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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Checking Out The Burn

Last July there was a big fire over in the Yakima Valley. This is not too unusual, as wildfire often starts in the dry side. Earlier that year I had observed the workers at the Hanford reservation cutting and burning back the edges along the road to protect the reservation from fires due to careless drivers and the wildfires that swept down the hills onto the reservation.

When I heard on the news that the fire was on the Snow Mountain Ranch, my heart sank.

This beautiful property is held by the Cowechee Canyon Conservancy and I had paid (and told you about) a visit in March of 2010. Saturday I wanted to escape, yet again, the dreary weather of Puget Sound. Yakima is usually a good bet for fair skies. Usually.

Not today.

As soon as I gained the properly I saw evidence of the fire, a burned corral fence.

I selected a trail that would take me all the way up to the top of the mountain. The environment struck me as fairly quiet and I certainly expected more advanced seasonal bloom. Look at that Sky!!! Try to ignore the dark bits to the right, I did.

Then, it started raining. Not horrid drenching rain, rather the polite pitter splatter type rain. Then it stopped. Then it started, then stopped. And the sun came out.

and it was good.

As I gained some elevation, I noted that there was distinct plant groups and populations. The lupin is starting...

and the larkspur really loves the places where rocks over-ride the soil

As I cut up-slope into the more open area I was astounded at the abundance of Big-head Clover. I have never seen it so bountiful. Oregon Sunshine makes a pretty addition to the carpets.

The Gold Star is going strong.

But overall the flowers feel sparse. During my last visit it was impossible to make progress along the trail as there was such an abundance of flowers in such a variety that it was like a feast.

And bugs, tons of bugs.

Now it feels a bit sterile. Fire does sterilize the soil. It can be both good and bad. In many places the ground is burned and exposed.

The Conservancy will study the area well and see what effect the fire has in the short and long term. Some seeds in the July soil might certainly have been lost. The burn residue might add nutrients back to the soil. I found evidence of invading weeds and there was indication that steps were being taken to keep them out.

Upslope looks like a happy hike and I was heading there (still ignoring the sky)

but it started hailing...then raining...and then hailing again.

One thing about the dry side soils. In many places it is not rocky soil. It is sandy clayish soil, and when wet turns into "gumbo mud" as slick as boiled okra. My shoes were quickly enrobed with slippery muck and walking on the level was treacherous. Walking on any kind of slope darn near impossible.

I have to admit I threw in the towel pretty easily. I am sorry for it, a long drive for only a short time on the ground. I love the drive over here. Some day I need to stop and share the vision of the landscape between Ellensburg and Yakima. Many might feel it is a barren wasteland but I love the roll and contour of the shrub steppe hills.

So I cautiously picked my way back down. I encountered happy Fiddlenecks.

Brodiaea was abundant.

This slope certainly demonstrates the effect of the burn. Last year this area was riot with flowers.

The low area of the property is near meadows and marshes. Here I encountered more birds. The lighting didn't favor pictures for the most and the active wary nesting behaviors certainly made getting aim a challenge.

But I could look and I even remembered my binoculars today. I cannot remember what bird got me to look up in this old oak. I am glad I did.

Three Great Horned Owl fledgelings. Look at the downy pantaloons. These young birds will be flying next month. The angle and lighting was a misery so I could only capture one well.

But he has his "cool look" on. I have had owls every weekend for the last three. I am amazed as I almost never spot owls. They have been nemisis birds.

I am not sure when I can get back to this lovely place. I am sure time will heal all the wounds. Perhaps some delightful rarity will spring up having awaited the fire event. Perhaps the birds will find more bugs to eat in the exposed soils and the rotting deadwood.

We will see.

1 comment:

  1. Great photos, Marti. We're hoping to stop there next week on our way to Portland - hoping to catch Catherine Creek and a few other spots as well - if it ever stops raining. Friday on our way home from Spokane we're hoping to stop at Manastash and possibly in Plain or at Chiwaukum Creek (little early for that one, though.