Saturday, May 28, 2011

Amphibians Indicate Successful Habitat Restoration

The absence of amphibians in a wetland area can be an indicator of habitat degradation.  On the flip side, the appearance of amphibians in a restored wetland area is a good sign that someone did something right.
Oregon Field Guide recently did an interesting segment about wetlands restoration in the Portland area.  The video below – about 8 and a half minutes in length – tells how volunteers are helping monitor the health of restored wetlands by looking for the egg masses of native frogs and salamanders.

From OPB:
The METRO regional government is restoring thousands of acres of natural space in the Portland metropolitan area. To track the success of these long-term efforts, they rely on volunteers to watch over the sensitive amphibians who breed in these areas during the Winter. We follow volunteer wildlife monitor Akiko Onuma from Hawaii as she marvels at the egg masses and gets a feel for Oregon’s chilly wetlands in February.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cascara Buckthorn: An Oregon Native Tree

One of the trees I’ve used in my native landscaping is the Cascara tree, or Cascara Buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana).  Native along North America’s west coast from southern BC to central California, the Cascara’s dried bark was used by Native and immigrant Americans for over a century as a laxative.  According to Wikipedia, “it was the principal ingredient in many commercial, over-the-counter laxatives in North American pharmacies until 9 May 2002.” 
As interesting as that is, the only home remedies I hope to get from my four Cascara trees are a little shade and some natural habitat.
Three of my trees I purchased through Friends of Trees, and they’re placed along the street in the front parking strip.  The fourth is in the yard near the SW corner of the house.  They were all a decent size when we planted them, so I’m hoping it won’t be too long before they start providing some shade to the front of our west-facing house.  Cascaras are not large trees, so they will never shade the whole house.  I’m just hoping for some late afternoon screening when the sun is lower in the sky.
When I’m out and about, I always watch for plants that I have in my yard, to see if I can spot them “in the wild”.  The only time I’ve seen a Cascara in its natural setting was over at the coast, in a wooded area near the beach.
3496611674_326dc3b215_bCascara leaves are a nice, dark green and fairly thick, too.  The tiny spring flowers seem to attract lots of insect pollinators.  Small berries start out red and turn black as they ripen.  Cascara is one of the plants recommended by Audubon to provide food for Western Bluebirds, and like the berries of the Pacific Madrone, I’m told they’re a favorite of Cedar Waxwings and other berry-eating birds.
The leaves turn a pretty bronze color in the fall.  Not as spectacular as some of the yellows and reds we see, but still nice.  There’s a good series of pictures (provided by Oregon State University), showing the habit of the trees in various seasons, starting here.  Use the “next” link at the top right to move through the pictures.
Even with a small yard, if you just provide a little bit of habitat – and you look close enough – you can attract some native wildlife…

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Minthorn Springs Wetland: Milwaukie's Best-Kept Secret

For thirteen years now, I've worked in an office located off of Highway 224, in Milwaukie.  Adjoining the office complex, there's a small wetland area called Minthorn Springs.  Looking out the office window, or as I've come and gone, I've seen lots of ducks and Canada Geese in the area, and the occasional nutria.  But in all the years I've worked there, I've never taken more than a cursory glance into the wetlands themselves.  Why is that?  I don't know.  Maybe I just don't want to hang around the office when I don't have to.

About a week ago, I finally made a special trip to go explore the wetland.  I was really surprised by the amount of habitat that's squeezed into the area's borders, and by the number of plants and animals I found. I'll take you along on my walk by posting some of the pictures I took, but first, here's a little map I made showing a good place to park, and the approximate locations and routes of the trails.  (Click the link below the map to see more details and trail descriptions.)

View Minthorn Springs Wetland in a larger map

The protected wetland area is bordered by the office complex on two sides, a railroad and residential development on one side, and by SE 37th Avenue and the Milwaukie Marketplace shopping center on the other side.  Besides the protected habitat area, there is a link to a pond at Milwaukie Marketplace, and a drainage channel along Hwy 224, which flows in to the wetlands.  After the water leaves the wetlands, it flows behind our office building and through the complex, creating more areas where the geese like to hang out.

In the maps below (created using the Oregon Explorer Advanced Mapping Tool), you can see the current wetlands in dark green.  Water from the wetlands flows SE through the industrial area to Mt. Scott Creek.  From there it turns SW, joins Kellogg Creek, then flows NW to Kellogg Lake and the Willamette River.

Map showing current wetlands and water flow (click to enlarge)

At the edge of the pond in Milwaukie Marketplace (between Sheri's and McGraths Fish House) there is a sign that says that the wetlands were once a main channel floodway for the Clackamas River, and that the area was used by Indians and pioneers.  That got me wondering about what the area looked like before parts of the wetland were filled for development.  The map below shows the current wetlands as well as historical forested and emergent wetlands.  The areas outside the historical wetlands (the light background color), are shown in the data as "prairie".

Map showing current and historical wetlands (click to enlarge)
After parking at the cul-de-sac of Minthorn Loop, I walked along the South Edge Trail (these trail names are all my invention, by the way - they're not named on any signs in the park), peeking over the chain link fence at different points as I made my way to SE 37th Ave.

Red-flowering currant (center) and Vine Maple (top left)

At the spot pictured above, where the water takes a step down as it flows toward the outlet, I saw Red-winged blackbirds in the grasses in the background, and my first Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle form) was flitting around in the foreground trees.  I couldn't get a decent picture of either of them.

The story continues after the jump...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Portland Parks to Acquire Undeveloped SW Hillside

The Portland City Council is expected to approve the purchase of 146 acres along a hillside south of River View Cemetery, using money from several different sources.  The plan is to - eventually - develop a trail system and habitat management plan.

Read more about it in this Oregonian article from Brad Schmidt.

View Larger Map

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Oregon Iris: Native Spring Herald

It seems that spring has finally arrived in Portland.  One sure sign of this fact, in my native landscaping, is the blooming of my Oregon Iris (Iris tenax), also known as Oregon Flag.  One of my favorite plants in the yard - definitely an eye-catcher.

 I purchased my plants as tiny bare root starts, from the native plant sale held annually by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (EMSWCD).  These particular plants have only been in the ground a little over a year now.  Some of them (probably not the ones pictured) could already be divided.

These plants are in full sun.  I've provided water during the hottest summer months, but after my landscape is well-established, I hope to wean the whole landscape down to very little water use.

Other than that, these plants require very little care.  I remove the spent flower heads after they wilt, in the hopes of generating more flowers, and it seems to work.  In the winter I remove any dead flower stalks and leaves.

I would highly recommend Oregon Iris to anyone looking for a little, native color spot in their northwest garden.
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