Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ridgeflied NWR

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is a green oasis on the I-5 corridor in Washington.  We stopped by the Carty Unit recently for a stroll.  First you must cross a pedestrian bridge over railroad tracks. We found the tracks rather active, with freight trains and Amtrak zooming by.  Soon you see the roof of the Cathlapotle Plankhouse which seems to rise from the ground as you approach.  The Plankhouse is rather stunning.  It's very fun to visit on spring and summer weekends when it's open, especially on 2nd Sundays when there are special educational programs. It's a very well made recreation of a traditional Chinookan building. Volunteers made a serious attempt to build the structure as accurately as possible.  It is not built where the original Cathlapotle village was, however, because they needed to preserve the original archeological site, and they wanted to put it on higher ground to avoid floods. There is quite a bit of water in the refuge, and we heard bullfrogs thrumming in the afternoon heat. We saw several garter snakes that had emerged from the cover of the woods to bask on the trail.  
The railroad bridge.
The roof of the Plankhouse.
The front of the Plankhouse.
Garter snake.
Snail eater beetle.
Sword fern.
Trout lily.
Star-flowered false Solomon's seal.
Trout lilies.
Prairie star.
Broad-leaved starflower.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Citizen Science Guide for Families

I love this book! Citizen Science Guide for Families: Taking Part in Real Science by Greg Landgraf. I found it at the library when looking into more ideas for citizen science projects for Jasper, and it was far better than any other resource I've found.  It was published in 2013 so it's still very current.

Citizen science is a wonderful idea that is gaining popularity. Jasper is very interested in science, and I've always felt that actually doing real science ought to be a key part of his education. The idea is that ordinary citizens can help collect data for all kinds of scientific studies.  Rather than just a few scientists and a handful of students collecting data for a study, people around the country or around the world can contribute their observations.  Technology is especially helpful in spreading the word about citizen science projects, in aiding folks in making and contributing scientific observations, and in compiling data so that it can be used in a meaningful way.

This book has details on many national and regional projects throughout the US that are looking for volunteers, all of which are family friendly.  Some require volunteers to commit to receiving training and participating at specific locations and times.  Others just ask that if you're in the right place at the right time to observe something, that you submit some info about your observation.  And still others ask that you use a computer at home, in your leisure time, to analyze data already collected, because often computers just can't see things the way humans can, and computers aren't curious when they find something unusual. The book can be used both for its detailed information on specific projects, and for inspiration.  You may read about a citizen science project on something intriguing that is taking place in another state, and be inspired to search for a similar program in your area.  Chapters include "Analytical Games and Puzzles", "Amphibians and Reptiles", "Birds", "Insects", "Other Animals", "Beaches", "Wetlands and Waterways", "Biodiversity", "Outer Space", "Plants and Fungi", and "Weather and the Seasons". 

Another great resource is which is a vast, searchable and free database of citizen science projects.  And of course if there's a specific field that really interests your child, be sure to ask around!  Local naturalists, hobbyists, etc. may be able to clue you into citizen science projects that would be difficult to track down any other way.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Critter Count

Pacific chorus frog.
Every spring, the Water Resources Education Center in Vancouver hosts the Critter Count.  It's all about herps- amphibians and reptiles.  The day began with a talk by the awesome Laura Guderyahn, a conservation biologist who is definitely a friend to herps.  She showed us all the most common amphibians and reptiles we would be likely to see.  Then everyone was asked to pick one of four locations to head off to, to help in an annual census.  This year we picked Columbia Springs.  There is a trout hatchery at this site, and they host environmental education classes in their classrooms and on their 100 acre property. First we looked around in a wetland area for signs of amphibians, then headed up to the woods to look under logs for salamanders.  After each find was carefully measured and recorded, we got some lunch and headed back to the Water Resources Education Center. Ryan from Brad's World Reptiles was there to do a show.  His presentation was wonderful and he told the kids quite a lot about each animal and what makes its species special. They had lots of chances to see the animals up close and touch them. 

Jasper holds a redback salamander and Laura G. holds a chorus frog.
Great blue heron.
Western redback salamander.
Skunk cabbage.
Robert geranium.
Someone had mishandled a salamander, probably holding it by its tail.  The tail had broken off and was flopping around. This is a defense mechanism to divert attention away from the salamander as it makes its getaway.  It was a sad sight.
Baby sturgeon in the Water Resources Education Center.
Pixie frog.
Legless lizard.
Jasper greeting the legless lizard.
Gopher snake.
Burmese python.
Yes, everyone got to pet the alligator.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cecil and Molly Smith Garden

The Cecil and Molly Smith Garden in St. Paul is spectacular in the spring!  It is owned by the Portland chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, which also maintains the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Portland. Under Douglas firs on a sloping hillside there are 600 rhododendrons and azaleas, as well as many other flowering plants. The rhododendrons are most every shade of the rainbow, and include several crosses created by Cecil Smith.  We found trilliums still blooming, including giant purple wakerobin, a deep red trillium I rarely see.  If we sat quietly for a while on one of the benches, we could hear the drone of many bees and the chirping of hummingbirds near the red rhododendrons. It's cool in the deep shade under the trees, and feels like a hidden refuge. The garden is open weekends through May (except for Memorial Day weekend) with a $3 admission charge, and they sell rhododendrons.  

Giant purple wakerobin.