Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oregon Field Guide - Gresham Turtles

From OPB:
While surveying a wetland in 2007, Gresham urban ecologist Laura Guderyahn stumbled across what may be last urban population of native Western painted turtles east of the Willamette. Now she and the community are joining forces to make sure this rare group continues to thrive.
Also, read about Metro's efforts to preserve Western painted turtles at Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Red-winged Blackbirds

Red-winged Blackbird
Adult male Red-Winged Blackbird.
Photo credit:  hart_curt, some rights reserved

Red-Winged Blackbird nest.
Photo credit: Wikipedia/Bob Dayle, some rights reserved
Even though Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the most common North American birds, you probably don't see them very often unless you spend a lot of time around wetlands.  (One good place to see them in Portland, is Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.)  They like to hang out in the cattails, reeds, or other vegetation near water, where the females build their nests.

The birds' distinctive calls are some of my favorites, and they always make me think of spring, although I'm not sure why that is.  The birds are year-round residents throughout most of the contiguous United States.

Males are glossy black with the namesake red shoulders, while females are not really "black" birds at all - they're streaked brown, and look more like a large sparrow.  For more information about the Red-Winged Blackbird's habits, identification, and samples of their calls, see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website, All About Birds.
Adult female Red-winged Blackbird.  Photo credit: Wikipedia, some rights reserved

Friday, February 18, 2011

Elk Rock Island: Nature on the Willamette

 To get to Elk Rock Island (unless you have a boat), you first have to go to Milwaukie's recently improved Spring Park.  From there, take the trail toward the Willamette River.  The short, dirt trail leads through the woods to a low, rocky area which - during the winter high water months - is actually underwater.  Hence, the name, Elk Rock Island.  During periods of lower water; however, you can walk across the rocky ground to the Island itself, which provides seven distinct habitats:

Pacific Madrone tree silhouetted against the Willamette.
• Willamette River Floodplain
• Emergent Wetland
• Mesic Upland Forest
• Riparian Forest
• Cliff Face
• Xeric Upland Forest
• Willamette Valley Grassland

The island was formed by a volcanic eruption 40 million years ago, and - for you fellow geology buffs -the exposed rocks are some of the oldest in Portland.

Low, rocky area connecting the island
to the east bank of the Willamette.

For anyone that does have a boat, there's a perfect little bay on the island's west side - a great spot to pull up for a picnic.

Cedar Waxwing on Elk Rock Island
According to the Portland Parks & Recreation website, bald eagles and osprey have been spotted in the area.  I know I've seen both at different times and different spots along the Willamette.  On one visit to Elk Rock Island, I saw a group of Cedar Waxwings, feeding on the berries of a Pacific Madrone tree atop the rocky cliff.  I consider myself an amateur bird-watcher (although I don't go out, binoculars in hand, specifically to see what birds I can find, I do keep my eyes peeled and make note of any birds I happen upon), but these were the first Cedar Waxwings I've ever seen.  Beautiful birds.
Elk Rock Island - controlled burn
Evidence of controlled burning to maintain grassland.

On one late summer visit to the park, I ran across an area of the grassland habitat that had burned.
At first I was thinking some careless person had started the fire (and I was thankful it didn't take out the fir and oak forest on the northern section of the island), but as I walked into the burned section, I saw the burned lines that told me it was a deliberate, controlled burn.  I'm guessing they do it to maintain the grassland habitat and prevent larger shrubs or invasive species from taking over.
The rocks along the river provide ledges for  fishing, or to just sit and watch the boats go by (while you wait for the osprey and bald eagles to appear), and the wooded section of the park hides a couple different loop trails circling the island.  A great place to explore, and soak up a little Willamette River nature, just minutes from town.

Update:  I just ran across this interesting story from The Oregonian, about restoring the oak habitat on the island.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Metro, Portland to purchase natural area

Thanks in part to Metro's Natural Areas Program - the same program which helped purchase land for great parks on Mount Talbert in SE Portland and Cooper Mountain south of Beaverton - a new park and natural area will soon be established in an under-served area of NE Portland.

Read all about the Wilkes Headwaters Property in the Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce.

View Larger Map

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

Situated between Reed College and Eastmoreland Golf Course in SE Portland, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is a hidden oasis.  The garden is tucked into the base of a hill, and you'd never guess how large it is judging from the small parking area on SE 28th Avenue (one block north of Woodstock).

The Portland Parks & Recreation website says "the more than 2,500 rhododendrons, azaleas, and companion plants in the Garden have all been donated by volunteers and interested individuals, or purchased with specially donated funds. Beginning in early spring and continuing into summer, they provide a magnificent display of color, giving visitors the opportunity to view many varieties rarely seen in the Pacific Northwest. During the fall, many companion trees add dramatic coloring. Spring-fed Crystal Springs Lake surrounds much of the garden, attracting many species of birds and waterfowl."

It really is a wonderful place to view resident and migrating waterfowl, see Red-winged Blackbirds hiding among the yellow iris, and of course - as the garden's name suggests - take a stroll through a very extensive collection of rhododendrons. The sheer number and variety of rhododendrons, azaleas, and other plants on display in the garden (most of which are labeled), make this a very interesting place to visit.

Edit: 4/14/11
To see some more recent photos I took in the park, take a look at this post.

 Info from the website:

Garden Hours
April 1-September 30: 6:00am-10:00pm
October 1-March 31: 6:00am-6:00pm

Entrance Fees
Admission is free to all from the day after Labor Day through the month of February.
A $3 admission fee is charged between 10:00am-6:00pm, Thursday through Monday, March through Labor Day.
Admission is free for children under 12 and Friends of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mount Talbert Nature Park: A Clackamas Gem

I've been meaning to check out Mount Talbert ever since Oregon Field Guide did a segment on it way back in... well, I guess it's been several years now because I can't find any reference to it on the Oregon Field Guide website.  I don't think the park had achieved official status at that point.  I remember them talking about the butte as an unimproved natural area.  Metro was just starting to make plans for developing the park.

Today the former lava dome can be explored on 4.2 miles of well-marked trails through 200 acres of conifer forest, revitalized oak savanna, and even a remnant of native prairie habitat.

Interpretive signs placed along the trails help you get the most out of your nature walk by telling about native plants and animals you may encounter (rubber boas, coyotes, and pileated woodpeckers are just a few of the animals that utilize the habitat provided by the park).  Signs also relate the history of the oak savanna habitat and how the native peoples used fire to maintain it.  When regular burning no
longer happened, the faster-growing Douglas firs began to crowd out the oaks.
An example of girdling

In 2005, Metro began an effort to restore some of the oak woodlands using a method called girdling - where a ring of bark is removed from around the trunks of unwanted trees, causing the trees to die.  The trees are then left in place as wildlife habitat.

 The day I chose to take my first hike in the park...


First Post

Hello - and welcome to the very first post on the Nature of Portland! 

My intention is to focus my posts on three major topics:
I'll also include local news items, events, and other things relevant to, or having an impact on nature in the Portland area.

For any Flickr users our there, or anyone interested in nature photography - check out the Nature of Portland Flickr group.  Join the group and share your snapshots of the local nature scene.

Thanks, and enjoy!
Real Time Analytics