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Just a meandering soul sharing my backyard. Visit my Flickr page too! www.flickr.com/photos/meanderingwa/

Thursday, December 31, 2009

To The North West

Grabbing an opportunity to get away during the holiday week I wanted to see someplace I had not seen before. The weather seemed to be stable for the long term so I booked a room at Bullman Beach Inn outside Neah Bay. What a sweet place. My room was right on the beach and had all I could need for a cozy stay. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking utensils. The table was right at one of two large picture windows The beach right outside that. Decor was basic 60's cabin. What a sweet deal!

See the notebook on the desk? It gives all sorts of helpful info. The first page is about the dog and three cats that live on or next to the property. The orange tabby cat is Mouse Mouse and Not To Be Allowed IN Cabin.

He claimed not to have read the book himself. He was a real con artist.

I arrived just in time for a pretty sunset.

The stone pillars in the Strait held plenty of sea birds and almost always held a Bald Eagle at the top. There were a lot of sea ducks on the water. At low tide this beach has a lot of low rocks filled with mussels and kelp beds. At the high tide line there is a lot of kelp and drift wood that held surprises. One my first morning the crows showed me where an octopus had washed up.

I gathered a lot of nice shells including a sea urchin. I didn't think to ask about gathering mussels on permit. I will keep that in mind for next time.

On my first day I drove out to Cape Flattery, the most northwestern point in the lower 48 states. It was a short little journey through the woods on a nice wood plank boardwalk. The Makah Nation is doing a very nice job of preserving their areas for visitors. Entering these areas required a yearly permit which costs only 10$. This old dead tree was mighty interesting and certainly worth keeping and building the boardwalk around it.

Out at the observation point I encountered a man from Customs and Homeland Security. He was very well armed I can tell you. He gave me quite a start. But this is the point of entry for the ships from the Pacific and they have their share of drug and human smuggling to watch for. We had a nice chat and I said he had pulled good duty to not be at the airport on Christmas Week. He chuckled and agreed and said that he would likely face bringing his Mother-in-law to visit the viewpoint the next day. I don't know if he considered that "Hazardous Duty"

Tatoosh Island, just off shore is home to a lone lighthouse and serves as a very important research station. There have been some significant work done there defining rocky shore ecology. There have also been some wonderful birds seen at the location. They come ashore during faulty migration. With the open ground and eyes looking for the unusual, these birds are more likely to be seen.

Driving further south I visited Shi Shi ( shy shy) Beach. It is a serious hike through the forest to the beach, about 2 miles. Once there I had the beach to myself. The sand is a softer, looser sand than the beaches further to the south. I had thought I might hike down to Point of the Arches, but I could see on top of the 4 miles from and back to the car, another 6 or so miles on that soft beach was out of the question. I contented myself with poking around in the tide pools and walking along the beach looking at shells (protected, no taking) and finding interesting creatures washed up.

This was a rock fish of some type the night before. His expression makes him look a bit vexed to have wound up like this.

I was so pleased my drive home allowed this photo at the mouth of the Sooes River.

The following day it was off the the Hoh Rain Forest. So far the weather had been perfect, no rain, no wind, mild and cloudy. I was fully prepared for unending rains. In fact I welcomed the full experience of being at Hoh in the rain. No such luck. While it was gray and threatening, there was no pit a pat of rain to make the experience complete.

The Hoh is inside the Olympic National Park, just south of Forks. I could see glimpses of Mt Olympus which I cannot see from home. There was so little evidence of life in the outside world once I was out of Forks and off Hwy 101. A nice change of pace.

I saw no vampires.

The Olympic National Park was named a World Heritage Site in 1981 owing to its unique Temperate Rain Forest. Here it rains over 180 inches per year. There are gentle hikes and many nice graphics through the woods near the visitors center. Even with all the rain, the footing on the trails is excellent.

There is also a trail up to Mt Olympus which is a 17 mile hike. Here there is more potential for interesting ecology. It is listed in my Wildflower hike book. I have seen photos on the Flickr Washington Wildflower group which show the promise of unusual species.

Every porous surface is growing something. I am sure a botanist could spend all day recording the living content of one downed log. Yes that is a bit of snow.

The Hall of Mosses features many enormous Big-leaf Maple trees. They must be something to see when in full leaf. I conveniently left my spare battery in my room and my camera was on low juice. I wish I could have captured more images of this lovely place. The streams were filled with spawning salmon (and two researchers in hip waders BBBbrrrrrrrrrr)

The roads into Neah Bay are dark and twisty. It only takes about 4 hours from Edmond ferry loading. I will certainly return for another weekend. In Spring I hope to catch some of the wonderful old forest plants and flowers.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas

Such a beautiful chilly blue day calls out for a walk.

Exactly one year ago I was working hard at making a double batch of Ratatouille. Today I am at it again, but on this day it was well worth getting out for a walk while the eggplant salts out.

Last year was a different story with the only option was to stay inside rather than slogging about. Little did I know when I took the photo above that it would continue to be a problem all day and I went NO WHERE that day.

And ate Ratatouille for a week.

Today, I went over to the Watershed for a quick walk. It was still, blue and quite frosty.

The trail out to the little pond is seldom used, as evidenced by the moss covered walkway.,

I wanted to get some pictures of the frozen water and happily there was some nice contrast close to the viewing platform.

a white patch caught my eye while I wandered through the woods. At first I thought it was a bit of garbage but upon close examination I see that it is frost formed into frozen threads. I have never seen anything like this and it was very odd as there was only two patches. They were springing from downed tree limbs. We are not children of the ice so I posted photos to "ID Please" on Flickr to see if anyone could explain this interesting sight. I am thinking it is soft rime but we have such little experience of frozen environments.

A regular on Flickr pointed me to the id of "Frost Flowers" In viewing the Wiki page and seeing some of the other photos, I agree with him. The rising sap on broken limbs pushes moisture out and it freezes in a linear fashion.
The woods were pretty quiet. I found one feeding guild of nuthatch and chickadees and a very quiet Hairy woodpecker. A few early morning joggers were about, as usual.

I thought this trail fence made a pretty picture.

The Ratatouille is done. I suspect there will be left-overs.

Happy Christmas

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Back At It

These grand trees need more friends.

The last month has been challenging for getting out and about. The short dark days make you want to make the most of the weekend. But come the weekend there have been far too many dicey weather changes that can bring me up short. All in all it felt more like hibernation than a time to celebrate the season.

Roaring winds after Thanksgiving put the choice to go up to Port Townsend and Sequim right on the back burner. Pictures on Flickr in the Washington Bird forum tell me I should have headed south to the Greater Vancouver area. While we were socked in and broody with howling winds and gloom, they had clear blue skies. The winds, set up the ice locker effect and days of frozen roads and sub-freezing chill I was not quite prepared for. I did learn a lot from Dr Mass and his weather blog.

(Please note the effective use of my new toy, a camera that fits in my purse and goes everywhere. )

Then there was girls weekend which is delightful. There is not a lot of natural wonder and wildlife in the core of downtown Seattle, unless you count Fox's Gem Shop windows and their famous collection of teddy bears.

I did see a interesting flock of Christmas effluvia running in the streets of downtown during the annual Jingle Bell Run. I think the flock of runners dressed as penguins was pretty good. People plan all year for this event. I think if I was inclined to run, I would dress as a coal sack.
The gingerbread houses were particularly good this year with a theme of Christmas in the Movies.

Yesterday, I was back out there, happily at another work party with the Nisqually Land Trust.

The weather has shifted and now all is rain. Last weekend was the original planting weekend and the ground was frozen solid. Saturday the ground was like soft butter which raised its own challenges.

The Wilcox Flats parcel is along the river adjacent to the Wilcox Farm complex. Most locals have seen the Wilcox eggs and milk in the stores and the farm is tucked away in a quiet small valley just back from the river east of Yelm.

The rain was pretty steady driving down but once it was daylight, it seems to just sprinkle now and then. The sudden quiet mood at daybreak allowed me to see and capture this interesting braided fog over a pasture.

The Wilcox parcel was originally destined to be 40+ housing plats. Some construction had started but the river showed, with a flood, that this was not a wise place to settle. The houses started, were destroyed and debris from places up river is still on the property. Ongoing work focuses on clearing the debris and replanting felled trees.

We worked at planting small Red Ceder, Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce trees. The spruce trees were my favorites. They have a pungent sharp odor and resembled Charlie Brown Christmas trees. It was challenging work. The ground showed no ill effects of being frozen last week. It was as soft as can be and in some places, too soft. The soil would cling to shovel and shoes in big globs. Since we were working inside an area with tall trees and mixed shrubs there was plenty of water all around. Vines grabbed and tangled and it was soggy work. It was not long before the wet clothes mixed with the mucky soil. I have not been this dirty in a long time. I think I received enough clunks to the head to keep my brain well seated for a while. I kept forgetting that there were many low limbs. I smacked into and came up under plenty of noggin knockers.

Isolated parties made quick work of planting. I was only able to stay three hours but, as always, feel the drive and time spent working was well worth the effort. I enjoy driving as I can listen to the radio. I particularly enjoy NPR on the weekend.

Yesterday my drive home was just in time to hear "KUOW Presents". These stories and interviews focus on topics of the region. One particular timely guest was Nalini Nadkarni, President of the International Canopy Network and a professor at the Evergreen State College. She told the story of growing up in crossed cultures back east and the impact of the Holiday season. She focused on the presence and symbol of the tree. In recent years she has worked at ways of bringing the conservation story to more people. Part of that work is outreach as different religious services as a guest speaker. She tells of looking for and discovering the presence of trees and forest in the holy books of the different major religions.

I hope you enjoy listening as much as I did. She tells a wonderful and fascinating story. I would like to hear her speak.
Stay safe and warm.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Wild Turkey , Meleagris gallopavo, North Fork Teanaway Road, Kittitas County

Ocellated Turkey, Agriocharis ocellata, Tikal Guatamala

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nice Weather for Ducks

When presented with the options of where to wander this weekend, I have to look to Professor Mass and his wonderful weather blog. It shows that one has the option of rain, or rain and wind. I have a desire to explore Washington Park, up in Anacortes, but the thought of dealing with both wind and rain kept me close to home. Here there is only rain and it is a bit easier to be in it for over an hour.

Jay is doing well in his first week of work. I knew it was too good to be true that all would continue fine. Yesterday I found he had lost a shoe and of course it would be from the front hoof. He let me know that precious, delicate ponies should not have to work in soft footing with one shoe missing. It causes "Oh So Horrible Pain" in tender toes. Personally I think he knew I did not write a check this week to pay someone who sees to his every needs and I was getting off easy. Poor rusty put upon steed. No matter, it is tempting to rush a rehab when it is going well. A day off will not make a great impact and might just benefit.

I chose to stick close to home and visit Juanita Bay Park. This little park , just north of downtown Kirkland, can yield some pretty good bird sightings. I figured on a day like this there would be fewer folks out. This allows sneaking up on those good birds that are hard to find most days.

Thing is, those birds figured no one is dumb enough to be out in the rain. They might as well stay in bed.

It is a pretty little lake edge wetlands. Forbes Creek, which drains much of North Kirkland has overspilled its banks and the marsh was nicely full of water. Even though there were plenty of cars driving up Juanita Drive, the rush of the creek almost drown out the car sounds.

There is a very nice set of signs telling of the local native peoples and their community names. I learned that I was born and raised in the community of Skahtelbshab(u)sh near the place called Suhteecheeb. Now I live in the community of the s'Tsahpahbsh , meandering river = Sammamish River.

Here at Juanita Bay there were varied resources. Fishing and duck hunting plus edible plants and roots to harvest. Cattails were not only used for their rushes to make fiber objects but the roots were eaten. The information kiosk said women dug up the cattail reeds by working their feet down into the roots and pulling them up. I suspect those women did not have big brothers who filled them with stories of fish that would eat their toes off or dragonflies who suck blood.

This Kingfisher didn't trust me to come close and only returned to her perch when I was far away.

A good sized flock of Wood Ducks were on the beach at the north end of the park. The males are about the most beautiful of our native birds. During nesting season you will find them in trees in marsh complexes. Wood Duck nest in woodpecker holes and when the ducklings hatch, that first step is a doozy. At the urging of their parents they launch from the hole and fall to earth, bouncing off their still chubby breast. They have quite a bounce when they land and seem no worse for wear.

I only lasted about 2 hours in the rain. Scotchguard goes on my shopping list as my favorite coat seems to have lost its protective ability.

Atkowchug (Lake Washington) showing why we drink so much coffee and read so many books.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Happy Geek Heaven

Cliff Mass has a BLOG!!! Everything you need to understand the weather here on Blogger


Look at his Saturday entry for an explanation of our wet seasonal patterns and the explanation that Why Yes we did have snow on Saturday ( photo of Stevens Pass)

You have to love a man who plans his bike commute based on Doppler radar.

Further fun, (my first weather blogging favorite) , Scott Sistek at KOMO TV. He has a wonderful sense of humor. Many local weather watchers send him awesome pictures from around the region. He sometimes posts pictures from other parts of the world.


Sunday, November 8, 2009


I knew last weekend that I would be making my way north. I heard the Snow Geese flying over home. They have a high pitched call that sounds almost like Canada Geese. But when I hear it I know it is the time to visit the Skagit.

The Skagit Flats , north and west of Mt Vernon and Fir Island, south and west from Mt Vernon is the wintering home of thousands of Tundra and Trumpeter Swans as well as many thousands of Snow Geese. They come from Wrangle Island in Siberia. It is possible to find swans with neck collars and leg bands identifying their nesting site in the Arctic. When I find them I record the numbers and send them to Washington DC where the central bird banding data base is kept. Information gathered allows scientists to keep track of changes in the population movements over the years.

The area of Fir Island has been heavily managed and protected for hunting and conservation of the birds. Farmers have historically planted barley and other crops to attract the birds. This supports conservation and provides the farms with mulch and fertilizers. In recent past there has been some issue with the masses of people who drive to the area to enjoy the sight of the large flocks. Many locals have become disenchanted with those who would trespass or drive recklessly in pursuit of their viewing pleasures. Many small property holders have suffered losses from floods and the economy.

This is a tricky area to bird now. Areas are given over to hunting at this time of year and access is strictly enforced. Even with a Fish and Wildlife permit, if hunters are in heavy attendance, agents might send you away from the protected areas for safety reasons. The Wiley Slough near the Skagit NWR HQ is undergoing rehab and management. In the past this has been a great area for general birding. Now several dikes have been breached to return this area to a fresh and salt intertidal zone. This has pushed out some of the hunting area and makes the land a bit more restricted. The area in the picture below use to be open field for hunting game birds, now it is an intertidal area.

I drove the back roads, trying , and failing, to figure out where the new swan protection and viewing area has been set up. It is OK since I love the green and gray broodiness of this area on a gloomy day like today. When the sun is full out, and the mountains are out, it is glorious. Geese and swans often appear far in fields away from available access and viewing. Not so many years ago you could drive along most planted fields and easily watch from your car. Now that there are fewer farmers and fields, the population has spread out. Many bird flocks appeared far in fields well away from any access area. Smart birds!!

I had one great fly in and managed to capture a flock of Snow Geese arriving at a field. There were a few Trumpeter Swans already on the ground.

As you can see from these pictures, there is more than one type snow in the region. I don't think the snow level in the hills behind can be that high, Perhaps 2000 feet? This northern third certainly gets winter weather earlier than we often do in the central portion of the Sound.

Having only a few nibbles and viewings I set out on my second purpose for coming up here. I read an article about the Bow / Edison area. This is another popular birding hot spot in winter. North from Mt Vernon and Highway 20 it is a community of farms on the flats just west of Chuckanut Drive. It marks the end of the flats as they are cut by Chuckanut Mountain. Bow/ Edison little more than a couple of bends in the road has attracted artists and small shops, notably bakery deli and a few "slow food" sources. Local goat and cow milk cheeses, vegetable stands, seafood suppliers.
My quest was for ALL THINGS APPLE at the Rosabella Garden Bakery. They are on the Farm to Market Road, the "main drag" out of Edison and a few miles out of town. (note to the family, that is the corner up from Duck Camp where the liquor store is. I waved to the Duck Camp as I went past)

The article told of their hard cider with tastings available. I love cider and find it challenging to find one as wonderful as the first cider I had in Belgium many years ago. Perhaps my memory is a bit biased (or foggy) towards the large bowls of drink and crepes you had to have with it. I was so eager to try a small, locally crafted cider.

But one detail was missing from the article, the shop is closed on Sundays.

AH!!! Well, it will certainly be there another weekend. Perhaps if I plan it right I can have breakfast at one of the other bakeries in Edison. Or the place "where the farmers hang out" or The Rhododendron
So many choices...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ohop Work Party

Today was the Pierce Conservation Districts work party for the Ohop stream restoration project. I learned about this work day through my last volunteer effort with the Nisqually Land Trust. Today's project was to get 1500 native plants in place. The plants had already been placed in rows and arranged in appropriate species distribution. We simply got them into the ground where they were plotted. The long range goal of the project is to redirect a stream into a new channel for improved fish habitat.
Ohop is nestled in a small valley not far from Elbe. When you take Highway 7 from Tacoma to get to Mt Rainier at Paradise, you must first travel the long corridor of chains, strip malls and other suburbia congestion behind Ft Lewis and McCord AFB. Just when you think you can stand no more, the buildings disappear and in very short time you descend into a small valley. You sigh, knowing you are in that place where the mountains begin and the modern world fades a bit.

This is the Ohop Valley. This barn is just north of the field we planted. Very pretty.

This morning it looked grim with rain and darkness as I set out. It is about a two hour drive south, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get there for the 900 start. When I pulled in there were already many people at work. This was certainly a big turnout and better still there was nothing but blue skies above. This Black Cottonwood keeps watch on the new neighbors.

We had a quick instruction on how to clear into the old turf of the pasture and dig a hole appropriate for the plant from the one gallon container. There were Douglas Fir, Black Cottonwood, Red Cedar, Snowberry Bush, a Rubus sp. plant we speculated was Salmonberry or Rose and what appeared to me to be a willow species. Together these will provide a nice woodland mix and provide shelter and food for many species. Birds and small mammals will distribute seeds of other native plants into the area.
Snowberry bush and rose hips along the stream.

It was fairly easy work. Once the long grasses were hacked aside the topsoil was quite wet and dug in easily. Despite the rain the soil was only wet about two inches down and the rest was quite dry and packed. Since this land had been pasture for so long, the grass roots were quite strong and thick. It is old volcanic mud flow and very free of rocks. The majority of the effort was put to breaking down the dry chunks and pulling out as much usable dirt as possible. One woman noted that even though you placed the plant and the nice soil from the pot in the hole, there never seemed to be enough dirt to fill the hole back up.
Pretty yellow roots of a Black Cottonwood tree

I suspected that there was a dirt sucking vortex under each dirt pile.

The organizers were very happy with the huge turnout. Since it is Halloween they thought for sure they would be down in numbers. It was good to see that easily 50% of the workers were junior , high school and college students. The planting was completed by 1100 and not a single raindrop fell. There were a lot of coats shed and everyone agreed that they overdressed for the weather.
As I drove home it was not five minutes north when I ran into driving rain. That went away just the other side of the convergence zone. Heading north on the Valley Freeway I could see way far to the north huge clouds. I am sure there are those hoping they are bringing snow to the upper elevations. The radar looks patchy.

I saw a bit of snow at home though. Returning from the store I heard a flock flying over. I knew they were not Canada Geese, too sweet a honking. Snow Geese, a small flock of 25, have returned. Last winter, for the first time I can remember, we had Snow Geese in the valleys between Redmond and Woodinville as well as the Carnation Duvall area. I even saw Snow Geese frequent Marymoor Park. Usually a small flock congregates in the Kent Valley and most famously in the Fir Island Skagit Flats area. I will no doubt get up to Fir Island for some Snow Goose and Swan observations. You can find two species of swan and the Snow Geese by the thousands.

It is always best done on one of those bright blue days when photographs are a joy to take.