Tag Archives: Southern Oregon

In Search of Invertebrates.

On November 10th, several of our cohort members went on a field trip to the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology  (OIMB) with Dr. Carol Ferguson’s Invertebrate Zoology class.  The purpose of the field trip was to meet with biologists working on marine invertebrate research, observe marine invertebrates in their natural habitats, and have a fun experience in an exciting location.

OIMB is located on the Oregon Coast, in Charleston, OR, and acts as the marine station for the University of Oregon.  Upon arrival, the visiting students from Cohort 9, along with several other SOU students, quickly made themselves at home in the dorms and, then, went out for a night exploration of the Charleston Boat Docks.  Using flashlights and headlamps, students explored the nearby marina for anemones, sea stars, crabs and more, all of which utilize 15094288_10154325375494690_1494818490654910913_nthe docks for habitat.  The highlight of the evening was the discovery and observation of a marine polychaete swimming near the docks and responding to our flashlights.

The following morning, the visiting students were welcomed for a complete tour of the facility and were able to talk with several of the students that are currently studying at OIMB.  The institute houses undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate students as they take courses and pursue research projects in the field of marine biology.  The research happens on site in various labs with multiple saltwater tanks, scanning electron microscopes, a confocal microscope, and DNA analysis machines that utilize PCR to amplify DNA sequences.  Current research projects include how caffeine induces tetraploidy in certain inverts, how certain fatty acids are transferred through trophic levels and how parasites affect that transfer, and the reproductive cycle of cold-seep mussels in deep ocean ecosystems.  These are all very special opportunities for students, who get to explore topics, design their own projects, and carry them out.  This sometimes 20161111_100437includes the use of research vessels, including manned and unmanned submersibles.

Aside from touring OIMB, SOU students were also allowed to visit the Charleston Marine Life Center.  Here, they were able to touch and observe several unique species of marine invertebrates in touch tanks and aquariums.  Some of the more interesting ones included nudibranchs, armored sea slugs, and an octopus.  They were 20161111_113905also able to converse with some experts in marine biology and explore amazing exhibits about the local marine ecosystem.

After lunch, the class went tide-pooling at Cape Arago.  Armed with rain jackets, rubber boots, and laminated field guides, the students struck out searching for tidal invertebrates.  Thirty-four different marine species 15094264_10154325363749690_563838647025621390_nwere found including gumboot chiton, sea anemones, and multiple species of sea stars.  However, the most exciting might have been the clown nudibranch that was found by Melissa Donner and Morgyn Ellis.  

On the final morning at OIMB, the visiting students packed up, ate breakfast, and headed out to visit the Interpretive Center at the State of Oregon South Slough Estuarine Reserve, which was the first national marine reserve in the United States.  Here, students explored several exhibits about the importance of the South Slough Reserve and were able to buy some fun momentos at the gift shop.  They then returned to OIMB for a presentation from Scott Groth, the Pink Shrimp and South Coast Shellfish Project leader with the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.  Scott shared his expertise with the invertebrate zoology class, discussing the multiple invertebrate fisheries in Oregon and how they are managed.

This all created a wonderful experience for everyone that was involved.  Hearing about ongoing research projects and getting to see and touch wild invertebrates sparked interest and fostered creativity in nearly every student on the trip, all of which was enhanced by the passion for the subject and expertise of Dr. Carol Ferguson.  And now for the question that we are all surely wondering… When can we go back?


Written By: John Ward

Photos By: Dr. Carol Ferguson, John Ward, Alessandro Broido, and Malia Sutphin


Find Your Place: Musings from the Bear Creek Greenway

Bear Creek Greenway in the fall

In the summer, insects drone loudly beneath a thick canopy of riparian vegetation and ripe blackberries, while white fluff falls like snow. The future of Black Cottonwood trees along Bear Creek is certain. My wheels whir a harmony with the insects and the breeze down by the water is refreshing, a meditation to combat the southern Oregon heat. In the fall, cottonwood leaves dance pirouettes in the air, yellow-brown hearts strewn about the trail. School has started now, and I begin riding to Medford each Wednesday for my graduate teaching classes. A weekly celebration of bikes and the seasons and learning. Winter is stark. The rains are cold, but the path is clear of ice near the water, and the Great Blue Heron nests are now visible high in the trees. Bare branches reach for the sky, as I-5 traffic barrels past. cottonwood- The School for Aromatic StudiesThe path smells musty, like decomposing leaves, and we hope that spring will come again soon. Like clockwork it comes, with its sweet smell of lilacs and warmer days. The mornings come sooner and the rains are less chilling. Cottonwood buds emerge by the thousands coating the path with little brown bullets, resinous and fragrant. The smell is overwhelmingly delightful, like warmed beeswax inside a busy hive.

Riding my bike has always been a way for me to connect to the world around me. Everything seems so alive from my saddle: smells, sights, sounds, the feel of the air…all of it is so close, so present, so tangible and alive. I have traveled to great lengths and accomplished much on the seat of a bike. I have climbed mountain passes, slogged through three inches of snow, ridden from city to ocean, found hidden paths inaccessible to cars, and regularly glide by “rush hour” traffic in Ashland.

This past year, I have had the joy of getting to know the Bear Creek Greenway, a 20-mile trail that connects Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, and Central Point with a single, concrete track. It meanders its way alongside Bear Creek, a tributary of the Rogue River that originates near Emigrant Lake. It is home to deer, salmon, and countless birds, including a notable Great Blue Heron rookery near Phoenix. During my rides along this path, I have written poems, had conversations with friends, watched the creek rise and fall with the seasons, and am always able to experience the world in the raw, even if I am riding through the pouring rain.Greenway

Riding a bike is just one way to feel connection with the natural world in our busy, technology-driven lives. As Karelia wrote in “The Water Ouzel,” a previous post, finding places to go back to again and again is essential for all humans, but most of all environmental educators. If we are to teach our students the importance of caring for and conserving beautiful places around them, we must practice what we preach.

NatureAwarenessI leave you with my favorite environmental education activity, “Secret Spots,” a classic EE activity written up by world-renowned environmental educator, Joseph Cornell. He encourages his audience of educators to feel connected to the places around them and pass this along to their students. Cornell’s bestselling book, Sharing Nature With Children, has now been updated 35 years later in an all-inclusive book called Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages. In this practice, the instructor allows his/her students to find their own “secret spot,” away from all other students. They return to this spot day after day, to write, draw, and observe how it changes. It is likely that we will never know every spot in our yard, our neighborhood, our town, or our favorite wilderness area, but it is important that we do form those connections as a modeling practice for our students, the future stewards of wild places. After all, as Jane Goodall reminds us, “Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.”




Searching for Stormi

Call me weird (you wouldn’t be the first), but I absolutely love salamanders. These slippery amphibians come in astoundingly pretty patterns, have a perpetual smile on their face, and, most of all, are so much fun to search for. Many salamander species are restricted to specific habitat types in very out-of-the-way places that the average person just does not see. Recently, when my natural restlessness came to a head, I decided that I needed an excuse to visit just such a place. My destination would be the Siskiyou Mountains in the Applegate Valley, about an hour and a half west of Ashland. This remote region is the home of a special salamander found nowhere else on Earth. This is Plethodon stormi, otherwise known as the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander.

The Siskiyou Mountains Salamander Peter and Jason found.
The Siskiyou Mountains Salamander Peter and Jason found.

Before we get to the meat of this post, I should probably tell you a little bit about this creature. Since this salamander belongs to the genus Plethodon, we know that it does something very unusual: it breathes through its skin. This trait requires salamanders in this group to stay constantly moist. For the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander, moisture is found in deep, wet crevices between large groups of rocks that have collected on hillsides, otherwise known as talus slopes. It is on these talus slopes that the first specimens of this species were collected in 1965 and it is on these slopes where I hoped to come across this mysterious salamander forty-nine years later.

Typically, I like to be on my own for salamander trips. This day was different. There was something in the air, besides the warm mist, that was telling me it would be a trip to remember. I texted Jason Wilson, a fellow student in the program, and he was down to go. A couple hours later, we were in the Applegate. We rounded the first bend along the lake that the valley stems from and were struck by the eyes that met us. Perched in a dead tree not twenty feet in front of the car was a full-grown Bald Eagle, looking down at us as if to say, “Keep driving..nothing to see here.” The day was going to be a good one.

The realm of the Siskiyou Mountain Salamander is difficult to determine. I knew that talus slopes were their preferred habitat, but Jason and I quickly realized that not all talus was the same. Some slopes were exposed and dry. Others were literally dripping with water. We flipped rocks in every type of talus slope we could find, hoping for a Goldilocks moment. As I looked back on Jason stumbling and cursing under his breath during the descent of a particularly perilous slope, I realized that the next talus slope better be just right.

I don’t remember what made us decide this but, a few minutes of driving after the sketchy descent, we agreed that the slope coming up on our right was perfect. The habitat looked right but, honestly, we were just itching to get out of the car. To our south was a valley of endless forest, with mountain peaks reaching up into the omnipresent high fog. The air smelled so fresh, and the wind seemed to blow the scents from the deepest reaches of the forest right into our noses. The setting was ideal and I wandered over to the best looking rocks and began to turn them over carefully. Nothing…nothing…nothing…nothing. Four rocks into the best-looking habitat, and still no salamanders.

The habitat that was "just right."
The habitat that was “just right.”

I bent down to an especially small, insignificant looking rock. Expecting nothing, I turned it over faster than I had for the last few rocks. And, like a flash of unexpected lightning, there it was: a Siskiyou Mountain Salamander. I hooted and hollered like a madman! This was my most thrilling salamander find in months! I picked up the salamander carefully, being sure to immediately pour water on my hand so that the salamander would not get dry. I put its rock home back exactly as I found it, and set the smiling creature down on top of the rock.

By this point, Jason had walked over with a grin on his face. Here was one of the most endangered and beautiful amphibians in Oregon, and he knew we were fortunate to have seen one. I picked up the salamander and put it in Jason’s hand, in the hopes that he would feel the same sense of magnetism I felt towards salamanders, if even for a few seconds. I think he did.

EE grad student Jason Wilson holding the salamander
EE grad student Jason Wilson holding the salamander

The salamander was over the attention by this point, so I gently placed it back under its rock. As it wriggled away, my smile could not have been larger. The day had been a success and all the poring over scientific journals, topographic maps, and physical effort had paid off. I started up the car, turned to Jason, and stated matter-of-factly, “Well, that was amazing. Now for the next species.”

This is the abridged version of an article that Peter wrote for Insight to Ashland. To see the full version of this story, not to mention some of Peter’s other writings and more about the Ashland area, check out : http://www.insighttoashland.com/blog/

Fall Quarter Begins…

Ellen helps children label the lifecycle of a salmon at the Bear Creek Salmon Festival.
Ellen helps children label the lifecycle of a salmon at the Bear Creek Salmon Festival.

This past week FINALLY marked the start of the fall quarter.  For most of us, that meant returning to Ashland and leaving behind our adventurous summer activities.  That also meant the return of the rest of the SOU community.  I was amazed to see so many people walking around campusMonday morning!  All summer, I had become used walking from my apartment to the library without crossing paths with a single person.

Starting classes also means the start of all the work that goes along with it!  This past weekend was a busy one for most of us!  Friday night was the First Friday Art Walk in Ashland.  The annual Bear Creek Salmon Festival at North Mountain Park in Ashland on Saturday.  That left Sunday for us to catch up on all of our work.

The Bear Creek Salmon Festival was a celebration of the return of the salmon to our local waterways.  Many local organizations had booths set up, most somewhat salmon related, to help educate visitors about the different kinds of environmental programs and opportunities to get involved with right here in the Rogue Valley!

Ellen and Leslie talking to kids about salmon.
Ellen and Leslie talking to kids about salmon.

Our cohort had set up a table for the Masters Program in Environmental Education.  We had a salmon life cycle activity that many children (and adults!) were quite interested in!  We were also promoting the use of our (MANY) educational science kits to local teachers to use in their classrooms!

On Sunday, a few of us went out to Emigrant Lake to do some bug catching for our Entomology class!  Catching bugs is not quite as easy as you would think!  And it definitely takes a ton of patience and practice!

Green Springs Mountain Geology Hike

Our Friends at the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument are offering yet another amazing opportunity for their Hike and Learn Series this Sunday, August 11 from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on the Green Springs Mountain Loop Trail. Dr. Jad D’allura will be enlightening attendees with knowledge of the local geology. Save yourself a spot on the hike! To make a reservations call 541-778-0597 or e-mail cascadesiskiyou@gmail.com.

Cohort 6 EE Orientation Campout at Hyatt Lake

Cohort 6 has arrived in Ashland and what better way to welcome them to beautiful Southern Oregon than to take them camping! So, that’s what we did. Last weekend cohort 5 and a few alumni from the environmental education graduate program helped orient cohort 6 by organizing a group campout at Hyatt Lake in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. We had a splendid time getting familiar with one another and the program, swimming in the lake, hiking up to Hobart Bluff and sitting around the camp fire. Check out the photos below to get a glimpse of our weekend. We look forward to sharing many more adventures. Best of luck in all of your endeavors cohort 6!

At the top of Hobart Bluff, Amy points out the difference between the two firs that can be found along the trail — Douglas Fir and White Fir — while Mandy tells the tale of Douglas the Mouse. Photo by Gerard Bello.
Taking in the view of the Siskiyou Mountains and the Rogue Valley down below from the top of Hobart Bluff. Photo by Gerard Bello.
Searching for shade on the sunny summit of Hobart Bluff. Photo by Gerard Bello.
Captivating views of the Cascades all along the Pacific Crest Trail through the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Photo by Gerard Bello.
Walking through the woods along the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo by Gerard Bello.
Mandy stops the group on the hike to point out some geological features in the area. Photo by Gerard Bello.
And away we go! Photo by Gerard Bello.
Staring up into the forest canopy along the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo by Gerard Bello.
The group gathers round to prepare a fabulous feast after a long day of swimming, hiking and making new friends. Photo by Gerard Bello.

Celebrate Butterfly Diversity at Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

The 4th of July is a time of the year to celebrate being a United States citizen. In this land of opportunity, our ancestors were wise enough to have the foresight to set aside public land for all to enjoy. As Oregonians, we are surrounded by some of the most marvelous public lands in our country — Crater Lake National Park, National Forests, Wilderness, Monuments and more! This weekend, July 5 -6, the Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument  is providing an opportunity to celebrate your public land by joining entomologist Dr. Pete Schroeder on the Hobart Bluff trail to search for butterflies and other insects.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (CSNM) is the nation’s first monument designated in recognition of an area’s biological diversity. The Monument’s remarkable ecology is a product of its location at the crossroads of two different mountain ranges—the Cascades and the Siskiyous—as well as its proximity to the Great Basin. Numerous butterfly species provide evidence of the Monument’s ecological diversity. Butterflies are good indicators of plant diversity since the caterpillars of individual species only feed on specific plants, called host plants. The presence of a butterfly indicates that its host plant is nearby. To date, field surveys have identified 111 butterfly species in the Monument, compared with 162 in all of Oregon.

Join Dr. Shroeder for an intriguing lecture about the butterfly diversity that can be found at CSNM on Friday, June 5 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Southern Oregon University Science Building. Hike along the Hobart Bluff trail the following day, June 6 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., to search for and celebrate butterflies. See the flyer below for more information. Happy 4th of July!!!