Lemons -> Lemonade

Life, per usual, provided me with some lemons. Now, I am particularly fond of these yellow, leathery skinned, strangely shaped fruits. Indeed, my mother fondly referred to me as her ‘lemon-lover’ for much of my childhood. At that time in my life, everything tasted better in lemon. As I reflect on this, I think this may still be generally true, though I certainly have a wider repertoire of flavors to draw from when baking. I digress.

I attempted to address a situation within my dissertation committee that stemmed from a conflict of personalities (mine being one of them). I am no stranger to personality conflicts. I regularly hear about how I am ‘too strong-willed,’ ‘abrasive,’ or even better both of these things and a ‘pushover.’ As an adult, I find it relatively easy to avoid these situations once I recognize them, by talking them through. Unfortunately, as I learned over the past year, not all adults have the maturity to do so. In an attempt to redress the situation, I began a dialogue with my co-advisor (we have a great relationship). As my co-advisor saw the same personality issues, he advised that I consider changing major advisors. After thorough research online and on the University’s page, I attempted to set this ball in motion. Oddly, the entire situation exploded and I found myself in high school all over again. People trying to protect themselves by slandering me behind my back to any, and every, body that would listen. They even followed me from program to program, as I sought a new advisor.

Delightfully, and after a complex, twisty-turny, and generally ridiculous path, I find myself perfectly situated to pull off a career shift that I dreamt about since completing my M.S. in Environmental Education at SOU. This shift will provide me with funding for my PhD, a job while I finish my PhD, and a job when I have completed my PhD. This work will occur in one of my favorite places in Oregon (the Klamath Basin) and I get to work with some truly amazing and motivated people.

Thus, this blog will likely shift to a place for me to record my thoughts on environmental education research, and a place for me to continue fine-tuning my hopes at tying culture, birds, fire, and environmental education to a holistic program for schools and districts. The end goal, of course, will be to produce students from marginalized communities interested in being environmental stewards, that understand natural and human communities, and that (hopefully) are interested in pursuing STEM and natural resources programs/degrees/careers all while understanding the cultural and environmental contexts of their pursuits. Ideally, I will also include some random bird-related posts because, I mean, why not? Per usual, we shall see how any of this actually plays out.


PhD progress

I always say to myself “oh yeah, I’m gonna get better about regular blogging.” Then life happens. I try to avoid the computer as much as possible when I’m not doing homework, particularly since so much of my homework happens in front of the computer screen. It hasn’t been nearly as long as I thought since I last posted. In the last six months, I saw two Oregon Snowy Owls (one in Dallas and one in Eugene), a Burrowing Owl at the coast (that was fun!), and was fortunate enough to see the lovely Brown Booby that hung out in Newport and the Tundra Bean-Goose at Nestucca Bay NWR. I met my annual “100 Birds of January” goal and participated in three Christmas Bird Counts (one of which I co-compiled). I also gave my first presentation about my dissertation proposal at the Willamette Valley Bird Symposium. I have met some really interesting people and learned a considerable amount about woodpeckers, network analysis, and fire. It has been a vey busy six months!

My dissertation proposal seems like it is nearing completion and my pilot season will ideally begin in late-April/early-May. As I work on the two big papers I have for this term and finalizing my proposal, I will likely be adding bits and pieces here.

Cheers, and a Merry belated-Imbolc! Keep those candles burning bright.

Merry Lughnassadh-2014

This queer birdnerd happens to also be pagan (honoring my Celtic ancestors to be more specific). My PhD has felt more like being thrown into the fray than some meandering situation where I have time to develop my thoughts. I’ve been lax on my blogging, self care and on connecting to my spirituality. I haven’t even been birding beyond what’s required for my work/dissertation. That being said, over the last few days I’ve been focused on celebrating Lughnasadh/Lammas. This holiday is the first of the harvest celebrations and, given the timing in my life, it seemed like a great time to jump back into connecting with the Otherworld. I have sown many, many metaphorical seeds this year and some of them are ripe for harvesting.

In honor of Lughnasadh I baked two loaves of whole wheat sourdough bread, one onion, poblano and basil swirl loaf and a lemon balm cake with lemon glaze. I also made a strawberry huckleberry compote for breakfast french toast (and maybe for the cake later) and will be making a black-eyed pea and barley soup with summer squash, green beans, carrots, peppers and cabbage from the farmer’s market. To top it all off, I made a delicious goat cheese chevre with local goat milk (half of it spiced with serrano pepper and red pepper flakes).

I must work on my dissertation proposal a bit, another reminder/celebration of the reaping of things I’ve sown I suppose. Perhaps I will also return to this blog and regular posts about birds, life and all manner of other things that go through my head.

Merry harvest-time all!

Yellow-throated Warbler

Today, I went on a much needed birdventure. There has been a Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica) hanging out near Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge for quite some time now. Today I decided to go take a little birdventure, before looking for free wifi so I could do my homework (my wifi died yesterday). On the way, I thought I’d found a backroads kinda route. When I turned to where I’d cross the river, I realized I’d have to take a Ferry. I didn’t realize that Ferries were still a thing along the Willamette. Anyway, we paid the $3.00, because what’s a birdventure without a random Ferry ride? Once on the other side we were mere minutes from Ankeny. In the short hour plus that we were in the refuge, I saw 44 species. Not a record setting day, but great for the short period of time I was there. There is a woman near the refuge that puts suet out for the warbler every day and hosts, what I am calling, warbler parties a few times a week. She is a most gracious hostess, and has coffee, no-bake oatmeal cookies, grapes, chocolate covered almonds and water bottles available. Her daughter and 10-year old German shepherd seemed delighted by the ever changing groups of people that show up. We didn’t have to wait long for the warbler to show up, its yellow throat virtually glowing in the winter lighting. It hung out in the trees at at the suet feeders for quite a while, before I had to leave to work on some homework and research for my dissertation. The woman who’s house we were at said we were the largest crowd at any one time she’s had yet. What an interesting research project, mostly a sociological one, her records could turn into. Demographics and whatnot. What a lovely end to the second week of my PhD. Cheers!

Happy Gregorian New Year (a bit late)!

Well, the new year has come and gone. Per usual, I went birding to celebrate the start of a new calendar. Having just moved to Corvallis to start on my PhD, and still having quite a bit of unpacking to do, I birded close to Corvallis. A Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) had been reported at the sewage ponds in Monmouth. Thus, on a very foggy and cold New Year’s morning, I drove the 20 miles to Monmouth. At first I was unsure of how to view the ponds. Upon exploration, I found a tiny corner along the fence line, where I could view the ponds. Through the fog the ducks appeared only as silhouettes and I figured I only had a slim chance of seeing the Tufted Duck. Blissfully, the fog cleared and there he was, tossing his head so that I could clearly see his long tuft. Super exciting! My new years list:

Monmouth Sewage Ponds:

Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Brewer’s Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, Ring-billed Gull, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow, American Crow, Western Scrub-jay, White-crowned Sparrow, Bewick’s Wren, American Wigeon, American Coot, Tufted Duck.

Sarah Hilmeck SP:

Red-breasted Sapsucker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Song Sparrow, Pacific Wren, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Bewick’s Wren, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Lesser Goldfinch, Stellar’s Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Northern Flicker, Mourning Dove, American Crow, Bushtit, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Dusky Canada Goose

E.E. Wilson WMA:

Hairy Woodpecker, Western Scrub-jay, Song Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, Spotted Towhee, Fox Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, American Robin, Brown Creeper, Bewick’s Wren, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Ring-billed Gull, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, European Starling, Red-shouldered Hawk, Downy Woodpecker, Mallard, American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Double-crested Cormorant, Tundra Swan, Black Phoebe

Peavy Arboretum-Forest Discovery Trail:

Brown Creeper, Dark-eyed Junco, Common Raven, Towsend’s Warbler, Northern Flicker, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Spotted Towhee, American Robin, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Fox Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Cooper’s Hawk


Red Crossibll, House Sparrow, European Starling, Townsend’s Warbler, American Kestrel, Brewer’s Blackbird, Northern Flicker, Anna’s Hummingbird, Great-horned Owl, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Western Bluebird, American Crow, Song Sparrow, California Quail, Killdeer, Great-blue Heron, Great Egret, Red-tailed Hawk

In transit I also saw a Rough-legged Hawk, but I cannot remember where along the road that was!

Anyway, here’s to another year of birdventures, living in birdtopia and life’s other great adventures. Happy birding!

Little Bunting Day

Perched Little Bunting. From the Internet Bird Collection.

Perched Little Bunting. From the Internet Bird Collection.

Huzzah and hooray! A Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla) was spotted late evening on December 12th in McKinleyville, CA. On December 14th, I convinced a friend and my partner to stop at the pastures is was in to look for it on our way to the beach. I met a lovely gentleman from Brookings, OR (his neighborhood is currently home to a Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)) and a man from the Bay Area (he left at 2:30 a.m. to get to McKinleyville). The man from the Bay Area, per my experience with older white male birders, talked to me very much like I probably didn’t know what I was doing and needed his help to become a great birder. After about five minutes I decided to head to the part of the pasture that I thought the bunting would be found in. Soon another six people joined us, then ten. All of the new arrivals joined the older men  in looking for the bird. At some point, after several Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) had flown over my head I started feeling antsy. Then, another bird flew up out of the grass and toward me. My first thought was, “this has to be the bunting!” I then thought, “no way, that would be too lucky.” As I trained my binoculars on the approaching bird, I realized it was indeed the bunting. Even better, this little lovely landed about five feet from me. I very quickly and excited whisper-shouted “heeere! The bunting’s right here!” I felt a wee bit like a child, but who wouldn’t really? Anyway, everyone got to look at it briefly before it flew, once again, into hiding. Beautiful morning!

Transitioning in the Arcata Marsh

I’ve had a really great time birding the Arcata Marsh this year. In the last two weeks, I’ve added Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Parasitic Jaegar and Surfbirds to my very unofficial “list” of birds I’ve seen. Its funny that I have an idea of which birds I’ve seen, and which I haven’t. The list exists in some random form in my head. Or in notes scribbled on pieces of paper, or in the margins of my bird books. I always have a general idea of which birds I’ve seen in a year and which I haven’t, the time of year I usually see my first individuals of each species. Sometimes my brain feels like a naturalist’s notebook, then I realize it kind of is. That’s fun!

Anyway, this year I was privileged to watch the transition of bird species (and plumage) in the marsh from winter to fall. I was gone for most of spring migration, but watching the daily transition of birds through the breeding season and into migration has been amazing. I’ve never witnessed so many “just fledged” birds learning how to forage, or so many hath-year birds learning how to sing (sidenote: juveniles learning to sing sound quite a bit like babies babbling, combining random notes, syllables and trills together to create a garbled version of an adult song). Also, watching the ducks molt into adult/winter/breeding plumage. There was a short period of time a few weeks ago where the ducks were almost hard to identify because their feathers were in varying stages of molt. As the hatch-year birds become adults and food on the sewage ponds becomes scarce, the ducks have all moved to the main ponds. The hundreds of Cedar Waxwings staging for migration have flown south. Migrating passerines have become in short supply, and the scads of wintering Black-crowned Night-herons have moved in. Shorebirds are certainly numbering in the tens of thousands and raptors have migrated south and/or juveniles have moved out of their natal territories.

I am blessed!

Bicycle Haiku

Last week, NPR was having people send in their Haikus about their bicycles. Some of them were really good. I rode my bike everywhere in Ashland and Corvallis, but haven’t since moving away (my bike is at my parent’s house). I got to ride a bike over the weekend and wrote this Haiku:

Two-wheels between feet,

rather than four under, my

legs peddle with joy.

Not the best Haiku ever, but it made me happy.

American Avocets (AMAV)

A winter plumed American Avocet in flight. From: http://true-wildlife.blogspot.com/2010/12/avocet.html

A winter plumed American Avocet in flight. From: http://true-wildlife.blogspot.com/2010/12/avocet.html

I saw my first American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana) in flight in the Arcata Marsh this week. I was on a run and had to stop to marvel at how amazingly odd they look in flight. Their beaks remind me of bee stingers, but never really did before. All neck and leg, they are truly spectacular. They inspired a haiku, which often happens while I’m running, I suppose haikus give me something on which to focus. Anyway:

Avocet in flight,/all neck and beak and legs. A strange,/spectacular sight.

Here the slashes show where lines end.

A reflection on fire ecology and fire season 2013

Douglas Complex fire burning. From KPIC news at KPIC.com

Douglas Complex fire burning. From KPIC news at KPIC.com

With all of the “wild” fires that burned, or remain burning, in the west this fire season, it seems appropriate to do a blog post about fire. I was born and raised in the fire forests of southwestern Oregon. It seems that every summer we had at least one decent fire in Oregon, and every few years at least one fire burned locally. The Biscuit Fire (another view of the fire, and a look back at the Biscuit Fire), fire season 2002, was one of the largest since Oregon was colonized. This year, the Douglas Complex, combined with the Labrador, Brimstone, Big Windy Complex and Whiskey Complex smoked out much of the Rogue Valley for the better part of the summer. Smoke from these fires traveled as far south as the San Francisco Bay Area and east as Chicago. In fact, while I was in Chicago the weatherman on a local news channel talked about the smog being partially composed of the fires from southern Oregon and Yosemite (along with other areas in the west, but he specifically mentioned these fires). With the Rim fire in Yosemite still burning and much of Hoopa, Yurok and Karuk lands in northern California burning, and the death of the 19 smoke jumpers in AZ this summer, its no wonder everyone is talking about “wildland” fires. Fire “behavior” is often unpredictable and can be downright scary. While I do not think that suppressing all fires is necessary or advisable, I do appreciate the individuals willing to risk their lives to save people and homes from “wild” fires. Additionally, seeing a beautiful place, such as Yosemite, burning can be devastating. If fire suppression had not been the modus operandi for decades after Euro-American settlement, the forests would not have developed abundant fuel for fires and meadows would be larger and create fire blocks of a sort. The Yosemite fire is a great example of how large and intense fires can become when fires suppression occurs. For more information about the history of fire in Yosemite, go to this National Park Service page.

I remember as a kid, loving Smokey Bear and being horrified by fire and the scars it left behind. On some level, the US Forest Service has tried to revamp Smokey and his message, reinforcing the idea that human caused fires should be prevented and that lightning fires are part of natural systems. Thankfully, I have come to understand and love fires. I am happy that >70,000 acres (probably closer to 100,000 but I’m too lazy to do the math right now) have burned in southern Oregon. This means that important grassland/meadow habitat will be open for the species that need it. It also means that plants and animals associated with early-late successional stages (the quick version reads grass to shrubs to trees, really its more complicated than that) will have places to live. As I tell the students I work with doing environmental education, if I were a Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) and encroachment by trees into my grassland home was allowed to happen by preventing fire, where would I go? Also, if I were a forest dwelling species, such as a Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficils), I would need healthy forests. Thus, fire creates habitat for species that need open areas and open forests and it helps create healthy forests. Clearly, this isn’t true for forests that did not evolve with fire or evolved with long fire-return intervals (the number of years between two consecutive fires) or fire-rotation intervals (the time required to burn a specific area). The forest service has a very interesting glossary, defining terms associated with fires/fire ecology, available online.

Our fire forests are a phoenix, rising from the ashes of the fires that consume them. When these fires burn, they create habitat, food and structural complexity. Many plants in these ecosystems have ways to either survive fire, or to regenerate quickly after fire. Seed banks, created by a fire strategy known as “seeding,” allow plants, like grasses and forbs, and shrubs, such as the white-leaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida) and wedgeleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus cuneatus), to generate new plants after a fire. Seeds from these plants remain inactive in the soil, waiting for the heat of fire to being germination. Resprouters, such as Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) and madrone (Arbutus menziesii) resprout from burls and underground root systems. Finally, resiters, such as ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), have thick bark that can “resist” fire (unless the fire is high intensity or a canopy fire, then these plants rely on sprouting). Many fire “resisters” have serotinous cones, cones that remain unopened on the tree until the heat from a fire causes the cones to open.

In closing, fire is a part of many types of healthy ecosystems. These ecosystems all have specific fire regimes defined by fire intensity, severity, fire return intervals and fire rotation intervals. The fire regime of a fire forest in southern Oregon will not be the same as the fire regime of chaparral in California. These regimes differ form the tropical rainforests, where fire return intervals are often >500 years. A greater understanding of the role of fire in different habitats will create healthier ecosytems.  Alteration of historic fire regimes through human caused increases in fire frequency in southern California chaparral habitat caused decreased health in chaparral systems. Alteration of historic fire regimes through fire suppression caused a decreased fire frequency in Yosemite creating unhealthy, overgrown forests and meadows converted to forest by sapling encroachment. To improve ecosystem health in these habitats will require specialized planning and focus on what’s best for each systems, rather than an across the board plan.

For more information about the benefits of fire:

The Benefits of Fire

For some more information about fire ecology, and for access to the Fire Ecology Journal:

Association of Fire Ecology