My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Monday, October 29, 2012

Steen Mountain, Closed for the Winter

I really wanted to show Lucy Steen Mountain.  I tried to get her to go by herself but she was busy looking at stuff closer.  Then on my first weekend with her, we went to John Day Fossil Day Fossil Beds.  The next week, she took my car and drove off to see some of western Oregon and visit her cousin who lives in Corvalis, OR.  Then, right after she got back, it snowed, about a half inch one day, and four inches the next. Since the top of Steen is at almost 10,000 feet, I was pretty sure we were not going to make it to the top.  

We stopped at Buena Vista to check out the view.  All the ponds are gone and there are only a few sparrows around. 

View to Steen Mountain From Buena Vista Overlook

A Closer Look at First Snow of Fall on Steen Mountain

 We did a quick stop at P-Ranch to see the long barn and other structures and to take a short walk along Blitzen River. It is the most beautiful along this stretch where it has been improved to a better spawning area for fish.

The cattle wheel, used to hang cattle to butcher

This lifted loose hay on and off the hay wagon
The long barn

Hand made hinges

Lucy walking where the horses roamed

Blitzen River
 But I was really surprised to find snow on the Steen Loop Road at 5000 feet.  We turned around, before seeing much of anything, and went back through Frenchglen and then tried the southern end of the loop.  This time we barely got past the gate to the upper portion before we had to turn around. We did get pretty close to one of the gorges and got to see a few wild horses.

One of several gorges on Steen Mountain

A few wild horses
We had planned to explore Riddle Ranch but found the gate was closed and we would have to hike six miles round trip on a muddy road.  We decided we didn't have enough time or inclination for that long of a hike. 

On the work front, I’ve finished my part of the bee display.  I have several different wildflowers that I dried, then arranged.  Then I glued some bees and butterflies I’d collected on the flowers. And Carla, the staff member who does most of the displays here, has almost finished the posters.  For some of them, she is using my pictures and adding facts I’ve researched about the flowers I dried and also the bees found here. She is going to give me the files for all the posters so I can share them with others. I’ll put up a post of them that will come out after I’ve gone. 

I started writing this over the weekend but we were without Internet until today, Monday afternoon. The staff gave me a going away luncheon and both a sweat shirt and a jacket with the Volunteer logo on them. Then I took back all the materials that belonged somewhere else, build a rack to carry three bags on top of the car, finished packing and cleaned the house up, all with Lucy's help.  We cleaned out our refrigerator and gave almost two coolers of food, staples, and condiments to the two interns. 

Tomorrow,  starting about 5:00 A.M.  we are going to Boise,  Idaho for a little shopping and to get my car checked. I’m afraid my starter may be going out since the car will barely start some mornings, but the battery checks out fine. Then we’ll sleep – if the car gets fixed – near Crater of the Moon National Park. We’ll spend two nights and a day there before going to Bryce NP, then Zion NP, Santa Fe, a state park in North Texas, and before arriving  in Houston on November seventh or eighth. 

I’ll probably not have time to edit pictures or put up any blogs until I get to Galveston where I’ll be pet-sitting at my friend, Natalie’s house. I think she has some painting jobs waiting for me as well.  But I’ll catch you up on my adventures after November 10. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Garden Like You're Saving the World

There are many reasons to have a garden: to collect favorite plant species,  to have a calm, happy space, to make your property more attractive, to help live a long happy life, to have a place where butterflies and birds can add their beauty, to grow the healthiest and best tasting fruits and vegetables, to help maintain plant diversity.

But today a keystone group of animals (keystone species are necessary to preserve their ecosystems) is under severe attack, from loss of habitat, pesticides, and  introduced diseases. That group is the bees. Many have gone extinct and others are severely threatened. Wild hives of honeybees may be completely gone and 35 percent of the U.S. honeybee population between 2006 and 2009 have disappeared in from the colony collapse syndrome or other causes. There are 4000 known species of these bees in the U.S., so doing just a few changes in your garden can help many different species of bees continue their pollination jobs.

Bees evolved from wasps and with flowering plants as they changed from meat eaters to pollen and nectar eaters.And plants have evolved to become more attractive to bees and other pollinators. Some orchids go so far as to smell and/or look like a female bee. The poor male gets a dose of pollen rather than love.

A  100 million year old bee fossil preserved in amber
Today bees help fertilize some 250,000 flowering plants and a third of all our foods, including most of our fruits and vegetables.  Without bees, most of these plants would not be able to form seeds and continue to exist. And crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants which can make some fruit by wind or self pollination, need bees to be truly productive.

One area in China has already learned, too late, the importance of bees. Indiscriminate use of pesticides has eliminated their bees and they have had to resort to hand pollinating their apple trees for the last two decades.

Workers in China hand- pollinating fruit trees - all apple and pear trees have to receive this treatment

Our native bees are uniquely adapted to fertilize our native plants, including members of the squash family and other new world vegetables and fruits. And bumblebees and some carpenter bees can shake the pollen out of tomatoes and other flowers by a process called sonification, allowing them to fully fertilize a flower on one visit while honey bees may take up to 7 visits to do the same job.

I'm working on a bee display, building bee houses and learning about our native bees. I'll share information on the various species with you in future posts.

But we can all begin to use our property to protect bees:

Grow plants that bees need - grow several varieties of early, mid-season, and late varieties of blooming plants of the types and colors attractive to bees.  They especially love blue and yellow plants but see blue/purple nectar guides on yellow and red plants. (They don't see red but do see in the ultra violet range so flowers show up with different colors and patterns to them than to us. )

Use this general list and check with your Native Plant Society for plants native to your region. Another easy way to determine species of each genus native to your state is to use the Lady Bird Johnson Plant Database.
Fill in the genus name, then use the "Narrow Your Search" feature on the right to enter the name of your state, before scrolling  down to the search button on the bottom.  You can then open each species, and scroll down to the USDA database link for that plant. This will allow you to see if the plant has been reported in your county.  This allows you to use plants that naturally grow close to you.You may also find seed sources by checking out the data base of native plant suppliers in your state or region.
  • Aster - Aster
  • Currant - Ribes
  • Elder - Sambucus
  • Fireweed - Chamerion
  • Goldenrod - Solidago
  • Huckleberry - Vaccinium
  • Larkspur - Delphinum
  • Lupine - Lupinus
  • Madrone - Arbutus
  • Mint - Mentha
  • Oregon grape - Berberis
  • Pacific waterleaf - Hydrophyllum
  • Penstemon - Penstemon
  • Rabbit-brush - Chrysothamnus
  • Rhododendron - Rhododendron
  • Salmonberry - Rubus
  • Saskatoon - Amalanchier
  • Scorpion-weed - Phacelia
  • Snowberry - Symphoricarpos
  • Stonecrop - Sedum
  • Wild buckwheat - Eriogonum
  • Willow - Salix
  • Yarrow - Achillea
And do remember that plants bred to be showy often don't offer bees pollen or nectar.  Use the simple, native ones instead. Single flowers are better than doubles. Also let some of your herbs and vegetables go to flower. 

Don't use pesticides. Use garlic oil and BT to control mosquitoes. Use mechanical means of pest control first.  And remember that having pests is a sign of imbalance. Be sure to use organic fertilizers and things like compost teas to keep your plants unstressed and healthy so bugs won't attack them. Your soil needs to be alive, so don't kill it with chemical fertilizers.  Let the living organisms in the soil naturally nourish your plants.

Provide places for bees to maintain their nurseries. Seventy percent of the native bees live in holes in the ground. Thirty percent use hollow stems or rotten wood to make tunnels. Bumblebees live in holes made by mice and ground squirrels, old mice nests within bunch grass,  hollow trees,  and other cavities. So keep some ground clear of plants or mulch and keep messy dead stems and branches where you can. Provide bee houses for a neater solution.

Provide mud - if not is nearby - for your mason bees.

Provide fresh water. A birdbath works fine, just clean it every day or so.

We gardeners are entering our dreaming and planing stage as we contemplate our growing season just past and look forward to next year's gardens. While we read plant catalogs, we can also inventory what plants in our garden are useful to bees and figure out what other plants we might like to add. And this is a great time to build bee houses. I'll post about mine soon.

Another neat way you can help, and all while enjoying your garden, is to join the Great Sunflower Project and document the bee species that visit your garden.

And finally, you can recruit more people to work to save bees.  Post information on your facebook page, get fellow garden club members and other gardening friends involved, see if you can start bee projects in public spaces such as parks, fire stations, and libraries. We need to know the kinds and numbers of bees in our areas and then work to build their numbers.

These are some of the bees I've discovered on the refuge. 

Halictus - Female
Bombus centralis - Female
1207070205Camassia - Osmia - female
Osmia - Female
For further fascinating reading, check out some of these papers and books.

 Bee Basics:  An Introduction to Our Native Bees

Note:  You can download PDF files, then send them, as attachments,  to your Kindle Fire address and they will show up on your Kindle as books.  Very handy for these books that are free as PDFs but cost $$$ for the print version.  

How to Build a Bee Garden

Tomato Pollination Graphics

Give  Bees a Chance

Ten Reasons to Use Bumblebees for Pollination

A little good news: Extinct British Honey Bee Rediscovered

A Red List of Bees - shows status of some bees and shows a need for lots more research on other bee species. 

Book: Attracting Native Pollinators - This is a wonderful reference and has a Kindle version.

Guide to Eastern Bumblebees

Guide to Western Bumblebees

Pollinator Syndrome Traits Table

Pesticides That Kill Bees

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Leaving the Gold

A few days ago, we had at least four kinds of weather before noon.  One of them was a clearing sky with a beautiful rainbow  about15 minutes before clouds returned and we had a couple of minutes of light rain.

Rainbow over Malheur Lake
I raced out to get the picture of the rainbow showing the gold in Malheur Lake and then went on to work.  Later I had to go back to my house to get some of the things I'd left behind in the rush.  But I started thinking about the promise of the rainbow and how I had really gotten the gold ring when I was accepted to work here. I had some of the most enjoyable jobs I've ever done, including designing activities on pollinators and then sharing them with the Paiute Indian kids, producing a Power Point show that introduces the refuge, and working many hours on collecting bees, pinning bees, and working on a bee display. And I have made golden friendships here and hope to work with some of the volunteers here or at other refuges.

Shades of gold have been one of the main colors here in the desert.  Now, even the wetland grasses are golden. Some of the trees are also turning golden. And the wildlife is golden too, in the sense of  riches.

Here is a retrospect of my favorite pictures of the golden place. .  Many of them have golden colors and the rest represent the riches of Malheur. 

Our famous cottonwood tree on Central Patrol Road

The oh-so-entertaining Chicogoans, AKA California quail.

The first bumblebee I met up here

One of thousands of yellow-headed blackbirds that came to breed here

Monkey flower showing its nectar guides - the red spots.

Willow blooms- for feasting bees, flies, and beetles

Black-headed grosbeak getting grape jelly snack

Singing bobolink

Headquarters fawns on one of their first  forays away from Mom

Black-crowned night heron.I woke him up and he's a little indignant

Hungry deer eating from my willow tree

One of our breeding sandhill crane pairs

There is also dross here. Malheur Lake has been so degraded by  invasive carp that it can only support  about ten percent of the historic numbers of waterfowl and waders. I came back from my vacations to find almost no water or birds in the wet fields.. And there are very few birds on Malheur and Mud lakes. But the good news is that the refuge is working with other partners to learn ways to control the carp in all of Harney Basin and there is lots of research going on to determine all the ways they can get the upper hand with the carp. I'm hoping that our pot of gold will be carp numbers greatly reduced and maintained, the turbidity in the lake cleared up, and food needed by  the ducks, geese, swans and native fish once more able to get enough light to grow. This will make this place a golden  stopover for birds in the fall, as well as in the spring.

I'm leaving all this gold in a on October 30.  It's always a bittersweet time, looking back at what I'm leaving and looking forward to visiting friends and relatives while waiting to confirm my next assignment. And Lucy is going to ride with me to share adventures and costs so that will be fun.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Painted Hills - Another World

After a full day of visiting the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument  and seeing  the Sheep Rock Unit, Clarno Unit, and driving about 100 miles along the scenic John Day River to and from our camp site, I was finally almost to my favorite destination, the Painted Hills. Lucy had been suitably impressed with the area and called stops as least as often as I did. She also wanted to hike every trail we came across.

"This sure doesn't look like much" was Lucy's comment just before we rounded a corner on the access road to the Painted Hills. Then we hit that first red hill and her next comments were "WOW"  and "STOP". After we got our fill of the views there, we drove into the refuge and immediately had to stop again for pictures. We ended up looking in all the corners of the unit..  It didn't really matter that I'd been there a few months ago - it was all still magical.  In fact, I think I had about 250 pictures on my camera when I finished up there.

The weather prediction had been for rain all weekend but we had mostly clear, or interestingly cloudy skys for most of the morning. Then, just as we finished up, it turned completely cloudy and remained that way for most of the trip home.  But as we stopped for Pizza in Burns, the clouds broke and we had a beautiful sunset.

Below are a few of the pictures I took there. .  If you want to see more, check out my album on Picassa. Words can not describe this magnificent site and pictures can't evoke the huge sense of awe when you are in this place.

 The clays here hold water tightly but when they are dry, which is most of the year, they are dark and have a popcorn texture. Then they get smooth and show as pastel colors when they are full of water. They hold water so tightly, that plants can't grow on the pure clays.

We had one more small adventure on the way home - we got to help herd cattle down the road towards their home ranch.  One of the signs of fall here are cattle being driven or herded from public lands to their home ranches where they will eat hay until spring. We followed them for about fifteen minutes and then worked our way through them for another fifteen minutes or so.

And we didn't find out about an adventure we could have had in the town of Fossil, which we drove through, until we were reading a little newspaper in the pizza restaurant in Burns.   You can hunt fossils at Oregon's only public fossil beds, the Wheeler High School Fossil Beds. For $5.00, you can find fossils, perhaps learn about what they are, and take home three of them.

And finally, one more exciting event in my life.  After having a blonde/senior moment and not being able to upload pictures in the National Wildlife Refuge Association Photography Contest,  I asked for help.  The blog editor started reading my blog and asked me to be a guest blogger - this while I was on the way home from Yellowstone. It was published this week. If you would like to read it, click here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Virtual Hike on Blue Basin Overlook Trail

This second trip to John Day was partly a reprise of my first trip and partly a trip over new territory.  I wanted Lucy to see the beautiful formations in the Sheep Rock unit. We both love to hike so we decided to hike the three mile, 600 feet elevation Blue Basin Overlook Trail. I had done a small part of it on my first trip so we started around it counter clockwise this time. This was a good idea as the trail rises much more gradually this way and you only have to roll down the last steep half mile at the end.

 The trail leads behind the mountains and was in the shade until after I came around this corner.  Looking back gave me this view. 

As I climbed higher, I could see painted hills to my left.

And this mix of soils.

As I got higher yet, I was almost level with this cap of rimrock

Finally we got to the top where I caught up with Lucy who is getting her first glimpse of the blue formations in Blue Basin. This was one mile into the hike and about a 600 foot elevation.

As the trail descended, we could see more and more of these spectacular formations.

And also a long view into the valley, across the John Day River and up into the next hills.

The trail begins a pretty steep descent here, gets level with the formations and then gradually gets almost to the bottom of them about the time you reach the open end of this little canyon.

This is a look back.  The trail winds behind the right side of this picture behind all the formations you can see. 

A closer view shows the awesome formations and colors.

And even closer one can see more than just that remarkable blue.

And there are a few more interesting things to see close up.

Soon we are almost back to the parking lot with this view. That's a corner of the picnic shelter in the left bottom corner.

We shared part of the interpretive trail, Story in Stone, on the way back. This trail runs along the valley floor and leads to places where large animal fossils have been partially excavated and then covered with glass cases so you can see them in situ.

We had also hiked the short and easy Flood of Fire Trail as well as stopped scores of times as we traveled from our BLM campsite along the John Day River ($2.50 for senior pass holders). From here, we were off to the Clarno Unit. We stopped at the fruit orchard, about a mile east of Kimberly, for apples, pears, and plums, all grown along the John Day River. Pictures from these parts of the trips will soon be up on Picassa. Descriptions of all the trails in John Day Fossil Beds are here.