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.