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GHCC's June Outings in Reflection

Wildflowers in bloom during golden hour at Buckhorn Overlook.

From Nash Wadhams, Outreach and Membership Coordinator:

I have lived in Wallowa County for about 5 years and there are so many areas which I have yet to explore. This month, along with my team at Greater Hells Canyon Council I was thrilled to get some hands-on exploration of both bumblebee bee activity near Buckhorn Overlook and casual observation of the flora and fauna along the Grande Ronde River. To say that I am grateful to be able to do these activities as ‘work’ is an understatement. Since joining GHCC last September, I’ve felt as though I am honoring the kid in me that has always been curious about the natural world. It is a reminder that I am in the right place, surrounded by the right people.

Some of my earliest and fondest memories center on observing animal, insect, and plant life just outside Portland’s city limits where I grew up. I’ve always been interested in what I’d call ‘critter activity’. Whether that be wild rabbits in my backyard, salamanders in our wood pile, or bumble bees visiting my mom’s native-plant garden. When I visit a new place, I’m eager to meet its inhabitants and to observe their behavior. GHCC’s June outings were completely inspiring and connected me to this passion.

Connections Coordinator Christina deVillier briefs the survey team.

During the first weekend in June, Christina deVillier, GHCC’s connections coordinator, led a bumblebee survey in the wildflower fields near Buckhorn Overlook. This outing provided GHCC supporters and friends the opportunity to participate in a community science project to collect bumble bee data necessary for tracking and subsequent conservation efforts of native bumble bees as a part of the Bumble Bee Atlas Project for The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The Xerces web page on the Bumblebee Atlas Project has the following to say about the timely importance of conservation efforts for native bumblebees:

"A recent study led by the International Union on Conservation of Nature’s Bumble Bee Specialist Group—supported by studies led by Dr. Sydney Cameron, a status review by the late Dr. Robbin Thorp and the Xerces Society—demonstrate that one quarter of North America's nearly fifty species of bumble bees are undergoing dramatic population declines."

Christina deVillier and Sara Wilson examine a sleeping bumblebee.

The bumble bee survey was completely exhilarating for our group of participants. We observed several species, hard at work, pollinating balsamroot, delphinium, and many other wildflowers in bloom, as specified for us by Hells Canyon wildflower expert Janet Homan. Janet’s new book, "Wildflowers of Hells Canyon" is now available, click here for details.

Nash Wadhams and JR Rymut volunteer to hold the bumblebees as they awake and return to their work.

I was told that bumble bees rarely sting and that in the 5 years Christina has been leading these surveys, only one person has been stung. Folks, I broke the record on this trip. I held the drowsy bees as they woke up from their naps in cold storage. I was stung twice and it was completely worth it – all the best to you on your journey bumble bees! We’re here to support you.

Night two camp location on the Grande Ronde River.

On June 13th, GHCC staff loaded up a couple of rafts at the confluence of the Minam and Wallowa Rivers and I got to explore the Grande Ronde River for the first time. Our crew put in at Minam boat launch and disembarked at Mud Creek on June 15th. Not far into our 38.5 mile journey, Conservation Director Jamie Dawson was imitating bird calls and introducing us to the avian population all around us. She recounted for our crew her history as a professional birder for the National Park Service where she honed her call identifying skills -- lucky us!

It was deeply inspiring for me to learn that Jamie’s professional level of bird call recognition began as a practice of honoring her passion for bird watching. On our 3-day float we met merganser ducks with lightning fast babies in tow, a flock of pelicans cruising the winding river canyon, various woodpeckers utilizing beautiful old snags, and bald eagles flying closer than I’ve ever witnessed.

GHCC team from left to right: Pip Redding, Jamie Dawson, Emily Cain, Nash Wadhams, and Christina deVillier.

I have often felt like the lone ‘minutia of nature’ appreciator in a group but let me tell you…every member of our team got down close to the ground to investigate some impressive golden moss and to take a closer look at caddisfly casings left behind from just the night before. The GHCC team examined every bug, tiny flower, and impressive rock in their path with the sort of curiosity and interest with which I deeply resonate.

When I started with GHCC I was absolutely ‘drinking through a fire hose’ of important information required to understand and support this organization. I came from commercial construction where I needed to understand the numbered codes which describe how a building comes together. To pivot from that information to absorbing bird song identifiers and understanding the life cycles of Golden Stones Flies, I feel like I’m living the dream, from seeds planted long ago. Seeds I didn’t even know I planted as a kid as I spent countless hours turning over rocks, looking for critters.

I look forward to getting members and friends out in the field this year and in years to come - surveying for bumblebees, sharing in the discovery and appreciation of nature, offering presentations at homes and venues across the Blue Mountains, ground-truthing proposed Forest Service projects with our boots firmly planted on the land, and getting folks out on the river -- please join us!

- Nash Wadhams, Outreach and Membership Coordinator


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