Skip to main content
Spotify for Podcasters
Highland Wonders

Highland Wonders

By Okanogan Highlands Alliance

Join Okanogan Highlands Alliance in learning about the ecosystems and wildlife of the Okanogan Highlands of north central Washington! In this podcast, scientists and educators share their stories and knowledge of the natural history of our unique area - the Okanogan Highlands. To learn more about OHA, please visit our website
Available on
Apple Podcasts Logo
Google Podcasts Logo
Pocket Casts Logo
RadioPublic Logo
Spotify Logo
Currently playing episode

The World Needs More Birders

Highland WondersFeb 16, 2022

All About Bears

All About Bears

Dr. Bill Gaines, wildlife biologist and Executive Director of the Washington Conservation Science Institute, has been studying wildlife, including (and especially) bears since the late 1980’s and, wow, has he had some adventures! In this episode, Dr. Gaines shares his experiences and understandings that have come about through his research studies on the ecology, habitat, and population of black bears and interior grizzly bears in the North Cascades over the last three decades. 

This summer (2023), the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service are expected to release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that includes a response to initial public comments (received in 2022) and a range of options for how to proceed with an effort to restore a grizzly bear population to the North Cascades Ecosystem. If this podcast piques your interest and you would like to further your understanding about grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades, the DEIS, and how to be involved in the public process, here are some sources to find more information:

Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear:

National Park Service: 2022 North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement:

US Fish & Wildlife Service: North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration EIS:

Dr. Bill Gaines is the Executive Director of Washington Conservation Science Institute. Learn more about him and his organization at:

This podcast is produced by Okanogan Highlands Alliance. The core of OHA's mission is to encourage and support education and public participation in decisions involving the integrity, sustainability, and prosperity of our community and the environment. For more information or to support OHA, visit our website:

May 31, 202359:39
Canada Lynx and Home Range Wildlife Research
May 16, 202338:48
Gifts of the Crow
Apr 05, 202301:03:59
The Saga of Washington's Wildlife

The Saga of Washington's Wildlife

Welcome to a fast-paced, information-packed, part-spoken musical tour of Washington’s diverse wildlife and habitats! Ken Bevis, wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Natural Resources will inspire awe and excitement (and leave you tappin' your toes) about the natural history of Washington, with special attention to the Okanogan Highlands. In his position with DNR, Ken works with landowners to manage their private forests for habitat and wildlife, and raises awareness of the importance of standing dead trees, which contribute more than their fair share of shelter and food to creatures of the forests.

Julie Vanderwal, musican and science teacher, provides musical accompaniment to the wildlife songs.

To learn more, and support Okanogan Highlands Alliance, visit:

Feb 19, 202359:16
Sculpted By Ice

Sculpted By Ice

Kicking off the 3rd season of the Highland Wonders Podcast we are joined by Dr. Karl Lillquist, geography professor from Central Washington University, who has a special connection to the Okanogan Highlands because he grew up here and has studied this landscape for his whole career! This summer, Karl led a group of geology enthusiasts on an ice age tour though the highlands, visiting road cuts high above the valley floor where deep lake sediments are visible, hiking atop eskers and kames, which are structures formed by stagnant ice, and observing glacier-carved bedrock hills near Havillah. This podcast hits the highlights, but we expect that after listening you will be excited to learn more, and you are in luck! Dr Lillquist wrote a detailed field guide, complete with a map of our tour locations - if you are in the area, you can take yourself on a tour!

Check out:

Field Guide: Landforms and Landscapes of the Okanogan Highlands by Dr Karl Lillquist

To learn more about and support Okanogan Highlands Alliance, visit:

A Story from Anna, Nature Detective

“Dad, I learned at school today that a long time ago there was ice here, and it covered everything except the very tallest mountains. A lot of ice - like, a HUGE glacier! And that the ice was SO deep. Maybe even a whole mile deep! Maybe deeper!” Her dad looks up in surprise - this is news to him!

Anna continues, “Do you think that’s true? Where did the ice go? Did it melt? If it melted, where did the water go? How do people know there was ice here when there’s no ice now?”

Anna and her dad are putting together a puzzle at their kitchen table - it’s a hard one, but slowly the picture is starting to come together.

Anna’s dad stops and thinks, “Well, Anna, it’s probably a little bit like putting this puzzle together. There are hints - like, the shapes and the colors of these puzzle pieces - but you don’t really know for sure all the time that you are putting it together the right way. Look! Here’s a piece we put in that doesn’t fit quite right.” Anna and her dad puzzle in silence for a few more minutes.

“What are you talking about, dad? What kind of hints would ice leave? Fossils?” Anna frowns, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, fossils are in rocks, not ice. But maybe there were ice fish trapped in ice rocks that are still here somewhere in ice caves, and she could find some ice fish fossils someday. That would be so cool.

“Yes, fossils might give some clues. I’m not really sure, Anna, but I bet some of the things that happen now happened back then, so if we can find, like, creeks and rivers now, maybe we could look for signs of old creeks or rivers, and those might be a hint about what it used to look like. And maybe the indigenous people, who have lived here a long time, have a memory or record of how things have changed. If you look for lots of clues in lots of different places, they might make a whole story, like the puzzle pieces make a picture. Then you can look for more clues and see if the new clues makes sense with your story. If not, change your story so it makes sense with what you find!”

“So, scientists really are like detectives! And story-tellers! That sounds like a fun job. I hope I can be a scientist someday.”

Anna’s dad laughs, “I’d say you are a pretty good scientist already! They don’t call you Nature Detective for nothing! Now, since we are both curious about this mile-high glacier, let’s listen to OHA’s newest podcast - Sculpted by Ice, with Dr Karl Lillquist. Maybe he has some clues for us!”

Dec 16, 202253:09
Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)

Amelia Marchand, of the L.I.G.H.T. Foundation, joins OHA to share her experiences and perspectives on traditional knowledge, or teachings, and the role of ecological knowledge within the bigger framework of cultural understanding that has been amassed over a millenia by indigenous peoples. She shares stories of her life and the inspiration that has driven her and her husband, Joaquin, to create the L.I.G.H.T Foundation whose mission is to cultivate, enrich and perpetuate native plants and the cultural traditions of Pacific Northwest tribes.

To learn more and donate to the L.I.G.H.T. Foundation, visit the website at:

Check out this article by Amelia Marchand, from June 22, 2022: Climate and Cultural Vulnerabilities of Indigenous Elders, published in the Generations Journal of the American Society on Aging.

Additional resources to learn more (list specially curated by Amelia Marchand):

Local Environmental Observer (LEO) Network: an opportunity to learn about (and add your local) unusual environmental, animal and weather events world-wide.

2021 Status of Tribes and Climate Change (STACC) Report  produced by The Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals

Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives : a practical guide to developing collaborations that honor traditional knowledge and minimize risks to indigenous peoples who might be sharing traditional knowledge. Intended audience: agencies, researchers, tribes and traditional knowledge holders (and valuable information for everyone).

Citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers: How to cite oral traditions and ways of knowing in a way that honors and recognizes information shared by indigenous knowledge keepers on a level with written sources.

Find the full theme song, Blessed Unrest, by Tyler Graves on Spotify, Apple Music, or your favorite music platform.

For more information about Okanogan Highlands Alliance, or to become a member or volunteer, visit: or email us at

Season 2 of the Highland Wonders Podcast is supported by Humanities Washington and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

May 11, 202248:53
Beaver Believers: The Next Generation (Part 1)

Beaver Believers: The Next Generation (Part 1)

This special episode features many voices! The Tonasket Elementary School 5th Grade teamed up with OHA and Sarah Koenigsberg, who is an award-winning film-maker, educator, and, most importantly, beaver believer, to answer students' questions about beavers and how they protect water quality, water quantity and healthy wetlands throughout the West.  Before you listen, here is a story from Anna, Nature Detective!

Anna, Nature Detective

Season 2, Episode 5: Beaver Believers, The Next Generation

Anna is a daring and precocious nature detective. She loves to sing and dance, and make up songs and dances about the things that she observes. Anna LOVES animals (especially the fuzzy ones), and she is the kid who can catch the cat that no one else can. When Anna explores she likes to look at things close up, touch them, peer at them through her Nature Detective hand lens. Sometimes, things that can’t run away suit Anna’s detective style best, but fortunately Anna is also very careful not to hurt anything, and to keep her distance when she comes across wildlife.

One spring day, Anna wakes up singing, “I like oceans and rivers, I like oceans and rivers, and everything that is wet. Even though, I been trying to go, on a mountain road, I can’t stand it. You’re. So. Cute.” Her dad laughs, “What are you singing about, Anna?” Anna looks at her dad sideways, and says “Beavers, dad! Of course.” It is very obvious to Anna. What else could she possibly be singing about?

Her dad nods his head seriously, remembering the beaver lodge they had seen last summer in the Okanogan Highlands. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is warm, the snow is nearly melted, so they decide to go pay the beavers a visit. Up they go, following that long  mountain road to their favorite lake, where they set up a picnic, test the still- frigid water, and watch the birds busily flitting from tree to tree, some building nests. At the end of the day, as the light begins to fade, Anna and her family peer through their binoculars toward the rounded mass of tree branches along the distant side of the lake, and suddenly they see it! A little head, swiftly moving through the water toward the lodge!

Anna’s questions begin.

“Where is that beaver coming from?”

“Was that beaver swimming underwater?”

“Can beavers breathe under water?”

“How many beavers live in that beaver house?”

“How big are beaver babies?”

“What do beavers eat?”

“Are beavers nice?”

“Can I see a beaver close up?”

“How do beavers survive in the winter?”

“How do beavers build those dams?”

The questions go on and on, literally without stopping, for minutes. This beaver has sparked our Nature Detective’s curiosity! Luckily, she is not alone. Recently, the Tonasket Elementary School 5th Grade teamed up with Sarah Koenigsberg, beaver believer, educator and storyteller extraordinaire, to answer many of these same questions!

Join Sarah and the next generation of beaver believers to learn all about beavers, their important role in our highlands ecosystems, and more by listening to the most recent episode of Okanogan Highlands Alliance’s Highland Wonders Podcast. You can find additional episodes and more nature detective stories at or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Season 2 of the Highland Wonders Podcast is supported by Humanities Washington and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Apr 13, 202238:04
The World Needs More Birders

The World Needs More Birders

Are you interested in learning more about birds? Are you looking for resources to help you learn to identify birds by sight and sound? Are you interested in contributing your bird observations to science? Are you looking for answers to the question, “What’s so special about birds, anyway?” If you answered yes to any of these questions, this episode is for you! Dick Cannings, author, educator, biologist, member of the Canadian House of Commons, has fostered his lifelong fascination with birds and has crafted his career to teach and show people why it is important to protect the natural world. He has a lot to share about his experiences, why citizen science is so crucial in collecting information about our world, and how anyone can contribute to these efforts!

Dick Cannings:

More about Dick Cannings, his books, and instructions about how to build an owl nest box:

Birding Organizations and Learning Resources:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Audubon Society:

North Central WA Audubon Society:

Birds Canada:

Citizen Science Projects:

The Great Backyard Bird Count:

Project Feeder Watch:

Christmas Bird Count:

Breeding Bird Atlas of Washington*:

North American Breeding Bird Survey:

Short Eared Owl Survey:


Migration Monitoring:

Project FeederWatch:

*also contains maps for amphibians, mammals, reptiles

Birding Apps and Websites (ID by sight and sound, record your sightings):

Merlin Bird ID:



Okanogan Highlands Alliance: who we are, what we do and how you can get involved:

Email us at:

Feb 16, 202246:42
Islands in the Ice: Nunataks

Islands in the Ice: Nunataks

Nunatak: an Inuit word meaning a mountain peak jutting up through a glacier. A nunatak might not be a hospitable place to spend a few thousand years, but exposed rocky mountaintops are sometimes all that a few hardy species need to survive. In this episode, George Thornton, local educator, naturalist and botanist, shares his knowledge and experiences studying the unique plant communities found atop the highest peaks in the Okanogan. By connecting big ideas of climate, geology, and ecosystem dynamics, George makes sense of how some of the tiny alpine and tundra plants can be found here today, and why they might be in peril.

And now, Anna, Nature Detective. A story for kids of all ages.

Anna is a daring and precocious nature detective. She loves to sing and dance, and makes up songs and dances about the things that she observes. Anna LOVES animals. She is the kid who can catch the cat that no one else can. When Anna explores she likes to look at things close up, touch them, peer at them through her Nature Detective hand lens. Sometimes, things that can’t run away suit Anna’s detective style best, but Anna is also very careful not to hurt anything.

“Red, Orange and Yellow! Green, Blue and Indigo! Vioolleetttt!” Anna makes up the tune to her Rainbow Song as she traipses along a trail through a wildflower strewn meadow. It has been a long hike to reach this meadow. Fortunately her mom brought along a whole pack of power pellets…jelly beans of every color, to match the rainbow of flowers stretching out in front of them.

“Hey mom, let’s try to find a flower for every color of the rainbow, and take their pictures!”

“What a great idea!” Anna’s mom says, “When you are all grown up, these pictures will remind us of this day!” Anna’s mom appreciates that Anna would rather take pictures than pick flowers. They learned recently that flowers are an important part of making seeds, and seeds are how plants reproduce. If everyone picked wildflowers, we might not have any left to enjoy, but pictures are good forever and don’t hurt a thing.

And so the search for a rainbow of flowers begins.

There is the red paintbrush, “click” goes the camera.

Indigo lupine and yellow arnica, “click” goes the camera.

“Anna, what colors are we missing?”

Anna murmurs her rainbow song, checking off the colors on her fingers. “Orange! Green! Blue! Violet!”  Anna sings.

Anna and her mom continue down the trail, and come to a place where a creek crosses the trail. There are different flowers here, where it is wet. They find a long, stalky green flower - they’ll have to look it up later. “Click” goes the camera. They find a bright orange flower - a tiger lily. And a purple flower with lots of petals, which Anna’s mom suspects might be an aster.

“All we need now is blue!” Anna and her mom are stumped. They had already decided that the lupine is indigo, but they haven’t seen any truely blue flowers yet.

The two make their way to a place where jumbles of rocks lead up to a ridge. Anna starts to climb. She climbs the first set of rocks, and as she crests the top she spies something amazing - a blue, almost green-blue, tiny flower. She never would have seen it if she hadn’t climbed the rocks or been so close to the ground - now that she looks more carefully, there are quite a few of these tiny blue-green flowers.

“Mom! Come up here! You have to! There are blue flowers!” Anna’s mom is skeptical, but she is also a good sport, so she carefully climbs up next to Anna, “Wow! What an amazing find! I haven’t ever seen a flower like this, Anna!”

After coming down the mountain, Anna and her mom investigate, and it turns out that the blue flower is called a glaucous gentian, a tundra plant, thought to be very rare in the Okanogan.

Season 2 of the Highland Wonders Podcast is supported by Humanities Washington and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Feb 04, 202247:07
Okanogan Ice Islands: Nunataks

Okanogan Ice Islands: Nunataks

Okanogan Highlands Alliance (OHA) is excited to announce an online Highland Wonders educational event as well as podcast episode, featuring local educator, naturalist, and botanist, George Thornton on January 7th, 2022 at 6:30pm. The lecture will be a live presentation via YouTube at:

If you miss this talk, don't fret! In mid-January, the podcast version of this talk will be right here on the Highland Wonders Podcast.

George Thornton has spent his life and career learning about and exploring the Okanogan and discovering the secrets of our local flora, fauna, and ecosystems. In this presentation, Okanogan Ice Islands: Nunataks, he will focus on the rocky, exposed portions of Chopaka Mountain, and how and why some of the rarest plant communities of the Okanogan have survived there through the millennia. George will share his understanding about the unique plants found on the high, craggy peaks, and investigate the clues they hold to past and future climate and local ecology. George shares “Beyond the beauty of Chopaka, I’ve come to know the mystery behind the unusual collection of Arctic tundra remnant on the peak. I’ve wondered what it tells of our past and whether it offers a glimpse into our future.” We hope that you will join us in the new year as we continue to learn about the natural history of our area.

OHA is a non-profit public interest organization that works to educate the public on watershed issues. The Highland Wonders program features the natural history of the Okanogan Highlands and surrounding areas. In addition to live presentations, you can learn more by tuning into the Highland Wonders Podcast, found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you normally get your podcasts. For more information, visit:, or contact

Jan 05, 202204:18
From the Okanogan to the Sea

From the Okanogan to the Sea

In this interview-style episode, Lynda Mapes of The Seattle Times joins OHA in discussing her newest book, Orcas: Shared Waters, Shared Home. From Tonasket to the Salish Sea, our ecosystems are connected by the water and the wildlife that travels through our region. Learn about salmon, orcas, and the people whose lives revolve around the aquatic habitats of Washington. And here is a story from Anna, Nature Detective!

A Story: Anna, Nature Detective, S2:E2 From the Okanogan to the Sea

Anna surfaces briefly, then glides back underwater, swimming against the current. It is a fast current, and the cold, clear water feels just right against her red sides, her glinting scales. She is headed upstream, back to the place she was born.

As she makes her way upstream, away from the ocean, she is thinks back to the last time she was in fresh water.  Anna barely remembers that trip downstream four years ago, she was so small! As she swam from the river to the sea, the waters gradually got saltier. She knew she had arrived in the sea because the water moved differently – in and out and in swirls, pushing every which-way. She had to get used to that salt, the currents, and the new animals and plants she swam past, and there was no time to dilly dally.

There was lots of food to eat in the sea, but there were also lots of creatures that wanted to eat Anna and her salmon friends! She found her way out to the deep water, where she could hide from the big barking sea lions and the huge bald eagles that pounced from above. Anna snacked on whatever came along – fish, water bugs, anything, really. Out in the deep water, Anna felt a little safer – she could swim fast and deep and she could swerve like a champ! Black and white orcas were everywhere. They were there in the deep water, they were there in the shallow water, they were close to land and out in the open sea. Always on the prowl, the orcas were fast and somehow knew right where the salmon were, even in the dark. As time passed, Anna got bigger and faster and smarter.

One day something told her it was time to head for home, back through the shallow sea to the river mouth, where that fresh water smelled so familiar...

Anna woke with a start. “Mom, I dreamed I was a fish! A salmon! And I was four years old, just like me, but I was really OLD. There were rivers in my dream, and the ocean, and other fish, and sea lions, and orcas! Can we go to the ocean?” Anna’s mom said, “wow, what an exciting dream! You know what we should do? We should go down to the river - I bet we can see salmon in the Okanogan River right now!” “Yeah, let’s do it!” Anna yelled.

As Anna and her mom watched the big salmon holding their position in the river’s current, they thought about the lives of these big fish and the cycle of life for the salmon and all of the people and wildlife that depend on them, like the orcas in Anna’s dream. Soon, these surviving big fish would lay their eggs and die, but even then they are an important part of the system, their bodies nourishing the plants and animals that live in and around the rivers. How amazing is that? Anna announces, “I love salmon. I want to learn all about them and I want to be their friend.”

Season 2 of the Highland Wonders Podcast is supported by Humanities Washington and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Additional resources:

Orca: Shared Waters, Shared Home by Lynda Mapes

Seattle Aquarium:

Take Action:


Okanogan Conservation District:

*Search the Internet for more conservation organizations in your area*

Find Your Senators' Contact Information at:

Dec 07, 202147:35
Wild Mushrooms of the Okanogan

Wild Mushrooms of the Okanogan

Fungi, often only recognized as slimy masters of decay, make up a whole kingdom of life on Earth. They engage in all kinds of relationships with other species, they can be the size of football fields, or too small to see without a microscope, they exist in all shapes and colors, they live underwater, in the forest and in our food. While mushrooms are only one small part of a fungi's life - the fruit that emerges when conditions are just right to reproduce - they are a great way to recognize the diversity of fungal life when you are out in nature. It's not every day that we take time to appreciate the remarkable Fungi Kingdom, what fungi do to keep our world rolling along, and how little we really know about them. In this episode, Helen Lau, botanist with the US Forest Service, will pique your interest with all kinds of fungi facts, as we kick off Season 2 of the Highland Wonders Podcast.

A Story: Anna, Nature Detective, S2:E1 Wild Mushrooms of the Okanogan

Last year, Jack the Nature Detective took us along on his adventures in the Okanogan Highlands, as he explored with his family and learned all about local wildlife, from grouse to bats to owls to bighorn sheep to common loons. This year, Jack is off to kindergarten, and in a solemn ceremony that took place at the end of August, Jack presented his cousin, Anna, with her very own Nature Detective tools and an official badge. So let’s get to know Anna!

Anna is a different kind of Nature Detective than Jack. Where Jack is cautious and careful, Anna is daring and precocious, where Jack is quiet and observant, Anna spends half her time singing and the other half chatting. Where Jack is particular about calling things by their proper name, Anna makes up her own names for her discoveries. She LOVES animals, and she is the kid who can catch the cat that no one else can. She loves exploring things close up, touching them, peering at them through her Nature Detective hand lens. Sometimes, things that can’t run away suit Anna’s detective style best, and so, this month, Anna finds herself exploring the mushroom world!

“Hey mom, what are these slimy things?” Anna hollers from the back yard.

“Oh no, not again!” her mom is remembering back to the week before when Anna brought two heaping handfuls of deer droppings into the kitchen. She runs outside to find Anna poking at a perfect circle of mushrooms growing in the backyard. “Oh, how pretty!” Anna’s mom says “I think that’s called a fairy ring.”

Anna gasps, “A fairy ring? Made by fairies? Wow!” She pulls out her hand lens and looks at the top of one mushroom. It’s smooth, brown and slippery. She looks at the stem, tan and shaggy. Then she looks at the underside of the mushroom top. “Wow! What are those stripey things?” Anna and her mom look carefully at the mushroom, and then Anna draws what she sees in her notebook. Later on, they look in a book and find that the top of the mushroom is called the cap, the stem is called the stem, and the stripes underneath the cap are called gills.

“So...mushrooms have gills... like fish. And a cap, like an umbrella. And I don’t know why, but they grow in a circle like a fairy would make. I’ll this a Fairy Gillyhat!” Anna says. Anna and her mom go and wash their hands, because, as their book told them, some mushrooms can be poisonous. From that day on, Anna finds mushrooms all over the place - growing on tree trunks, in the grass, on logs in the forest, everywhere! But why are they everywhere? And why are some poisonous, but some you can eat? Anna has lots of questions, and luckily for her, Helen Lau, of the US Forest Service has lots of answers in the latest episode of the Highland Wonders Podcast!

Season 2 of the Highland Wonders Podcast is supported by Humanities Washington and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Nov 09, 202146:27
Washington's Not-So-Common Loons

Washington's Not-So-Common Loons

Who would have thought that our very own Okanogan Highlands is a great place to view one of the world’s most charismatic and endearing bird species? Although not many common loons nest in Washington any more, breeding pairs and chicks can be found on several highland lakes throughout the summer months and into the fall. This month’s Highland Wonders Podcast features Daniel and Ginger Poleschook - dedicated researchers, educators and advocates for common loons. They share what they have learned over 26 years of studying the species and getting to know the individual loons that inhabit our local lakes. Enjoy!

Jack, Nature Detective, Season 1, Episode 5: The Not-So-Common Loon

One warm spring day out on Bonaparte Lake, Jack the Nature Detective is fishing with his dad. Suddenly he hears a strange noise, “it sounds like a cross between a wolf’s howl and a chicken’s squawk.” Jack squints across the lake and he can’t believe what he is seeing! It’s a…a…penguin? It’s a very large bird, anyway, and black and white. What else could it be? Jack keeps watching. The bird is swimming around like a duck and keeps diving under water in a very penguin-like way. Jack is puzzled, though. He wonders aloud, “I thought that penguins live on the bottom of the globe, and we live closer to the top. If this is a penguin, it is very far from home. How could this be?”

From that day on, Jack watches his mystery bird friends often. There are two of them. He notices that they are good fisher-birds, and that they built a nest on a grassy tuft on the edge of the lake. One early summer day Jack sees something especially amazing. “Look!” he shouts. “One of the birds is carrying a fuzzy little baby on its back!” All of a sudden, the bird starts (what can only be described as) yodeling. She sounds scared and upset. Jack looks up and sees a bald eagle soaring above the lake. As the bald eagle is about to dive, Jack’s mom wades out into the lake waving her arms and yelling, “HEY! GET AWAY!” The eagle moves on, and the mama and baby glide away.

By this time, Jack is pretty sure this amazing bird is not a penguin, but he is still not sure what it could be. He decides, “It’s time to get to the bottom of this mystery.” Back at home, Jack gets to work with his favorite bird book, The Sibley Field Guide (it has, in the Nature Detective’s opinion, the best pictures). Soon Jack realizes that that his hunch was right – the mystery bird isn’t a penguin at all. It is a bird called the common loon! Now that he knows who they are, the Nature Detective can’t wait to learn more! Fortunately, the newest Highland Wonders Podcast is out, featuring Daniel and Ginger Poleschook, so Jack and everyone he knows can learn about common loons and what we all can do to protect them.

Stay tuned! Jack will continue to solve nature mysteries on topics related to upcoming episodes of the Highland Wonders Podcast. Episodes and stories can be found at: or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Feb 23, 202148:37
The Secret Life of Bats

The Secret Life of Bats

How do you feel when someone starts talking about bats? Warm and fuzzy? Uneasy? Disgusted? Cautiously curious? In the fourth episode of the Highland Wonders Podcast, The Secret Life of Bats, Roger Christophersen of the North Cascades National Park addresses our ideas about bats, and sparks a sense of wonder at these flying, fuzzy, leathery insectivores. To learn more about bats, how and where they live, and how we all can support bat populations (and why we should), check out the Highland Wonders Podcast wherever you normally get your podcasts! And now, a story from our intrepid Nature Detective. Enjoy!

Jack, Nature Detective: season 1, episode 4: The Secret Life of Bats

Jack’s family is enjoying a weekend camping in the highlands, escaping the heat of summer for a few days, and exploring the forests and lakes of the Okanogan. As they sit around the campfire, they notice something winging through the air in the little clearing, fluttering here and there. It’s flight pattern seems different from a bird, and the creature itself is bigger than the insects that Jack normally sees. “Eek! It’s a bat!” Jack’s mom exclaims. Jack gazes into the fire, thinking.

“What are bats, anyway?” Jack thinks about what he knows about bats, trying to sort them into a group with other animals he knows. Recently, he had a chance to get a close-up look at a bat during the day, as it clung to his house, sleeping. It was definitely fuzzy, with a pointy little snout.

“I don’t think they are birds because they don’t lay eggs. If they DID lay eggs, how would that even work? They hang upside down, and don’t have nests. The eggs would just crack on the ground! That would be bad.”

“Are they insects? Some insects are furry, like bumble bees. Maybe bats are insects?” Jack is not sure. He thinks, “Bees and other bugs don’t take very good care of their babies. But I heard that bat moms carry their babies around and feed them.” Jack glances over at his mom, who is giving his little sister a piggy back over to their tent. “Maybe bats are more like people. Mammals. Mammals?!? FLYING MAMMALS?!?! Is that possible?”

When they get home, Jack asks his mom to look up pictures of bats on the internet. One image of a bat skeleton pops up and Jack notices that the wing looks a lot like a hand - it even has a little thumb! He also notices their ears, “My what big ears you have, little bat!” Jack cackles at his own Little Red Riding Hood reference. So far, the evidence points to bats being mammals. But Jack still has a lot of questions. “Do bats have predators? Why do bats have big ears? Do they hibernate in the winter or go south like birds do? How high can they fly? I can’t wait to learn more!” Luckily, Roger Chistophersen, of the North Cascades National Park has the answers to some of Jack’s questions in the most recent, very fascinating, Highland Wonders Podcast!

Jan 29, 202140:44
Bighorn Sheep of the Okanogan

Bighorn Sheep of the Okanogan

OHA is delighted to ring in the new year with Episode 3 of the Highland Wonders Podcast: Bighorn Sheep of the Okanogan. In this hour-long episode, Jeff Heinlen of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shares his fascinating expertise and entertaining stories of bighorn sheep, the history of the herds in our valley, and gives an update on how our local herds are currently doing. And now without further ado, a story from Jack, Nature Detective!

Jack, Nature Detective: season 1, episode 3: Bighorn Sheep of the Okanogan

Meet Jack, Nature Detective: Jack is inquisitive, skeptical, creative, quirky, determined, and a friend to ALL critters. His observations of subtle clues and brilliant reasoning make him, quite possibly, one of the world’s most talented nature detectives. Like most of us, Jack’s understanding of the world comes from his own life experiences. He is five years old, and his investigative skills are top notch. If you were to stop by his house you might find our Nature Detective in the midst of an experiential study of squirrel movement, or determining the optimal shelter and food stores for his new pet grasshopper, named Grasshopper. Today, we will share a mystery that Jack uncovered in the Okanogan Highlands. What clues can you uncover in the story?

“Hey dad, want to hear a riddle?” Without waiting for an answer, Jack recites, “What has a hard head, loves to climb and likes to lick salt?” His dad knows immediately: “Your sister.” “No!” Jack yells. “A wild great horn…” “...Owl?” his dad finishes for him. “No!” Jack yells again. “They have four legs, no wings, and huge, curly horns. We saw one on our hike today!”

Today Jack and his cousins adventured up the Whistler Canyon Trail near Oroville. After climbing the long, steep path, they stopped on a bench to catch their breath and look around. The kids brought their binoculars, so they scanned the hillsides and cliffs for signs of life – and there it was.

Silhouetted against the sky, high up on the edge of a cliff, an animal was standing very still. As Jack reported, it had four legs, a sturdy body, no wings, and a huge, curled head ornament. As they watched, the animal picked its way along the cliff, and the kids gasped to see it balancing so precariously on the rocks. “How does it not tip over? Its head looks so heavy!” Jack wondered out loud. “And how does it climb those rocks like that? I would fall!” As they watched, more animals “appeared” (they had been there the whole time but were so well camouflaged and so still that the kids hadn’t seen them). Some were laying down, others munching on something. Jack was curious why different animals had different size horns.

What was this amazing creature? Jack, the Nature Detective used his trusty process of elimination, “It can’t be a cat or a dog – they don’t have horns. It can’t be a goat – they are white, and live high in the mountains. Could it be a deer? Definitely not!” If there is one thing Jack knows, it is that: deer have antlers, sheep have horns.” Jack’s cousin, Fred adds, “Those have to be horns because antlers fall off, and those horns look like they have been growing for a loooong time.” The cousins decided that it must be a sheep! Elliot, who is a little older than the others, has seen signs along the road, warning drivers to watch out for “great, wait...bighorn sheep!” Jack, the Nature Detective is satisfied for now, but he is excited to listen to what Jeff Heinlen, from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, has to say about the bighorn sheep of Okanogan County. That should help him know for sure.

Dec 29, 202001:00:52
Grouse of the Okanogan

Grouse of the Okanogan

Learn a little bit about Okanogan Highlands Alliance and a lot about the grouse of the world, with special focus on the grouse species that inhabit Okanogan County,  WA, with Dr. Michael Schroeder. Also, join Jack, the Nature Detective, as he explores the Okanogan Highlands in this story for kids of all ages:

“Look! A chicken!” Jack squawks. His little sister laughs, claps her hands, and hollers, “Let’s collect the eggs!” But Jack frowns, and says “Wait, hold on. It can’t be a chicken, that doesn’t make sense...” Jack and his family have just crossed a grassy field to get to the edge of a creek. They are looking for animal footprints in the new snow on an early winter day, and have just been startled by a heavy-bodied bird clattering away across the field. The bird didn’t go far, and it really didn’t fly very high. By Jack’s estimation, it only flew “about three cars high.”

“Where would a chicken come from? I don’t see any houses. Chickens need houses, and roosts, and nest boxes.” Jack gasps and his eyes get big, “Mom! Are there wild chickens? Or is this someone’s lost chicken? Or... is that not a chicken?” Jack thinks hard, “Time to collect clues. Nature Detective is on the case.”

This bird is smaller than the chickens that he knows from his grandma’s house. But the chickens he has seen fly three cars high, just like this bird. Jack thinks, “maybe it’s a baby, and that’s why it’s small. But... why would a baby chicken wander off on its own?” Jack has recently conducted a study of his grandma’s chickens and this is what Jack knows about chickens:

  1. They can be lots of different colors.
  2. They eat seeds and bugs.
  3. They lay eggs, unlike bats, that have live birds.
  4. Some chickens grow feathers right over their eyes so they can’t see.

The chicken facts that Jack knows sort of fit with the mystery bird, but it’s just too weird to see a chicken out in the wild. The family follows in the direction that the bird went, trying not to scare it again.

Jack stops and puts his binoculars to his eyes. He scans the branches of some trees along the creek. He scans the snow. He stops. “There it is!” Jack whispers. His mom, dad, and sister all put their binoculars to their eyes and aim the lenses where Jack is looking. There is a bird there, walking awkwardly right on top of the snow. “How does he do that?” Jack wonders. They can see that this is not a chicken. It is speckled, with bright yellow eyebrows, and it’s tail is too pointy to be a chicken. It could be a relative of a chicken. Suddenly the bird disappears. “Where’d he go? That’s not a chicken!” They decide to leave the bird alone, since winter is a hard time to be a wild bird.

When Jack gets home his dad pulls up their favorite website - Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Jack likes this website because he can search for birds by shape and color! It doesn’t take long for him to find a whole bunch of chicken-shaped birds with yellow eyebrows. He thinks his mystery bird was a grouse - but which one? Jack reviews his clues: a grassy habitat, smaller than a chicken, speckled, yellow eye brows, pointy tail, walking on top of the snow. “A sharptail grouse!” Jack hypothesizes. How can he know for sure? For more clues about whether Jack’s guess might be correct, and to learn all about the different types of grouse that live in the Okanogan, Washington and the world, check out this podcast episode, Grouse of the Okanogan, with Dr. Michael Schroeder. 

Episode Credits: Presentation by Dr. Michael Schroeder, Grouse song by Julie Vanderwal with words by poet Will Nixon (find "My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse" and more at Episode illustration by Diana Weddle. Theme song by Tyler Graves and Andy Kingham. Don't forget to check out OHA's website at for more information or to support our efforts to protect the Okanogan Highlands!

Nov 27, 202037:53
Great Gray Owls: the phantom of the north

Great Gray Owls: the phantom of the north

Join Okanogan Highlands Alliance and Matt Marsh, wildlife biologist with the US Forest Service in Tonasket, Washington to learn about the biology of Great Gray Owls, the phantom of the north. We hope you also enjoy this accompanying story!

Jack, Nature Detective: inquisitive, skeptical, creative, quirky, determined, and a friend to ALL critters. His observations of clues and his brilliant reasoning make him, quite possibly, one of the world’s most talented nature detectives. Jack’s understanding of the world comes from his own experiences. He is five years old, and his investigative skills are top notch. If you were to stop by his house you might find the Nature Detective in the midst of an experiential study of squirrel movement, or determining the optimal shelter for his new pet grasshopper, named Grasshopper. Today, we will share a mystery that Jack uncovered in the Okanogan Highlands. What clues can you uncover in the story?

One day in October, Jack, the Nature Detective, is out on a hike in the Okanogan Highlands with his family. The needles of the Western Larch are lighting up the flank of Bonaparte Mountain with yellow, bright against the dark green of the other conifers. The afternoon is warm and Jack’s whole family is enjoying the way the sunbeams filter down through the forest canopy.

Suddenly, Jack detects something. His eyes open wide and he whispers, “Who’s out there? Mom? Is someone watching us?” Everyone stops and looks around, no one is there, just the quiet forest. But the whole family kind of feels like there is something there, so they come to a full stop and really look around. There is a fallen tree, leaning steeply against its neighbor. The trees are tall in this place - and big around. Some have broken off way up in the air. But no one sees any sign of eyes watching them.

Jack’s mom says, “Don’t worry, Jack. Sometimes when you are outside, it really feels like something is watching you. Maybe animals are watching. The creatures that live in these woods are adapted to be camouflaged here. The shapes of their bodies and their colors blend right into the shapes and colors of the forest. They stay very still, so our eyes just slide right past them without even seeing them. Their camouflage keeps them safe.” Just a little way farther on, Jack stops again, staring at small gray lumps that look a bit furry, and a little bit...bony. What is this? Does it have something to do with that creepy feeling of being watched?

This is a nature mystery and, fortunately, the Nature Detective is on the job. He pulls out his sample jars, some forceps, and a hand lens, and collects the gray lumps for analysis at home.

Back at home, Jack dons his lab coat, goggles, and protective gloves and examines the gray lumps. He uses the forceps to pull out a pile of tiny bones. He painstakingly counts the bones and declares that this is undoubtedly the droppings of a hungry rodent eater.

He considers his clues: forest habitat with big trees, snags, and leaning trees, a creature that eats rodents and lives in the Okanogan Highlands. He remembers that feeling of being watched. Jack’s hypothesis is that this nature mystery is an owl, but it could be a coyote, weasel, or snake, and he is not quite willing to dismiss the possibility that it could be a baby velociraptor or a saber tooth tiger. Do you think Jack’s owl hypothesis is correct? What other evidence would you need to verify Jack’s forest find? To learn more, check out this episode of Highland Wonders, produced by Okanogan Highlands Alliance. Great Gray Owls: The Phantom of the North, features Matt Marsh, wildlife biologist with the US Forest Service in Tonasket.

Stay tuned for more nature mysteries and more episodes of the Highland Wonders Podcast! And don't forget to check out our website at

Nov 05, 202031:03