Monday, January 23, 2012

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Wedge Mountain, just visible through
incoming snowfall.

I admit, one of the biggest challenges for me as an AmeriCorps volunteer is making the most of my greatly reduced “free time”.  While trying to catch up on work around the house on the weekends, I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to get out and spend some quality time in nature.  When I do get out, I always marvel at how incredibly lucky I am to be living in a place where no driving is necessary to access some beautiful natural areas; the hike can literally start as soon as I set foot outside the door!

For this week’s blog, my task was to think about native plants, in terms of forage and habitat for wildlife, while on a weekend winter excursion.

Lupine the malamute, enjoying some
 fresh snow (at last)!
So, I headed out with my 10-month old Malamute, Lupine, for a long walk.  After a treacherous attempt at an on-leash walk at Riverfront Park in Leavenworth, we retreated back to our home woods at the base of Wedge Mountain, where Lupine was free to follow squirrel and rabbit tracks, and sniff out bits and pieces of salmon carcasses discarded by eagles (which then become the target object in a game of “keep away,” which he thinks is just such great fun…).

Golden-crowned kinglet
Regulus satrapa

Stepping out the door, I immediately heard overhead the high–pitched “zeee zeee zeees” of golden-crowned kinglets, and could see them fluttering about in the tall ponderosa pines, still finding an abundant source of food  (small insects) and good shelter amongst the evergreen branches.   

Fresh salmon carcasses left on the ice
 by bald eagles.
  As the snow started to fall, pup and I sauntered on down the road to the bridge on Icicle Creek near the Leavenworth fish hatchery, where the resident “flock” of bald eagles (apparently, it’s been an unusually good year for eagles), had been very busy earlier that morning.  I could see that four eagles had retired to the tall cottonwoods further downstream for the afternoon, and the remains of their breakfast was left on the ice.  Two American dippers, North America's only aquatic songbird, bobbed along the edge of the ice shelf nearby.

All of these animals- dippers, eagles, and salmon- remain here as a result of a healthy stream ecosystem. Native plants play a large role in this, as riparian plant communities provide many services to the stream, including stream bank stabilization to reduce erosion/sediment, filtration of pollutants for improved water quality, and cover to keep water temperatures cool.  
A last summer's bird nest.
   On the way back home, I noticed many bird nests from last year, easy to spot in the leafless branches of shrubs and small trees.  In the summer, native shrubs like snowberry, mock orange, blue elderberry, serviceberry, roses, and black hawthorn (to name a few) create dense thickets-especially apparent in riparian areas- and provide excellent cover for nesting birds.  In the winter, with the leaves off the bushes, one realizes just how busy these sheltered corridors must have been! Many of these bushes are also an important source of food for a variety of over-wintering wildlife, in the form of leaves, bark and branches (such as rocky mountain and vine maples), and fruits (snowberry, roses, red osier dogwood). 

Rosehips provide protein and energy for wildlife,
 as well as vivid color, in winter.

Provide year-round habitat for our amazing local wildlife! Incorporate native plants into your landscape, and the benefits to you and to the environment can be far-reaching!

The Sleeping Lady, Leavenworth, WA

To get started, take a look at our 2012 native plant sale brochure and order formOrders are due by February 15th, 2012.

Thanks for reading!

Your Friend in Conservation,


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