mossy green boulders as you skirt around basalt walls until you can make a v-line for a ridge and scramble to the top.

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No walk in the park, the trail to Broughton’s Bluff is riddled with obstacles.

Be forewarned, this trail is not for the faint of heart (or the fear of height or the young of age).  It’s steep; drop-offs are severe and unforgiving; and the trail surface includes stairs, roots, and boulders the size of small cars – all of which are coated with moss and mud.  Falling would not be pretty.

If you’re wondering about the fitness level required, know that it is most used by rock climbers.  Rather than a day-hiking trail, Broughton’s Bluff is best known for its climbing routes sprinkled along the basalt cliffs – again, not for the faint of anything – climbing equipment and experience required here!

I came out relatively unscathed, but not without waxing my knee on a rock, scraping up mud with my butt, and bracing my hand on a stinging nettle plant – never done that?  It’s like shaking hands with a wasp.

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They’re b-a-a-a-c-k! Rufous hummingbirds are in our neighborhood! Love these little warriors.

Besides the adventure and the views, spring (and the fact that it was all warm, sunny, and windless!) also made this hike.  Five different wildflowers graced the trails – early blue violet carpeting the Sandy’s banks, Indian plum hanging along the trail, oaks toothwort just opening all nestled in the groundcover, chickweed hiding among the boulders, and then a surprise red-flowering currant bursting from behind a Douglas fir.

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Red-flowering currant – always pinker than you remembered!

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Oaks toothwort – one of the first wildflowers of the season!

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Chickweed – easy to miss this tiny white flower!

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Indian plum – a sure sign that spring is on its way!

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Early blue violet – a common wildflower, but unusual for me. I usually find wood violets, instead!

For those of us who love wildflowers, each sighting is like a reunion with an old friend – remembering names, followed by big hellos and so-good-to-see-yous, recalling the last time you met, and concluding with photos ops for Facebook.  Greeting the Townsend’s chipmunk and Rufous Hummingbird was no different.  A reminder that spring is on its way, and the forest is filled with familiar faces.

Next up?  Another trip to Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area.  This time to drop by Sandy’s edge, wander the interpretive nature trail, read up on Lewis and Clark’s 1805 visit, and check out the facilities.  And perhaps pay homage to the explorer Lt. William Robert Broughton with a quick jaunt up to the base of the basalt columns.

Signs of Spring

I know, the frigid blast from the east just passed, and it’s a little soon to be talking spring.

But, one of our rangers just spotted the first wildflower of the season at Rowena Crest, and the view was singing “spring!” from Vista House today.

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Looks like a grass widow a.k.a. satin flower (Olsynium douglasii) to me! Rowena Crest, January 25, 2014.

Need a hand identifying Pacific Northwest Wildflowers? 

Here’s a cheat sheet for beginners:  Mountain Wildflowers: 57 Common Species

And a great website for reference:  http://www.pnwflowers.com/

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With the sun in the south and east this morning, a rainbow appeared in the mist to the north and west.

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Vista House. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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Crown over the Crown.

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. . . And no one else around to see it all!