Often, even when surrounded the immense beauty on display in our national parks, the highlight of your day will be the people you meet. The people visiting the parks are friendly, always have a story of their own to share, and their curiosity and enthusiasm for nature is refreshing.
Three volunteers posing with two NOCA interns.
The highlight of the past week with the cascades butterfly project has been our volunteer training event, where many of these interesting, enthusiastic, and curious visitors had their first chances to come and spend a day surveying our butterfly populations. Our training even was aimed at familiarizing volunteers with our sampling methods so that they can successfully participate in future surveys, and the turnout was great. A diverse group of volunteers came from all over Washington came to learn, and some came from as far as New York. The things that linked these people; a love for nature, a great attitude, and a will to help conserve natural things
The Cascades Butterfly team is is responsible for monitoring butterflies and wildflowers along transects in ten subalpine meadow locations across two national parks. In order to obtain sufficient data to track trends in both North Cascades (NOCA) and Mount Rainier (MORA), the Cascades Butterfly crew is divided into two smaller teams, one at each park.
Our first week as the Mount Rainier Butterfly crew began with a trip to North Cascades National Park to meet and train with the our colleagues spending the summer there. I had the chance to meet my counterpart in NOCA, Alex Brito, an intern with the Latino Heritage Internship Program.
The Cascades butterfly project is a citizen science project, and one of its key missions is to involve volunteers in collecting data. After some training for Alex and I, the butterfly crew spent a day at Sauk Mountain in the North Cascades to train enthusiastic volunteers on the protocol for the transects. Some volunteers were new to the project, while others have been working with CBP for years.
Returning, finally, to Rainier, I got my first view of the mountain, and enough snow had melted on our routes for our crew to begin performing butterfly and wildflower surveys. Being a citizen science project, the Cascades Butterfly Project encourages volunteers to help us by participating in our surveys, even if they would prefer tagging along for a hike to catching butterflies. We saw our first volunteers of the season this week, and surveyed 3 of the 5 routes we will be frequenting this summer.
Relatively cold temperatures and cloud cover, combined with the early season state of most of our nectar plants meant that we didn’t identify a large number of butterflies. A boon for us was the wildflowers. In the places that had melted, wildflowers were already flourishing and we found that the temporal patters their blooms follow are as intriguing as the flowers are beautiful.
Precipitation levels across the West Coast during winter 2016/17 were among the record levels of my lifetime. Washington was not an exception, and snow in the high subalpine meadows that are the Cascades Butterfly Project’s focus remains solid, and still covers the ground. Where there is snow, plants will not grow. Butterflies that rely on nectar from those wildflowers under the snow are not quite ready to emerge for the season.
Though temperatures are high and the snow has been melting for months, the transects we are supposed to frequent are still devoid of the butterflies and wildflowers that we are interested in monitoring, and so we are not yet able to begin our official surveys.
That doesn’t mean we had nothing to do. While I waited for snow to melt, I was offered the opportunity to head back to North Cascades National Park to participate in a Canada Lynx monitoring project. The goal of the project is to capture photos of the lynx using cameras set on trails above 3000 feet in elevation, which is where researchers believe the lynx are using those trails to travel. Our job was to set the camera traps.
We set out on the long, narrow, and deep Lake Chelan in a ferry and arrived at a very small town called Stehekin, which would be our starting point. From there we split, each team of two equipped with cameras and destined for a different high elevation trail. The task had seemed simple when we discussed it prior to leaving: we take cameras up the mountain, camp, place them, and return. As we approached our hiking location, we learned that it wouldn’t be quite so simple. Our first day’s hike was only about 7 miles, but it climbed to an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet. This is nothing we hadn’t prepared for; the average elevation gain for trails heading up the mountains near Stehekin seemed to be around 1000 feet per mile. What we hadn’t prepared for was the temperature. It was about 97 degrees in the middle of the day and the climb; with heavy gear, a limited water supply, and under a tight schedule, was difficult. Heat seemed to radiate from everything, and shade was rare because the section of the forest we climbed through burned in the 2015 fires. We arrived at our destination, Juanita Lake, after dark and quickly prepared for the next day. Hiking on relatively flat trails to place cameras was a relief after a hard day. We later descended the mountain and swam in Lake Chelan before camping near Stehekin at Purple Point.
With the lynx cameras placed, I had the opportunity to participate in other exciting work near Stehekin. Roger Christopherson, Wildlife biologist at North Cascades, invited me to help him perform surveys on known Osprey and Bald Eagle nests in the area. In what was the highlight of my week, we hopped on an old boat with a big motor and a small hole in the floor to visit each of the nest locations. When we arrived at the first location we quickly learned that it would be nearly impossible to count the hiding nestlings from below the nests at lake level. I offered to hop out and check on the nests from above, so while Roger fished in the boat, I scaled the cliffs above the nests to get a better view.
My name is Tucker Grigsby and I am a Mosaics in Science intern working with the Cascades Butterfly Project at Mount Rainier National Park for summer 2017. I graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara last year with a degree in aquatic biology, and while I love the ocean, I find that the mountains and forests draw the same wonder and emotion from me. With the opportunity to experience a mountain wilderness ahead of me, I left my home in Berkeley, California for a week-long road trip to Mount Rainier.
My first stop was Mount Shasta in Northern California. At 14,179 feet, the mountain is the second-tallest in the Cascades, only bested by Rainier, and rests at the southern end of that volcanic mountain range. I arrived late and camped nearby in Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Bunny Flat serves as the starting point for most ascents of the mountain, and that is where I met Liz, a new friend and climbing partner.
Tired from our ascent the previous day, and without the luxury of showers in the forest, we decided to find Castle Lake, a local subalpine lake just atop forest line. Castle lake is fed by snowmelt, but is warmed by a warm-spring near it’s center. It’s water is exceedingly clear and the perfect temperature for swimming.
I left Liz in the town of Mount Shasta with a jar of homemade kimchi, and heading northeast into Oregon, I camped in Umpqua National Forest before visiting Crater Lake. A hiker I met there informed me that Crater Lake gets its unique deep blue color from its clear water and depth. It is a volcanic caldera lake; nearly 2000 feet deep, it’s the deepest in the United States.
As much as the Oregonian forests have to offer, I found myself missing the ocean. I left the Umpqua forest and crossed the state, using backroads to follow rivers away from the mountains, eventually reaching Sunset Bay on the central Oregon Coast. Oregon’s central coast is dramatic and features severe and imposing sandstone sea cliffs in some areas, and immensely wide sandy beaches in others. Where I camped, the intertidal was dominated by limpets, snails, and coralline algae.
As the starting date for my position approached, I headed inland again through Oregon and into Washington, where I was met by an old friend with two kayaks. The final day of the trip was relaxing. We spent the daylight at Silver Lake under Mount St. Helens, paddling, watching ospreys fish, and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I arrived at my site in Mount Rainier later that night refreshed and excited to begin my adventure as a Mosaic intern for the summer.