Thursday, February 2, 2012

Graham Oaks Nature Park (Part 2): Restoring Oak Woodlands in Wilsonville

In Part 1 of this post, I was taking you along on my first exploration of Graham Oaks Nature Park.

Let's pick up where we left off - on the Legacy Creek Trail as it emerges from the conifer forest, to join the Coyote Way Trail.


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What's that sitting atop that young Ponderosa Pine?  This is as close as I could get with a 300mm lens, and without leaving the trail which would be frowned upon here in the Nature Park, but I believe it's an American Kestrel.  I love these pint-sized predators.



One section of the Coyote Way Trail skirts the mature oak woodlands, where I spotted some of the largest oak galls I've ever seen.

After crossing the northern end of the park, and before turning back to the south on the main Tonquin Trail, I took a short side trip to a small bridge over a marshy area, where I was hearing the sounds of Red-winged blackbirds.  Before I got there, they all flew up to the near-by trees, and I realized it was actually a variety of birds that had been enjoying the shrubby growth along the wetland.  In the shot below, I believe you can see three European Starlings, one male Red-winged Blackbird and a pair of Purple Finches (or House Finches or...? My ID skills and my camera lens are both somewhat lacking in this instance.)




Back to the Tonquin Trail and a little farther south, there's another short side-trail that leads to this artful bird blind overlooking the restored wetland area.

There's an educational flip book...













...and even a key that identifies the birds represented on the screen.  How great is that?










Mallards enjoying the wetland

While I was watching, a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds took flight, circled around, and landed back along the wetland shrubs and grasses.




Turn up the volume on this video clip and listen for the Red-winged Blackbirds.






As the sun was getting low on this gorgeous January day, I came to another side-trail that lead to the Elder Oak.  What a magnificent old tree.  Hopefully this tree will be around for another 150 years and more, to witness the return of this oak savanna and woodland.











I noticed the bright color of this shrub's twigs from a distance along the wetland, but then ran across a section of it right along the Tonquin Trail.



















I've done a lot of searching on the intertubes in an attempt to identify the plant.  It reminded me a little bit of Red-osier Dogwood, a plant that I have in my native landscaping, but the twigs are golden-green instead of red.  I thought maybe it was Golden Twig Dogwood, but I think I've ruled that one out.  The closest thing I can find is Lemmon's Willow (Salix lemmonii), but I'm not sure.  One article I read said that Lemmon's Willow grows on the eastern slope of the Cascades.  Anyone have a more definitive ID?  Update: 2/5/12 - I sent an e-mail to someone at Metro's Native Plant Center, and she said that Lemmon's Willow is not used in the Willamette Valley.  The plant would be Piper’s, Scouler’s or Sitka willow.  I had a hard time finding images of any of these plants online, with twigs as golden-green as the ones I saw.  (The twigs on most of these plants turn brown or gray as they age.)  I did find one page that described the twigs of the Sitka Willow as "yellow-green when young", so I think that might be the one.  If I had a spot wet enough to support these, I think they would look great along side some Red-osier Dogwoods.  They could both be trimmed down each year to maintain the color. (End update.)

Getting close to the end of my walk, I happened to see what looked like the traces of a bad dog just off the path (actually I should say bad dog owner - pick-up bags are provided at the park).  I averted my eyes and walked on, but then my brain did a double take and I had to walk back to take a closer look.  Upon closer inspection, the next option that entered my mind was coyote droppings, due to the presence of what appeared to be gray - possibly rodent - fur and tiny bones.  

The closer I looked, the more it seemed like the fur really made up the bulk of this... "object", so then I though it must be an owl pellet that was somewhat deteriorated by the recent rains.

Doing a little research, I learned that owls are not the only birds that regurgitate the indigestible bits of their meals in pellet form.  According to Wikipedia, hawks, eagles and "many other species produce pellets, including grebes, herons, cormorants, gulls, terns, kingfishers, crows, jays, dippers, shrikes, swallows, and most shorebirds."  So judging from the location and the presence of bones, I'm guessing this pellet is from an owl or hawk of some kind.


With the sun setting, it looks like my time is up for now.

Graham Oaks Nature Park is already a great place to visit, and future generations will have a truly wonderful piece of restored habitat to enjoy, thanks to Portland area voters and all the work that Metro has put in to this project.
 
If you want to learn more about the park and how Metro  supplies all the native plants for their restoration projects, I recommend the four short videos on this Metro page.




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