JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Report on A Visit to Crater Lake National Park,
Rogue River National Forest & Lost Creek Lake
in Southwestern Oregon, USA

August 16, 2009

CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
This week Roland and Anita invited me on an overnight camping trip to Crater Lake National Park in the Cascade Mountains about 75 air-miles WNW of here. The crater, about five miles across (8 kms), was formed some 7,700 years ago by a volcanic eruption. The eruption created a 12,000-ft-high mountain (3650 m) now called Mt. Mazama, but so much magma was ejected that the mountain eventually collapsed, leaving the crater. You can see across the crater's western end at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816cr.jpg.

That's Wizard Island in the picture, a volcanic cone formed after the collapse. With a maximum lake depth of 1943 ft (592 m), Crater Lake is considered the deepest lake in the US. I took the picture from an elevation of 7,100 ft (2164 m). Five miles from the crater, ash deposits still are very thick, as shown by a narrow, steep-walled valley eroded into ash at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816cs.jpg.

Our region's main river, the Rogue, arises in the crater's vicinity. I hiked about ten miles of the Upper Rogue River Trail paralleling the river. You can see Takelma Gorge some 15 miles from the crater where the Rogue cuts through stacked layers of ancient mudflows and debris from off the volcano at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816ct.jpg.

Crater Lake's Wikipedia page does a good job exploring the area's very interesting geology at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crater_Lake_National_Park.

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NUTCRACKERS
On my recent hiking trip in California's Red Buttes Wilderness Area we failed to see Clark's Nutcrackers, NUCIFRAGA COLUMBIANA, maybe because we never got high enough. At the chilly picnic ground on Crater Lake's rim at 7,100 feet nutcrackers were all over the place snatching food from picnickers. At a nearby table one fellow was so annoyed with them that he kicked one away with his foot. You can see one near our table at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816nu.jpg.

I felt sorry seeing a nutcracker being treated so roughly, for they are special birds to me. On my webpage called "Birds with Fantastic Memories" at http://www.backyardnature.net/birdmmry.htm I write:

"In late summer, Clark's Nutcrackers harvest seeds of Pinyon Pines. They stuff the seeds into pouches below their tongues, and then may fly several miles and bury the seeds. A single nutcracker may bury as many as 33,000 Pinyon Pine seeds in groups, or caches (pronounced CASH-es), of four of five seeds each. When winter comes and food is scarce, the bird returns to its thousands of caches and eats its seeds."

Studies have shown that Clark's Nutcrackers remember far more than the general vicinity in which they've buried their caches. Very often they remember the caches' exact locations. For that specific task of remembering where their caches are located, the brains of Clark's Nutcrackers appear to be more highly developed than that of an average human.

It's not surprising that nutcrackers are so smart. They belong in the same family as jays, magpies, crows and ravens, who also are famously intelligent birds.

Clark's Nutcracker's are permanent residents who wander widely into lower elevations during the winter. You can see their summer distribution map is at http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/htm96/map617/ra4910.html.

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A DUSKY GRAY JAY
Clark's Nutcrackers weren't the only Jay-Family species aggressively seeking handouts from picnickers at Crater Lake that day. Look at the bird at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816nv.jpg.

That's a juvenile Gray Jay, PERISOREUS CANADENSIS, a permanent resident in most of Canada and Alaska south into upper elevations of much of the western US, the population expanding southward a bit during winter.

This dusky-plumaged young bird is so unlike the white, gray and black adult that I had to confirm its identity with my friend Romain. I read that juveniles retain this dark plumage until August, so this bird must be about ready to change.

The Gray Jay's two key habitat requirements appear to be: 1) having sufficiently cold temperatures to ensure successful storage of perishable food, and; 2) tree bark with pliable scales arranged shingle-like so that the bird can store its food by wedging it into the dry, concealed spaces up under the scales.

Also I read that the Gray Jay's food falls into four main categories: insects and spiders; berries and mushrooms; nestling birds and other small live animals such as mice and toads, and; carrion.

You can see, however, that during our visit the Gray Jay in the picture wasn't eating from any of those food groups. He was very seriously into watermelon.

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HUCKLEBERRY PUZZLEMENT
Descending westward from Crater Lake we entered Rogue River National Forest. It was fascinating watching the vegetation change from sparse, deserty, tree-line communities at the crater's rim into the lower elevations' relative lushness. One zone we passed through, a Douglas-fir forest at maybe 5500 feet in elevation, was striking because the relatively open forest floor was thickly carpeted with an evergreen, woody shrub only about a foot high, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816hb.jpg.

The mat-forming shrub bore fruits looking like blueberries. Though unfamiliar with huckleberries I knew that huckleberries are a kind of blueberry, and we were near the Forest Service's Huckleberry Mountain Campground, so I thought that maybe these were huckleberry plants.

However, the fruits, while similar to what I imagined huckleberries might look like, weren't quite right. All blueberry fruits and therefore all huckleberry fruits are developed from "inferior ovaries." Inferior ovaries are those with corolla, calyx and other parts arising above the ovary, not below it, as diagrammed at http://www.backyardnature.net/inf_sup.gif.

One consequence of the inferior ovary is that blueberry fruits -- therefore huckleberries as well -- clearly bear their persistent calyxes opposite their stem attachment. An immature blueberry from our garden plainly showing the calyx persisting atop the fruit is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816bb.jpg.

Compare that with the fruits on the mat-forming shrub at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816hc.jpg.

Little dimples mark the fruits' ends opposite their points of attachment but there are no calyxes or calyx scars. This is no blueberry, and therefore no huckleberry.

The mat-forming shrub is a manzanita species. The much larger, shrubby Whiteleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida, is abundant around my trailer, profiled at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/w/manzanit.htm, but what we have here is the higher-elevation-growing Pinemat Manzanita, ARCTOSTAPHYLOS NEVADENSIS.

Though I was disappointed at still not learning about huckleberries, it's clear from mouse nibblings on the immature fruits in the picture that when the millions and millions of Pinemat Manzanitas covering many acres of forest floor in that area bear mature fruits, someone will have a banquet. The fruits are listed as important food items for Black Bear, Black-tailed Deer, Coyote, birds and miscellaneous rodents. Black- tailed deer browse the shrub's seedlings during the first three years after a fire, and after fires Pinemat Manzanita often is very plentiful because its soil-stored seed vigorously germinate after fire.

Pinemat Manzanita occurs from Washington State through Oregon into California, and a bit of Nevada.

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WESTERN HEMLOCKS
Upon leaving Crater Lake and entering Rogue River National Forest, Anita and Roland signed into Farewell Campground for an overnight stay and I lit off backpacking downstream on the wonderful Upper Rogue River Trail.  

A frequent large coniferous tree in moist, sheltered spots along the river caught my eye because sometimes its branches bore both old and new cones, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816hm.jpg.

The small cone is similar to a pinecone but notice that instead of its branches bearing clusters of sharp, stiff needles, as a pine does, the leaves are flat and occur singly. This is a hemlock, the Western Hemlock, TSUGA HETEROPHYLLA, able to grow up to 175 feet tall (50 m).

Western Hemlocks are similar to Eastern Hemlocks of eastern North America, except that they can grow over twice as large. Also the Eastern's cone scales are not wavy-margined the way those in the picture are. In the Crater Lake area the Mountain Hemlock with much larger cones also occurs, but at higher elevations.

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MOUNTAIN-ASHES IN FULL FRUIT
Here and there in moist soil along the Rogue's rocky banks, often in fairly shaded spots, very handsome, tree-borne clusters of orange fruits showed up, seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816ss.jpg.

This is a Cascade Mountain-ash, also called Greene's Mountain-ash, Rowan Tree, and other names; it's SORBUS SCOPULINA, not an ash tree at all but rather a member of the Rose Family, closely related to the crabapples. Members of the genus Sorbus, of which there may be up to 200 species, are called mountain-ashes. A hyphen is used in the name to emphasize that they're not ashes; they're mountain-ashes.

Because the small pomes are so handsome often Sorbus species are planted in gardens, especially in chilly, rainy northern Europe. In the US Northeast the American Mountain-ash, Sorbus americana, is a similar species. Our Cascade species is distributed from British Columbia south to central California and west to Montana and New Mexico. Often it's more a shrub than a tree, but the ones I saw, surrounded by Vine Maples, were small trees.

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BUSH CHINKAPIN
Last week I introduced you to the Golden Chinkapin, Chrysolepis chrysophylla, whose spiky fruits are shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/w/goldchnk.htm.

Along the Upper Rogue River Trail the Bush Chinkapin, CHRYSOLEPIS SEMPERVIRENS was fruiting, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816ch.jpg.

While Golden Chinkapins grow into large trees, the Bush Chinkapin in that picture, despite being loaded with burry fruits, was no more than a foot tall. Rarely the species can grow to seven feet. It was fairly common in the forest understory on rocky outcrops along the Rogue.

Bush Chinkapins occur naturally only in southwestern Oregon, California and extreme western Nevada.

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LADY FERNS
Relative to the Southeast, ferns in this area are more abundant but much less diverse. In my teeny home county, McLean, in western Kentucky, I found 16 fern species. So far around here only five species have turned up. Of these, one was Bracken, the world's most common fern, and two were super-abundant, look-alike swordfern species.

Therefore, during my hike along the Rogue, when the trail dipped into a moist, shady little valley and a different fern species suddenly showed up, lots of knee-high, frilly ones, I was tickled. You can see one at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816lf.jpg.

I knew this one from back in Kentucky. It's the Lady Fern, ATHYRIUM FILIX-FEMINA, one of the most common and best known ferns species throughout the temperate zones of both North America and Eurasia -- it's "circumboreal." Among its field marks are the way its lower divisions, or pinnae, are much smaller than at the frond's middle. Also, look at the frond underside at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816lg.jpg.

In that picture, one feature confirming that it's a Lady Fern is that the veins DON'T reach the pinna's margin. Another feature is the special shape of each cluster of tiny, black spheres. Each of those clusters is a fruit-dot or sorus. The tiny, black spheres making up the sori are stalked, baglike sporangia. When a sporangium matures it bursts and releases spores, which under perfect conditions germinate to form tiny, flat things called prothalli (singular prothallus), the first stage of a fern's life cycle.

Anyway, the sori are said to be kidney-shaped, or "reniform." Earlier they'd been covered with cellophane-like indusia, and each indusium had been attached by one side, not in the center, umbrellalike, as with the swordferns. You might enjoy comparing the Lady Fern's sori with those of our abundant swordferns at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090503sg.jpg.

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CARPETWEED
Next day, upon leaving the National Forest, Anita proposed a midday picnic at 3,430-acre Lost Creek Lake along our way home. By the time we reached there we'd dropped in elevation to the point that the average water level at the lake is at 1877 feet (572 meters) in elevation. One consequence of that was that we'd gotten back into some welcome heat. After a spectacular meal I needed to take a walk to keep from getting groggy, so I hiked along the lake.

The lake was low, exposing slopes and large mudflats that each spring lie underwater. On one such stretch of exposed, barren soil I spotted an old friend, a ground-hugging little herb first met on the farm back in Kentucky, showing up in our tobacco patches where we'd have to chop it out. Also I see it a lot in Latin America, for that's where it's from originally. It's the Carpetweed, MOLLUGO VERTICILLATA, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816cw.jpg.

This is a modest little plant with whorled leaves less than an inch long. I always felt bad having to remove it from the tobacco patch because clearly it wasn't competing much with the tobacco for water or nutrients. However, farmers have this thing about ANY weed in their crops. Take a look at its neat little flowers, which are only about 0.2 inch across (5 mm), at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816cx.jpg.

At first glance Carpetweed's flowers look like the super simple, super average "Standard Blossom" I use to teach basic flower anatomy at http://www.backyardnature.net/fl_stand.htm.

However, a Carpetweed flower departs from the Standard Blossom in some interesting ways. First, the flower bears no petals. The five white things looking like petals are actually sepals, which are lobes of the calyx, which usually lies green and unremarkable below the attention-getting petals. Second, the flowers in the picture bear only three pollen-producing stamens, while most flowers with five sepals or petals also bear five stamens or multiples of five. Sometimes Carpetweed flowers have four or five stamens, which also is unusual, for usually in simply flowers the stamen number is more fixed. Of course the thing looking like a green pepper in each flower's center is the ovary, which will mature into a fruit filled with many smooth, kidney-shaped seeds.

As a student I learned that Carpetweeds belong to the Stone-Plant Family, the Aizoaceae, but now gene sequencing indicates that they're so different from other plants that they deserve their own family, the Carpetweed Family, the Molluginaceae.

Carpetweeds are edible as a pot herb, but they're so small and stringy you'd have to be hard up to bother with them. The species has spread in weedy areas throughout North America except in northern Canada and Alaska.

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BINDWEED
At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816bh.jpg you see another weedy, white-flower herb, this one viny, spreading prettily across often-flooded ground next to the lake. That's Bindweed, CONVOLVULUS ARVENSIS, in the Morning Glory family. Its inch-long, funnel-shaped blossoms and arrowhead-shaped leaves are shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816bi.jpg.

This invasive weed from Europe also invaded our tobacco patch back in Kentucky but it wasn't as innocent as Carpetweeds, for it would twine up tobacco stalks. If you just pulled on it, it would tear the precious tobacco leaves, so you had to bend over and unwind it. Except in the far North, you see Bindweed all across North America along sidewalks, in abandoned lots, roadsides, weedy fields -- just about any weedy spot. One reason it survives so well is that it's a perennial from a deep, persistent root.

Despite being such an aggressive, common plant it has a very pretty, elegant little blossom, as you can see at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816bj.jpg .

Sometimes Bindweed flowers are pink-tinged.

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PEEPS AT THE WATER'S EDGE
While taking the above pictures I heard a familiar sharp peeping call from down at the water's edge. It was one of the "peeps," which are any of a number of smallish, sharp-billed, long-legged little bird species frequenting shores of large bodies of water. But, which peep was it? See if you know at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090816p2.jpg.

I had problems figuring out this bird. Especially because so much pure white outlined the otherwise brown feathers I thought it was a migrating Sanderling, for it looks like what's in my old Peterson fieldguide.

However, my friend Romain doubted it, opting instead for a Western Sandpiper, CALIDRIS MAURI," shown in my Peterson as having tan fringes to the brown feathers, not white ones.

"Believe that a sanderling juvie would not have as "heavy" and slightly dropped beak like westerns do," Romain said. "Migrating westerns would be more expected (seasonally common in small numbers) on Lost Creek Reservoir. Sanderlings are less so though probably annually detected or detected a few times annually."

Romain wasn't sure himself, though, so he sent the picture to Greg, an expert:

"The bold feathers of the upper wing, with black "anchor" marks, crisp white tips, and bright centers indicate these are juveniles in fresh plumage. The adults already migrated through, with their very worn and faded plumage that they received new in early spring, migrated to the Arctic, bred, and migrated back. The strong white eyebrow, droop-tipped bill, and rufous tones to crown and scapulars clinch the ID as Western Sandpipers. One other thing. The rear bird with its foot lifted? See the tiny hind toe? Sanderlings lack hind toes completely."

Good grief. Wandering peeps after the breeding season sure are hard to ID, but apparently it can be done if you're sharp enough.

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ZOMBIE ANTS & SMART DOGS
The most popular page at my Backyard Nature Website has become the one entitled "Online News Feeds on The Topic of Nature." Here you can click on any of 21 links to access pages listing titles and reviews of nature-oriented stories. Then you can click on any story you're interested in and read the whole piece, usually with illustrations and more links. The articles originate from such sources as National Public Radio, the BBC, the Nature Conservancy, the EPA and the Ocean Conservancy. The gateway page is at http://www.backyardnature.net/i-rss.htm.

By bookmarking that page and returning to it regularly (the listings are updated daily), you can keep abreast of new discoveries in the world of natural sciences and keep tabs on what's happening on the environmental scene. My favorite source is Science Daily Magazine, and that's where this week I read about zombie ants and smart dogs.

Actually the ants are carpenter ants, but they're called zombies because something takes possession of them and forces them to do certain things. What takes possession is a fungus that "... compels the ant to climb from its nest high in the forest canopy down into small plants and saplings in the understory vegetation. The ant then climbs out onto the underside of a low-hanging leaf where it clamps down with its mandibles just before it dies. There it remains, stuck fast for weeks." The fungus then continues its own life cycle inside the dead ant, which it couldn't do if the ant hadn't left its nest and clamped down on the underside of a low-hanging leaf. The article is at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090811161345.htm.

The dog story arises from several behavioral studies indicating that a typical dog's mental abilities are close to a human child's aged 2 to 2.5 years. Average dogs can learn abut 165 words and count up to four or five. Also they can deliberately deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards, and they are nearly as successful in deceiving humans as humans are in deceiving dogs. This story can be accessed at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090810025241.htm.

These studies support a couple of my own assumptions about Nature and life in general. The dog piece reminds us that other animals have respectable minds. If the tests had dealt with making decisions based on odors, and sophisticated behavior associated with pack cohesion and territoriality, I'll bet that humans would have been judged the "mentally impaired" party.

And, just think that a fungus can take control of an animal's behavior so effectively! I suspect that someday researchers similarly will be able to cause humans do and think just about anything through the media of chemicals and the pinpoint stimulation of certain regions of the brain. This train of thought raises the question of whether really there is anything we humans do that is not genetically programmed.

For my part, I do believe that a thinking being can rise above his or her genetic programming. That's because I recognize the Sixth Miracle of Nature. The Sixth Miracle is miraculous and inexplicable precisely because it empowers us to imagine and have insights and feelings far beyond the thinking permitted by our genetic programming -- thinking dealing mostly with matters of sex, territoriality and status.

In fact, we need this Miracle if now we are to overcome our programming, which was appropriate for our ancient ancestors on the African veld, but maladaptive in today's human-overpopulated world.

We need the Sixth Miracle if we are to save Life on Earth.

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Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim