Monday, September 15, 2014

5th Annual Raptor Migration Festival

Raptor viewing in the Methow Valley spanned from Pateros to Mazama this weekend, during the 5th Annual Raptor Migration Festival.  Pateros to Chelan Ridge field day was hosted on Saturday Sept 14th by the Audubon Society of Northcentral Washington, and Harts Pass field day was hosted on Sunday, Sept 14th by the North Cascades Basecamp.  

It was an amazing day of sunshine, south winds, incredible viewscapes and great group of 30 enthusiastic birders.  Birders were welcomed at the Basecamp for a pancake birding breakfast, and then carpooled up to Harts Pass with Kent Woodruff as our birding guide.  The group casually observed 60 raptors throughout the day, including 22 sharp-shinned hawks,  7 merlins (one who caught and consumed a dragonfly on the wing), 4 goshawks, 4 prairie falcons, 3 golden eagles, 2 swainson's hawks, 1 broadwing hawk, 1 peregrine and many others...  The group also observed horned larks, American pipits, ravens and clarks nutcrackers.  
Kent helped beginner birders by discussing "shape and behavior" as the key components for raptor identification.  For our two similar sized and shaped accipiters, the shrug-shouldered and sharp square tail helped remember the sharp-shinned hawk, while the C-shaped curve in a Coopers hawk tail helps distinguish it from its smaller but overlapping sized cousin.
The warm summer -like weather, a steady wind, and full visability with no clouds on any horizon, was an ideal landscape for a day of birding.  The best advice given for the day, do not identify your bird til it is far in the distance; then your birdwatching friends can't disagree with your field ID when its gone.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kids Art and Nature Camp- Garden Camp

Campers holding up their garden inspired banners
Chickens, snap peas and bunnies, oh my! We finished the last art and nature camp this past week at the North Cascades Basecamp, entitled Garden Camp. We had 13 kids join instructors Deirdre Cassidy, Kim Romain-Bondi and Raechel Youngberg. Our week kicked off with in-depth exploration of vegetable plants in the beautiful Basecamp garden. 

Amelia works on her carrot banner
Each kid completed a series of sketches in the garden focused on the garden plants and pollinators. The kids then drew a picture inspired by the garden, which they transformed into brightly colored garden banners. 
The wonderful intersection of art and nature did not end there. The kids used big luscious cabbage leaves gathered from the garden as a template for creating concrete birdbaths. The cabbage leaves left beautiful and intricate impressions onto the concrete. These birdbaths will be a wonderful addition to all the kids' home gardens or yards.
An unpainted birdbath
Later campers furthered their knowledge of garden plants while we practiced saving seeds. We smelled the calendula flowers while learning that it can be made into a salve to help treat rashes, as well as cuts and scrapes. We tasted spicy mizuna, a Japanese mustard green, that is a great addition to any salad. We crushed coriander pods in-between our fingers while inhaling its pungent aroma. The last seed we collected was swiss chard, a bright dark leafy green that can be transformed into a variety of dishes. 
Campers saving seeds
We also had the chance to hold baby chicks that have hatched in the garden within the last couple of weeks. It was a great opportunity for both human and feathered friends to become socialized with each other. We all enjoyed assisting the chicks with their perching practice by placing them on our shoulders and sometimes heads!
Emmet with his favorite chick, Pineapple.

Nichola with a perching chick

Lily familiarizing with chicks and their little sharp nails
We finished the week creating colorful designs with rocks, twigs, weeds, and other natural materials down near the river. Our designs were inspired by Andy Goldberg, an artist famous for transforming natural materials into awe-inspiring works of art. 
Evan showing off his mullenweed design 
Lilliana working on her concentric rock design
All in all we had a wonderful week here at the Basecamp exploring the garden, river, artistic endeavors, and friendships.   

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kids Nature and Art Camp- Flowers, Plants, Leaves and Trees

Campers with their finished mosaics
We had a beautiful botanical adventure-filled week at the North Cascades Basecamp with Native Flowers, Plants, Leaves and Trees Camp led by Deirdre Cassidy, Kim Romain-Bondi and Raechel Youngberg. The rain may have filled the sky for the better part of the week but we didn’t let it dampen our spirits!  We warmed up our creative juices with fun drawing classes led by Deirdre and Kim, and practiced our blind contour drawing with flowers and then faces to hilarious results.
Jessie with her blind contour drawing of her sister

We ventured outside for some fun in the Native Plant Restoration Garden where we completed a scavenger hunt to identify each plant and their medicinal/ethnobotany facts.  We also examined and sketched native flowers and leaves. 
Examining flowers for botanical illustrations
These flowers and leaves then became inspiration for individual mosaics,
Freya adds grout
which were the perfect art project for this week as they allowed us to stay dry inside the classroom, but with the barn doors opened up for fresh summer air.  The kids worked from designing their mosaic, to applying glass, grout, and finally wiping the whole thing clean for beautiful and colorful trivets to take home with them! 

Campers cleaning up their mosaic creations
The soggy weather didn’t stop us from playing camp games, climbing the play structure, or taking a stroll down to the river to look at rocks in the calm river bed.   What a fantastic group of campers and a great week of art and nature!
Freetime on the Basecamp play-structure
Happy campers outside during a sunburst

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kids Art and Nature Camp- Habitat Habitat!

We just finished our first Art and Nature Camp at the North Cascades Basecamp, titled Habitat, Habitat, Habitat.  We had 12 kids join Deirdre Cassidy, Kim Romain-Bondi, and Raechel Youngberg for a great week.  We started our week with nature walks and discussions of habitat, and native wildlife's adaptations to to live in Methow Valley.  Our sketch books came in handy as recorded our observations and created imaginary creatures with a random variety of adaptations, such as long claws, a shadow tail, big ears, round body, and a nut-cracking bill. The kids created incredible paper mache animals based on what we had learned, some with realistic features in the end, and others with folk art colors of their imagination.  Games in the grass and a fair amount of waterplay kept the days fun and cool.   The photo below shows our floating habitat we found in the swimming pond, where we identified 7 species of insects or animals that were using it.  We can't wait for next weeks camp- Native Plants, Trees, Flowers, and Leaves.
Raechel's lesson about how snakes are adapted to different habitats

Busy children were amazingly focused as they started their paper mache animals

Folk art color creations on Nella's snake
Kelley fox is ready for paint
Payten adds detail to her kingfisher masterpiece


Floating habitat in the swimming pond


Homemade Apricot Honey Fruit Leather

The Basecamp has been swimming in ripe fruit lately due to our CSA's from Smallwood Harvest Farm. We decided to make a couple of different types of fruit leather the other night but the recipe we will feature is for apricot fruit leather. Homemade fruit leather is an excellent way to use up overly ripe fruit and tastes absolutely amazing any time of the year.

Homemade Apricot Honey Fruit Leather 
For our fruit leather we used a dehydrator but you can easily adjust this recipe to be baked in an oven. Yield: 2 plates fruit leather-about 10 fruit roll ups

8 cups organic ripe apricots
1/2 cup homemade grape juice (you can substitute 1 cup water if necessary)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup organic white sugar 1/2 cup fresh organic honey

1.) Cut apricots in half and remove the pits
2.) Combine apricots, sugar, honey, grape juice, and lime juice in a large sauce pan and place over medium-low heat.
3.) Continuously stir and mash the apricot mixture for 20-30 minutes while it remains on medium-low heat.
4.) Blend mixture in a stand blender until smooth.
5.) Line dehydrator plates with parchment paper
6.) Pour mixture onto lined dehydrator plates, ensure that the mixture spreads evenly over the plates or else dehydrating time will vary between sections.
7.) Dehydrate at 150 degrees F for around around12 hours.

The finished product waiting to be cut up! 
Yum! Fresh apricots and finished fruit leather! 

Watching the landscape heal after a fire

The past month has been the most impactful few weeks the Bondi family has experienced in our 15 years of inhabiting the Methow Valley.  Longer term residents of this valley compare July's wildfire events to the floods of 1948.  As the Methow Conservancy's Executive Director Jason Paulson describes in their monthly e-news, "these fires are writing a new chapter in the ecological and human history of the Methow Valley".

We feel for our Methow Valley friends who were caught in the fire's way.  This chapter in the human history of the Methow Valley is certainly painful and will take years to fully rebuild and move on.  At the same time, this chapter in the ecological history of the valley was long overdue.   The effectiveness of the last century of forest fire policy- Smokey the Bear has spent the last 100 years putting out wildfires- left our our dry ponderosa pine woodlands and open shrub-steppe landscapes ready to burn.  The build up of brush and trees and woody debris made these fires event inevitable. 

One way to watch, assess, and learn about the ecological recovery of the land is to set up a long term monitoring plot.  All you need is a notebook and a pencil, a compass and a camera, and maybe a plant book or two.  The simplest monitoring plot is a "hub and wheel" design- one with a permanent center point and multiple spokes radiating out from the center- where you will take repeatable photographs to document changes over time.  You will want to establish your monitoring plot and take your pictures as soon as possible after the fires.  Do it now!

Locate your center point in a relevant location of significant size, say in the middle of a burned field, open meadow, or pine woodland of an acre or more of size.  A permanent feature such as a boulder, a well casing, or a survey marker makes for a great center point for your plot.  Standing at your center point, use your compass to find the four virtual spokes of North (360°), South (180°), East (90°), and West (270°).  There.  You have a long-term monitoring plot prepared.  If you would like, you can extend a measuring tape out to 10, 20, or even 50 feet and install an end point. Really you just need to be able to repeat your center point and relocated true north, south, east, and west.

In your notebook, write down the date, time, and weather conditions at the time of our monitoring.  You will want to revisit your plot at about the same time each year under similar weather conditions.  Now grab your camera and compass.  To begin, line up your compass along the North spoke, then at a repeatable height (~5.5 feet/head height), hold your camera to take two photographs.  The first should follow the spoke at ~5.5 feet above the ground height to the horizon.  For the second, orient your camera downward to photograph the ground cover along the first 10 feet or so of the spoke.  Next, line up with your compass along the East, South, and West spokes and repeat the photography.  You should end up with eight photos total.  Make sure to write in your notebook how far you zoomed in/out for each photo, and to number each photograph.

These photographs capture the look of the landscape at that point in time.  With each subsequent year of photography taken at the same monitoring plot, you create a long term record of the conditions as they change over time.  You will need at least a year or two to see changes; you might need 10, 20, or even more to see larger scale changes.  Watch for new a sheen of green as grasses grow in.  Watch for the splashes of color from native flowering plants.  You will probably see the new shoots of sprouting shrubs and trees.  A good plant book (visit your local bookstore!) will help identify new plants your see on the ground in your plot!  Over multiple years, these shrubs and trees may obscure the horizon in your photographs.   The more persistent you are the more you will be able to help write this chapter on the ecological recovery of the landscape.

Landscape looking North two days after the fire August 08, 2014

Landscape looking (just west of) North May 23, 2010

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Second Grade Field Trip

This winter we shipped the Methow Valley Elementary second grade class up to the North Cascades Basecamp for a field trip to learn about how animals adapt to winter.  There was a brief introduction in the Ecology Classroom, where Kim introduced myriad different kinds of adaptations, comparing and contrasting them to the methods that humans have developed to cope with the cold.  We all have the same needs to survive, and each creature has its own methods of achieving these basic survival essentials.

She talked about the warm coats humans wear for winter, whereas some animals grow new layers of fur, or hollow fur that traps more heat near the body, and compared our drying, canning, and preserving of foods to the caching that many animals do to keep fed through the sparse, snowy months.

After introducing the kids to the theme of the day, we split up into four groups, which rotated through different stations: The first was in the classroom working on some art projects and word games related to adaptations.  The kids then strapped on snowshoes and got to tromp around the forest surrounding the Basecamp looking for tracks and exploring different animal habitats with Kim and Steve.

Finally they were introduced to the world of subnivean creatures, who burrow under the snow and live in tunnels and dens in the low layer of snow near ground, where the snow provides insulation from the cold winter air and traps the animals' body heat around them.  Burrowing was something the kids could certainly relate to and they grabbed their "claws" (shovels) and got to work excavating the 4-8 foot snow piles around the warming hut with gusto.  We were even able to take some temperature readings in some of the burrows and compare them with the air temperature to see the effects of snow insulation.

Much fun was had by all, and, speaking for myself at least, we learned a lot about how many different ways there are to adapt to the harsh conditions we face.