Connecting with Nature


Posts Tagged ‘spring’

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 ( 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 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.

Wildflowers: The season’s greeetings

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April 2011, Connecting With Nature, NCW Greenways
by Susan Ballinger

Soft hues of green carpet the foothills while bright spots of yellow, blue and white blossoms pepper the landscape that surround our central Washington valleys in the month of April. It is hard to find a more beautiful time of year to get out and explore the wild lands of our region, especially for wildflower enthusiasts.
After five months of bitter cold, spring is a time when soils warm and water, released from snow, saturates the ground for a few brief weeks. Our foothills are dominated by big sagebrush, bitterbrush, bunchgrasses and wildflowers adapted to the 7 to 11 inches of total precipitation we get each year.

North Central Washington sits on the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountains, so our foothills rise steeply into forested mountains where precipitation is greater and Ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir trees grow. Valley residents can use their eyes to map the lowest elevation pine trees that form the transition zone between shrub-steppe and forest on our rising foothills. Ravines and gullies serve as vertical connectors, supporting taller shrubs like serviceberry, whose deep-growing roots tap into groundwater.

As you walk or drive around the valleys, scan the hillsides to spot blooming serviceberry shrubs. Their densely blooming, long-petaled white flowers create cloud-like bursts of white with a brief weeklong explosion of blooms.

As you drive the east-west corridor between Wenatchee and Leavenworth, compare the time of serviceberry flowering between the warmer and drier south-facing versus and cooler north-facing slopes. Often, wildflowers will bloom weeks sooner at the same elevation on a south-facing slope, compared to a nearby north-facing slope. Another blooming gradient to follow is elevational: Spring comes earlier at lower elevations, so if you miss the buttercups in March along the Columbia River, travel uphill.
Compared to mobile animals, plants can’t walk away when the weather gets severe and water is scarce. Plants employ several strategies that allow them to cope with water shortage and thrive in an arid environment.

Most shrub-steppe wildflowers are long-lived perennials whose above-ground stems and leaves die back, but underground roots remain alive. Our earliest blooming perennial wildflowers — like yellowbells, bluebells and shooting star — all concentrate their rapid above-ground growth of leaves, stems, flowers and seeds into a few balmy mild weeks and then quickly wither and die. Above-ground life exists for less than two months and then rest buried in soil until the next spring.

Some of our native plants require a viewer to get down on hands and knees for close-up inspections.

Healthy shrub-steppe soils are carpeted with a layer of living cryptobiotic crust: an interwoven population of mosses, lichens, simple plants, fungi and bacteria that form a multi-layered coating on the land. These simple organisms can quickly revert to dormancy when water is scarce. Try pouring a bit of water onto a patch of shrub-steppe soil and watch for a few moments to see crust suddenly green up as its living members start using sunlight to make food once water is available! This crust provides essential ecosystem services to other plants by trapping moisture in the soil, transferring nutrients and holding soil in place.

The crust is easily damaged by intensive animal and people traffic. It is very slow-growing, so you can spot lands that have been disturbed by the lack of a crust covering the mineral soils. By staying on established trails, hikers can help preserve the fragile, living crust.

The diversity of wildflowers in our region means travelers can find blooming plants from earliest spring into late fall. Start now by getting out to see the amazing display of color in our wild lands.

Susan Ballinger works as a consulting biologist with expertise in ecology and natural history. She serves on the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust board and is co-chair of the Wenatchee Chapter, Washington Native Plant Society.

Memories of Spring in North Central Washington

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Memories of spring in North Central Washington

April 2009, Nature of Place, NCW Green Ways

By Nancy Warner

Spring moves like a wave over North Central Washington each year as the days grow longer and the ground thaws and warms.  The chirp of the returning robins and the crocus flowers poking up in our gardens tells us it’s coming. We know it?s here when we push our heavy coats to the back of the closet and follow the urge to dig in the dirt, ride bikes, play marbles, and take a deep breath of fresh air.   

Sagebrush Buttercup Like everything else, the way you experience spring in North Central Washington depends on when and where you stand.
According to longtime Waterville resident Nadra Rivers, “Spring arrives late and with a good deal of wind.”  Most wildflowers are scarce until late April or May, but Nadra and her daughter Kathi Rivers Shannon remember the big V-shaped flocks of Canada geese flying over on their way north as an early sign of spring. “It was a big season changer,” Kathi says. “But now more geese stay around the area so it doesn?t have the big effect it used to have.”
For Withrow-area farmer Randy Uhrich, spring was a hectic time preparing the fields for planting. “The ground would have to dry out enough to plow — this would start from the first to the middle of April depending on the season. Dad always said it was going to be cold until the snow is off Badger Mountain. That basically still holds. So you’d get out in the fields as soon as you could to work the ground, but it would be cold. Things wouldn’t germinate as fast.”
John Thoren grew up on a ranch in the northeast portion of Douglas County where each spring his mother “used to watch for the buttercups coming out on the south side of the hills.”  He remembers how all kinds of ducks, including mallards, would come into the potholes across the ranch, after the thaw, along with tadpoles and salamanders. “Some people used to use lakes on our place to catch salamanders or waterdogs, which they used for fish bait.” 
He also remembers how they’d see sandhill cranes in March to early April. “I would guess there was 100 to 200 that would migrate through that area,” he says, an event that sparked interest in nearby Waterville. Nadra Rivers recalls how “the word would go through town that the cranes are out by Mansfield — and we’d pile the kids in and go out and look at the cranes.”
In addition to ducks and cranes, the Thoren family wheatfields attracted migrating Canada geese in the spring. “We had one field — and if that field was in fall wheat so it was green in the spring, the geese would just decimate it. It was just grazed off just as slick as the tabletop. Hundreds of geese — maybe even thousands. They would come in off of Banks Lake to the ranch and, on a quarter section, they could look almost black — there could be that many geese on it.”
Further north at the Sinlahekin State Wildlife Area in Okanogan County, manager Dale Swedberg says, “It’s possible to see marmots (ground hog or rock chuck) as early as April when fishing season opens up. As soon as the first green vegetation appears you’ll see them out foraging.”
Mule deer and mountain goats also feed on the fresh green plants that come up on the south slopes of the Sinlahekin Valley. “Buttercups, yellow bells, bluebells, spring beauties, and balsamroot will come up around then. And, if it’s a particularly wet spring, some of the hillsides will be literally blue from the lupine.”
Nancy Warner is program director for the Nature of Place, a program of the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS).

Sandhill Cranes

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John Thoren talks about sandhill cranes in the spring.
Sandhill Cranes (MP3)

Sandhill Cranes

Spring on the Waterville Plateau

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Nadra Rivers and Kathi Rivers Shannon talking about spring on the Waterville Plateau, March 14, 2009.

May Baskets (MP3)

Wildflowers (MP3)

Project Budburst is collecting climate change data on the timing of leafing and flowering in the area.

Larkspur Oregon Sunshine Bitterroot

Collecting Maple Sap in Stehekin

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Billy Sullivan from Stehekin talking about collecting maple sap to make syrup in the spring, January 15, 2009.
Maple Sap (MP3)