Sunday Night Vaux Watch

Vaux swifts continue their evening display of aerial stunts before flying into the chimney for the night at N 8th Avenue and Pioneer Street. In addition to the birds,  a small group of neighbors have been watching them each evening.  As the sun sets a little earlier each night, the birds are also going down the chimney a little earlier as well.  This  evening it was just before 8PM.  Some of us were wondering why they are staying here for so long before migrating southward.  Perhaps they are fattening up for the journey. There are a many insects in the air now so perhaps that’s why.  My neighbors are putting  out a few extra chairs each evening for anyone who wants to watch.

 

Contributed by Paul Snoey

1991 Angels Rest Fire

I took this photo a couple of years or so  after a fire in the Columbia River Gorge had burned the top of Angel’s Rest from a fire that began at Multnomah Falls and then burned west a few miles.  I was very upset when it occurred and when they finally opened the trail to the summit there was nothing but bare ground and dead snags. A year later it was a riot of wildflowers.  In this area,  the ground was covered with red columbine with Columbia lilies sticking up.  In other areas, it was mostly purple penstemons or small yellow sunflowers.  It was a real pleasure to see.  After a few more years, as brush and trees began to grow, the wildflowers were mostly crowded out.   A year ago this week, Angel’s Rest was burned again and this time the fire covered a much larger area, almost 50,000 acres.  Angels Rest is still closed and may open later this year. I wonder how this area and the other areas are going to respond.   Will we see wildflowers and grasses covering and stabilizing these slopes as the gorge begins to heal itself?

Our planet has changed a lot since 1991.  It’s become hotter and stormier.  In addition to the gorge here last year,  there were those terrible fires in California both last year and this year.  There have been terrible fires in Canada, Spain, Portugal, Australia and many other countries in unprecedented sizes and numbers.  Hurricanes and typhoons are becoming larger and more destructive. Think of  hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and Maria. Then, super typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines. We need to make some changes very soon to reduce green house gas emissions.  In November, we can approve Initiative 1631 which is a great start.  More importantly, we need elected leaders that accept and respond to what the scientific community is telling us about the causes of climate change.

~ Contributed by Paul Snoey

 

Vaux Swifts Roosting In Downtown Chimney

 

There are Vaux Swifts roosting in a chimney on the NE corner of N 8th Avenue and Pioneer Street.  The west side of the house has an ornate fireplace and chimney built of exotic stones including several pieces of petrified wood.  It is also the nightly home to a couple hundred Vaux Swifts.  They perform an acrobatic display for several minutes in the sky overhead as these fast flyers swoop and dart about.  Just before sunset, they drop into the chimney for the night. The photo was taken at 7:30 PM this evening.  They will be here for another month or so before migrating to Central and South America for the winter.  The Chapman Elementary School in Portland has the largest number of Vaux swifts in the United States.  Each September, hundreds of people have gathered  to watch them disappear down the school’s chimney.  We have a smaller version of that here.  The fireplace is not being used so the birds can roost without being roasted.

Contributed by Paul Snoey

 

Rain Shower After Drought

It has been very dry since April 15th. Other than a rainy Sunday in early June, it has been very hot, dry and windy. Gee Creek flows are much lower than last year at this time and most fish are not able to move upstream or downstream, being trapped in pools.

On Saturday afternoon we has a brief rainstorm that put a little less than 0.20″ in a half hour or so. It was enough to charge the city’s storm water system. When it has been dry for a while there is a build up of pollutants on the streets and other hard surfaces that drain to the storm water system.

 

The photo above was taken Saturday afternoon as the rain shower was ending.  The plume of sediment is the discharge of the storm sewer pipe from Old Town Ridgefield.  It collects drainage from Pioneer Street to Division Street and between North 5th Avenue to North Main Avenue.

The photo above was taken below the Heron Ridge Bridge and shows the storm water being mixed into the stream flow.  This is the entire creek flow.  Since the flow on Gee Creek is so very low this year there is less dilution of any storm water pollution that enters the  creek.

 

The photo above is at the storm water pipe in the Heron Ridge Storm Water Facility where it just enters.  The foam is likely from detergents people use when washing their vehicles.  Any thing on any surface that drains to the street ends up in the storm water system.

 

This photo is of the pond in the Heron Ridge Facility after the rain shower.  Its interesting that this pond had been dry for several weeks.  Consider what may be in this water.  The presence of soaps and detergents seems obvious.  It also could have doggy doo, herbicides and fertilizers leached from peoples yards.  That’s the value of a treatment facility.  If it is working properly, most of the  contaminants  will be removed before being put into the creek

I introduced myself to new public works director Justin Clary in June of 2004 as part of a senior project  at WSU.  I told him that old town storm water pollution was a serious problem and encouraged him to consider building a facility to treat it.  The city created a storm water utility in September of 2005  and began billing residents for storm water in 2006.  If the funds collected had been managed better and if proper maintenance had been done with the collection system and facilities, the city could have been treating most of its storm water by now.

         – Contributed by Paul Snoey

 

From Knotweed to Trees

 

One of the goals of stream restoration of Gee Creek is to rid the creek of weed species such as Japanese knotweed and blackberries and replace them with native species of trees and other plants.  This photo was taken in June of 2009.  It was  a dense tangle of Japanese knotweed, blackberries, and nettles.  The tops are about 13 feet above ground and many were bound together by morning glory vines. Getting rid of the knotweed and other weeds in the watershed was difficult.

The photo above is the same view after the knotweed ,blackberries, and nettles were removed.  The first trees planted here were willows and a few cottonwoods.  Later, Tevis planted cedars.  However, the fence along the creek was not a good one and eventually beavers took most of the cedars and many of the willows.  It was distressing to see the hard work lost.

The last photo was taken earlier this week.  Last fall, a good fence was built from here to the heron ridge bridge.  It has been successful, at least so far, in keeping out beavers.  There’s lots of new trees put in this spring  from here into the city’s storm water facility.  In time, the hope is to see a dense stand of trees all along Gee Creek from the east end of Abrams Park to the refuge.  There is a great deal more work to do that and many problems to overcome.  The photos are from Tevis Laspa’s property.

Contributed by Paul Snoey

 

 

 

Mosquitos Are Here

There were some biting mosquitoes in my yard this morning and a few got in the house. Later, working near Gee Creek, there were many more, swarming  and biting through a thick t-shirt.  I had swatted one earlier and took a photograph to ID it later.   Every few years, in the weeks before July Fourth, Ridgefield is plagued with mosquitos.  This could be one of those years.

 

From an article in Wikipedia, a drawing of a flood mosquito was a good match,  Flood mosquitoes lay their eggs on moist ground that is likely to flood later.  It has been very dry in Ridgefield from mid-April until today’s rain.  However, since the Columbia River has been high this spring, much of the refuge has been under water until a few days ago.  This could be the source of our mosquitos. In checking with the county mosquito control board, it was noted that the county does not spray for mosquitos.  Rather, they go after the larva by treating wet areas.  With much of the refuge being flooded  this spring, that would have been unlikely.

County mosquito control  states that there is no current threat of Zika Virus or West Nile Virus for Clark County residents.  So they are just annoying.  Vexans is derived from the Latin word meaning to annoy.    It’s early in the season but we will know soon just how annoying they are going to be.

Contributed by Paul Snoey

Coho in Abrams Park

The photo above was taken Monday from the footbridge going into Abrams Park.  If you are on the bridge and go to the right side on the upstream side you can see them.  Look under a dead blackberry stem hanging out over the water. This small school has been there for several weeks.  The incubator is below Reimann Road.  We were given 10,000 eggs in January and 50,000 in February. So, that is the most we’ve  ever been given. The fish have distributed themselves from below the incubator down to the refuge.  The first year or so these small fish remain in this part of the creek.  Then, next year, they will begin their Journey to the Pacific ocean.  Conditions in Gee Creek are good.  However, we  have only  had three inches of rain in April and stream flows are much lower than last year.  It would not be good to have another hot and dry summer.

contributed by Paul Snoey

A Killdeer Nest

I went down to the Port Waterfront area to find and photograph some trilliums in the woods near the Port. I did not find them but came across a killdeer along the Railroad tracks on the way back. As soon as I saw the bird I looked down and saw the four eggs in the nest.  I pulled out my camera a took a picture standing over the nest.

The killdeer walked towards me and when only  a few feet away began its wounded bird routine

Instead of the broken wing routine, it spread it’s wings and tail feathers.  It’s a behavior they use to draw predators away from their nest.  When  a predator leaves the nest area and approaches the bird, it suddenly flies away.

When I walked away from the nest and was about 10 feet or so away,  it calmly sat  back on its nest as if nothing was wrong.  Male and female killdeers look alike, take turns incubating the eggs, and the incubation takes about 4 weeks. The chicks are precocious, born with their eyes open, and can feed themselves within a few hours after hatching.  The parents stay with the chicks for about one month until they are fledged and  can take care of themselves.  There are many nests now along the tracks, around the port area, and  the marina too.  Its best to try not to disturb them during the nesting season. If you get near the nest they usually get up and walk quickly away. The eggs are very hard to see as they are well camouflaged.

~contributed by Paul Snoey

Voluneers Plant Trees on Gee Creek

Raul Moreno, Tevis Laspa, and I led a volunteer effort to plant trees to enhance Gee Creek last week-end. The  other volunteers were Bob Wallis and Jane Vail of Wallis Engineering, Randy Wray, Dustin and Blake DeMars,  and John Schiessl. We put approximately 180 trees in the ground.  They are  a mixture of Douglas fir, western red cedar, Oregon ash, and red alder.  These are all native trees.  In addition, a few giant sequoias were  added to the Dan Robinson Memorial in the park.  Twenty five of the most vulnerable trees were placed in cages in areas where beavers are most active.  Trees were planted in Abrams Park along the trail just north of the entrance, along the creek just south of the Heron Ridge Bridge,in the Heron Ridge Storm water facility, and on three properties downstream from the facility.  The trees were provided by Raul, Tevis, and  I.  The fencing for the cages was donated by Carol Witek and Tevis provided the posts for the cages.

The effort is to replace weeds and brush with native trees and other vegetation.  The value of trees is to prevent erosion, provide shade, and increased humidity on the creek itself.  Other values would be to make the trail along Gee Creek more pleasing and long lived trees act as sinks to remove carbon dioxide from the air.  If the trees being planted now are cared for they will play an important role in restoring the Gee Creek and  its’ floodplain.  The critical thing is to get them past the first year or two when they are the most vulnerable.

Contributed by Paul Snoey

First Day of Spring Sunset

    Yesterday, everywhere on our planet, the sun set was due west.  If you were standing on the equator yesterday the sun would have been directly overhead at noon and then gone straight down in the west.  In Ridgefield yesterday, the sun at noon would have been about 45 degrees above the horizon in the south and it would have gone down at a 45 degree angle and set due west.  On the first day of summer the sun here will be at 68 degrees above the horizon at noon(45 + 23 degrees) and would set at 23 degrees to the north of due west.   At the equator on the first day of summer, you would see the sun at 67 degrees above the horizon but in the north(90 – 23).  Sunset at the equator would be 23 degrees to the north of west.  Even though the earth turns once a day and half the earth is in sun and half in shadow, the tilt of the earth makes for a 16 hour day in summer instead of just a 12 hour day.  In the summer the northern hemisphere is very productive for growth of plants because of the long day and  the tilt of the earth give us.  Can you dig it?

~ Contributed by Paul Snoey

Planting on Gee Creek Trail

The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership sponsored a tree and bush planting Saturday for the new section of the Gee Creek Trail between Abrams Park and Heron Ridge Drive. McKenzie Miller, Senior Environmental Educator for the partnership, lead the group of 40 volunteers for planting.   On Friday  the locations of where  the different trees and plants were to go was flagged by   Samantha Dumont the Volunteer Coordinator for the Estuary Partnership.   Some of the volunteers were Cub Scout Pack 303 of Ridgefield.  This is the first all girls group in the scouts now that boy scouts can have girls.  Instead of the usual March rain, it was nice and sunny.    Among the trees and plants  put in the ground were Hooker’s willow, Douglas Fir, Big Leaf Maple, and Red Alder.  Several tall Oregon grape plants were put in the ground as well.

The next planting event with LCEP will be having students from Union Ridge Elementary plant the remaining trees and  plants later this month.  To fully restore this area will take a lot more work and commitment.

Erosion Control Project Continues

The Erosion Control Project for Gee Creek has begun with root wads beginning to be placed in the creek. This is the first erosion control project for the creek.  It’s success or failure could determine how other projects are done since there are several more areas that have problems.  The main questions are:

Will this work? The goal here is to stop the  erosion that been eating several feet of stream bank each year.

How expensive is it?   The cost of this project is important since there are other areas nearby with problems as well.

What will the creek look like and what more can be done here after the project has been finished?  We all want the trail along the creek to look natural and pleasant.  So what can be done when the project is completed to  further enhance the area?

Hazel Nut Trees

If you are driving into town on Pioneer you may  have noticed the bright yellow catkins on the many hazelnut trees at the east end of Abrams Park and in many other areas.  These hazelnuts, also called filberts,  are the wild cousin of the European tree imported for producing hazelnuts.  It is our earliest flowering tree.  These trees and other members of the birch family, such as alders, do not depend on insects for pollination.  They put out so much pollen that some will  reach the female catkins.  There are few insect pollinators in the middle of winter and  these trees not needing insects, can bloom in midwinter. Unfortunately, hazelnut pollen  is a strong allergen.    Those suffering the symptoms of allergies these days can guess that it is because of the hazelnut pollen.

 

The photo above shows a close-up of a branch.  The elongated catkin produces the pollen.  The female catkin can  be seen as small buds with small red octopus like pollen collecting structures.  The developing hazel nut will grow from these buds.  Hazelnuts and walnuts are the main reason that Ridgefield supports such a large population of squirrels. Late summer and fall is a time of frenetic activity as squirrels are so busy harvesting and  burying nuts.  The relationship between nut bearing trees and squirrels is mutually beneficial.  Squirrels get a good food source and  nut trees get their seeds carried a great distance from the tree and  even buried.  Enough nuts are not recovered by squirrels so that Ridgefield is full of hazel nut and walnut trees.

Salmon Eggs are in the Incubator

On Wednesday, January 10th I went to the Lewis River Hatchery and was given the salmon eggs for this year and  I put them in the incubator below Rieman Road. This is the third year we’ve had this site. The first year was initially a great success with many Juvenile Coho well distributed downstream. Coho fry stay in the area for about a year before heading to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.  In October of 2016 there was a large erosion control failure near South 45th Avenue and Royle Road. Then, there was a series of major storm events. In spring of 2017 there should have been a combination of the fish from the year before and  new fingerlings but fewer were seen.
Last fall and this winter so far there have been a series of erosion control failures on several projects. This year is different in that there has been much less rain and no major storm events. Gee Creek is becoming very turbid with as much as just a half an inch if rain.   In March of this year these fish will begin leaving the incubator and move into Gee Creek.  Having all these projects secured for the winter will be a great help.  Going into next fall, erosion control efforts on projects need to be improved if we are to be successful in restoring runs of Coho and cutthroat.

Stream Bank Erosion by Gee Creek Trail

                         The stream bank has receded in several places and threatens the new trail

The stream bank along sections of the new trail from Division Street to Heron Ridge Drive has areas that are eroding badly.  In mid- October the section in the photo had only one small section that had collapsed next to the silt fence.  Last weekend things began to get much worse, and on Tuesday, many sections of stream bank began to collapse in several places over a distance of 400 feet or so.  Gee Creek has not had high flows yet so that is not the cause of the sudden collapses.  We had a severe drought last summer that dried the soils here, and we’ve had enough rain to finally wet the soil.  This may be making it heavier and softer and is exacerbating the stream bank collapse from the stream undercutting the bank.   Public Works Director Bryan Kast indicated yesterday that a hydrologist consultant is working on getting some stream bank stabilization done here before the end of the year.

We are now getting into the wettest time of the year.  With soils saturated and higher stream flows on Gee Creek, it may be very difficult to get any stabilization done.   It’s mid-November and we have several more months of possible wet weather with  higher stream flows.  In several areas the changes to the stream bed are forcing water into and along the stream bank itself.  The best hope is to get through the  wet season and then look to find a way to make a real fix.  Unfortunately, a real fix over such a great distance could be very expensive

Another area of bank collapse:  Note how flow is undercutting bank