Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Scrub Jays are Moving In

I posted recently about all the spring action in my yard - including some new neighbors helping themselves to my bark mulch.  Now some neighbors are tearing apart the liner of our hanging flower basket.

The liner is made out of coconut fiber, and it apparently makes pretty good nesting material.

A pair of Western Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma californica) have been working on it for a few days now.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website - All About - "Scrub-jay nests are made of a basket of twigs lined with rootlets, fine strands of plant fibers, and livestock hair. Nests take about 10 days to build and are about 6 inches (15 centimeters) across when finished. Both members of a pair help with building."

Oh well - I hope they enjoy my fine strands of plant fiber!

Want to provide your neighbors with Coconut fibers?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Battle of the Ospreys at Camassia

On a recent trip to Camassia Natural Area, I was lucky enough to catch some interesting Osprey behavior on film.

The Ospreys have a nest atop a cell phone tower, just outside the park's boundary.  When I first spotted the nest, there were two adults in it.  After a few minutes, a third adult Osprey flew in, and they all had a bit of a scuffle.

The third Osprey was not this year's offspring because this was on April 15th - right at the beginning of the nesting season.  It could have been a chick from the previous year - I'm told that sometimes they return with the parents, and may help guard the nest.  If that was the case here, its help did not seem to be appreciated.  Maybe it was an unrelated bird competing for the nest site.  Who knows?

Watch this montage of photos and see what you think...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My New Pair of Bloomers

Two of the newest plants in my native landscaping have flowered for the first time, so I thought I would share a few pictures of this brand new pair of bloomers.

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense)

First up:
Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense)

This plant is not a true grass at all, but a relative of the Iris.  The plant is native to the western United States, and the flowers are variable. 

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense)
The flowers close in the evening, and the stems have little joints which allow the flower to stand upright even when the stem falls over. (Like the stems to the right in the photo below.)

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense)
These were planted in February, and I wasn't sure if the tiny, bare root plants would produce blooms this year.

Flower: Blue/purple, with yellow center (variable)
Blooms: March-May
At Maturity: 1 1/2' H x 2' W
Location: Fulls sun to part shade, dry to seasonally wet

I planted some Yellow-eyed Grass at the same time (Sisyrinchium californicum) but it has not bloomed yet.  Yellow-eyed Grass looks just like Blue-eyed Grass but the flowers are solid yellow.

My Blue and Yellow-eyed Grasses were purchased at the annual native plant sale held by East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (EMSWCD).  They have some great online Native Plant Resources if you'd like info on selecting and finding native plants for your yard.

Nevada buckwheat (Eriogonium umbellatum) var. nevadense

My second new bloomer was purchased at the Tryon Creek Trillium Festival and plant sale in 2011.  So this is it's second spring in the ground, but it didn't bloom last year.

 It's called Nevada buckwheat (Eriogonium umbellatum) var. nevadense.

 This plant is not native to the Willamette Valley, but it is found in drier, sunnier areas east of the Cascades, and in other western states.  I wanted to give it a shot in my yard because it gets a lot of full sun, and I figured the plant would do well with no water in the summer.

Nevada buckwheat (Eriogonium umbellatum) var. nevadense

Looks like it's doing OK!

Flower: Bright Yellow, suffused with red
Blooms: May-July
At Maturity: 1' H x 1 1/2' W
Location: Well drained soil, PS-Sun

Nevada buckwheat - Blooms fully opened
Here's another good resource for NW gardeners interested in using more native plants:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spring Happenings in the New-and-Improved Yard

Readers of this blog may know that I installed a landscape using (almost) entirely native plants, in what used to be the very bland yard of our duplex (mostly lawn).  Now I have large planted areas with layered vegetation - groundcovers, shrubs, small and medium-sized trees.  The full sun yard now even has a couple of areas approaching part shade.  I couldn't be happier with the results.

Before and After (2008-2012)

One of the benefits has been a very noticeable increase in the wildlife that frequents the yard.  The birds especially love the new trees, and enjoy digging around in the groundcover.  I notice more and more wildlife each year.

Just the other day, I was pruning my Red-flowering currants (after the bloom), and there were lots of young ladybugs crawling around.

And a few weeks ago, I noticed a pair of Bushtits hopping around one of my Cascara trees - just as they were starting to leaf out.

They're cute little birds - known for their acrobatic ways.

I think they were looking for insects on the new leaves.  And they seemed to appreciate the suet feeder, too.

I see the pair all the time now, flitting between this tree and a larger tree in a neighbors yard.  I think they must be nesting nearby, if not in that neighbor's tree.  I've been meaning to go look for the nest.  I recently saw a Bushtit's sock-like nest when I joined one of the Backyard Bird Shop's nature walks, out at Smith and Bybee Lakes.  Here's a picture I took of the nest...

The nest is made from grasses, spider webs, and other soft materials, and I'm told if you happen to come across a nest with chicks in it, you can tell by all the wiggling.

Another recent happening in the yard...

Bark mulch thievery!

I watched this crow stealing my bark over the course of several days.  Sometimes his (or her) mate would come to supervise - walking along beside, and seemingly giving each piece the thumbs - I mean wingtips - up or down.  (I have my theories about who was who in this pair, but I won't go into that here.)   :-O  

After settling on a piece, the thief would take it up to the power line and go through a shredding process with beak and foot, before flying off to a large conifer where I assume they're nesting.

It can be fun getting to know your non-human neighbors!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Shameless Self Promotion

Hey, look at that!  My Facebook page is almost up to 100 likes!  If you haven't caught up to me there yet, why not help me blow right past 100 and get on my way to 200 likes?

Here's a link:

And you can also find me on Twitter:

Spring Blooms at Camassia Natural Area: Part II

Picking up where we left off, let's see the park's namesake - the Camas lilies...

The path through the wet meadows uses boardwalks to get you from rock to rock.

Bumblebee on Camas lily (Camassia quamash)

Camas lily with a Pacific Madrone backdrop

The rocks give the meadow a very Zen look and feel.

I think the yellow flowers above are Swamp Buttercup (Ranunculus orthorhynchus). The pink flowers below are Rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta).  Both colors really set off the Camas.

There are a few white Camas sprinkled around, like the one pictured above.

Camas reflected in a puddle

 No shortage of wildlife in the park.  Woodpeckers have done a number on the dead tree above, and it looks like something has been munching on the plants below.

Maybe the deer that left these tracks in the mud.

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

The Spotted Towhee kept his bright red eye on me.

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) on Oregon Grape
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

There is an Osprey nest atop a cell tower at the edge of the park.  Great viewing opportunity.  I saw a skirmish between three Osprey while I was there, but I'll show those pictures in a later post.  For now, just a pic of one Osprey doing a fly-over.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

One of the highlights of the trail is a great view of Mt. Hood.

OK.  I know that was a ton of pictures, but it's such a great place to visit and photograph.  I hope you can find your trail to Camassia Natural Area soon!

Spring Blooms at Camassia Natural Area: Part I

Common Camas lily and Rosy plectritis
One of the many reasons the Portland metro area is such a special place, is its knack for preserving healthy, natural habitat in close proximity to urban (and suburban) areas.  Camassia Natural Area in West Linn is a perfect example.  Mere steps away from the heavy traffic of Interstate 205 - as it crosses the bluff between West Linn and Oregon City - this beautiful, 27 acre parcel protects habitats ranging from wooded wetland, to open prairie, and the increasingly rare Oregon white oak savanna.  A fragile stronghold of rare plants and diverse wildlife species - Camassia is a truly wonderful place to experience the Nature of Portland.

View Larger Map

 Camassia Natural Area was the first preserve to be purchased and protected by The Nature Conservancy in Oregon (in 1962).  It's named after the common camas lily (Camassia quamash) which blooms heavily here every spring, alongside other wildflowers like Rosy plectritis (or Sea Blush - Plectritis congesta), Trilliums (Trillium chloropetalum, and T. ovatum), Fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) and many more.  Since acquiring this special place, The Nature Conservancy staff and volunteers have worked to protect the area from the threats of encroaching development, which include invasive species, altered hydrology, and fire suppression.  Because the area no longer undergoes the periodic renewal by fire, Douglas-fir trees creep from the edges of the woodlands into the more open oak savanna.  In those areas, the Douglas-fir are removed, allowing the Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) and Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana - sometimes called Garry oak) to continue providing the perfect mix of sun and shade for the meadow wildflowers.

The unique terrain at Camassia - like terrain everywhere - owes its existence to ancient history.  Between about 17 and 6 million years ago, a series of lava flows covered northern Oregon, eastern Washington, and western Idaho, creating a deep layer of basalt rock.  Fast forward to the end of the last ice age (12,000 - 15,000 years ago) - a time when the continental ice sheet created dams and huge lakes along the Idaho-Montana border.  Those dams would periodically give way, causing catastrophic floods that scoured soil and rock from eastern Washington, carved the Columbia Gorge, and deposited soil and glacial erratic boulders in the Willamette Valley.  Those same floods stripped the soil from some areas of Camassia, creating the underlying structure for the shallow-soiled, rocky meadows and hollowed-out, wooded wetlands you can see today.

I've been meaning to visit Camassia during the peak bloom of the camas lilies (late April - early May) for a couple of years now, but didn't make my first visit until just this year.  I hiked the loop three weekends in a row - starting the weekend of April 14th - to be sure to catch the meadows at their colorful best.

Entrance to the park, at the end of Walnut Street in West Linn
There is a small gravel parking lot at the end of Walnut Street in West Linn.  Oh - and as with most nature parks in the Portland area, no dogs are allowed.  This is to protect the habitat and the wildlife that uses it.

See my pictures below, and to find out more about the park, you can go to The Intertwine, or The Nature Conservancy's website(Click here for driving directions.)

The trails in the park are well marked - even when the "trail" is not a boardwalk like the one below.  Please stay on the trails to protect the delicate habitat (and avoid the poison oak!).

boardwalk through the woodland

Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) unfurling
 One of the hollowed-out, wooded wetlands is near the center of the park. 

Lots of Trillium and Fawn lilies along the trail to the wetland.


Fawn lily
 I love the mottled pattern on the leaves of the Fawn lily - it reminds me of light reflecting off a water surface.

Trilliums and sword ferns
There are at least seven Trilliums hiding among the sword ferns in the photo above.

Oak galls

Saskatoon serviceberry
Miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)

Miner's Lettuce is a native, edible plant - whether it's the "true" Miner's Lettuce (above), or Western Spring Beauty (below) which is also called Siberian Miner's Lettuce.

Western Spring Beauty - Siberian Miner's lettuce (Claytonia siberica)
Yellow Violet, or Pioneer Violet (Viola glabella)
I believe the flowers in the photo above are a type of Bittercress - but if anyone knows for sure, please comment.  Unfortunately, I don't think the plant's leaves really show in the photo.

Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) growing with moss and Licorice fern

A tiny moss forest

Tall Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
Indian Hellebore (Veratrum viride)
Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) on a mossy tree trunk
Gnarly, moss and lichen-covered Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana)

We thought the odd-looking oak limb above looked like Mr. Snuffleupagus.

Wow - that was a lot of pictures, and I haven't even made it to the Camas photos yet.  Let's continue the photo tour in Part II...
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