Category Archives: Plants & Wildlife
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.
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.
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!
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?
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 . . .
. . . 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)
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.
Wondering what the beach used to look like? Take a peek!
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.
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
A Closer Look at Flowers
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.
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 . . .
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/