As a Metro scientist, Kate Holleran sees nature's biggest challenges and most glorious surprises – and she has the muddy boots to prove it. Read her latest reflections on restoring the land protected by Metro's voter-approved Natural Areas Program.
By Kate Holleran, Metro Scientist
Conserving nature, one acre at a time
Sometimes, a scientist's day starts early. Very early. A few days ago I had a 5 a.m. birding appointment at Chehalem Ridge Natural Area, an 1,100-acre forest near the small town of Gaston in Washington County.
I met Metro's resident bird expert, Lori Hennings, to conduct avian point counts. Avian point counts are bird surveys that tell us a bit of the story of how birds are using a habitat. We walked into the forest, stood quietly for a few minutes, and then began recording every species we saw or heard for a three-minute period. The surveys are relatively simple if you know your bird calls, because it is uncommon to actually see the birds. Lori is the birder extraordinaire; I tag along to keep time and learn a few more bird calls. Knowing what bird species are present in an area, especially during mating season, helps me understand what is happening in a habitat and informs my choices for management activities.
That morning we surveyed a young forest full of native shrubs like willow, rose, oceanspray, red currant, elderberry and a few scattered large trees. The technical name for a forest in this stage of growth is early seral. Early seral forests result from a disturbance – in this case a clearcut by the former owners – which removes most of the large trees and floods the site with light and growing space. Shrubs proliferate madly in these conditions and create a wonderland of breeding and feeding opportunities for song birds. Because early seral forests are so valuable to song birds and not common on our landscape, I'll thin out some of the hundreds of Douglas-fir trees planted on this site so the shrubs can provide migratory bird habitat for several more decades.
The sun was quickly warming the air, and from Chehalem Ridge we could see the Coast Range and the Cascades. As the morning stretched on, black-headed grosbeaks, band-tailed pigeons, Swainson thrushes, olive-sided flycatchers and hummingbirds completed for attention. My novice status was confirmed as I identified four bird species for every dozen Lori knew. Lots of room for improvement in my skill set – and I'll be up again next week to improve my personal best.