Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spring Signs at Mount Talbert

Earlier today I hiked around Mount Talbert Nature Preserve. We've had only a couple of warmer days in the 50's (10-12 C). Many herbacious 'winter' annuals and perennials already know its spring. Candyflower seedlings are very common there between the big sword ferns. Bittercress, one of our few native weeds, is showing new green. Tiny seedling of other types are showing wherever they may. But the champion for earliness is the snow queen, which was the only plant actually in bloom.

Actually I should say the only plant in bloom was a snow queen - I saw only one. The rest at most showed a new leaf or two. I've seem them blooming elsewhere blooming early in January, as there always seems to be one blooming well ahead of the others. The main flush of blooms comes in mid-March. Like spring bulbs this has a quick heavy flush of bloom early, with nothing most of the year. Unlike the bulbs, this is evergreen, with the deep green leaves often tinged purple over the winter.

Snow Queen near the Mather Road Parking on Mount Talbert

This plant likes dry rocky ground made humusy by fir needles. They also like more light than firs usually allow. So they are most common on the edge between oak and fir woodland. This ecotone or edge habitat is common at Mount Talbert. The blue blossoms are showy for their brief season in March, and they are gone - but still handsomely green.

The botanic name is Synthyris reniformis, and it is in the penstemon or snapdragon family. Now thru the end of March is the time to visit Mount Talbert to see this plant in flower.

About six weeks ago I watched three deer at dusk in the park. The doe and her two near-yearlings were not panicked by my presence, but sauntered between bites away at an angle from me. I had walked to perhaps 120 feet from them before noticing. I watched them for perhaps 5 minutes before proceeding on my intended path.

It would be interesting to know how many deer this acreage supports. There is over 200 acres (80+ hectares) of woodlands in the park area, not all preserved, and more on the very steep slopes across Mather Road. Only a few years back mixed farm and forest extended east to the Cascade Mountains, but now this area is isolated from other lands suitable for deer. How big an area is needed to support a viable population of blacktails? This might be a good area for a study on the subject. Experts tell us that in good lowland habitat a home range can be as small as 100 acres. The oak openings provide good grazing and the deer may be keeping the park more open by browsing the shrubbery. Deer don't like to eat sword fern so they actually encourage it, and indeed it covers much of the forest floor.

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