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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sigh Monday

Report for weekend

Pie .... Failed to set. The type of pie that inspired the concept of Anything Pie Ice Cream. fruit syrup and crust mixed into ice cream. Nuts

Work on Sunday morning went great. I stopped on the road to see how the local berries there were and they were the ones I should have picked Saturday. They were needing to be picked. Many berries had fallen off the branches and more just plopped off at the slightest jog of the branch. With my prize I made scones, which turned out awesome! My freezer holds them safe and they will be a welcome treat some early dark morning.

I never did get to Mt Rainier but it will be there tomorrow and the next day

The berries need attention NOW

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rite of Summer: Blackberries

The days of Summer dwindle, and there are certain signs the season is changing. It is now I start thinking forward. I have to have my carrot on the stick, to face the prospect of the perpetual gloom of our short gray days and long dark nights...

My sisters and I have a "Girls Weekend" before Christmas. We spend the weekend in a hotel downtown, take in a show and have dinner someplace nice. It is my year to make the arrangements, so the show tickets are booked (White Christmas) and I await the onslaught of seasonal hotel deals.
I have started thinking about Christmas break and have found some nice cabins at Neah Bay, perfect for storm watching and beach hiking. I was thinking of getting away last year but our snow storms certainly kept me confined at home

I dare think about a vacation next Spring. Seattle gets far too dreary in the Winter to not have something to look forward to. A get away to someplace different is in order. This Spring I went to London. I love London and I could certainly be convinced to return
But NOW, right now there is an important thing to do. It is the ultimate sign of the end of summer

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of blackberry picking trips. We would pile into the car, all eight of us and drive to the special picking place. It was the railroad right of way just off Monster Road in Tukwila. An inglorious place (and name) just opposite the slaughter house, down the road from what I thought was a haunted house. I learned in my adult life that the abandoned cement house was an old gun placement from WWII. It had a pretty good protective bead on Boeing.

Mom would give us each a pot and point to a place on the side of the pot. "Pick to here" she would order. It was a good technique, I suspect, to keep us from constantly asking, "Is this enough?"
I was the youngest and had a healthy respect for the location. Between thorns, spiders, trains and dragonflies (which my brothers said sucked blood) I stuck close and was diligent at getting berries close to the ground.
It was always exciting when trains would come past. We would count cars and I would hope to spot a rail car from the B&O (snicker) line. Smashing pennies was a thrilling rite. My brothers introduced me to the craft. They let me know it was really dangerous because the pennies could derail the train. Also the government didn't like us to deface money. I didn't know what deface meant but I thought the flattened stretched face of Mr Lincoln was pretty cool and worth the danger.

I also became a blackberry snob. The right of way only grew Himalayan berries and they are the largest, most sweet least seedy of the two local invasive blackberries. They make great pies, passable wine and when mixed with milk and sugar, blackberry cereal (hold the bugs)

My to do list this weekend has two must dos 1) pick berries 2) go into work and start a project. It also has a desired thing to do, get up to the Mt Rainier area one last time. Upon seeing the unfavorable weather report at 5am I decided that berries were number one today, along with mundane things like laundry, which takes all morning, once I finish my coffee. I drove out to the farm and said HI! to my horse and then wandered the access road in search of berries. The recent weather has not been kind. The Himmys are dried up and seedy. Only those protected by trees and shrubs have a more juicy sweet quality. I know there are quite a few berries on the road near work but for today this is fine.

The Cutleaf Blackberries endured the heat just fine. They have a tight seedy berry and are less sweet and juicy than Himmys. Their leaf is smaller and has cut edges. Their thorns are less fearsome than Himmy. To me they just don't have that blackberry flavor I want.

I stumbled upon several fine patches of Himmy. They have larger, rounder leaves and the best quality ripe berry is round, plump and somewhat soft. When you jiggle the branch the ripest fall away easily. It is good to use a large flat container, like a Glad or Tupperware. The picking was not the best and I did have take some Cutleaf so I could fill my picking container "to here". Overall there were many red berries here so a few weeks of the right rain and sun might produce a late picking
While I was picking I roused a little Pacific Tree Frog. A great place for a little frog, plenty of greenery to hide in and tons of bugs. In the winter when it is rainy, this road is alive with salamander and tree frogs crossing. I always regret the fact that I might take one of them away as I drive down the road in the dark. I keep my eye up and forward to avoid knowing for sure. He was a tricky fellow to get the camera on. Deep in the shrub, my camera took plenty in focus shots of the near foliage.

So the pie is cooling and I now get to fret over the possibility that it won't thicken up enough. That is part of the ritual too.

I didn't derail any trains

And the government has not come after me for defacing Lincolns

Monday, August 24, 2009

Trail and Error

Being self taught in many things means tackling this Blog business is going to be trial and error.

So here are a few pictures from my hike yesterday. I am trying to figure out the crazy formatting and layout issues with the picture insert.

Deer fern . This was a dominant fern along the trail inside the woods. They are so very clean and elegant in their structure.

This was the view on top of a large boulder. A mix of moss and lichen. I was struck by the little red fruits. This is Lipstick Cladonia a lichen. I believe the white "tree" behind it is Common Christmas Tree lichen. It reminds me of some bizarre Dr Seuss village. The lipsticks are about 3/4 inch high.

The berry of the Queens Cup lily was difficult to photograph because the blue was so shiny

I was surprised to see how this photograph turned out. The boulder slope in the shade really made for an interesting background to the Red Elder.

It would not be a proper photo essay without a little bit of bug action.

Well a little glitch between the Queens cup and the Elder but better than usual.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day Hike: Pacific Crest Trail Snoqualmie Pass

The Pacific Crest Trail runs from Canada to Mexico along the central spine of Washington Oregon and California. There are many people who through-hike the entire length in one go. Some have done it multiple times. This trail, #2000 , is well marked and in major access areas, well maintained. Often there will be excellent signs with mileage information and on weekends, the trails around the Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass area are well traveled. At Snoqualmie Pass the route to the north is more popular and scenic. The hike to the south is a little more easy going.
This hike area is also a good starting point because there is the nice Pancake House at the pass. You can have an early breakfast as an incentive to getting on the road before the crowds.

The trail started near noisy I-90 and by the time you are crossing the open area of the Snoqualmie Ski Area, the sound of cars start to fade. It is a good area for some basic wildflowers. Today there was a surprise, nothing basic about a Ladies Tress Orchid. I found a spot with four little blooms, right by the trail. No more than three inches tall they could be easily overlooked.

There were also tons of Huckleberry plants. Sad to say, however they were a bit on the sour side. I am sure in a week or so they will be excellent. More flavorful were Salmonberry. In the lowlands, Salmonberry don't seem to last long. They are eagerly eaten by Robins and other woodland birds. Here at higher elevation it seemed the berries were perhaps a bit larger and sweeter. They still don't match the blueberries I found last month.

Entering the woods at the top of the ski slope the trail becomes more or less level. The footing was a challenge due to many roots and rocks in the
and there was a fair amount of step up and down using roots and rocks as steps. The understory of the woods was filled with ferns, notably Deer Fern and there was a lot of Devils Club, Oplopanax horridum. Devils Club is a wicked plant. The stout stems and huge 15 inch leaves are lined with long sharp thorns. These thorns were used by native peoples as sewing needles and fish snags. Right now the Devils Club are in berry and their large red clusters really stand out in the green understory.

There were many large trees that had come down during windstorms and they give rise to nurse logs. Nurse log is an important part of the ecology. It holds soil and water. Seeds that land upon it often take root and flourish, gaining advantage of better light over plants on the ground. It is not unusual to see trees with roots that flair showing how they grew around an old, long gone log. The logs provide nutrients to the plants that grow on them.

In this environment many trees sport shelf fungus. These ear like projections are sometimes called Turkey Tails. They served as way markers and practice targets for native peoples. There is some mention that they were ground to powder and used as a body deodorant as well. Here you can see the brackets on the end of a cut log and see the moss and plants that have taken up residence on the log itself.

Further along I saw something I have never seen in such abundance. "Chicken of the Woods" Sulphur Bracket Fungus growing up the side of a large snag. I knew they were edible and I went up for a close look. Yes they were tender and fresh, not hard and woody like the bracket. Happily, three elected to jump into my pack for a ride to the big city.

At about two miles you come to Lodge Lake. Quiet and pretty I was disappointed there were no birds in residence. I was surprised at the lack of mosquitoes or flies and perhaps that accounts for the lack of frog noise too.

On this easy going trail the distance passes quickly and a handy signpost reading 2 1/2 mile lets you decide if you are content with a 5 mile hike or if you wish to press on. I definitely note that there are a lot of interesting plants that would make this a great hike in June as soon as the snows are melted.

I was able to appreciate the beautiful view to the north as I was coming down the ski slope. In the early morning hours the lights and clouds did not provide such a good vantage.

Returning home I invited the Sulfurs to have a bath in olive oil and butter. They had a little photo op on the plate before joining some Lemon Papperadelle pasta and cream. The map they are looking at is the Delorme I mentioned in my Friday entry. They are looking at the pages for the Snoqualmie Pass area. I guess they were astounded how far they went in life.

They were very tasty and had a light lemony / meaty flavor

a bit like chicken

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Giving Back : Nisqually Land Trust

I spent this morning volunteering at a site clean up with the Nisqually Land Trust.


The parcel of land, east of Yelm, contained an old barn that had previously been taken down. There was a ton of old "no climb" fencing, barbed wire posts and assorted junk that needs to be cleared up.

It was a small but hard working crew. The day was very over cast with gray dreary sky and that light "hardly can be called rain". As the day progressed, however the sun won out and there were beautiful clouds set against blue skies.

The Field Bindweed was still closed when we walked through the pasture and by the time we had finished three hours later, it had almost all opened.

The river bowed away from this shoreline The backwater has collected many drifting logs and these serve as excellent protection for young salmon. All of the state salmon species have been found along this stretch of water and this protected environment is vital for the young developing fish. They require cool shaded water. When the river runs high during the rainy season, this area floods and floats these logs in. Eventually they feel the river will finish cutting the path and the trees you see behind the logs will actually wind up as an island

This Turkey Vulture was one of many that had obviously spent the night on the river. They were coming out of the trees as we crossed the field. They kept watch along with a large number of Raven, who held lively conversation about our antics.

I wish the lighting had been more favorable to allow capturing the detail of this grand bird.

I chose to tackle untangling and cutting down what I called a huge cinnamon roll made of no climb fencing, barbed wire and the occasional board panel. It looked pretty daunting as it twisted back on itself and there was nothing to do put pull and dissect pieces. We needed to conserve space in the dumpster that was on site so each small section was folded on itself and stomped on them to create mattresses of wire bundles. It took about two hours for my partner and I to accomplish the task. There is something very satisfying about work like this and the before and after picture tells the tale.


this pile is about 4 1/2 feet high


So it was a good days work. I optimistically thought I might stop by the Nisqually NWR on the way back but I will have to save that for another day. I have a nice collection of scratches and I am sure that I will REALLY feel it tomorrow from using the wire cutters in cutting apart all that fencing. They were the "Jaws of Life" type cutters, not the polite one hand utility type cutters.
The Nisqually NWR is where I started birding in an environment other than the woodlands near work. This is open field environment and river backwater with woods. Located at the mouth of the Nisqually River at the foot of Puget Sound just north/east of Olympia. Travelers driving north on I-5 pass through the south border of the NWR as they cross the Nisqually Flats.

It is here I saw my first Yellow Warbler. I remember that day clearly and the resulting mosquito bites on my face made me look like I had mumps. It was so very worth the discomfort. I realized that I was going to have to find out about bug sprays and other items to keep my nature nut adventures as safe and healthy as possible.

Yellow Warbler , Dendroica petechia

Friday, August 21, 2009

Books Books Books

...Because it would not be fun if you could not shop or collect things.

One disadvantage, if you could look upon it as such, of being a worker at the Seattle Audubon is ready access to their focused book store and library. You could review and peruse books in the name of "research" and over time I certainly purchased and recycled my share. Some books are must haves for a Washington Nature Nut, others are simply fun to have.

For birding there will always be arguments but most feel that Sibleys Guide to Birds is the new and definitive resource. Since it was originally published, there have been two new volumes, Eastern Birds and Western Birds. For the new birder, a copy of Western Birds will eliminate some of the out of range birds and help make learning our regions birds easier. I learned with a Roger Tory Peterson Western Birds. Back at that time, the Peterson guide was great because they were small enough to fit into a jeans or hip pack pocket and were good , solid and basic. Since then they have been republished in a slightly larger format. Peterson invented the field guide as we know it and many feel his original descriptions and notes are hard to improve upon.

There are many Peterson guides for other nature subjects, such as flowers insects butterflies. You can often find them in used book stores, sometimes in new , unused condition.

I personally have Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Pojar et al and Plants of the Southern Interior British Columbia and the Inland Northwest Parish et al. Both of these books , published in Canada, contain some minor differences in common names/ taxonomy but are extensive and complete in themselves.

Insects of the Pacific Northwest, Haggard is a good basic intro to the vast bug ecology.

Natural History of Puget Sound Country by Art Kruckeberg is a wonderful book and filled with a good solid review of the whole ecology of the Puget Basin from sea to mountain. It might be tricky to find but it is a beautifully written book by a very respected member of the natural history community.

Cascade Olympic Natural History by Mathews is one of my favorite books. If you are only going to buy one book and you want it to serve all your basic needs , this is a great one to have. It covers all of the basic plants and animals talks about geology weather and even some cultural history and lore. There is a lot of information between the covers and it is designed to be the one book you might take on an extended camping trip. It will not help you solve a tricky sparrow id but it will help make the environment come alive.

For a rambler, a Washington Atlas and Gazetteer published by Delorme ( often people just refer to it as A Delorme) is a must have. Excellent detailed topo maps of the whole state. The Washington Delorme is 120 pages. This will get you to where you need to go, once there I prefer the Green Trail Maps for hiking. They are essential if you are hiking anywhere in the state or national forests. Never rely on trail markers to be in place when you need them.

One book I have found to be great at getting me out and going is Best Wildflower Hikes Washington by Art Kruckeberg and Karen Sykes. They let you know where to go when and have excellent suggestions on how to plan your trip and what you can expect to see. You definitely need to have your Green Trail map and your Delorme to help make sure you get to your destinations safely. There are many hiking and trail books available via The Mountaineers. I find none of the hiking books reliable for actual trail description and getting comfortable at reading a map is a vital skill for hiking not just in more remote areas but everywhere.

Fire, Faults and Floods by Marge and Ted Mueller is a road and trail guide that explains the geology and origin of the Columbia River Basin. It explains how the landscape was shaped over time and forever changed by the "Bretz Floods" They have road trips to take you to see the unique features that define the basin. You will never look at rocks and cliffs the same way after reading this book.

There are some excellent on line resources too. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ a wonderful website all about birds and bird watching. They have extensive information on learning to bird and how to bring birds to your yard

http://www.enature.com/ a great , on line resource of many different field guides. It has an excellent filter feature for your region or zip code and can help make basic identifications.

The Burke Museum Herbarium http://biology.burke.washington.edu/herbarium/imagecollection.phpburke.washington.edu/herbarium/imagecollection.php a useful tool when trying to figure out the plants of Washington. They too have a helpful filtering feature that can refine searches for rare and difficult plants.

One of my most useful tools is my camera. I find that my memory for detail cannot match the ability of my camera. Plus my near vision is a bit poor and not wanting to use eye glasses in the field my camera allows me to view plants and flowers at home and appreciate and learn their details. A magnifying glass (currently out on loan) is a helpful thing to have in the pack. In a pinch, looking thru binoculars "backward" can gain you some details. A little notepad can replace a camera but for me, the camera is bringing a whole new dimention to my rambling. For those pesky identification problems Flickr.com has been a great resource, particularly their "Washington Wildflower", "ID Please" ( for general unknowns) and "Bird Identification Help" groups. You can post your photos and gain access to many knowledgable eyes.

Or if you finger through your books enough you will stumble upon an id. I puzzled over this plant for the last week and this morning, while waiting for a particularly slow issue on my antique computer to resolve, I stumbled upon the identification of these red seed pods I found last Friday in Esmeralda Basin.

Sticky Asphodel Tofildia glutinosa I am looking forward to visiting these bog meadows early in the season next year to see these bog specialties in full bloom

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Every Journey Has a First Step

I have not always been a Nature Nut. It came upon me slowly. I was working in a small business that did not have a lounge or break room. During my lunch hour I found myself driving to a nearby state park and walking its loop trail. This little park had some nice educational signs and I found myself starting to notice the world around me.

It was not a new appreciation. I had always noticed the world around me, but like many people life sort of overtook me and I got lost along the way. I never really "got into" nature, the way you can.

While rambling on the little park trails I noticed two little birds squabbling. They hopped about with great puffed up importance. Each one had a tiny tuft of red feathers on the top of their heads. I had never seen the like. Returning to work I mentioned them to a co-worker.

"Ruby-crowned Kinglet" she said.

I was greatly interested.

"I am a birder." She shared this matter of fact confession with me.

She encouraged me to get started by simply getting a field guide some binoculars and by joining the local Audubon Chapter and going on field trips.

I was hooked. In no time I was gathering books and gaining knowledge of birds. This led to a need to know trees and plants and of course along the way you see bugs and "stuff" all of which need some understanding or at least an appreciation. I have done my share of chasing and listing, but for the most part, now I simply look and enjoy. I do without the competitive edge that can overtake some nature watchers.

Along the way I have met geology nuts, dragonfly chasers, butterfly photographers and blowfly experts. I have counted birds in every season, monitored nest boxes, collected nests for parasite studies, gave lectures, led field trips, written natural history articles, volunteered and rambled.

I have recently rediscovered the joy of these activities and having picked up a camera, love to share what I am seeing with others. This led me here.

If you have stumbled into my world I hope you will join me in exploring what is on the trail ahead. I ramble slowly and take time to appreciate the little wonders.