Fall Count: Environmental Learning Center Observations from September through November
By Joe Loviska, Graduate Phenology Assistant
Phenology is the study of how plants, animals, and other biotic organisms change with the cycle of the seasons. As the graduate phenology assistant at the Environmental Learning Center (ELC), it is my job to collect and organize data on the weather, mammals, and birds around the center.
From these few numbers we can see that this fall has generally been cooler than the last two years, with the exception of the November lows in 2013 and 2014. 2014 was a very wet year overall, but this year has already seen more rain than 2013. A few weather events have stood out this fall. Most impactful to our place was the rainstorm from August 21 to September 3. During this period 4.41” of rain fell, effectively stopping the Goodell Creek fire and allowing us to move back into the ELC on August 31. On Halloween (October 31) it dumped 2.29”. Finally, the two rainiest days of the season were November 13th and 17th when 3.08” and 3.67” fell, respectively. This was during the biggest rainstorm of the season, from November 10 to November 18, during which it rained 9.54”. Wow!
Saul Weisberg’s (executive director of the North Cascades Institute) birthday fell on November 16, along with the first snow of the year at the ELC. On November 19, J. Loviska observed that the sun left the ELC amphitheater at 2pm, blocked by the ridge south of the lake. Thus began winter, despite what the calendar claims.
We kicked off the Mountain School season well with a black bear (Ursus americanus) sighting in the ELC parking lot on September 14. Two trail groups were on hand to observe the bear as it trundled down the road; then, upon noticing us, it hustled into the forest on the north side. Other notable traces of megafauna: J. Porter heard a gray wolf (Canis lupus) howling early in the morning on September 15 at Black Pine Lake; a wolverine (Gulo gulo) was picked up by the remote camera station on October 1 in Fisher Basin. This collared individual was later identified as Special K; A. Gourd observed a beaver swimming in Diablo Lake near Power Tower Island on October 5. White wood and trees with tooth marks have been observed near the mouth of Thunder Creek, but if anyone has seen beaver activity closer to the ELC, please let us know; on November 11 a coyote was seen crossing Highway 20 in Newhalem, near a deer carcass.
Wolverine “Special K” caught on camera on 10/01/2015.
On October 9 the C15 cohort gathered at Chelan Ridge with Hawk Watch International for a day of migratory raptor spotting. Among those seen flying south were rough legged hawks (Buteo lagopus), sharp-shinned hawks (Accipeter striatus), red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensus), a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), an American kestrel (Falco sparvarius), a merlin (Falco columbarius), and a northern harrier (Circus cyaneus). On October 21, J. Loviska observed a snow goose (Chen caerulescens) flying southeast in the Methow valley among a flock of Canada geese (Branta canadensis). By November 11 reports were coming up valley that snow geese had been amassing in fields in the lower Skagit. We observed a flock of 9 in Diablo Lake on that day. On November 14, J. Loviska spotted 28 snow geese in Diablo Lake, all facing the same direction (east). Varied thrushes (Ixorius naevius), common visitors to the ELC throughout the season, were last seen on November 22 by Z. Lundgren. We wish them happy travels and a safe return.
Zachary Lundgren releases a rough-legged hawk after Hawk Watch Interantional Processing
Our phenology project at the Environmental Learning Center is just getting up and running. We have limited records thus far, and are putting most energy into implementing systems to gather quality data for years to come. However we do make weekly observations at our two on-campus sites. Below is a sample visualization of the data collected through the fall for the Indian plum at our Deer Creek West site.