Friday, January 25, 2013

Drum Circle Around the Bonfire

The last episode of Thursday’s Soup and Presentation series included something a little different. Kip and Celeste Roberts came to the Basecamp with instruments of all shapes and sizes. 
After a hearty soup dinner, the group of community members, guests, and employees alike circled around a strong bonfire. Kip and Celeste passed drums, triangles, tambourines and even a wash board to all.

Celeste helped us find our communal beat and together we sang, chanted and enjoyed the warmth of the fire against the winter night.

Some people led the group in their favorite songs, other bravely volunteered to lead the rhythm section and direct the group in call and response drumming. It takes some gusto to guide others through the rhythm of your choice or with your voice.

All in all, it was a fun warm event ending with smiles all around. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wintering Bald Eagle Surveys in the Methow Valley

This winter, naturalists are braving the cold temperatures while joining the North Cascades Basecamp to survey bald eagle distribution and night roosting locations in the mid to upper Methow Valley.  On January 13th,  five intrepid explorers documented 11 eagles between Twisp and Carlton, three of which were spotted as they were flying into their evening roost. One highlight included an up-close view of several perched juveniles eagles, likely feasting on prey near the river below, as their beaks were covered with blood. 

One-year bald eagle juvenile near Carlton. 
Notice the blood on its beak!

As the group is observing and documenting bald eagles and their locations, they are also becoming skilled at aging these slow to mature birds. Observers expected one of the eagles to be a first-year bird (born in 2012) as it’s head was dark brown, beak had very little yellow on it, and its eyes were still dark brown.  At two years of age, bald eagles have more yellow developing on their beak, lighter brown eyes, a lighter golden brown head, some white mottling on their chest, and a fair amount of white on the underside of their wings. At three years, they have further lightened heads, beak, and eyes, as well as a dark brown stripe behind their eyes. A four-year juvenile resembles a mature adult, except for some minimal brown speckling on their head and tail.   Other highlights of the surveys include great views of an adult golden eagle, two red tail hawks, and two rough-legged hawks near Twisp. 
Three-year old bald eagle juvenile with white 
on top of head and dark stripe behind the eye. 
If you’d like to learn more about bald eagles and join these surveys with the North Cascades Basecamp, surveys are every other Sunday between 1-5:30pm; cost is $20/person.  Email, or call (509)996-2334 for more information.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Notes on Mountain Alders and an Infectious Tongue Gall

Many of the Mountain Alders (Alnus incana subsp tenuifolia) in the Mazama area appear to be infected with the fungal disease Alder Tongue Gall (Taphrina alni).

Mountain alders are a dominant, deciduous tree species in riparian zones in Washington and Oregon that often forms thickets (Filip). It is a small to medium sized tree, usually growing to around 50 to 65 feet with a maximum lifespan of 60 to 100 years. A. incana has smooth gray bark, matt green ovoid leaves, and catkins reaching 5 -10 cm in length (male) or 1.5 cm long (female). Its tiny seeds are borne in egg-shaped cones, 2-3 cm long and 1-2 cm in diameter (Flora of North America).  

A healthy A. incana in bloom.
.Joe F. Duft. USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora:
Field office guide to plant species
. West Region, Sacramento.
Mountain alders are important trees in their riparian ecosystems. During the summer, A. incana provides critical shade to wildlife and the rivers they grow near, keeping the water at a cooler temperature vital for fish (Fillip). In addition, alders are pioneer species, meaning they are one of the first plants to colonize a disrupted or damaged ecosystem. To do so, alders have adaptations that allow them to grow even when conditions are not ideal. One such adaptation is their symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that absorb nitrogen from the air and make it available for use by the trees (Tree Species Compendium). The alders' early presence in an ecosystem increases the amount of available nitrogen in the soil, making it possible for more vegetative species to follow (Featherstone).

A. incana in their riparian habitat.
 Photo © 2009 Dr. Mark S. Brunell.
The Native Americans also recognized the importance of the Mountain Alder and used it medicinally to treat anemia, internal bleeding, urinary problems, sprains, bruises, backaches, itches, dysentery, and hemorrhoids. They also used it as an emetic, a compress or wash for sore eyes, to cure saddle gall in horses, and when mixed with powdered bumblebees, to ease painful labors (Flora of North America).

When you take a peek around the valley this winter, many of the flowering parts of these alders look a bit strange. Clumps of curly, tangled, ribbon-like structures project from many of the cones- signs of the alder tongue gall.

Infected Mountain Alder near
the bridge at Basecamp.

The fungus Taphrina alni, originating from the geographical area of Austria and Slovakia, is one of the almost 100 species in the ascomycete genus Taphrina, which is characterized by its parasitic mycelial state on a number of vascular plants. One of the ways in which the species are differentiated includes their host plants (Rodrigues). T. alni specifically infects Alders, producing ‘tongue-like’ growths originating either from the bracteoles, in which case the growth points down, or the catkin ovarian tissue, in which case it points upwards. When the catkin is still green, T. alni develops as a flat projection and grows outward between the scales (Bacigalova). Throughout the season, the colors of the gall change with the trees, and remain hard and brown on the catkin until the tree drops them. T. alni spores are produced on the infected cones and are transferred via wind to other trees. While it has been stated that T. alni causes no measureable damage to Alders, the gall is persistent and seems quite widespread in the valley, warranting further research and observation before we can be sure (Wikipedia Contributors). 
T. Alni-infected catkin from an Alder at Basecamp

Catkins from an Alder at Basecamp
with minimal Alder Tongue Gall growths
Alder Tongue Gall projections removed from the catkin they grew on 


It will be interesting to keep watch on the Mountain Alders in the valley to see whether animals are less likely to eat seeds from affected cones, if the presence of the gall increases over the coming years, or if the gall causes any other changes to these trees that are so important to our ecosystem.  


Bacigalova, K., Lopandic, K., Rodrigues, et al. 2003. Phenotypic and genotypic identification and phylogenetic characterisation of taphrina fungi on alder. Mycological Progress. 2(3), 179-196. doi:

Ellis, H.A. 2001. Cecidology. 16:1.

Featherstone, AW. Species Profile: Common Alder. Trees For Life.

Filip, GM, Parks, CA, and Starr GL 1992 Incidence of Wound-Associated Infection by Cytospora sp. in Mountain Alder, Red-Osier Dogwood, and Black Hawthorn in Oregon. Northwest Science.

Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+.  Flora of North America North of Mexico.  16+ vols.  New York and Oxford.

Rodriguez, M.G. & Fonseca, A. 2003. Molecular systematics of the dimorphic ascomycete genus Taphrina. IJSEM.  53: 607-616. doi: 10.1099/ijs.0.02437-0

Wikipedia Contributers. 2012. Taphrina alni. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 14, 2013, from

Winter Wildlife Tracking

On Saturday morning, a determined group of eight gathered near the cozy fire in the North Cascades Basecamp Lodge. We listened as our animal tracking guide, Gabe Spence, described his experience learning about tracks, following animals footprints in all environments, and how we would do just that here in the Methow. 
The group examines our
first track sighting

As we embarked into the snowy landscape in Mazama, the conditions proved perfect for tracking. The sun was shining, the snow was soft, the temperature cold enough (as in 3 degrees...brrr!) to have preserved every movement of the animals over the last 3 days.
Gabe identifying tracks

With Gabe’s help, the group quickly spotted tracks with two large imprints in front and two smaller and offset imprints behind. The medium sized animal must hop given the distance between the tracks, and since frogs are out of the season, we decided on the snowshoe hare. 

Snow shoe hare track
These quick and industrious hares seem to do well in this environment  as we saw their tracks on many occasions.  The  low hanging trees provide fir needles, buds and twig snacks for their seasonal diet. Deer, whose tracks we also found close by in the forest, also devour similar woody treats during the winter season. 

Not only were we able to identify animal tracks, but many of the prints in the snow told the story behind the animal’s movement. Our investigations found motivation behind an animal’s directional movements and the speed of their gait. As one member of the group said, “we are like detectives, using clues to tell us what happened!”
The group following coyote tracks near Beaver Pond

Before returning for lunch, we followed tracks we initially believed to be one coyote. Our group carefully walked alongside the prints and eventually recognized that three coyotes were tracking lunch of their own 

The coyotes’ footprints led us to a tree where we found another animal’s tracks and remains of their lunch: pine cone remnants. Clearly, the coyotes were hoping to feast on unsuspecting red squirrels. The coyotes’ movements through the trees harboring squirrels explained their thinking and know-how to find their prey. 

After warming our cold toes by the fire and a hearty lunch at the Basecamp, we drove to another site in Mazama where Gabe frequently spots cougars. Though we did not find cougar evidence on this day, we found many tracks that would likely be a cougar feast. Deer, weasel, field mice, and coyote tracks lay preserved for examination. 
Small tracks hurried for
shelter in the snow

We finished our tracking day by following a deer. Deer tracks are usually clearly identifiable but can be tricky depending on the snow conditions. Their long, thin legs and heavy bodies leave connected strides forming a squared off trough in the deep snow where many deer have walked.  

In the deep now, deer, much like snow shoers, will generally follow one another, staying in the tracks already laid by another thus saving time and energy.  In the deep powder snow, it was difficult to determine the direction of travel since last week’s snow most often fell into the tracks, obscuring the actual footprint.  After much discussion, we learned from Gabe that in these conditions, the leading pointed edge of the hoof where the track is deeper indicates the direction the deer traveled.

The group after a fun day following tracks!
It was with trepidation that many members of the group took off gloves to put their hand into the snow of the deep track. They found out which direction the deer was walking, exposing their fingers to the frigid temperatures. We continued following the tracks which eventually led us to our parked cars. The deer must have known we were all chilly after an exciting day in the great outdoors. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The New Ecology Center Classroom!

When the Roberts family owned the Basecamp, Dick built a workshop as a place to finish projects of his own and focus on his varied interests. Several years ago, Kim and Steve happily realized the many opportunities the space provides, and thus, a new project was born at Basecamp. 
Even Mica the dog
tried to get in on the action
Owners, employees, interns, friends, a contractor, and Mica the dog to boot were vital in changing the space to one as versatile to host yoga retreats, weekly Thursday lecture series, art retreats, and hopefully some movie nights throughout the winter!Our beloved contractor, Andy, helped everyone find their inner carpenter and painter. 
Andy demonstrating the 
proper grouting technique

As the new marketing intern freshly back West from New York City, I was excited to get right to work; there was certainly many new skills to learn. After clearing out the workshop, the walls, ceiling, insulation, floors, wiring, and heating needed attention. 
New skill: mixing colors for plaster
During the process, friends from near and far stopped in to see and help with this meaningful project assisting employees with all aspects of the work. Catherine, the biology intern, had a visit from her boyfriend, Dan. He excitedly jumped right to work helping her cement beautiful ceramic tiles! Thanks Dan!
Dan helped us lay tiles and Methow River Rocks


Swirls of tile started the mosaic
 With the lighting installed and the walls finished, the final touch was leveling the cement floor and laying bamboo wood.   

Kim and Steve led the group in problem solving throughout the entire experience, and the flooring was no different. With some help from friends and neighbors, and the drive for completion, the classroom was finished just in time for Susan Prichard's presentation on native insects of the Methow Valley on last Thursday! 
Thursday's group gathered for Susan's presentation
With the lighting dimmed for her slideshow, it felt so satisfying to see lecturing and learning happening in the refinished Classroom.  

Here's to much more learning, and laughter all year long.   
Happy New Years!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

MVSTA Ecology Snowshoe Tour

Annika from MVSTA lead a group on another great naturalist snowshoe tour around the Basecamp trails Saturday morning. Come join us at the North Cascades Basecamp every Saturday from 11AM-1PM for a guided naturalist snowshoe tour. Here are some of the highlights from this week!

The group learned the difference in the front foot placement of ground dwelling hoppers, like the snowshoe hare, and tree dwelling hoppers, such as the red squirrel. Tree dwelling hoppers’ front feet land parallel to one another, while ground hoppers’ are usually staggered. 

Snowshoe hare track showing uneven front feet placement

Red squirrel tracks with parallel front and back feet placement.

We encountered the tracks of a walking animal, most likely a deer. Annika took the chance to explain how the most efficient way of moving in the snow for walking animals (felines, canines, and undulates) is to place their back foot in the track left from their front foot, leaving a track that looks as if it was created by animal with only two legs. 

Examining the tracks
Two of the people on the tour demonstrate how a
four legged animal could walk more efficiently in the
 snow by stepping into the tracks left by the front feet

We saw the zipper-like track of a mouse- a hopper that leaves a tail track.

Some lucky squirrel has found a prime dining spot. Here we can see the remnants of its pine cone feast!

In the end, we all left feeling more appreciative of nature!