Butterflies, Larks and Lupine: A Baskett Slough Story

Lark
The threatened streaked horned lark likes to excavate a small cup for nesting on bare ground or open space.
Credit: David Maloney/USFWS

October 16, 2015 -Beginning this time of year, waterfowl by the thousands flock to Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, in the Willamette Valley, OR.  Established 50 years ago on October 22, 1965, primarily to provide habitat for the dusky Canada goose, the refuge now hosts northern pintail, mallard, American wigeon and tundra swan in addition to regal herons, bitterns and egrets. 

 

Particularly popular with visitors are raptors like the northern harrier, hawks, owls and kestrels. Wetland dependent bird use has increased significantly since large scale wetland restoration  started in the 1990s.

 

Canada Goose
Baskett Slough Refuge, OR, was originally established to provide habitat for the dusky Canada goose.
Credit: USFWS

The fastest growing activity for visitors is wildlife photography, with most photos taken from refuge roads that are open year-round.  There are also several vehicle pullouts, observation platforms and hiking trails, including the Rich Guadagno Memorial Loop Trail, dedicated as the 1000th National Recreation Trail in 2007. Guadagno managed Baskett Slough and several other refuges before he was killed on September 11, 2001, aboard United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

 

Baskett Slough Refuge is an ideal example of active habitat management to protect or restore native habitats and threatened or declining species. Oregon white oak woodland habitat once covered 400,000 acres in the Willamette Valley. Today less than 7 percent remains. So the refuge harvests Douglas fir trees, which shade out and kill the oak trees, and uses the logs for in-stream fish restoration projects.

 

Prescribed fire helps restore and maintain prairie habitat.  The fire burns off vegetation, dead grass and weeds to opens space for new plants and return nutrients to the soil.

 

Butterfly
One of the largest known populations of Fender’s blue butterfly is found on Baskett Slough Refuge.
Credit: USFWS

Fender’s Blue Butterfly
Several wildflowers are especially important:  the endangered Willamette daisy, golden paintbrush and Kincaid’s lupine. Lupine is the host plant for the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly.  In spring 2014, female inmates from the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility helped plant 10,000 Kincaid’s lupine plugs on the refuge.

 

One of the largest known populations of Fender’s blue butterfly is found on the refuge’s Baskett Butte. To catch their brief period of flight, visit Baskett Butte from mid-May to early June.

 

The refuge also manages water on its wetlands to mimic natural processes that have been altered or lost, like large-scale flooding. The result has been a dramatic increase in the number of migratory birds. Baskett Slough Refuge is one of the only places in the Willamette Valley where black necked stilts breed.  Wilson’s phalaropes can also be found during nesting season. The bird is famous for spinning like a top, pulling food to the water’s surface. See a flock spinning here.

 

The streaked horned lark, newly added to the list of threatened species, poses a special management challenge because they utilize heavily managed agricultural areas rather than native habitats. Evans-Peters says the larks like bare ground or open space where they can excavate a small cup for nesting. The refuge farms a few acres to provide seasonal food for the geese with bare ground for the larks in spring and summer.  “We have to squeeze a lot out of the land,” says Evans-Peters.