Connecting with Nature

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Share your summer sightings

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July 7, 2011, Connecting With Nature, NCW Greenways
by Nancy Warner

We would like to invite all North Central Washington residents to join the Network of Naturalists and help create a nature journal for the region via our recently expanded Connecting With Nature website (connectingwithnature.org). With grant support from the “Connecting People With Nature” program of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, IRIS created this website where you can record your observations and post photos of plants, animals, weather and other phenomena that mark the seasonal rhythms of our region. Submit entries on your own or team up with a friend or family member. This is good and affordable family fun!

All nature observations are welcome — from notes on the familiar birds and insects you see in your backyard and garden to the new and sometimes breathtaking observations you make while exploring the wilds of our region. Help track seasonal changes and patterns by noting when and where you see insects around huckleberry flowers and those huckleberries ripening, along with salmon spawning, and chanterelle mushrooms popping up. Note the first strings of geese you see heading south and when the leaves begin to change color in the fall. We’ll highlight your contributions in The Wenatchee World and suggest others to track. Together, these observations will chronicle trends and changes and provide a legacy for future generations to build upon.

To join the Network of Naturalists, begin recording your observations in the regional nature journal at connectingwithnature.org. For more information, call Nancy Warner at 881-1812.

Nancy Warner coordinates the Connecting With Nature program for the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS), a non-profit group dedicated to fostering sustainable rural communities by connecting people, place and possibility.

Add birding to your life list

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January 2011, Connecting With Nature, NCW Greenways
by Mark Oswood

Birds are perhaps the most watchable wildlife — present everywhere, identifying characteristics visible at a distance and an achievable challenge.

There are an estimated 60 million-plus birders in the United States, ranging from beginning backyard birdwatchers to experts who pursue hard-to-find birds in hard-to-get-to places. Some of these folks are solitary while others are more gregarious, looking for birds and sharing the joy in what they find.

Beginner to expert, solitary to social, most birders share a common bond: curiosity, a love of the outdoors and an interest in learning.

Birding is a lifelong sport in which all can participate.

What kind of birder are you? Do you travel? The trees at a dreary freeway rest area might hold a never-before-seen bird or provide an uncommonly close look at a common bird. The balcony of your hotel room might provide a perch to see an osprey gliding by, fish in talons. Maybe you are, like Thoreau, someone who travels far by staying close to home.

Do you know that the American robin has at least five distinct songs and calls? The possibilities of what you can see in your own backyard or neighborhood are enough to last a lifetime.

Your travels, at home or far away, will make thousands of memories, but what will you use to contain the memories? The brain is leaky; you need paper.
A “unit of memory” in your journal might include the birds that you saw or heard, the context of place, date, weather and maybe any notions that arise.

You might write: “At Hydro Park, cold evening near dusk, 13 December, 2010. I walked along the short grass near the river.

A great blue heron rose up from the river’s edge with the usual irritated-sounding call and looking ancient, like a pterodactyl.”
Sketches and quick paintings are natural adjuncts to the words in your journal.

For those of us unburdened by artistic talent, even diagrammatic sketches of markings and flight patterns can help with later bird identifications, when reference books and the Web are at hand.

There are excellent books on nature journaling, all full of hopeful evidence that art skills sufficient for nature journaling can be learned.

You might search for books by Clare Walker Leslie, Hannah Hinchman or Susan Leigh Tomlinson. Better yet, visit Heather Wallis Murphy, a local master of nature journaling, at her website, www.wildtales.com.

Your journals will, over the years, become repositories, not only of memories but also of valuable scientific data.

Your records of birds seen year-to-year can reveal changes in habitat, weather patterns and shifts in predators or diseases. Stacking the years on top of one another reveals the choreography of the seasons: arrivals of birds from wintering areas, first blossoms of flowers, eggs in nests, berries ripening, departures for the south.

Your journal entries become more powerful when joined with those from others who record their sightings.

We invite you to share your observations of birds and help us all learn more about their numbers, distribution and habits.

You can participate in a nationwide event, the Great Backyard Bird Count. You can also add your bird observations to the online nature journal for our region at www.connectingwithnature.org.

Mark Oswood is a retired biology professor but a beginning birder (old dogs can be lifelong learners). He is president of the NCW Audubon Society (www.ncwaudubon.org), a local chapter of the National Audubon Society dedicated to conserving and restoring natural ecosystems for the benefit of birds and people.

This piece is also published in the Wenatchee World at www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/2011/jan/03/add-birding-to-your-life-list/

Keeping an Eye on Nature in NCW

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October 2010, Nature of Place, NCW Greenways
by Nancy Warner

“It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story,” as one Native American saying goes. This also describes the approach we take in the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS) as we gather many stories to help us better understand the nature of North Central Washington.

Like individual pieces of a larger puzzle, each of the stories that people share about their connections with nature contribute to the collective picture of how this place works. And the more we know about the plants, animals and natural systems that support us, the more apt we are to thrive.

Some of this knowledge of place is passed on in journal entries about events such as the first sagebrush buttercup to bloom each spring or the first freeze in the fall. These notes help keep us in touch with the seasonal joys of living in this place and inform our plans for farming and gardening each year.

When we combine our collective notes with the memories and photos of longtime residents, we’re better able to understand how longer-term processes have shaped our forests, farmlands, rivers and shrub-steppe and to see future possibilities. It becomes a richer story -— a story of wonder and change that bridges generations and invites others to participate in its telling.

George Honey of Entiat is one of the many people whose memories are helping us learn about how the landscapes and communities of this region have changed. Born in the Methow Valley in 1933, George worked in farming and logging before starting his career with the Forest Service.

He recalls how in the 1940s the Forest Service would gather a crew and then walk all night to go fight a fire. “I remember one time I was taking a crew way up War Creek. We had a fire going between Lake Chelan and the Twisp River. And we hiked about 15 miles to get in there.” Every other guy carried a flashlight,” he explained. “You’d see all these eyes shining along the trail — I’m sure cougar, deer and I don’t know what all. You had to be careful and you had to have somebody lead the way who knew the country.”

It was water, rather than fire, that got some of the wildlife moving up in the country where Homer Wolfe was born in 1916 — a fruit ranch between Wilbur and the Columbia River. He remembers how the water backed up after Grand Coulee Dam was built and the deer were able to swim across the river from the north. “We had deer coming across and establishing themselves in the canyon areas and up on the edge of the wheat fields,” he recalls. “And my brother would shoot a deer every year.”

George and Homer both grew up in times when the success of the family’s farm and garden depended, in large part, on their knowledge of the place. “Your parents would teach you things, and that knowledge was passed on to your siblings,” George explained. One example of such knowledge was how to avoid planting the garden too early, before the ground was warm enough. In the Methow, he learned to wait until “the snow got off of Mount McClure” to plant any seeds.

Homer’s family raised about 50 chickens a year — enough for a roast each Sunday.
He describes the interaction between two native species of birds that enabled more of his family’s chickens to survive. “In that country there was a bird called a kingbird, and they would build a nest up on the edge of the windmill. And they had a particular yearn to chase (Cooper’s) hawks if they ever showed up. And whenever they started their squawking the chickens knew what they were talking about because the mother hen would call all the chicks together and the kingbird would dive down on the hawk until that hawk was crazy.”

What observation about nature have you made that can help others be successful?

Join others across North Central Washington as we create a naturalist’s journal of our region. Post your observations about the weather, including temperature, moisture levels and significant storm events, along with those about specific plants and animals you see near your home or area.

Start a journal and track: date/time, location, observer, weather notes, and your observations. Share your observations with the community by posting them here as comments. Submit entries on your own or team up with a friend or family member. Together our observations will chronicle trends and changes and provide a legacy for future generations to build on.

Post your observations by adding to the comments in the link below.

IRIS