Turn Off the Lights for a Brighter Future

The Museum’s staff is thrilled to have recently become a partner of Lights Out Bend, a volunteer-operated education and advocacy program that seeks to highlight the issue of light pollution and inspire the community to reduce light pollution. In becoming partners, we join fellow local organizations keen to make a difference. This includes the Deschutes Public Library, East Cascades Audubon Society and Ruffwear.

What is light pollution and why should we care? Simply put, light pollution is the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light, and human activities are lighting our night sky like never before. You’ve probably seen many businesses and homes leaving lights on at night. While this may seem harmless, it has major implications for native wildlife species. They evolved with predictable phases of light and dark, and many species are guided by celestial sources of light—such as the moon, stars and planets. Artificial lights interfere with these natural rhythms and behaviors. Bats, birds, moths and other species may suffer reduced hunting success, collisions with windows, disorientation and numerous other problems. Light pollution puts lives on the line.

Luckily, the solution comes with a simple flick of a switch! By turning off unnecessary lights, using motion sensor lights or lower intensity bulbs or installing fixtures that don’t direct light up into the night sky, we can improve the lives of birds and animals with whom we share the High Desert. We can also close our curtains at night to reduce the amount of light that can escape to the outside environment. While these actions are meaningful year round, they are particularly important during spring and fall migratory seasons.

Protecting the starry night sky saves wildlife. We also benefit from energy savings and a better view of the stars. It may even improve our health, as electric lights are thought to influence our own biological clocks. The Museum’s staff is committed to switching off all unnecessary lights at night. We hope you’ll join us.

For more information about this issue and what actions you can take to help, visit Lights Out Bend or the International Dark Sky website.

Telling Native American Stories Through Art

Ben Pease has been awarded the Jury’s Choice Award at the High Desert Museum’s Art in the West exhibition for his 2017 work “Honor and Respect Come to Thee”. It was among 226 pieces submitted in response to a nationwide call to artists for the Museum’s annual juried art exhibition and silent auction.

Ben is a young Native American artist whose work is deeply steeped in identity. Born on the Crow Indian Reservation in 1989, he has deep roots in both the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations in southeastern Montana. While Ben has been making waves in the art world for several years now, he is currently working on his undergraduate degree at Montana State University with a major in Art and a minor in Native American Studies. Ben considers himself a storyteller by vocation, and feels strongly that he has a responsibility to tell the stories of Native people.

“Honor and Respect Come to Thee” is a mixed-media painting that shows a digitally manipulated historical photograph of a mounted Native American warrior superimposed on a rich and layered background composed of washes of acrylic paint, glass beads, antique ledger papers, an antique mail envelope and a US telegraph ticket. The dense but transparent surfaces of his paintings are somewhat hazy, and we get the sense that we are viewing an image from memory through the fog of time. His paintings are accumulations of meaningful materials and processes, where successive layers of later marks obscure earlier ones. The ledger pages remind us that we need to account for the past, and the acrylic paint almost becomes a kind of whitewash, which reminds us of our desire to avoid dealing with difficult and unpleasant aspects of our national history.

Composed as they are of historical images that are depicted using a combination of traditional painting techniques and modern, digital processes, Ben’s paintings elegantly express the tension between the traditional and the modern. His works are almost a tug-of-war between the past and the present, and his imagery is a rich stew of culturally-transmitted memory and history seasoned with the awareness of what it means to live in America as a Native person today.

What draws me to Ben’s work is his willingness to make art that can speak to difficult and painful aspects of the past while at the same time celebrating the positive elements of Native identity today. His work is a tribute to people who have been tested by great adversity, but have retained a strong sense of who they are and where they come from.

“Honor and Respect Come to Thee” and the other works in Art in the West are on view in the Brooks Gallery through August 26. The silent auction culminates at the High Desert Museum’s gala, the High Desert Rendzvous, that evening.

Photo: Honor and Respect Come to Thee by Ben Pease (Jury’s Choice Award)

6 Ways to Keep Pets Safe in Summer

Here at the High Desert Museum, we’re taking steps to keep the wildlife in our care healthy and safe during this summer’s high temperatures, like providing fruit pops to the porcupines and spritzing the raptors with water. The otters? They’re content swimming and sunbathing. Caring for them in this extreme heat made us think of you and your beloved pets. We thought we’d share some simple things you can do to keep your pets safe at home and as you travel this summer.

1. Offer plenty of cool, fresh drinking water to keep your pet hydrated.

2. Dogs transpire through their foot pads, so offering cool water for them to stand in is an excellent and safe method to cool them off. During backyard play, sprinklers and kiddie pools are a fun and effective method of keeping cool while getting in some exercise.

3. Brushing your pets regularly can help keep them cool by removing excess fur. Avoid shaving or trimming the fur to short when grooming, as this can lead to sunburn. Pro tip: wet a cloth with cool water and pet your dog or cat with it. This aids in removing shed fur, as well as cooling.

4. Frozen treats are a great way to keep your pets cool! To help with hydration, freeze water with a bit of fruit for flavoring. (Avoid grapes and raisins, as these can be extremely toxic to animals.) Quick recipe: fill a yogurt cup or similar sized container with water, then stir in a tablespoon of plain applesauce (no sugar or cinnamon added). Pop in the freezer until solid.

5. When your pets are inside, ensure that the temperature stays cool by leaving the AC on. If you do not have AC, circulate the air with fans. Elevating their beds can also help by allowing air to flow underneath them.

6. Most importantly, never leave your pet in your car, and always allow them reprieve from direct sun. Fifteen minutes in 90 degree heat is enough to cause heat stroke in your pet. Always offer shade and/or the ability to come inside.

Growing Up Otter

When the otter pup arrived at the Museum, he was a 6-week-old wiggly bundle of energy that tripped over his own feet when he followed after me. When he wasn’t running around and playing with his stash of toys, he was either napping or eating. With neither of us being experienced at bottle feeding, mealtime tended to result in a huge mess.

Cleaning up after these feedings started out as warm, shallow baths in the sink and a thorough towel drying afterwards to make sure he was warm and dry. As he became comfortable with the sound of the running faucet, the otter pup started sticking his face underwater and blowing bubbles, learning how to close his nose and small ears while in water.

As he grew, so did his love of water, and bath time moved from the sink to a tub. He started using his webbed toes and muscular tail to turn and spin. He went from holding his breath for barely a minute to holding it for three minutes, still a ways off from the nearly six minutes adult river otters can hold their breath.

Though otter pups in the wild are taught to swim by mom around 8 weeks of age, this slower lead up to swimming continued until our pup shed his thinner baby fur and grew in his denser and warmer adult fur around 11 weeks of age. An adult fur coat has 350,000 hairs per square inch and is made up of two layers: guard hairs and under fur. Their outer coat of water repellent guard hair helps prevent the insulating under fur from getting wet, which helps keep their bodies warm while they hunt for aquatic prey such as fish and amphibians all year round.

Since mastering a full bathtub of water, the otter has begun swimming in a large stock tank that allows him to practice swimming, diving, and catching small, live trout with his sharp claws and teeth. He’s also begun exploring the shallows in the museum’s stream habitat where he tosses around pebbles and chases after bugs.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page to follow along as the otter grows!

Part 3: Bringing Phillip Home

A few years ago, High Desert Museum staff learned from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the Blue Mountain Wildlife Center in Pendleton, Oregon, had several non-releasable eagles.

One of the birds was a sub-adult male golden eagle that appeared to have been struck by a car. It also had serious levels of lead poisoning. Lead levels in raptor blood more than 65 micrograms are considered “clinical poisoning”. This eagle had levels more than 100, enough to be lethal.

Lynn Tompkins, the executive director of Blue Mountain Wildlife, successfully chelated the eagle (a process where lead is chemically removed from the bloodstream) and lowered the blood lead levels to under 5 micrograms per deciliter. She then flight conditioned the eagle and, after a few weeks, considered it strong enough to be released.

Unfortunately, six weeks after its release, the eagle was recovered starving, likely the result of a permanent wing injury and possible continuing neurological effects from lead poisoning that made it unable to hunt successfully.

This bird was now considered ”non-releasable,” yet still had some flight capability and looked perfect to the unsuspecting eye. Knowing this opportunity may not come around again for years, Museum staff completed the necessary transfer permits and made arrangements to travel to Pendleton.

Upon arriving at Blue Mountain Wildlife, staff watched the male golden eagle fly swiftly in the large chamber. While he looked strong, they saw a slight hitch in his left shoulder, which is what made him unable to capture prey following his initial release. He would be perfect for the education programs at the High Desert Museum, and (hopefully) be a candidate for the Museum’s Raptors of the Desert Sky and Sky Hunters free-flight programs.

Almost three years later, Phillip is one of the most important birds at the Museum. Phillip ties the research work the Museum has done into lead poisoning directly to the Museum’s education programs. He is a living example of how lead poisoning affects raptors and though he displays ongoing signs of neurological damage, he has a even temperament while being handled.

It took about a year of training before Nelson was comfortable having Phillip participate in the public education and free flight programs. The trainers combined traditional falconry training with positive reinforcement (food) and increasing exposure to people to bring Phillip’s comfort level with the public to the point where he participates in three-to-four programs a week, primarily educating visitors about lead poisoning in the wild.

Fun Facts about Phillip

  • He weights about 8 pounds.
  • His wingspan is 6 feet plus.
  • His favorite food is rats.
  • He can still fly, but is limited to 100-150 yards at a time because of a damaged wing.
  • He is well mannered and allows people to get near so they can see up close this magnificent bird.


Part 2: Searching for the Perfect Golden Eagles

Finding the right raptors for the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center is one of the most challenging aspects of managing the High Desert Museum’s wildlife education program.

One priority for the limited space at the Museum is conserving species of special concern, species that depend on public support for their survival. In many ways, the golden eagle is the epitome of this strategy. It is an apex predator of the High Desert and its survival is essential to sustaining a healthy ecosystem well into the future.

But there are many things to consider when assessing a new bird of prey for the Museum. First of all, these birds are not captives; they are wild raptors that have been deemed non-releasable due to severe injury or poisoning. As such, a facility must have highly-trained staff that understand the wild raptors and have the skills to interact with them and manage their health and safety.

Many non-releasable eagles have wing amputations due to car strikes or electrocution. At the Birds of Prey Center, the strategy is to acquire birds that appear normal as opposed to birds with conspicuous injuries. Wildlife curators feel strongly that exhibiting intact, vibrant individuals helps visitors connect to the majesty and beauty of species in the wild as opposed to the pity and sadness that often accompanies seeing a conspicuous amputee. It is a hard choice to pass on birds that need homes, but it is important to keep focused on the mission at hand – to educate visitors about High Desert wildlife.

The ideal candidate is a golden eagle that has experienced independence in the wild, having learned survival skills and is able to hunt, but has not developed an extreme resentment of humans due to the rehabilitation process.

Think about it from the raptor’s point of view. It is injured or poisoned as a result of human activity; it is captured, restricted, and subjected to repeated and extensive medical treatments. If it survives, the golden eagle, a very intelligent animal with a strong memory, often remembers the involvement of humans and can harbor deep resentment, but hopefully not too much because a rehabilitated golden eagle suitable for an education program must eventually bond with its trainers in its new home if it is to be successfully integrated into the facility.

This is often possible because wild golden eagles with hunting experience, even if injured or recovering from poisoning, bond more quickly with a trainer and learn faster given food motivations, creating an opportunity to truly spotlight the behaviors one would see in the wild.

At the High Desert Museum, golden eagles are flown and trained every day, including feeding from the glove. However, if they chose not to fly or train, food is never withheld.

The High Desert Museum currently has three golden eagles in residence. Phillip is an education raptor, especially telling the story of lead poisoning in the wild; Nicholas is on exhibit; and Walter is currently being trained for education talks and free flying. They can be viewed at the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center.


Part 1:  The Story of the Golden Eagle

Since its inception, a cornerstone of the High Desert Museum has been maintaining the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center and its collection of rehabilitated birds. It is a critical part of educating people about the support necessary for several species’ survival.

This is the story of the golden eagle on exhibit. His name is Phillip.

The High Desert regions of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and Washington have become an important refuge for the golden eagle, a species whose breeding range once encompassed large tracts of the northern hemisphere. The vast high desert in the West still offer isolated nesting sites and the surrounding sagebrush seas offer abundant food in the form of jackrabbits, ground squirrels rodents and other birds.

However, raptor biologists began realizing that populations in the High Desert were declining, threatened by a number of human-based causes including electrocutions; car strikes; habitat degradation and loss, including higher exposure to people, exposure of isolated nesting sites, and threats to food resources; exposure to lead; and persecution in the form of shooting, trapping, and deliberate poisoning. In addition, people often ask about wind turbines affect the golden eagle population. While it is an active area of study, power lines and cars kill far more raptors than wind turbines.

Biologists believed these issues presented an alarming future for this apex predator. Based on these concerns, in 2013 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service established the Western Golden Eagle Conservation Team. Its mission is to evaluate the various threats to golden eagles and recommend conservation strategies to curb mortality rates.

This is where the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center comes in. It has in residence many birds of prey that were injured in the wild. Those injuries were so severe they resulted in permanent disability, at which a point a wildlife veterinarian deemed them non-releasable. In these cases, the birds were evaluated and based on the findings, euthanized or transferred to an education facility such as the High Desert Museum.

At the High Desert Museum, birds of prey, including its three golden eagles, are wildlife ambassadors, working with Museum staff to educate the public. Staff talk with visitors about raptor conservation and demonstrate the power and magnificence of these birds through free-flight programs and interpretive talks. Nothing is more impressive than a golden eagle standing on a perch 10 feet away. Visitors experience first hand the keen gaze of the eagle that can spot prey far away and the enormous spread of its wings that, when healthy, would have carried them miles, soaring above the High Desert.

Visitors also learn about their habitats and habits, and how we can all participate in minimizing human-cased threats to ensure their survival. For example, lead poisoning in birds of prey.

In addition to live rodents, rabbits, ground squirrels and other birds, golden eagles feed on carrion in the wild. And this carrion, often remains left by hunters, carries lead from bullets that gets ingested by golden eagles. Once lead is incorporated into the bloodstream at a large enough concentration, a bird can become very sick, exhibiting a range of neurological symptoms, such as tremors, convulsions, lack of coordination, and paralysis of the digestive system.

If the bird gets a large dose it can deteriorate and die directly from the lead poisoning. However, even at lower concentrations, lead in a raptor’s system impacts motor control and reaction times, likely contributing to other kinds of injury or mortality. This would account for why so many birds taken to rehabilitation centers for various mechanical injuries also turn out to have been exposed to lead.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, millions of birds are poisoned by lead every year.  Unfortunately, only a portion of these find poisoned birds find help at raptor rehabilitation centers like Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton, Oregon, and eventual homes at facilities like the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. Switching to alternative source of ammunition, such as copper, would prevent many majestic birds of prey from being poisoned.



A Christmas card and a Camera: Objects with Stories to Tell

One of the most meaningful parts of working on World War II: The High Desert Home Front has been the opportunity to get to know veterans and their families. Our exhibit includes the stories, uniforms and personal belongings of four people who served during the war.

One of these soldiers is Hubert Croteau, a B-25 pilot. During his second mission, his plane was shot down over North Africa. Three of the men in his crew died in the crash. Croteau survived and was captured by German soldiers. They sent him to Stalag Luft III, a Nazi controlled camp for air force servicemen. Soon after, Hubert’s wife, Natalie, received a telegraph that he was missing in action. It would be another six weeks before she received news that Hubert was alive and had been taken prisoner.

Throughout Hubert’s imprisonment, he and Natalie exchanged letters, and Natalie sentpackages, including warm clothing. Despite the fact that conditions at Stalag Luft III were harsh—Hubert was often cold and hungry—the Nazi guards took pictures of the imprisoned Allied soldiers to prove that they were alive and in good health. Hubert sent one of these photos to Natalie. With it, she created a Christmas greeting that included a picture of herself inSpokane and Hubert in Stalag Luft III. This Christmas card is incredibly moving. Itis a testament to the strength of spirit of those on the front lines and those at home. After being imprisoned for 33 months, Hubert returned home and shared the next 64 years of his life with Natalie and their children.

Another favorite object is Harry Morioka’s camera. After spending a year incarcerated at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center, Harry was drafted into the U.S. Army’s unit of Japanese Americans. Because he was fluent in Japanese and English, he was selected for the Military Intelligence Service and stationed in Japan.

While overseas, Harry traded two packs of cigarettes for a Zeiss Ikon camera. As part of his military duties, he traveled around Japan, taking pictures everywhere he went. He even found his extended family, who he had visited once as a young boy. One day Harry and a friend packed a Jeep full of food, water and treats. They traveled several hours to deliver the supplies to Harry’s family. Conditions in Japan at the end of the war were dire, and his family credited Harry with saving their lives.

In 1946, Harry returned home. Harry and his wife, Kazuko, began the work of rebuilding their lives in The Dalles—before being imprisoned at Tule Lake, they had sold their home at a fraction of its value. They repurchased the house, paying well above marketvalue. Harry opened a business and became an active part of the community.

The Christmas card and camera are so special because of the stories they tell—stories of love and connection in the midst of hardship and war. Today, Hubert Croteau’s and Harry Morioka’s families are keeping these stories alive. Through them, these objects have much to say about American’s experiences during the war.

Lampreys: Not the Villain Portrayed in the Movies

Few people know about lampreys; fewer still have ever seen one. When they do see one for the first time the initial response is often is fear or revulsion. Most often this is because of the Pacific lamprey’s appearance and their parasitic feeding behavior once they’ve migrated to the ocean.

Evolutionary biologists make the argument that humans are hard-wired to fear things that slither and crawl, animals that may bite. Even if this theory is true, I would argue that the instinct is strongly reinforced by the society we live in. Movies and media depict monsters inspired by real life. Americans are immersed in the notion that some animals are good and some are bad, and those black and white ideas shape the way we react to wildlife. Not does the lamprey look like a snake, but it is also a parasite. Juveniles in fresh water are filter feeders that live in the sediment at the bottom of streams. However, adults (having migrated to the ocean to build up the stores of energy needed to spawn) have a sucker-like mouth lined with rows of sharp teeth with which they attach themselves to hosts (other large fish and marine mammals) and then feed by sucking blood and other bodily fluids.

From a Western perspective, lampreys look and behave in ways that many people find alarming, even scary. Unfortunately, this has led, in part, to their decline. Often considered a “trash fish, lamprey have been overlooked, abused, and persecuted in modern times. Their habitat has been altered, their path to the sea blocked, and they have been eradicated with little regard because their physical appearance overshadowed their importance within the environment. The lamprey has been lost from many streams within its historic range, and their abundance has plummeted from historic levels to point that their future existence may be in serious jeopardy.

Few animals are in greater need of public awareness and education. Please enjoy learning more about the lampreys on exhibit in the Autzen Otter Exhibit.

The Historical Significance of the Lamprey

The same characteristics that enable lamprey to persist for a year without food, also makes them valuable to the ecosystem and a precious and highly valued resource to Native American tribes. Historically, lamprey was a rich source of protein-rich food, higher in calories than salmon. They played a significant role in ceremonies and celebrations, and the oil was believed to have medicinal qualities.

The first Europeans setting in Americans brought many changes that devastated lamprey fisheries, and populations have continued to decline well into the 21st Century. Biologist attribute the ongoing decline of the lamprey to passage problems at dams, destruction of spawning and rearing habitats, declines in their food sources, and intentional poisonings of streams to eliminate unwanted fish.

Despite these challenges, Native American tribes have maintained a deep cultural connection to the fish. As a result, the tribes of the Columbia Basin have spearheaded efforts to conserve them, leveraging traditional ecological knowledge and merging it with contemporary fisheries science to restore lamprey to High Desert streams from which it had been lost.

Fish are trapped from locations such as Willamette Falls and Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, then moved upstream, past other dams and miles of degraded habitat before being released into streams from which they had been wiped out, hopefully to spawn and reestablish lost populations. The tribes have also done amazing work at spreading the word about lamprey conservation, educating the public and changing people’s perceptions about these misunderstood fish.

As one small part of that effort, the High Desert Museum is happy to display two adult Pacific lamprey from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. These fish are on display in the Autzen Otter Exhibit. Visitors can view and learn about the lamprey’s role in riparian ecosystems, as well as the history, science, and cultural ties these special fish have in the High Desert.

The wildlife staff at the High Desert Museum can’t think of a more appropriate species to help audiences discover cultural connections to the past and understand their responsibility for protecting the lamprey today and into the future.