Monday, December 11, 2006

Mount Talbert Nature Park

A new major addtion to the area's urban parks system, this hilltop preserve has a decidedly non-urban look and feel. Mount Talbert is one of many Portland-area peaks resulting from the Boring Volcanics series. A set of trails has now been placed in the park. One circles the mountain, another crosses over the 750 ft. elevation maple and oak covered top, while others fan out to the several trailheads. A notable feature of the park is the undegraded nature of the plant life. Though the trees are young, with the biggest firs only 2 to 3 feet in diameter, there are few invasive non-native plants under the forest canopy, and the natural, native plant associations are still in place.

Here at Mount Talbert, after logging perhaps 60-80 years ago, the trees and native forest floor vegetation was able to return heartily. Low elevation areas with intact natural plant communities are actually unusual, as most of the areas in the valleys and low elevation slopes have been farmed, ranched or urbanized, eliminating the natural ecology. Here land use practices were hands-off for the most part, and the forest had time to recover before the modern-day scourges of Scotch broom, hawthorne and especially Himalayan blackberry were able to intrude and dominate. This gives the park great potential from the educational and research standpoints.

An interesting and worthwhile ecological experiment is underway at the park involving the native Oregon white oak woodlands. This sun loving tree casts a very light shade beneficial to other plants. Douglas-fir seedlings are able to thrive in oak woodlands, but the fir grow 3 to 4 times higher than the oaks, and cast shade too deep for the oaks to tolerate. So in the natural forest succession the oaks will die out. It is thought that the Native American population in this area used fire to improve hunting and for other purposes, which kept the firs from growing, while the thick-barked oaks survived.

The experiment is to favor the oaks artificially by eliminating the competing firs, maples and shrubbery. About 19 acres of oak woodland has been treated in this way, out of 183 acres of parkland here. Firs and other trees in the selected areas have been girdled, topped or cut down, while allowed to continue thriving in the large areas with few or no oaks. This should result in a much more diverse ecology in the park and show us how different the tree cover types will be in terms of understory.

The preservation of Mount Talbert is one of many positive results of the 1995 voter approval of the Metro bond measure dedicated to parks land acquisition in the urban area. We are indeed fortunate to have an electorate wise enough in the long term to see the value of parks in this region. The November approval of a second such bond measure will result in much more parkland purchased and made available in our area.

The 1995 Open Spaces Bond Measure resulted in the purchase of 8146 acres for parks (36% more than the 6000 expected at the time of passage), including 74 miles of stream frontage. This was 263 separate transactions. Its expected that the 2006 measure will directly lead to as much as 5500 more acres, plus this time additional funds for development of parks for public use.

Though good trails are available to the footloose now, the 'Grand Opening' of the park will be next year. Planners have moved the planned primary public entry to a site along Mather Road, with construction in 2007. The original idea of placing the main entry and parking near Sunnyside Road proved impractical upon closer inspection.

Parking has yet to be provided, so autos must be left on residential streets, and signage is limited. Its a challenge to find the trailheads. Once you do, expect a somewhat steep initial climb onto the sides of Mount Talbert, but as soon as the main loop trail is reached, its easy going around the mountain. If you wish more elevation gain, try the Westridge Trail over the top.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Preserve Tour

After several visits, here is some commentary on Oaks Bottom, a park and wildlife refuge on the Willamette River in Portland.

Dozens of great blue herons stand in the open, shallow lakes, just far enough apart to be out of beaks reach of each other. The grey color of both the water and the herons made a close look necessary to pick them out. The joggers running by will miss them easily. A single bright white great egret slowly strode across a marshy area, acting no different from the great blues but certainly standing out in the crowd!

A smooth asphalt handicap-accessible path runs North and South from just upstream from here and miles downstream into Portland, ending at the Steel Bridge. The way crosses on a pedestrian path under the bridge and loops through the urban parks of the Portland Waterfront area. This complex of walkways gives Portland a unique combination of urban and nature. It's popular with cyclists, walkers and hikers alike. We brought Grandma in her wheelchair, as nature is one of her few pleasures at 82. Its possible to link this path complex with the more easterly sections of the Springwater rails-to-trails project, bringing several other parks within cycling distance on a day trip. On foot this will take more than one day! The trail section from Oaks Bottom east is funded but yet to be constructed, so a short jaunt on city streets is necessary. To find a route, just drag the Google map to see the streets. The trail crosses 99E on a new bridge near Ochoco Street at about 19th Avenue The trail follows Johnson Creek Blvd for quite a ways, then Foster, eventually ending at Boring. An eventual expansion will follow the old rail line to Estacada, and hence into the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Crest Trail. So one day it may be possible to start a hike in downtown Portland and end up at the border with Canada or Mexico.

Some unpaved side paths lead to Willamette River views while others circle the lakes and wetlands of the bottoms. More trails link with the Southeast Portland Sellwood neighborhoods. In the pictures here note the skyscrapers of Portland in the background. On the far side against the bluffs wood ducks and the prolific mallards are crowded in their abundance. These ducks seem to prefer being near the small logs blown to this side of the lake. They can use them for perching out of the water yet still be away from shore and its dangers. A single surf scoter was sighted, rare inland from the Pacific and almost never seen in Portland.

Between the marshes and the Willamette River is first a much used railroad track and then the 44 acre (17.8 h.) Oaks Amusement Park. It's been there since 1905. In the 1800's the river connected directly with the bottoms, and the bottoms extended another mile North. The South end became a garbage dump,and the North was largely filled in with debris from freeway construction.

See our earlier Great Blue Heron post

Go to a Google Map of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Preserve. Start at the bottom center of the map, finding the label 'Oaks Pioneer Park'. That park is on top of the riverbank bluff, and Oaks Bottom is below, the brownish area to the north of the label. The Google arial photo was taken during the summer low water.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Winter Jasmine

The first spring blossoms are long weeks away. Even the optimistically-named Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is still in bud, its touted winter blooms not yet open. Still, an early January walk in the gardens hereabouts will yield a treasure trove of some of the rarest of garden plants - the true winter flowers. Despite the negatives of winter weather - frost, heavy rains, and few if any pollinators active - this season features a hardy few flowers that have chosen it for their preferred time of opening. Winter jasmine is the truest of winter bloomers, opening first in December.

In our garden it begins early in December and is mostly finished flowering by Spring. Though the small leaves drop in Autumn, the stems remain green year-round, giving this shrub the effect of being evergreen. The cheery yellow trumpets are set off by this green backdrop. In full sun flowering can be heavy, and it can grow well in shade. Winter Jasmine is mostly indifferent to soil, doing well in rich or poor as long as drainage is at least fair. The growth habit is exceptional, and is best described as scrambling. In nature is weaves its way between competing shrubs until it finds a suitable spot to grow, and then scrambles some more. In your garden this gives you a plant that cascades well.

Winter jasmines unusual growth habit lends it to special design treatment. It can be used as a groundcover, or a broad low mounded shrub, but its starring role is to be planted where it can cascade down - from atop a wall, in a raised planter, above a slope the steeper the better, or tied to a tall post from which it can arch down. At a local hospital, a planting of winter jasmine cascades down 25 ft. from 2nd and 3rd floor planter boxes. We have this shrub (pictured) falling down a 10 ft. north facing wall. It only took two years to reach the bottom.

Try interplanting this with spreading groundcover roses to get color winter and summer.

Almost all jasmines are fragrant and many winter flowers are too, but winter jasmine is without fragrance.

Generally expect winter jasmine on flat ground to grow loosely to 18-24 inches high with a 10 foot spread. Be prepared for it to root as it goes, so that its potential for spreading is much greater than that of a single plant. For example, the pictured plant in my yard has rooted at the bottom of the wall. Recently rooted stems are easy to remove, to be tossed, transplanted or given away; cutting off the stems before rooting is simple too. If they are let to get well established they become more and more of a project to get out as the years pass!

The closest relative of this plant is forsythia. The two share flower color and shape, early flowering times, the tendency to root at branch tips, and an origin in China. Winter jasmine hails from the provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, Sichuan, SE Xizang, and NW Yunnan. It is found in thickets often on steep ground, at elevations from 2600 to 15000 ft. (800 to 4500 m). An interesting trait is that this jasmine produces quarter inch (6 mm) berries. It never does so in the West because all plants of winter jasmine originate from a single 1844 introduction - which needs a pollinator which was left behind in China.

Botanic name: Jasminum nudiflorum
Gardening experts seem to differ greatly on the hardiness of this shrub - is it hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8 or 6 to 10 or somewhere in between? The Heat zone range is 1 to 8 or 9. Growth rate is moderate to fast.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


The Northwest Coast of the US is earthquake prone. Unlike frequently shaken California, here the tectonic forces build up over the centuries until very large quakes occur. Small and medium quakes do occur, but rarely and the stress and strain keeps accumulating. The major quakes may be as large as any on Earth.

The last major quake offshore occurred January 26th 1700, dated by tsunami records fron Japan and tree rings here. The Japanese records of the time state that the waves kept arriving for 18 hours and were up to 10 ft. (3 M.) high. On the Northern California to British Columbia Coasts, blocks of land dropped 15 ft. (4.5m) and more, drowning forests and marshes, which were then covered in coarse sand brought in by a tsunami which took only a few minutes to arrive.

Line of stumps along ocean's edge, likely on downdropped block from 1700 quake at Neskowin Oregon

It is thought that the entire length of the Cascadia Subduction Zone lurched in this event - a length up to 685 miles (1100 km.)! Entire Native American villages were rubbed out, and Native tales of the event survived and have been recorded.

Damage nowadays from such a quake could range from California to Canada and would be in the many billions.

A magnitute 5.6 earthquake occurred January 11th 2006 near the Blanco Fracture Trasverse Fault edge of the Juan de Fuca plate 143 miles off the Oregon Coast. Depth of the quake was 6.2 miles (10 km). No tsunami or damage resulted due to the location and size of the quake. This one was small compared to the really big ones of the more distant past.


The first sighting of double-crested cormorants happened this past Friday, November 17. Most cormorants are seabirds, but this one lives and nests inland as well, here in the West as well as on the lakes of the Plains States east down the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence.

These birds are mostly black, goose sized but slender, and up to nearly a yard (9 dm) tall. Weight is up to 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg).These birds swim low on the water, seeming smaller because of this. From the water's surface they leap and then dive into the water to start chasing their fish prey. Surprisingly their feathers are not waterproof. It may be that this makes them less buoyant and faster underwater. They are often seen holding their wings outstretched apparently to dry them. This habit is unique among our local birds, and is no doubt needed without the waterproofing of most diving birds. Two small crests of feathers on the head lead to the name.

We first noticed them about 8 years ago, when they seemed to be strictly winter visitors. This past season they stayed into late Spring. This is one bird whose numbers are increasing, and is actually expanding its range, especially in the Midwest where introduced fish are providing food absent before. Despite much useful habitat for them, they are migrants here.

They seem wary and I haven't gotten a photo yet. As soon as possible a fresh photo or two will be posted.

In ancient times and up into the 1600's it was thought cormorants were a type of raven. The Ancient Greeks called it the bald raven, and the Romans sea raven. In the Germanic languages similar names were originally attached to these birds. Crested kinds were called shags for the topknot, but with the discovery of more species worldwide the distinction and the naming has not held. Indeed one widespread species, the great cormorant, has no crest in Europe but does in Asia.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Scattered Flooding in Pacfic Northwest

Roads, trailer park gone; other areas escape damage

Days of heavy warm tropical-origin rain has fallen erratically across the Pacific Northwest, with mountain and coastal areas getting far more than the central lowlands. The uneven distribution of the rainfall showed with record flooding on some rivers, and little elsewhere. The Clackamas River rose to levels less than floods of of the past two years. The Willamette and Columbia, the two largest rivers of the region, saw only minor flooding. Elsewhere, especially on mid-sized rivers, the results were catastrophic.

Lee’s Camp, a mobile home park / resort on the Wilson River in the Coast Range mountains, was mostly washed away, with structures never before damaged now destroyed and trailers, some of them primary residences, floating off down the Wilson. This was record flooding. The Sandy River, which originates on Mount Hood, took out houses, and stranded a illegal campful of homeless men who had to be rescued. Higher up the mountain, near Zigzag, the Sandy removed parts of Lolo Pass Road.

Some of the most astounding flood effects came on the White River on the south side of Mount Hood. Like the Sandy, it heads in the glaciers high on the mountain. This makes both rivers subject to glacial outburst floods and generally higher flood levels due to snow and ice melt during these warm rains. Highway 35 at White River is now buried under grit, gravel and boulders of up to ten tons and more. The bridge over the river is still there but is buried and the river is to the east running in a new twenty foot deep channel. Its guesstimated that a million cubic yards of material was on the move in the White River Outwash Plain. The same highway near Pocket Creek Snowpark now has Clark Creek and Newton Creek both running down it. These two washouts has isolated Mount Hood Meadows Ski Resort from the outside world. Highway officials have set up plans for damage assessment but until this is done there is no telling how long repairs will take. Officials are hinting at the need for Federal dollars, which implies yet more time. And with winter snows just beginning, the timing could not be worse.

This is only the most recent of such outwash events at the White River crossing! This is the most rapidly eroding part of Mount Hood, where deep fragmental deposits are easily undercut and moved by the river. The first such event happened over eighty years ago, just a month after the highway first opened. A winter storm - in August! - hit the mountain and gave highway engineers their first taste of rebuilding at this spot. The wooden bridge was gone. Repeats of this occur about once a decade. To view a good source for pictures of this weeks damage from a local TV station, click here. Since this was posted yesterday, a good overview has been posted in a blog connected to Mount Hood Meadows by Dave Riley. Having toured all the washouts with officials, an informed report was possible, and pictures have been promised in the next day or so. Repairs are already underway on the Hood River approach, but the White River side will take more time.

Here is a link to a Google hybrid map of the area. A gray stripe of glacial outwash clearly shows crossing 35 south of Mount Hood, and the road is blocked from there to a point just north of the green arrow. Also to get an impression of the area, try a Google Earth search for "Highway 35, Mount Hood, OR". Rotate 180 degrees and follow highway 35 back.

Flooding and Fall Color From Our Location

Elsewhere, the towns of Nehalem and Tillamook on the tourist-dependent Oregon Coast have a good deal of muddy flooding and some road damage. North in Washington State flooding, landslides, and washed away homes were widespread. The elk hunting season was in full swing and an unknown number of sportsmen are cut off by landslides and washed out roads. Official guesstimates are that a thousand are stuck in the woods with their vehicles. As many planned to stay in camp a week, not all are ready to be rescued. Some roads will be fixed quickly. Southern Oregon was out of the main storm path and has seen few problems.

Amid the sensationalism of news reports, remember the scattered nature of the flooding. While some spots did see record water levels, others were far from it and saw little or no damage, even for areas that often flood.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rising Waters

Well, The Old Farmers Almanac is correct at the moment. They predicted above average rainfall for our area in early to mid November. After a dry October, we are now getting river-raising levels of rain. Two inches (5 cm) of rain is predicted for Sunday the 4th, and a break is not forecast until Thursday. Another three days of rain will follow! The rains began on the First. Shown above is the National Weather Service river levels chart of this morning, and the results are clear. Green is predicted river levels and blue actual results. The gauge is located at the South Fork Water Intake just upstream from us. Our levels are perhaps a foot less. If the rate of river level increase holds until Friday, which is possible but not guaranteed, then a higher than average flood is on its way.

The gauge was installed in 2002, so our figures for the earlier floods are approximate. 1996 saw the three highest flood levels in our time here. The highest was about 12 ft. (3 m.) above 'average' winter high water, and around 27 ft. (8.25 m.) above summer lows. In other words, a few inches below the rafters on the overhang of the house on the river side. The highest floods result from frozen soil followed by low elevation snow followed by a sudden warmup and heavy rains for days.

The picture above shows a lesser flood in April 2002 of 'average' proportions. The mallards were attracted to fresh dabbling grounds and our cat Jigs keenly yearned for a meeting with them, but such was not to be. The picture was taken in our labyrinth.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Nutria in the Petunias

There was an interesting observation yesterday in the heavy rain we seem to have settled into. A nutria (an import from the far end of South America), perhaps flushed from his riverside den by the rising water, discovered some patches of petunias. These were about done flowering for the season and needed to be pulled for the compost pile, having barely survived a light frost. The nutria found them a gustatory sensation, and began first chewing them off and then pulling them up. Upon inspection the following morning it was found that he(?) consumed only the tough bases, leaving the smaller stems and leaves in heaps ready for the gardener to pick up! Some plants were pulled up by the roots. The only other animal which has been seen here eating stem bases (of spring grass) was beaver.

Nutrias are perhaps best described as vegetarian and partway between a beaver, a rat and especially the muskrat, and related to all three. They are aquatic and if lacking predators overuse their habitat by constant grazing. Originally imported into several parts of the USA as a boon to the fur industry, this fur-bearing animal was actually trapped heavily for the fur trade, with up to 1.8 million harvested in a single year in Louisiana alone. Fur fashions change and now demand and prices are so low that the nutria are rarely trapped and have reached pestilential status everywhere. Some states have proposed eradication as a solution to the damaged wetlands they cause. Others see them as an unsolvable nuisance.

Before the old apple tree fell, nutria would travel a long way uphill from the river to feast on the windfall fruit. They would return your gaze with a look apparently both dumbfounded and astounded before lumbering off back to the water. Though efficient swimmers they are slow on solid ground.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hummingbirds in the Strawberry Tree

In front of the house, along the circular drive, are three 'dwarf' strawberry shrubs. This one is very unusual in that its fruit take a full year to ripen, so flowering and fruiting overlap in time. Like some plant from the Celtic Otherworlds, the white blossoms expand among the ripening fruit from the previous year. The small blossoms that have begun to attract late-season hummingbirds - daily, at about a quarter after nine.

It is unusual for hummingbirds to visit this type of flower - but hunger is no doubt a factor. Little else is available in early November. We have a few spikes on penstemon and cape fuchsia, and some daisies, but these have suddenly become attractive to them. In spring one does not see them visiting similar flowers, such as andromeda, as more appropriate trumpet-shaped flowers are there for them then.

The strawberry tree is certainly an attractive shrub. Its reminiscent of the manzanita of America’s West, and indeed it is a close relative of it. The compact form which we have is definitely shrubby and 10 to 12 ft. high (3 to 4 m.), while the wild form from the Mediterranean is more treelike and can reach 35 ft. (11 m.) The species ranges from southwestern Ireland to Asia Minor.

The flowers are shaped like upside-down urns, and are of typical form for the heather family. They are a clear white and are very numerous. They open over a three month Fall period for us, with a few strays towards Spring. The round fruit stays small and green through summer, and not until late in that season do some enlarge and turn yellow and then red. Like the flowers, the fruit mature over a period of months. Both flowering and fruiting can be affected by hard frosts in the northern part of the Strawberry Trees range. In milder zones both can continue into winter.

The plant is evergreen, of medium texture, and grows at a moderate to fast rate. The foliage is a medium green and the bark orange, with the new growth stems sometimes red. It accepts pruning well, and can be handled according to your desired end results. Keep it smaller and shrubby, even hedged, by cutting back strong leaders or even with shearing. If you have room, prune it up and it turns into a nicely gnarled tall shrub. If you open it up in addition, and it can be a airy screen rather than a dense hedge.

This is cold hardy rated from USDA Zones 7 to 9, or down to about zero F. (-18 C). It takes truly hot summers well - tough enough for AHS Heat Zones 3 through 9 (meaning it still thrives with up to 150 days yearly above 86 F. (30C.), or as few as 7. And the drought tolerance is great! Even in the summer-dry American West it does well with little or no water, and in summer wet climates (like the American Eastern Seaboard) it definitely is better without watering.

The botanic name is Arbutus unedo compacta.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Clackamas Headwaters Tour

On both September 29th and October 3rd a day was spent finding some of the many source founts of the farflung Clackamas River in the high mountain reaches of the Cascades. At 900 square miles, the watershed of the Clackamas includes many forks and tributaries. We located easily accessible sources for both the Oak Grove Fork and the true source of the Clackamas proper. Some of the headwaters are inaccessible with neither road or trails to them, including several on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

The access route for this trip is Highway 26 over Mount Hood at Summit (Government Camp) to Forest Service Road 42. Many of the vine maples on this stretch are blazing red this time of year. After a few miles of attractive roadside forest, turn right on Forest Service Road 58 for the two mile sidetrip to Little Crater Lake. This startingly bright rich blue pool is the result of a large 34 degree (1.1 degree celsius) artesian spring eroding out soft siltstone. It formed a 45 foot deep cliff-sided basin, which has many toppled trees visible in the clear waters, preserved by the cold temperatures. The lake sits at about 3250 feet (990 m. ) elevation.
The name results from comparison to Crater Lake. This one isn’t directly the result of volcanism, but the intense blue of the water invites comparison. And early visitors were not always clear about how to discern different geologic processes.

The surrounding terrain is flat and only slightly sloping. Good views of Mount Hood exist to the North. Fall color was good though most of the trees around are conifers. Shrubs provided most of the reds. In spring the meadows are worth a visit just for the wildflowers.

Next stop was the Clackamas Lake Historic Ranger Station, still in use a full hundred years since the location was selected. One structure has been turned into a small museum, and others can be rented for overnight stays. The surviving structures were built starting in the 1933 days of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The earlier structures from as far back as 1906 were built directly on the soil with little regard for longevity, and have all been torn down. The CCC structures were built to last, and the only losses have been to fire.

The 1933 Clackamas Lake District Ranger’s Office is now on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. Currently its the one used as a museum. Staff is helpful, knowledgeable and quite willing to give a talk at the drop of a hat.

A short hike takes one to Clackamas Lake and the springs that feed it. It is about 3400 feet (1036 m.) in elevation.

The lake is an unusual shade of blue, more of a clear teal really. This is due to a rare species of algae known as mares eggs. A wooden walkway extends from the campground out to the edge of the lake. A broad apron of marsh surrounds the lake, inhabited by swamp Engelmann spruce, swamp lodgepole pine, willows and a rare-in-these-parts shrub birch.The several springs are less than a yard ( 1 m.) above the lake, just enough to give a little current to the flow. Likely more springs are submerged. Beavers have cut some conifers at the springs, probably for lack of trees they actually like. A large population of monkey flowers (Mimulus guttatus) grows at the springs, now mostly dried up and gone to seed, but a single plant was green and blooming still.

The lake trail continues on in a loop through meadows and a tract of old growth. More 1930’s Forest Service facilities are included on the two mile (1.21 km.) loop. A longer loop for all day outings can take in all of Timothy Lake as well. Both loops follow the Pacific Crest Trail on parts.

Huckleberries provide much of the fall color in this section of the Mountains, as this scene along Miller trail attests. Some species are red, others purple and still others yellow, and sometimes all three can be found intermingled.

Next in line is Summit Lake, down a one mile section of gravel road (USFS Road 151), recently upgraded to good condition by filling in the sizable potholes. A campground lines some of the far side of the lake.
The Forest Service maps show a creek entering and exiting this lake, but no sign of flow in or out exist. Low points exist at either end, but no active channels are present.

This is a higher elevation lake than those mentioned above at about 4200 feet (1280 m.). Pacific silver fir and mountain hemlock are two species not seen previously at the lower elevation sites. Dragonflys were still mating despite the late season, soon to be freezing and collecting snow at this elevation. I’ve skied at the end of October in an early storm. Today for us it was shirtsleeve weather.

Continuing down Forest Service Road 42 it is nearly ten miles (16 km) to Forest Service Road 4220. Here someone wisely painted on the asphalt the road numbers, as the signs have disappeared too many times. A sharp left to the south, one that would easily be missed, is called for. Another 8 miles or so brings you to the glaciated lakes region of the Olallie Highlands. Here meadows, lakes and trails abound, overlooked by 7215 foot Olallie Butte.

First stop here was for a brief view of Olallie Meadows, an extensive probable former lake area bisected by the boundary of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. A campground exists on the Forest Service side, along with an old cabin. A trail oto Reservation land reaches three high elevation lakes, and intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail.

Next stopping at Lower Lake Campground, we hiked down to the lake. It is a 1.25 mile (2 km) walk with less than a 200 foot (60 m) elevation change. The stony-floored high elevation mixed forest is open at this 4800 foot (1460 m) site. There are good views of the shallow lake as the trail passes on the North side. At the far end of the lake junctions with more trails provide access to more lakes in three directions. A short distance left of the trail is the bouldered outlet of the lake, dry this time of year but with obvious signs of flow earlier in the season. Looking back East across the length of this glacial lake is a surprise hidden until this point - Olallie Butte, looming 2500 feet higher only two miles distant.

Just a little way up the road is Head Lake, the highest source of the Clackamas tributary Squirrel Creek at about 5000 feet (1525 m.). Scenic, rockstrewn, and right on the road, this is a nice one. A small ridge separates it from Olallie Lake and streams that flow off to dry Eastern Oregon. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road along this ridge, one of the Trails closest passages of a resort. Over a mile long, this is the largest lake in the Olallie Highlands. The resort and its store were still active, offering rental boats, cold drinks, food and lodging. Olallie Lake Resort is well worth a visit for the rustic lakeside cabins and many recreational opportunities. Horseback riding, fishing for the oversized rainbow trout, even mountaineering in nearby Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area are among the attractions. The resort is open mid-June nearly to the end of October. Unfortunately the new owners did not see fit to keep the resort open in winter. Previously you could ski in across prepared tracks or ride in on snowcats for a winter stay. At this elevation snow is practically guaranteed November through May.

On the second trip returned home via Forest Service Road 46, known locally as Berry Creek. Making a loop of the whole trip, we travel down the mainstem of the Clackamas. However, on the first trip, we continued south to the highest lakes easily visited in the Cascades.

‘Easily’ of course is relative and only means you can drive the road in a vehicle with high road clearance and tough tires. Low slung vehicles should not attempt this route down 4220 much past Olallie Lake. And if you don’t cotton to dodging potholes, ruts and boulders next to precipices, perhaps this is not your route. But 5500 foot (1675 m.) elevation Breitenbush Lake and its campground is your reward for the attempt, along with access to a collection of lakes and flowering meadows at yet higher elevations. This is one of the few areas in Oregon where you can visit alpine meadows not on a major glaciated peak.

Following the 4220 downhill after the lake is not quite so rough. Watch for a wide pulloff on the left; an unmarked trail leads to a rarely visited waterfall. This road follows a wide bench in the middle of a long slope, rising to 4800 ft above and dropping to 3000 ft below the road. When you strike pavement, turn right to return to the Portland area via the Berry Creek route FS Road 46. A left heads you towards Salem.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Great Blue Herons

These large predators are frequent visitors here, but the fishermen and others along the river keep them from becoming resident long term. Their harsh guttural squawks can be heard at any time of the night or day. Always solitary in daily life, they surprise everyone by nesting in large clusters of huge nests, from 8 to 170 in a single tree or group of adjacent trees near water.

Last spring we observed a pair flying together or following one another several times, which is unusual.

These herons are 'great' due to their size - a wingspan up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) and a height of 42 inches (1.4 meters). Three-quarters of their diet is fish, and are indeed usually seen fishing in rivers and lakes. Great Blue Herons also grab crawdads, insects and frogs. They will hunt in fields for rodents and reptiles. They round out their diet with a small amount of plant materials.

They also adore koi and goldfish in home decorative pools; protective netting may be required if a pond attracts Great Blues. I witnessed one who took up residence near a wealthy man's lakeside estate, where several very fancy koi were kept in a very expensive Japanese-style pond complex. Both he and his butler were fascinated with the huge bird landing in the big firs around the neighborhood. Then some $250 koi went missing, and it wasn't until the pond maintenance workers put two and two together that the mystery of the missing fish was solved.

Heron sees human, does human see heron?

Great Blue Heron range widely - across the continent, into the high Cascade Mountain lakes, down to the Gulf Coast, Mexico and well into Canada and southern Alaska.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Down The River Cleanup

September 10th was the date for the Down The River cleanup. Thirteen miles of heavily used Clackamas River received its fourth annual cleanup from 251 volunteers, counting only those who took to canoes, rafts, driftboats, catarafts, kayaks and one inflatable whale. 5.27 tons of trash was hauled out, more than double the previous record from last year. Another 30 or so folks were busy with behind the scenes work, including preping for the free cookout that followed.

After the obligatory mass form filling, the volunteers were divided into 15 groups, each with an assigned stretch of riverfront. The orientation session was huge! Each group included a large inflatable acting as garbage scow. Some brought their own vessels, while others jumped into rafts and other craft provided for the boatless. Multiple launchpoints were used.

Participants varied from teenagers to those in their 60's, from eager and inexperienced to professional kayakers and seasoned river guides. 18 members of the Oregon National guard cooperated with the Clackamas County Dive/Rescue Team and pulled out deep water trash the rest of us would have never known existed. Everyone enthusiastically hunted down errant garbage and were proud to help out!

The largest contributor to the record haul was a seven-foot tire from some unknown piece of heavy equipment. The leading theory is that its been heading downstream since the 1996 floods from a gravel quarry which was washed out that year. Guesstimates of its weight settled on half a ton. The large plastic garbage bags provided for cleanup were inflated, stuffed inside the mammoth tire, and it became a raft for its mile and a half journey to Clackamette Park! It was turned on edge and muscled up the boatramp and amazingly enough right into a waiting dumpster.

Other trash included dentures, eroded stuffed animals, chromed sections of railroad rails (great paper weights), two couches, a prom picture, collapsed rubber rafts, and a hot water heater. Everything possible was sorted and recycled. This event is truly a group effort, with nearly 300 individuals and 26 organization lending their support.

The two primary groups behind the effort are The Clackamas River Basin Council and eNRG Kayaking. The list of others lending support is long:
Next Adventure (food for the barbeque), Portland State University Outdoor Recreation Program (organizational direction for the river crews), All Star Rafting, Oregon Kayak and Canoe Club, Clackamas County Parks, Clackamas County Dive/Rescue Team (getting all that trash unseeable except to divers), Oregon National Guard, Clackamas County Solid Waste and Recycling (FREE dumpsters), the NW Rafters Association, Metro, Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism, New Seasons Market (food for the Barbeque), Noah's Bagels, Clif Bar (free energy bars), Patagonia (auction items), NRS, Mississippi Studios (free entertainment at the barbeque), Keen Footwear (auction items), Oregon Whitewater Rafters Association, American Medical Response(Medical personel fortunately not needed as such), Hi-Tek Scuba (auction items), the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Wet Planet, and Alder Creek Canoe and Kayak. Many of the outdoors groups provided group leaders.

The efforts of public-spirited outdoors groups, local businesses, governmental agencies, and conservation groups combine to make this one of the most sucessful and effective public volunteer efforts in the country.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Snow already on Mount Hood!

Several inches of snow fell at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood last week, and a few more inches are forecast for tomorrow. Flakes fell as low as 3500 ft (1070 m.). This is early, and the newscasts on TV showed folks out on their boards (scratches guaranteed!). Early for serious cross-country skiing is the end of October, with mid-November normal. I'll vote for early - but this early snow is no guarantee of that!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Big Drawdown

Observing feeding rates at your bird-feeders will give you some good information about your ‘clients’ or ‘customers’ - your backyard birds. We have two thistle feeders for the bright goldfinches and two more with a sunflower/cracked corn/millet/etc. mix that provides for red-headed house-finches, wrens, towhees, parasitic cowbirds, chickadees and others.

Of course feeding is strong and continuous all during the nesting process. Food must be brought to the nest sitter and so the more vivid males are seen more frequently than their mates. This all becomes ‘normal’ spring into summer.

The first ‘Big Drawdown’ comes when the young fledge and are brought to the feeders by the parents. After a visual diet of bright yellow male birds, the light gray young remind you of going back to a black and white TV after your color set goes out. The young have the same color patterning as the adults, just in blacks and grays. The young male goldfinches have the same black facial mask, and otherwise they would be hard to distinguish from other species of young birds! The rapidly-growing broods come knowing how to eat, and the seed levels drop quickly.

The second ‘Big Drawdown’ isn’t from the increasing population of birds, but from a more hidden force. The same young and their parents come, but the seed levels in the feeders again drop at an accelerated rate. Instinct tells young and old alike to prepare for the big migration South. I’ve never seen a truly overweight wild bird, but its certainly not from a lack of trying! This spurt of feeding came about the 20th of August this year, and continues a month later.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


We are still hearing the high pitched calls of Osprey, and see them landing on their favorite perches both sides of the river. Osprey live exclusively by fishing. They watch and wait on riverside perches quite a bit and also hover over the water just in case a fish resurfaces. The dives are spectacular and swift - they wouldn't catch many fish otherwise. They hit the water talons first and can go completely underwater. A young one this season was a hesitant diver - and it showed in his results. We estimate that most osprey are successful about one out of three dives. This youngster would stop at the beginning of his dive before finally heading down, by which time the fish, unaware of the osprey, would dive and escape the subsequent impact of the young osprey.

Our section of river is being shared by two pair of osprey this year. One pair nests in a cell phone tower a few miles West next to The Nature Conservancy’s Camassia Natural Area, while the others fly off upstream to points unknown. Male osprey do all the fishing during incubation and brooding. We can observe the birds much of each day during this period. Once the young are fledged, the adults seem to vary their hunting locations more, and are no longer present daily on our waterfront. The chicks are mature in 7 to 8 weeks, increasing over 30 times in size from hatching.

A major limiting factor for osprey is the availability of nesting sites. If all the good sites are already in use, then younger osprey may have to wait years to begin breeding. Why not erect a artificial ‘tree’ with a platform to encourage nesting? We have been asking ourselves this question for years! This has been done elsewhere, and its time to look into it seriously.

There are four subspecies of Osprey in the world. The American and Eurasian forms migrate, while the Caribbean and Australian forms stay year round in the mild climates they inhabit. Some Mexican and Florida populations also do not migrate. The wingspan can exceed 5.5 ft. (170 cm). Northern populations are larger than tropical non-migrant ones, and the females are much larger than the males. The smallest females are the size of the largest males. The biggest birds weigh in at 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms).

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hummingbird Flower

The Hummingbird Flower’ is a welcome addition to our garden. We acquired 5 of them in 1 gallon cans last year, spaced them about 2.5 ft. apart. They filled in well in two months. They’ve blossomed prolifically since just after planting in early July. Heaviest bloom comes in late summer and into Fall. The sprawling growth is thick enough to keep out most weeds, even in its first season. Its drought tolerance is evident too, as our sporadic waterings here in the summer-dry Pacific Northwest has stressed some other new plants but not this one!

Hummingbirds are commonly said to love this plant, however that is not the case here. I’ve seen them occasionally checking them out, but they much prefer Cape Fuchsia or even Jupiters Beard! Perhaps the cats dissuade them from feeding fron the low flowers.

This selected form was originally found by David Salman of High Country Gardens in Santa Fe. It won the 2001 Plant Select award. Its native to the Rockies and other mountains from north Texas to Wyoming. It is hardy to USDA zone 5-9, borderline in Zone 4. Less than a foot high, it can spread over time to several feet across, rooting as it goes.

We have growing elsewhere the pink form of California Hummingbird flowers,Zauschneria californica “Solidarity Pink”, the California Hummingbird Flower which is perhaps more drought tolerant than garrettii. However, its flowering season starts a little later. Some of it has never been watered this year, especially the largest patch growing in the roadside gravel. Its growth habit is very similar to “Orange Carpet”. The two colors don't mix well in the landscape, but there are plenty of flowers that will. They do make a good groundcover under or in front of medium to tallish perennials like penstemons, lilies or some of the daisies. Blues or purples can mix well with either of these two, and the orange can handle yellows as well.

In hotter climates than ours, like the Southern California desert or parts of the Old Southwest, shade is recommended for both species. If you are up North, give it sun, but down South consider at least some shade. In hot dry locations, shade is a must. Some water helps it keep blooming, especially in hot dry gardens.

Botanists have reclassified all Zauchnerias as Epilobiums, or as a type of fireweed. These changes will be slow to make it to gardening circles, as from a landscape standpoint fireweed and hummingbird flowers are distinct. The original Zauschneria garrettii ‘Orange Carpet’ is correctly according to the botanists Epilobium canum spp. garrettii ‘Orange Carpet’, while Z. californica is now E. canum spp. canum. You will see many sources using the form cana, which correctly matches Latin gender for Zauchneria, but to match Epilobium use canum.

John Muir mentions passing large patches of Zauchneria while heading towards Black Mountain Glacier near Yosemite in his 1888 book titled “Picturesque California”. Old references like this are the main reason for remembering superseded botanical names.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Stargazer Lily

This bright red has about as much impact as any lily out there. The color is far from understated, and the wide blossoms face you, not downward like so many lilies, It fact it was named this because the blooms face the sky. The fragrance is concentrated and wide-ranging. It opens in early August here in Western Oregon; for you the exact time will vary with your climate, as soon as early July in hot Southern areas and late August up North.

Here in our garden it grows a sturdy 5 ft. tall, so its easy to nose up to for the fragrance. Ours are not in the best of soils but are increasing and blooming well. There have been no pest problems at all. Like most lilies, give it sun and good drainage. Some gardeners in the South think its better in shade to preserve the flower color, so the general rule is more sun to the North, and more shade to the South. It needs no staking. Deadhead to get more plant energy into a bigger plant for next year. It grows well in Zones 4 to 9, taking temps down to -25 fF (-32 C).

Be careful to verify you are really getting the true Stargazer - reports indicate some nurserymen may be substituting other less popular lilies for this one.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Canada Geese

We sighted the first large Fall flock of Canada Geese this morning. About 20 silent birds flew low directly over the river, in a ragged lopsided V. This is early for this.

Several pairs raised their young on the Clackamas behind our house. The numbers in each clutch were large but constantly diminishing. These birds mate for life. The growth rate of the little ones is astonishing - they reach near adult size in as little as 40 days.
They flock and float together most of the year in large groups, but at nesting time the pairs find isolated nesting sites away from other geese. This is just the opposite of the habits of the Great Blue Heron.

On of the most interesting places to observe these sizable birds is at Chatauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado. A large number of Canada Geese rest overnight on the sloping mown grass park site. They are quite used to people and you can get fairly close to them. Early in the morning they fly to open water elsewhere. The birds take off one or a few at a time and just be careful to duck!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bull of the Woods

The Clackamas River Basin Council sponsored an outing to 5523 ft (1683 m.) Bull of the Woods on July 15th.. Located on a watershed between various forks of the Collawash River, the Southwesternmost branch of the far-flung Clackamas,this mountaintop has a rare WWII vintage fire lookout, which is undergoing restoration. Formerly it was rented out by the Forest Service, and hopefully it will be available again. The 6.5 mile roundtrip follows a ridge with periodic views and alternating sections of forest, patches of flowery meadow, and rocky outcrops covered in natural rock-gardens. Diversity of habitat like this gives a wide range of flowers and shrubs, and additionally this locale is the westernmost outpost for some plants from the dry East Slope of the Cascades.

The little sunflower (shown here with Indian Paintbrush) is widespread to the East but confined here to dry meadow habitats and sometimes thin, rocky soils.
Washington Lily is common along the trail, and its strong delightful fragrance was picked up sometimes before that sight of the large white trumpets.

The Penstemon group embraces both evergreen shrublets and herbaceous perennials. Many of them are eminently gardenable. A rock garden type is Cardwell’s penstemon, an evergreen groundcover shrublet. It prefers sun and dry conditions, even growing from fractures in rock and road cut subsoils. The botanists tell us that some of the plants here may be actually Davidson’s penstemon instead. This is a lower growing, fewer flowered, more easterly species, but the two are so similar that many experts suspect they intergrade. Walking this trail one can observe both shorter plants with one-sided flower spikes, and taller, lusher looking ones like the one pictured with ’less distinctly one-sided flower spikes’. Cardwell’s penstemon grows well in the city and is a good choice for dry situations. Don’t try in on heavy clay. The blooming season is short but spectacular.

A taller herbaceous type is the woodland turtlehead. Its common throughout mid-elevations of the Cascades most often under trees but we also found it in meadows, like the one pictured here. Its a close offshoot of the Penstemon genus, given the botanic name Nothochelone instead, but most observers would assume its in the Penstemon genus. Plants out in the sunny meadows are more upright and less sprawling, and have a few more flowers than the same kind under the shadowy trees.

The widespread pink Pacific Rhododendron was past its flowering season on this outing. However, the less common white Cascades azalea was at its peak.

Friday, August 11, 2006

McNeil Point Travels

Our travels took us August 6th to McNeil Point on Mount Hood in the Mount Hood Wilderness Area. This is a popular high elevation hike with spectacular view of the broad Sandy Glacier and the terrain north and west of the mountain. Wildflowers abound in the open areas, which become common around 6000 ft. (1830 m.) elevation.

Last winters heavy snowfall appears to have at least temporarily reversed the decline of Sandy Glacier, Three years earlier, a large body of water impounded under this glacier broke out in a sudden and devastating jokulhaup outwash event, which removed or buried forests two thousand feet lower in elevation and deposited a thick layer of boulders, stones and glacial grit for miles down the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River.

The first picture, taken in 2003, shows the punctured snout of the Sandy Glacier the summer after the event. Taken with an 8X telephoto, it is somewhat foreshortened. The trees in the apparent foreground (actually half the way from the camera to the glacier) are 50 to 80 ft. high (15 to 25 m.). The opening itself is probably a couple of hundred feet across. An attempt to traverse closer to the glacier in an off-trail route to get a more accurate size estimate of the glacier may be made later this year.

This hole is huge. It remained open from 2003 through the summer of 2005, or three years.

In 2006, things were different. Here are side by side a 2003 picture followed by one taken in August of this year.

Among the meadow plants we hiked past were the Western Pasque flower, which had reached its interesting seed stage.

At this point in its life cycle it goes by a variety of creative monikers, like old man of the mountain, mouse on a stick, and mousicle. Its has a showy cup-shaped white blossom, early in the mountain spring.

The white mountain heather was in bloom.

Along side it was the red and the greenish-yellow species also. Its unusual to see all three of our heathers together.

Here are two meadow pictures. Meadows are the glory of the heights; these pictured are low in diversity but showy nonetheless.

This picture shows a sloped meadow with white valerian, blue lupine and red paintbrush. Other plants are present in small numbers. Distribution zoning is obvious - the red paintbrush forms a visible band running left and right, yet is absent elsewhere where conditions are not the best for it.

This closeup is dominated by blue lupine, the most adaptable plant up there, with paintbrush, a few scattered pale asters, and a cluster of yellow senecio.

By continuing up McNeil Ridge a hiker can soon leave most of the visitors behind. Another thousand feet up to 7,000 ft (2135 m) are dramatic stone cliffs with wide ranging views.
The view down the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River clearly shows the extent of the outwash event. Both branches draining the glacier show a fresh gray gravel channel. The closer fork on the right is much broader, the result of the jokulhaup. The left branch flooded from rapid warming, rain and snowmelt, but no glacial outwash event happened there. Before the event greenery covered most of the lower basin, but large sections of forest and brushfield were erased that Winter. Each sucessive outwash cuts away more of the moraine in the left foreground, depositing it far below. Heavy deposits of outwash material from earlier events extend at least 20 miles (32 km) downstream; the mile-wide Columbia has been moved over by the huge amounts of material carried down the Sandy. Mount Hood had erupted shortly before the 1805 visit of Lewis and Clark, and the amount of material dumped by the Sandy overwhelmed the much larger Columbia. To this day the Columbia bends around the delta of the Sandy in a shallow broad channel.

My ‘parting shot’ was taken partway down the steep face of McNeil Point, looking North at the heavily carved ridge which was long gnawed at by the two tongues of the Sandy Glacier. These days it is beyond the reach of the diminishing glaciers, but erosion from glacial melt-water continues to work away at the base of this ridge.