In this podcast episode, learn a little bit about OHA and a lot about the grouse of the world, with special focus on the grouse species that inhabit Okanogan County, WA, with Dr. Michael Schroeder. Also, join Jack, the Nature Detective, as he explores the Okanogan Highlands in this story for kids of all ages.

Podcast Credits: Presentation by Dr. Michael Schroeder, Grouse song by Julie Vanderwal with words by poet Will Nixon (find “My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse” and more at willnixon.com). Theme song by Tyler Graves and Andy Kingham.

Jack, Nature Detective with ruffed grouse friends, by Diana Weddle

Jack, Nature Detective: Grouse of the Okanogan 

“Look! A chicken!” Jack squawks. His little sister laughs and claps her hands, and hollers, “Let’s collect the eggs!” But Jack frowns, and says “Wait, hold on. It can’t be a chicken, that doesn’t make sense…” Jack and his family have just crossed a grassy field to get to the edge of a creek. They are looking for animal footprints in the new snow on an early winter day, and have just been startled by a heavy-bodied bird clattering away across the field. The bird didn’t go far, and it really didn’t fly very high. By Jack’s estimation, it only flew “about three cars high.” 

Meet Jack, Nature Detective: Jack is inquisitive, skeptical, creative, quirky, determined, and a friend to ALL critters. His observations of subtle clues and brilliant reasoning make him, quite possibly, one of the world’s most talented nature detectives. Like most of us, Jack’s understanding of the world comes from his own life experiences. He is five years old, and his investigative skills are top notch. If you were to stop by his house you might find our Nature Detective in the midst of an experiential study of squirrel movement, or determining the optimal shelter and food stores for his new pet grasshopper, named Grasshopper. Today, we will share a mystery that Jack uncovered in the Okanogan Highlands. What clues can you uncover in the story?

“Where would a chicken come from? I don’t see any houses. Chickens need houses, and roosts, and nest boxes.” Jack gasps and his eyes get big, “Mom! Are there wild chickens? Or is this someone’s lost chicken? Or… is that not a chicken?” Jack thinks hard, “Time to collect clues. Nature Detective is on the case.”

This bird is smaller than the chickens that he knows from his grandma’s house. But the chickens he has seen fly three cars high, just like this bird. Jack thinks, “maybe it’s a baby, and that’s why it’s small. But… why would a baby chicken wander off on its own?” Jack has recently conducted a study of his grandma’s chickens and this is what Jack knows about chickens: 

  1. They can be lots of different colors. 
  2. They eat seeds and bugs. 
  3. They lay eggs, unlike bats, that have live birds. 
  4. Some chickens grow feathers right over their eyes so they can’t see.

The chicken facts that Jack knows sort of fit with the mystery bird, but it’s just too weird to see a chicken out in the wild. The family follows in the direction that the bird went, trying not to scare it again.

Jack stops and puts his binoculars to his eyes. He scans the branches of some trees along the creek. He scans the snow. He stops. “There it is!” Jack whispers. His mom, dad, and sister all put their binoculars to their eyes and aim the lenses where Jack is looking. There is a bird there, walking awkwardly right on top of the snow. “How does he do that?” Jack wonders. They can see that this is not a chicken. It is speckled, with bright yellow eyebrows, and it’s tail is too pointy to be a chicken. It could be a relative of a chicken. Suddenly the bird disappears. “Where’d he go? That’s not a chicken!” They decide to leave the bird alone, since winter is a hard time to be a wild bird.

When Jack gets home his dad pulls up their favorite website – Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Jack likes this website because he can search for birds by shape and color! It doesn’t take long for him to find a whole bunch of chicken-shaped birds with yellow eyebrows. He thinks his mystery bird was a grouse – but which one? Jack reviews his clues: a grassy habitat, smaller than a chicken, speckled, yellow eye brows, pointy tail, walking on top of the snow. “A sharptail grouse!” Jack hypothesizes. How can he know for sure? For more clues about whether Jack’s guess might be correct, and to learn all about the different types of grouse that live in the Okanogan, Washington and the world, check out OHA’s newest podcast, Grouse of the Okanogan, with Dr. Michael Schroeder. 

Stay tuned! Jack will continue to solve nature mysteries on topics related to upcoming episodes of the Highland Wonders Podcast.

Meet Jack, Nature Detective: Jack is inquisitive, skeptical, creative, quirky, determined, and a friend to ALL critters. His observations of subtle clues and brilliant reasoning make him, quite possibly, one of the world’s most talented nature detectives. Like most of us, Jack’s understanding of the world comes from his own life experiences. He is five years old, and his investigative skills are top notch. If you were to stop by his house you might find our Nature Detective in the midst of an experiential study of squirrel movement, or determining the optimal shelter and food stores for his new pet grasshopper, named Grasshopper. Today, we will share a mystery that Jack uncovered in the Okanogan Highlands. What clues can you uncover in the story?

Jack, Nature Detective. Illustration by Diana Weddle.

One day in October, Jack, the Nature Detective, is out on a hike in the Okanogan Highlands with his family. The needles of the Western Larch are lighting up the flank of Bonaparte Mountain with yellow, bright against the dark green of the other conifers. The afternoon is warm and Jack’s whole family is enjoying the way the sunbeams filter down through the forest canopy. 

Suddenly, Jack detects something. His eyes open wide and he whispers, “Who’s out there? Mom? Is someone watching us?” Everyone stops and looks around, no one is there, just the quiet forest. But the whole family kind of feels like there is something there, so they come to a full stop and really look around. There is a fallen tree, leaning steeply against its neighbor. The trees are tall in this place – and big around. Some have broken off way up in the air. But no one sees any sign of eyes watching them.

Jack’s mom says, “Don’t worry, Jack. Sometimes when you are outside, it really feels like something is watching you. Maybe animals are watching. The creatures that live in these woods are specially adapted to be camouflaged in this habitat. The shapes of their bodies and their colors blend right into the shapes and colors of the forest. They stay very still, so our eyes just slide right past them without even seeing them. Their camouflage keeps them safe.” Just a little way farther on, Jack stops again, staring at a splotch of white on the ground, and, looking closer, he notices small gray lumps that look a bit furry, and a little bit…bony. What is this? Does it have something to do with that creepy feeling of being watched? 

This is a nature mystery and, fortunately, the Nature Detective is on the job. He pulls out his sample jars, some forceps, and a hand lens, and collects the gray lumps for analysis at home.

Back at home, Jack dons his lab coat, goggles, and protective gloves and examines the gray lumps. He uses the forceps to pull out a pile of tiny bones. He painstakingly counts the bones and declares that this is undoubtedly the droppings of a hungry rodent eater. 

Look for our podcast logo!

He considers his clues: forest habitat with big trees, snags, and leaning trees, a creature that eats rodents and lives in the Okanogan Highlands. He remembers that feeling of being watched. Jack’s hypothesis is that this nature mystery is likely an owl, but it could be a coyote, weasel, or snake, and he is not quite willing to dismiss the possibility that it could be a baby velociraptor or a saber tooth tiger. Do you think Jack’s owl hypothesis is correct? What other evidence would you need to verify Jack’s forest find? To learn more, check out the new podcast, Highland Wonders, produced by Okanogan Highlands Alliance. The first episode, Great Gray Owls: The Phantom of the North, features Matt Marsh, wildlife biologist with the US Forest Service in Tonasket. You can find the podcast at any of the following apps: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, RadioPublic, Pocket Cast, Google Podcasts.

Stay tuned! Jack will continue to solve nature mysteries on topics related to upcoming episodes of the Highland Wonders Podcast. Episodes will be released throughout the winter, and accompanying mysteries will be posted on OHA’s website.

On Friday, September 25, OHA held a special edition of Highland Wonders – a drive-in movie screening of The Beaver Believers, a feature documentary. It was a clear, cool autumn evening with the moon hanging in the sky, and we were able to gather (while maintaining social distancing precautions) to watch this inspiring film. If you missed it, reach out to director Sarah Koenigsberg through her website, https://www.thebeaverbelievers.com/ to find out how you can see this fantastic film. You too, can be a beaver believer!

Due to COVID-19 we were not able to hold our summertime Highland Wonders field trips. But never fear! Artists have shared techniques, instructions and their artistic process by video so that you can watch, enjoy, learn and, if you like, create nature inspired art right in your own back yard. Many thanks to Ken Vander Stoep, Claudia Makeyev, Sadie and Emma Hanley and Owen and Andrew Weddle for inspiring us to observe nature and to create!

Oil Pastels with Ken Vander Stoep: a guided lesson in color technique and the use of oil pastels to create a work in the style of American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe.
Scientific Illustration: professional scientific illustrator, Claudia Makeyev, shares her process and techniques for creating accurate depictions of creatures using scientific literature, measurement and watercolors.
FOR KIDS! Shadow Art: kids ages 7-12 demonstrate how to create colorful abstractions of shadows they find outdoors.

OHA kicked off the summer’s of 2020’s Highland Wonders with a Weekend Birding Challenge! The official event took place on May 30-31 but if you want to participate, choose any consecutive two days that works for you! We will send you a bluebird box kit when you share your results.

There are two challenge options. Choose the one that fits you best, or do both! The challenge runs from Saturday, May 30 to Sunday, May 31. Send your results to jen@okanoganhighlands.org by Monday, June 1.

Challenge 1: Keep a list of the bird species that you see in your yard or wherever you may be. Take pictures if you can! Send your approximate sighting location, species list and pictures by Monday, June 1 to jen@okanoganhighlands.org. An anonymous donor is giving OHA $5 for the first 40 species identified! Let us know if you’d like to add to the pot!


Challenge 2: Build a bird’s nest out of materials that you find in nature and send a picture of your engineering feat to jen@okanoganhighlands.org. For inspiration, check this out: https://nestwatch.org/learn/focal-species/

Cedar Waxwing

Attached below is our “Birding Care Package” with lots of fun resources for watching, listening to and caring for our local birds. Also attached is a tried-and-true bluebird box blueprint, from local bird box expert Dale Swedberg. In the near future we will be assembling bird box kits to distribute to interested community members, and we will also provide a “how to” video for assembly and care of the boxes. Let us know if we can put you on the list to receive a kit! 

Backyard sighting of a Say’s Phoebe with its offspring. May 31, 2020.

Thanks to all who participated this weekend! We had a total of 36 species reported, which means our donor is giving $180 to OHA. Great work!

Weekend Birding Challenge Results
Cedar waxwing
Chipping sparrow
Vesper sparrow 
House wren
Raven
American robin
Black-headed grosbeak
Red-naped sapsucker
Song sparrow
Violet-green swallow
wood-pewee
red-tailed hawk
Cassin’s finch
Willow flycatcher
Sora
Spotted towhee
European starling 
Mountain chickadee
Turkey
Pine siskin
Swainson’s thrush
Poorwill
Wood pewee
Nighthawk 
Common Loon
Raven
Bald Eagle
Osprey
Mallard
Wilson’s Snipe
Yellow Rumped Warbler
Tree Swallow
Flicker
Eastern Kingbird
Say’s Phoebe
California Quail
Eurasian Collared Dove

Everywhere you look in the Okanogan Highlands you can see evidence of the movement of glaciers. The trick is knowing what to look for! On March 6, CWU geography professor Karl Lillquist used local landscapes and landforms to demonstrate how glaciers and other factors shaped our region during the last glaciation in our area, 12,000-18,000 years ago.

Okanogan Highlands Alliance (OHA) and Okanogan Land Trust (OLT) are excited to be co-hosting three-part series of educational events focused on geology. OHA hosted the first event on Friday, March 6th, when Dr. Karl Lillquist returned to Tonasket for the Highland Wonders presentation. OLT will host the second event at some point in the future, but it has been postponed to protect public health. When we are able to resume public events, Bruce Bjornstad will present as part of the OkaKnowledgy lecture series in Okanogan. The third event, also led by Dr. Lillquist, will take participants on a field trip in the Highlands, hopefully this summer! All three events will highlight the fascinating geological processes shaping our hills and valleys. The indoor events are free and open to all; the field trip will require pre-registration with priority given to OHA and OLT members. Anyone can become a member!

Karl Lillquist
Karl Lillquist shares about the Geology of the Okanogan Highlands during an OHA Highland Wonders tour.

Friday, March 6, Community Cultural Center of Tonasket:
Dr. Lillquist led the audience in “explor[ing] the origins and evolution of landscapes and landforms in the Okanogan Highlands.” He described how the Okanogan Highlands landscape has been sculpted over time by glaciers and other forces. Specifically, he explained how “The Okanogan Highlands, [which is] characterized by rolling uplands, punctuated by a diverse array of valleys…has been shaped by various tectonic, weathering, landslide, stream, glacier, and wind-related processes.“

Dr. Lillquist is a professor in the Geography Department at Central Washington University, and has vast experience exploring and teaching about the geology of our state. His area of expertise is geomorphology, a field focusing on landforms and how they originated. Throughout our three-part series, we hope that you will join us in looking at the Highlands landscape through geologic time — you might never look at our highland hills and valleys the same way again!

Highland Wonders events feature the natural history of the Okanogan Highlands and surrounding areas. OHA offers educational programming on the first Friday of the month from November through April. The presentations, which start at 6:30 pm, are free to the public (donations are welcome), and clock hours are available for educators. The events take place at the Tonasket Community Cultural Center, and dinner is available before the presentations. (meat and vegetarian options available, $10 a plate).

For more info, or to become a member of OHA, visit our support webpage, or contact jen@okanoganhighlands.org (509-429-4399). For more info about OLT, visit: okanoganlandtrust.org.

Chew on this

January 31st at the Merc Playhouse, 7pm

101 S. Glover St, Twisp, WA

An Edu-tainment event about People and Beavers Rebuilding Watershed Resilience …Naturally!

METHOW BEAVER PROJECT & OKANOGAN HIGHLANDS ALLIANCE
are pleased to invite you to join special guests Julie Vanderwal, Ken Bevis, Sandy Vaughn & Sarah Koenigsberg for an evening of music, engagement, joy & learning about people & beavers teaming up for watershed restoration!

For more info www.methowbeaverproject.org
General Admission – Suggested Donation $10

Chew on this

with Jim Hepler

February 7, 2020

On February 7, 2020, Jim Hepler, of the Beers Laboratory at WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, joined us to share his extensive knowledge (and humor) of native stink bugs and their life history. He gave an enlightening overview of the diversity of stink bugs found in eastern Washington, and expounded on the challenges and rewards, and all that is known and unknown about these creatures. Jim’s palpable interest was contagious, sparking the curiosity of our local community.

Fun facts:
-Stink bugs can drill through nut husks to feast on the nutrient-rich innards
-Pesticides are futile in fighting stink bugs since they are constantly on the move into and out of orchards
-Stink bugs have very specific relationships with other insects who will lay their eggs inside stink bug eggs or drill through adults’ exoskeletons to feast
-Stink bugs are very capable of killing themselves with their own noxious fumes!

Rough stink bug
Rough stink bug (Brochymena species) Photo by Jen Weddle

Highland Wonders presentations feature the natural history of the Okanogan Highlands and surrounding areas. OHA provides these presentations on the first Friday of the month from November through April. These presentations, which start at 6:30 pm, are free to the public (donations are welcome), and clock hours are available for educators. The events take place at the Tonasket Community Cultural Center, and dinner is available before the presentations.

Consperse stink bug
Consperse stink bug (Euschistus conspersus) on a bitterbrush plant (Purshia tridentata, a favored host). Photo by Jim Hepler.

On January 3, 2020, Dana Visalli kicked off the new year with “Big History: the evolutionary story of the Earth and the life on it, in one hour.” It was once thought that the Earth was static and unchanging, but we now know the opposite is true. Both the Earth and the life
on it are dynamic and ever-changing. This is the scientific story of evolution; it borders on the spiritual, and is meaningful to our own lives.

In his hour (plus a few extra minutes), Dana wove together concepts from various scientific fields to make sense of humans’ relationship to other species, to each other, and to our world. Threaded throughout was the hopeful, thought-provoking message that we can do better, and that our intellect is capable of bringing us through the challenges facing the world today.

We are excited to share our 10th year of educational programs with an exciting lineup of topics and speakers! We hope to see you this winter – the first Friday of November, January, February, March and April. New this season: continuing education clock hours are available to educators!

Dinner benefitting the CCC starts at 5:15 pm – $9 for adults; Presentation starts at 6:30 pm – free to all

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