Category Archives: Field Notes

Field Notes: Taking a closer look at nature

Two damselflies, perched on a blade of grass at a pond outside the Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center, during the summer of 2017. "There's a lot of bug action in the spring and summer," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest and amateur nature photographer, said. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel, used with permission.

Ron Kikel is a bird man. And an ant man. And a wasp guy. Those aren’t his superhero aliases – they’re descriptions of just some of his work as a conservation education specialist for the Mt. Hood National Forest.

But, Kikel is probably best known as the “owl guy.”

Meet Jack.

Jack, a 12-year old Great Horned Owl, is blind in one eye. He was rescued and rehabilitated by staff at the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which trains disabled raptors for use providing wildlife education. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
Jack, a 12-year old Great Horned Owl, is blind in one eye. He was rescued and rehabilitated by staff at the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which trains disabled raptors for use providing wildlife education. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack is a 12-year old Great Horned Owl. He’s also blind in one eye. Jack was rescued after tangling with some barbed wire, and rehabilitated several years ago by the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to care for disabled raptors and trains them for use in educational settings.

Kikel met Jack in 2010, at a Wild for Wildlife event. Jack was working with his caretaker, Dr. Jean Cypher, at the time to provide conservation education to students. Kikel was doing similar work for the Forest Service, using a taxidermied owl as a prop.

Their encounter inspired Kikel to pursue training to become a raptor handler, himself.

 
Jack, a disabled Great Horned Owl, assists Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler, with providing conservation education talks around the region. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack, a disabled Great Horned Owl, assists Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler, with providing conservation education talks around the region. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

“With taxidermy, you are mostly talking about anatomy. Kids ask a lot of questions about where the bird came from, sometimes it gets a little off-track,” he said. “Show them the live owl, and you have their attention for at 30 minutes, at least.”

These days, Jack and Kikel work as a team to provide conservation education at schools and public events located near Kikel’s “home base” at the Hood River Ranger District in Parkdale, Oregon.

 
Jack the Great Horned Owl poses with Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler. For the past few years, the pair have worked as a team to provide conservation education for classrooms and community groups around their area.  Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack the Great Horned Owl poses with Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler. For the past few years, the pair have worked as a team to provide conservation education for classrooms and community groups around their area. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Sometimes, Jack even joins him at the ranger station’s front desk, where Kikel provides visitor information and the owl has his own perch.

“He’s a star. Everyone likes him a lot,” Kikel said. “He’s probably the best coworker I’ve ever had.”

"This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. "If you look at their eyes, they're more fly-like.. and there's no stinger. (But) when you're camouflaged like that, you're less likely to become someone's dinner." Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. “If you look at their eyes, they’re more fly-like.. and there’s no stinger. (But) when you’re camouflaged like that, you’re less likely to become someone’s dinner.” Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Kikel isn’t just a bird man, he’s also a bug guy. He’s known in the Forest Service’s regional conservation education community for his nature photos, many of which feature dramatic close-ups of the nature he finds around him.

In his prior career, photography was Kikel’s job. He served 20 years in the Air Force, 12 of them as a photographer working in medical research and forensics.

“I worked at Wilford Hall, a big research hospital. So we had an infectious disease lab, dermatology, poison control. They’d want (close-up) photos for teaching, so I took some courses in it,” he said.

"This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. "If you look at their eyes, they're more fly-like.. and there's no stinger. (But) when you're camouflaged like that, you're less likely to become someone's dinner." Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“(This dragonfly) was at a pond near the (Columbia River Gorge) Discovery Center in The Dalles. I think that was last summer,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. The photo was taken from about 12″ away, using a Nikon D50 camera and 105mm macro lens. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Today, skills he once used to photograph scorpions and fire ants for environmental health brochures given to deploying service members are the same ones he now uses to capture breathtaking images of Pacific Northwest beetles, birds and butterflies.

To avoid disturbing his subjects, Kikel often works with minimal gear, often taking photos with just an old Nikon D-50 camera, a manual macro lens, and sometimes a flash.

A ladybug makes a meal of an aphid.  "She's so busy munching down, she didn't even notice me," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. Kikel makes a hobby of his love for nature through photography, with a special focus on landscapes and macro (close-up) photography. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
A ladybug makes a meal of an aphid. “She’s so busy munching down, she didn’t even notice me,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. Kikel makes a hobby of his love for nature through photography, with a special focus on landscapes and macro (close-up) photography. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Despite the seeming spontaneity of this approach, he said macro photography is actually a very slow-going endeavor.

“It takes a lot of patience, because your subjects aren’t going to sit still,” he said.

This Marsh Hawk was in the rehabilitation enclosure at the Rowna Wildlife Clinic, Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He said he spends a lot of time studying his subject's features, and it's hard not to imagine his subjects' have an inner emotional life, much like humans. “You go into an enclosure with big birds, and they can be pretty foreboding-looking when they are not happy,” he said.  
Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
This Marsh Hawk was in the rehabilitation enclosure at the Rowna Wildlife Clinic, Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He said he spends a lot of time studying his subject’s features, and it’s hard not to imagine his subjects’ have an inner emotional life, much like humans. “You go into an enclosure with big birds, and they can be pretty foreboding-looking when they are not happy,” he said.
Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

These days, Kikel said, he considers his photography to be not his job, but his passion.

But he still finds lots of inspiration at the office.

“Mt. Hood is right outside my window… I can watch it change with the seasons,” he said.

An autumn photo of Opal Creek, Ore. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
An autumn photo of Opal Creek, Ore. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

While Kikel credits patience for his most successful shots, he said sometimes a little luck is also required.

He was experimenting with a new camera when he caught a striking image of a Cooper Hawk perched just outside his bedroom.

This Cooper Hawk made a late-February, 2019 appearance at the bird feeder outside Ron Kikel's home. "He takes the word 'bird feeder' to a whole new level," Kikel said, saying the hawk left hungry that day, but has since killed at least one bird who came to feed there. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
This Cooper Hawk made a late-February, 2019 appearance at the bird feeder outside Ron Kikel’s home. “He takes the word ‘bird feeder’ to a whole new level,” Kikel said, saying the hawk left hungry that day, but has since killed at least one bird who came to feed there. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

“I was shooting (pictures of) the birds at my feeder, through the window, and suddenly they all bolted,” he said. “Then I looked up, and said ‘well, that’s why… I’d better get this dude’s picture before he takes off!’”

Whether he’s providing customer service at the ranger station, giving wildlife education talks, or providing tours of Cloud Cap Inn, it’s the interpretive element that drew him to his job.

Ron Kikel took this photo of a heron while visiting Seaside, Ore. in early March, 2019. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
Ron Kikel took this photo of a heron while visiting Seaside, Ore. in early March, 2019. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Seeing the world through a different lens, and being able to share it, is what draws him to photography, as well.

“It’s really an incredible world, when you see it close up,” he said.

"Rufus," a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), photographed by  
Ron Kikel, an information assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest. "I tend to anthropomorphize my subjects," he said. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“Rufus,” a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), photographed by
Ron Kikel, an information assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest. “I tend to anthropomorphize my subjects,” he said. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Source information: Catherine “Cat” Caruso is the strategic communication lead for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement, and edits the “Your Northwest Forests” blog. You can reach her at ccaruso@fs.fed.us.

A field filled with wildlflowers at Dalles Mountain State Ranch in Washington, spring 2017. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
A field filled with wildlflowers at Dalles Mountain State Ranch in Washington, spring 2017. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree tale, in two cities

Carolers in traditional, Victorian garb help celebrate the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree, a gift from the people of Oregon to the nation, at he tree's Bend whistle-stop tour stop Nov. 12, 2018.

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in central Oregon. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog. To read the previous entries, visit: https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.


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November 11th, 2018
Bend, Ore.

A day of contrasts in Bend and Detroit

Today was a day of contrasts. We traveled 80 miles today through the sagebrush, Lodgepole pine and Ponderosa pine in Bend, Ore., to the lush green Willamette National Forest, to Detroit, Ore.

The Bend event on our 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree tour: “Return to the Oregon Trail” was a big one. Really big. What other city has “Father Christmas” fly into their event in a helicopter? And fighter jets doing a low level fly-over? Smokey Bear came in a Forest Service fire engine and posed for pictures with his fans. Carolers caroled in front of the tree in their old-timey clothes.

More than 6,000 people signed the banner and collected their favorite Smokey Bear and U.S. Capitol Christmas tree swag. Gifford Pinchot was even on hand as living history to discuss the beginning of the Forest Service.

Children made ornaments for their own Christmas trees and adults marveled at the size of the tree and how tall it is for a Noble fir.  The 2018 Capitol Christmas tree was 82 feet in the wild and was trimmed to 70 feet to fit into the truck.

Everyone appreciated the stunning beauty and creative beauty of the ornaments adorning the top twenty feet of the tree that were handmade by the people of Oregon… a small sample of the 10,000 made with love by Oregonians young and older.

We left Bend feeling invigorated for our journey and amazed at the level of planning and community involvement it must have taken to pull off such a great event.

Farewell, Bend. Until we meet again.

The journey from Bend to Detroit was a path through vastly different ecosystems. We started in the dry high Oregon desert, then traveled through sagebrush and Lodgepole pines into the beautiful vanilla-smelling Ponderosa pines near the city of Sisters, Ore.

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) is my favorite tree species.  Tall, straight, orange tinged, trunks with branches of long tufts of green needles like nature’s pom poms. The old needles fall to the ground each year and were traditionally woven into beautiful baskets by Native Americans.

One of my high school teachers taught a group of us to make these baskets in the traditional way. I have never forgotten how proud I was to make such a wonderful thing with my own hands without the aid of modern day tools or devices.

As we neared the pass we transitioned into a large area of forest that burned in a fire over 20 years ago. Black and gray snags dot the landscape as far as the eye can see, with bright green firs literally rising from what was previously ashes. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem. Even knowing this, Smokey Bear encourages humans to be careful with fire. There can be too much of a good thing and as always, nature does it best.

After we left the burn scars we dropped through the majestic green Douglas fir forests. The west side of the Cascade mountains gets so much more rain than the east side.

We arrived in Detroit at dusk. The night was clear and bright and beautiful. This city is much smaller than Bend, but the tree was still a really big deal! It seemed the entire city of several hundred people came to wish us all well on our journey. The mayor was so excited to host us and so excited for the unity that the tree brought to his small town. There was a band and several choirs and peace and goodwill.

Everyone was so thankful that the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree stopped so that they could sign the GIANT Christmas card.

Detroit, Oregon has been a gathering place for travelers and explores of nature for over a hundred years.  The original town of Detroit was moved to higher ground when the dam was built and the lake filled the valley.  A few years ago, when there was a drought and the reservoir did not fill, an old wagon and a wagon wheel were found near the stone foundations of the old town.

There is so much history in the canyons and the mountains and the forests that we can’t see anymore, but the remnants are still there for those who know where to look.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

Community members gathered to see the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree during a whistle-stop tour stop in Detroit, Ore. Nov. 12, 2018.

Community members gathered to see the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree during a whistle-stop tour stop in Detroit, Ore. Nov. 12, 2018. Courtesy photo, The Joy Trip Project (used with permission)

 

Mt. Hood kids fishing derby (photos)

MT. HOOD, Ore. – May 19, 2018 – Mt. Hood National Forest staff, volunteers, and a host of partner organizations angled to get children hooked on outdoors recreation during Hood River Ranger District’s annual fishing derby May 19, 2018.

Nearly 70 children took part in fishing clinics, crafts, outdoors education activities. Participants also vied for prizes in the longest cast competition and for landing the biggest fish.

The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Oregon State Police (Fish & Wildlife Division), Middle Fork Irrigation District, Hood River Valley High School, Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers, Dairy Queen, Rosauers Supermarkets, McIsaac’s Grocery Store and Starbucks Coffee also partnered with the USDA Forest Service to conduct the annual event.

Children get “hooked” on fishing at the Hood River Ranger District kids fishing derby at the Middle Fork settling pond on Mt. Hood National Forest May 19, 2018. USDA Forest Service photos by Jeffrey Lee, Hood River Ranger District, Mt. Hood National Forest.

Clockwise from top left: 1) First runner-up of the biggest catch competition.  2) Participants cast lines and wait for a bite at the pond’s edge. 3) Winner of the biggest catch competition. 4) Caught fish being measured for judging in the biggest catch competition.  5) Ron Kikel, a forest information assistant, and Jack the Owl provide an outdoors education clinic for fishing derby participants. 6) Event staff grill hot dogs for the hungry junior anglers. 7) Winner of the longest cast competition with family. 8) A panoramic view of the derby location. 9) “Frank the fish” greets participants signing up at the registration area. 10) A panoramic view of the Middle Fork settling pond, where the fishing derby was conducted. 11) A colorful sponsor recognition banner recognizes organizations that contributed to the event’s success. 12) Oregon State Patrol troopers shared some “fish stories” at story time during the derby. 13) Children paint colorful wooden fish cutouts during the derby’s art clinic.


Source information: Mt. Hood National Forest staff. This story was featured in “Valuing You: An R6 Update,” the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s employee newsletter, in the July, 2018 edition.