Archive for July, 2013

Getting More Kids in the Woods

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 26, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Over the last couple weeks, two spontaneous off Reecer Creek meetings of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association have occurred.  As you know, under RCRGWS&OTTBA by laws, such meetings are called anytime two or more of us start talking outdoor stuff.  In both these cases, the primary agenda item was kids, outdoor connections and our Kids Outdoor Bill of Rights—a favorite subject.

Among my heroes are a couple leaders in kid outdoor connection efforts.  Robert Michael Pyle, recently on campus for a talk and visit, is the author of several books on butterflies and the outdoor growth of youth.  Richard Louv is a widely known child advocate and is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”  You may recall the conversation with a fourth grader that spurred Louv’s mission to get kids connected to nature.  When Louv asked the boy why he didn’t play outside after school, the kid said, “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are…”  The Forest Service has taken the mission to heart.

Over the years since Louv established his Children & Nature Network, the FS has set up and funded numerous partnering opportunities for groups carrying out projects supporting kids and their outdoor experience.  I thought you might like to know about some of them.  You may even want to bring forward one of your own proposals for funding a kids’ outdoor adventure.

One of the best known partnerships is National Get Outdoors (GO) Day, launched on 14 June 2008.  GO Days across the country encourage healthy and active outdoor fun.  This year’s June 8 celebrations ranged from a wild day of festivities in City Park in Denver to quiet exploration and observation on a number of national forest and grasslands.  GO Day is a partnership between the Forest Service and the American Recreation Coalition designed to connect all Americans (but especially kids) with active lifestyles and nature.  You will find plenty of information at http://www.nationalgetoutdoorsday.org/, along with reasons we should be more loudly celebrating National GO Day in Paradise.

Other FS programs include More Kids in the Woods and the Children’s Forests program.  Several million dollars have been earmarked for competitive matching with local community money in both of these programs since 2009.  For Fiscal Year 2013, one million bucks was split between the two programs.  Of course, with federal budget constraints (such as sequestration) there are no guarantees of future funding, but the following are some which have been funded.

Urban children in Albuquerque, New Mexico landed on 20 acres of forestland along the Rio Grande River.  There, they climbed onto an elevated fort, hiked a trail through the cottonwood forest to learn about the different plants and animals and did what kids are supposed to do: play outside.  The Children’s Bosque—forest in Spanish—is one of a dozen Children’s Forests projects awarded funding recently.

500 middle and high school kids from area schools near Tallahassee, Florida, spent five days in a More Kids in the Woods event.  They developed new skills including archery and the use of BB gun ranges, discovered wild turkey hunting, and immersed themselves in wildlife interpretive and forestry information, with a demonstration of a prescribed burn and the role fire plays in managing ecosystems.

Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton Children’s Forest has an ongoing “Teton Ten Project,” to increase children’s connections to nature while providing service learning, environmental education, and pivotal outdoor experiences.  The project, in partnership with over 20 organizations, provides opportunities for every child in the regional community to take part in ten types of experiences to establish the Bridger-Teton National Forest Children’s Forest.

In Alaska, Yakutat’s TERN of Events program will add more youth activities during the Yakutat Tern Festival in the Tongass National Forest.  Educational leaders will have funding, thanks to the partnership, to enhance festival offerings and expand instruction to young people about natural sources.  The Chugach National Forest partnership will engage underserved 16- to 19-year-olds in 10-week work experiences on municipal and federal lands.

River Pathways on Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, a project for inner-city teens, will engage them in conservation activities to educate them about Arizona’s rivers, facilitate field trip experiences and involve them in habitat monitoring activities.

Find out more from http://www.fs.usda.gov/conservationeducation, the conservation education office of the Forest Service.  Assistant Director Heidi McAllister will have info about future funding of programs for your kids and grandkids, at 202-205-1781 or hmcallister@fs.fed.us.

For easy ways to get your family outside, go to www.DiscovertheForest.org.  “The Book of Stuff to Do Outdoors” is free to download and offers ideas from how to keep a nature journal to making a water scope.

Here’s to outdoor kids forever.

All about the Jitterbugging Swallows of Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 19, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

I love watching swallows do the things they were hatched to do.  As much as we enjoyed our regular hooking and landing of big Chinook with Shane on the Columbia a couple weeks back, we found pleasure in the quiet moments between.  It was then that our eyes might drift off watching rod tips for salmon strikes, to the swallows darting over the big river—this way and that—snatching hundreds of mosquitoes and other insects from the warm still morning air.

Indeed, we could have used a swallow or two in the County Commissioners’ hearing room Wednesday evening.  They’d have made short work of the dozen mosquitoes at which we all took turns clapping.  …But I digress.

Swallows fascinate me.  Birds darting just off the water, dipping to grab insects or bathe or drink can stop me in my tracks.  I have, on occasion, been completely swept away at a four-way stop, or a stoplight, watching barn, violet-green and cliff swallows sweeping and turning and bouncing (“jitterbugging,” The Old Man called it) through and around cars sucking down injured insects rising off warm hoods or grills.  Other, less observant, drivers have, from time to time, rudely reminded me to get my rig in gear.

You’ve noticed those delightful stoplight jitterbugging moments, too, no doubt.  In addition to those barn (Hirundo rustica), violet-green (Tachycineta thalassina) and cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota), our valley also hosts tree (Tachycineta bicolor), bank (Riparia riparia) and a fair number of the less noticed northern rough-winged (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) swallows, too.

Actually, with our renewed concerns over West Nile and other mosquito-carried diseases, the swallows of Paradise are ever more important.  They keep flying insects off horses, foals and humans.  Horse owners often tell me, enthusiastically and with a touch of awe, about the mud nests on the walls of their boarding barns.  This is good; individually and collectively swallows will eat many tons of flying insects this summer.

All of the six swallows in Washington are elegant flyers with long, pointed wings, and (except for the cliff swallow) notched tails.  They are all migratory birds.

Tree swallows arrive first in spring and head south last in fall, perhaps because they are the only swallows to largely winter within the U.S.  (Most of ours winter along the Gulf of Mexico or southern California.)  On the other hand,  barn and cliff swallows have among the longest migration flights of any land birds–some wintering as far south as Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

Tree swallows nest in tree cavities or nest boxes (especially near water), competing—often poorly—with mountain bluebirds, flickers, starlings and others for cavities.  Where nest boxes have been provided, their populations have increased.

In addition to cliffs (check out the Selah Cliffs Natural Area at the northbound I-82 rest area by the Training Center), cliff swallows use bridges, culverts, and buildings near water for nesting.  Mud nests are bulbous affairs, stacked one on top of the other, with entrances on the sides, facing a bit downward.  These colonial creatures assemble the most densely populated communities of any breeding birds on the continent; as many as 1,000 or more pairs—each pair with its own gourd-shaped nest somewhere in the jumble.

Barn swallows are our most common urban-area swallows, living wherever civilization goes.  Cup-shaped nests are made of mud plastered to the timbers of barns or other outbuildings.

Barn and cliff swallows have often been observed carrying mouthful after mouthful of mud, and shaping it with feet and mouth and body.  It’s hard work; one study found that a pair of barn swallows made 1,359 trips, covering a total of 137 miles in six days to collect mud and material for one nest.  In a lesson for us all, they still took time to play or celebrate.  They and others were seen carrying feathers high into the sky, dropping them, and swooping down to catch them in mid-air before putting finishing touches to the nest.

Overall, swallow populations are healthy and increasing.  It is always cool to see these five- to seven-inch long flashes of orange, purple, green or brown in rapid, skillful flight around the bridges, overpasses and buildings near water and ag ground in Paradise.

Learn more about swallows and any other birds of Washington from http://www.birdweb.org/, or any good field guide.

Swallows are true signs of summer.

Of Family and Fish

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 12, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

It was a remarkable and much-needed break.  Since our return from across Russia and China by train, we’ve been hitting the repair work on Evolutionary Abode pretty hard.  Two weeks ago, grandkids and their parents provided just the opening.

Daughter Tena and son-in-law Chris—children in tow—met daughter Anna and me at one of our favorite campsites in Twin Harbors State Park, just down the road from Westport.  Over the years of their growing up, the kids and I spent a number of happy weeks playing here.  After the two-day journey from Denver, grandson James and sister Delilah were more than ready to leave the car for salt water, sand castles and beachcombing.

The Old Man and Mom always said that there was a certain look that might randomly pass through me when I was a boy.  They insisted it first showed up when I was about two years old, and they learned quickly to pay attention; it was, apparently, a look that said “Get me outta here!  Now!”  I can still remember how it felt when I just needed to be somewhere on the ground and in fresh air.  Mostly, however, I remember how one or the other of them would get up, walk to the door, hold it open and motion me out.

I often saw that look on my kids.  How could I miss it on five-year-old James and two-year-old Delilah?  I held the door open.

We put out crab rings and brought in dozens of mostly-too-small, but very entertaining crabs.  We made perfect campfires and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.  We played and laughed and built sand castles and found perfect stones and shells.  We slept on the ground and became intimate, again, with the earth.  Each moment, I got to see and feel—anew—that treasured physical earth connection through the fresh eyes and laughter of my grandchildren.

We returned to Paradise with a couple days to kill before the 4th and the big fireworks show.

Wednesday morning, at 3:30, Chris, Tena and I, with James in tow, hooked up with magician Shane Magnusson (Upper Columbia Guide Service) near Cashmere and headed to the Columbia.  By 4:40, we were actively seeking Chinook.

This was a much–anticipated day.  Tena and Chris and I had fished for lake trout and salmon with Shane FROM time to time over the years they were in Seattle.  Since their move to Colorado, that fishing has been simply a fond conversation.  This day would be the real deal, however, and it promised to be a good one.

We were soon into fish.  Shane might grin at James, turn to the water with his patented “Here fishy, fishy…” and Tena or Chris’ rod tip would dive toward the water.  We started with a shiny eight-pounder.  Each strike brought a bigger fish and another look of awe and excitement to James’ face—maybe even a comparison to the eight-inch trout he had caught.

Scattered through those early hours, we spent moments lost in the perfection of the Columbia and the beautiful country it cut through.  The craggy edges of the valley, the intense early morning sun, the perfect light breeze and the quiet swooshing and gurgling of the river winding its way past Wenatchee to the ocean were broken only by tales Shane and I told of growing up along the river.  It was just the morning we had anticipated.

At some point in there, I brought in a beautiful 21-pounder.  Chris and Tena each caught another, making their limits and ending their fishing for the day.  After a hiatus of some sort, I tied into my second very nice fish, but it was not to be—it spit the lure after several minutes.

Over another couple hours or so, we fished and talked and laughed, and finally called it a day.

We’ve done a lot of salmon fishing together, and prayed over the salmon of several rivers and the ocean.  Chris and Tena have heard tales of limits of Chinook and Coho when I fished with the Old Man in the Northwest of decades ago, but never had they actually caught their limits.  We had five keepers, and 70 pounds of beautiful fresh Columbia River kings.  Sharing the experience with Shane made it all the richer.  It was a great morning.

(Meet Shane, and see some of our pictures, at his website www.uppercolumbiaguide.com  or check out his Facebook page.)

We pointed my rig back toward Paradise.  James was talkative and still excited as we pulled into the Aplets and Cotlets shop in Cashmere for one last tourist activity before heading home to holiday barbeques.

After Thursday night’s fireworks, that part of my family headed back to jobs and life in Denver.

We returned to work on Evolutionary Abode.  I want to say that life for us got back to normal, again, too…

But when you have seen the outdoors, and your lifelong connections to it, through the shiny new eyes of your own descendants, can you get back to “normal?”

Happy summer…

 

West Nile Virus and You

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 10, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

We’ve been lulled into a sense of quiet about West Nile Virus (WNV) for several years.  That’s probably because we haven’t had a case of it for a while; we’ve been very careful with WNV.  On the other hand, this may also be because West Nile Virus monitoring for infected dead birds and mosquitoes has been severely limited as a result of trimmed resources. West Nile activity may not be found in a particular county, but the virus is likely widespread in Washington.  Over the past couple three weeks, it is back in our news.

Mosquitoes in two samples collected in Yakima County tested positive for West Nile Virus; weeks earlier than over the last decade or so.  This is the first sign that the virus is active in Washington this year, and statewide testing of mosquito samples and dead birds began a bit over a week ago.

WNV is much more serious for horses than for people, but being bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus is like a roll of the dice.  The trick for horses and humans alike is avoiding bites.  The Department of Health is asking people to take a number of steps to keep mosquitoes at bay.  Use insect repellents with DEET, picaridin, or IR 3535, although some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products will also provide long-lasting protection against mosquito bites.  Wear long pants and long sleeve shirts outdoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.  Get rid of standing or stagnant water from cans, flower pots, buckets, and other containers to reduce mosquito habitat around homes and places where mosquitoes can breed. Change the water in birdbaths, wading pools, and pet dishes at least twice a week, and make sure window and door screens are as tight as necessary.

Most people bitten by a mosquito carrying WNV won’t even become ill, while others may have a mild headache and/or fever that fade away without treatment.  For some, an infection will be very serious or fatal.  Severe cases can include meningitis or encephalitis, and some neurological effects can be permanent.  People over 50 and those with weak immune systems are at higher risk for serious problems.

WNV is found in all 48 states, half a dozen provinces and several Central American countries.  Since 1999, more than 15,000 people have tested positive for WNV and more than 500 died, along with perhaps thousands of horses and hundreds of thousands of birds.  Your individual odds of being infected are low and less than one percent of people infected develop serious illness, but if you are in the one percent it will mess up your whole day.

The Washington Department of Health has guidelines and information for you, should you find an ill or dead bird (or unusual numbers of dead birds) or a new mosquito pond.

1) Report the information to the Kittitas county health department or the Washington Department of Health at 360-236-3060;

2) Do not handle the bird if it is sick and still alive;

3) Pass along information about the bird (specific location, the distance to town, road, crossroad/street or landmark and your name and phone number);

4) County health staff will advise if the bird should be tested and will ship it;

5) Birds dead less than 48 hours are the best for testing;

6) If the bird cannot be reported or picked up right away, use a shovel or gloves to place it in TWO plastic bags (there is no evidence of spreading from dead birds to humans, but…);

7) Store with ice under a bucket or in an ice chest not used for food; and

8) The results of testing will be reported back to you at no charge.

Further information is available at several web sites.  The state Department of Health is at  www.doh.wa.gov, with current maps and info at http://www.doh.wa.gov/DataandStatisticalReports/DiseasesandChronicConditions/WestNileVirus.  A list of infected species is at http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/research/west_nile/wnvaffected.html and Washington wildlife impacts will be found at DFW’s http://www.wa.gov/wdfw/.

In Colorado, daughter Nicole continues to board horses on her acreage.  Over lunch a while back, she told me that more than one of their boarded horses had died of WNV—even though she requires proof of inoculation.  “Horse owners have to be on their toes all the time,” she said, “and follow up on vaccinations.”

There are vaccines available for horses.  Check with your vet for vaccine availability and type, as well as its potential use or need for other animals.

And pick up a fresh supply of mosquito repellant.