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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bird Banding

I visited Seward Park today and observed a bird banding. Volunteers from the Puget Sound Bird Observatory http://www.pugetsoundbirds.org/PSBO/index.php?pg=home had their nets set up behind the Seward Park Audubon center.

Seward Park, with its historic buildings and wonderful old growth trees, is one of the most beautiful parks in the city. The Audubon Center is a relatively new and wonderful addition. The old Seward Park Inn serves as an education center and there is a very active calender of events for all ages that take place. http://sewardpark.audubon.org/

Today there were people busy at the arts center, many Lymphoma Society "Team in Training" participants and runners and bikers all over. Up in the park there was a group having "pet detective" training. I enjoyed a walk around the trails and noted happily that Indian Plum is starting to bust out the green.

This park is filled with wonderful old trees, larger that you typically see in our city parks

There are also a lot of artistic touches.

And some non-native landscaping.

The south shoreline looking over to Mercer Island. A gray still day, an old familiar place.

The fine nets were set up with a bird feeder behind them. You could hear chickadees all over the place. One of the volunteers reported that he observed birds coming in and either sitting on top of the net or hopping past it on the underside. Obviously they were catching on to its presence. It is hard to photograph the nets because they are such fine mesh.

When a bird is caught they are carefully transferred to a cloth bag and brought to the table. The bird is extracted and tagged with a federal bird observatory band. This tag id is kept in a North American data base to track bird populations and movements.

The birds being netted today are part of a study on birds in urban settings. Each bird gets a unique set of colored leg bands.

The position and combination of colors allows each bird to be identifiable without capture. Persons living near parks can observe and record birds at their feeders. The goal of the study is to gain understanding on how birds use large parks and urban neighborhoods. Birds will be tracked within the park for nesting and flock data.

Obvious measurements are made; weight and wing length, age and body condition. More challenging data is gathered as well. Minute detail of feather molt and wear are recorded. The skull of birds go through structure changes as they age from hatchling to adult. These are observable through the skin. The book "Identification Guide of North American Birds " by Pyle catalogs these details. As you can see from this photo, the minutiae is staggering.

I enjoyed watching the students working today. Most were high school age and had their training this summer in a week long camp over in the Wenas Creek (Ellensburg / Yakima) area. I was struck by their gentle and adept fingers as well as their ability to read the leg bands without the aid of glasses, magnifiers or other familiar aids. I am sure that would be my downfall. I did note how one young man was a bit reluctant to take on a pecking chickadee and had his friend do the duties.

Such Fury!!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Can See the Difference

It is light in the morning when I go to work and even light by the time I get away from it.

Days are getting longer

Tree frogs are chirping

I see buds on random shrubs and trees.

This afternoon, I captured this...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Scouting Report

It is inevitable that in my ramblings I will see things I do not know or understand. This was very evident in my attempt to learn my wildflowers.

Last Spring and Summer I encountered many new plants and flowers. I was able to figure out most of them, but one left me perplexed. I posted it on a Bulletin Board I belong to in hope that someone else might have an idea. One member there suggested posting it to a Flickr Forum.

I was not familiar with Flickr. I quickly discovered a wonderful place where I could solve mysteries and perhaps learn a thing or two about photography. I posted my mystery picture and it was not long before someone suggested a possible genus. From that thought I was able to figure out its identity in the University of Washington Herbarium site. This is Washington Twinpod, the seed pod stage at Red Top Lookout north of Cle Elum.

I discovered many groups, one dedicated to Washington Wildflowers. One member is quite a prolific poster and has an extensive collection of stunning photographs of many unusual flowers. I noticed that quite a few of them were taken at one place, Washington Park in Anacortes.

This park is about 250 acres and encompasses the small peninsula just west of the Anacortes ferry dock. I had been there once before and remembered that it had some unusual areas. I thought that I should go take a look and see what is possible come this Spring.

I did not find a map or any explanation of trails so I started out walking along the loop road. This one lane road circles the peninsula and certainly offered nice views of the water.

This Douglas Fir, called the Leaning Tree, continues to grow despite having fallen off the bank over the water.

The west side of the peninsula faces Rosario Strait. There were many benches for enjoying the sights. The water was pretty calm today and a group of sea kayakers were making their way across the strait.

I decided to leave the road and take the well marked trail. I quickly noted that the soil is quite thin and that the rock face of the land mass clearly supports a different ecology. There were many Madrone trees and unique Common Juniper trees. These are the trees the Juniper Berry comes from. They are not common around here as they love dry rocky slopes.
The distinctive peeling bark of Madrone.
Gin in the raw :-D

The trails here are small and make their way along open rocky ground. There are amazing pillows of moss and lichens and very little understory plants. Salal, usually a hardy thick shrub barely grew over one foot high. It reminded me of many areas in the eastern slope of the Cascades. I could see how this harsh thin soil might support some unusual plants. It was not until I found a nice interpretive guide at the end of my walk that I found out there is serpentine soil on this peninsula. Serpentine contains unusual minerals and often supports plants that will not easily grow elsewhere.
There are some nice elevation climbs and they offer many views of Rosario Strait and Burrows Channel.
I diverted away from the edge of the peninsula and walked towards the inside of the point. Here the soil quickly changes to support the typical large trees and plants of the Puget Sound environment; Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar and Hemlock. The Salal was now well above three feet high.

I am really looking forward to returning in a few months. The guide nicely lists some rare delights like Chocolate Lily, Hookers Onion and Spotted Coral Root. Given how mild the winter has been I will likely start checking out the areas early in March. It will be a tune up for the wild flowers of the dry eastern Washington ecology which start showing off in April.
Driving back towards town I stopped to take a picture of this unique sight. An old burned out ship has been worked into a marina breakwater. I assume it had been filled in with dirt. There is now a nice group of trees and grasses growing from the hull.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Volunteer Day

Nisqually River from the Powell Creek Property

I spent another morning working with the Nisqually Land Trust on the Powell Creek property. This is the farm that I wrote about in late September. Since then much more debris was trucked away. There are still large concrete foundations to be broken up and removed but I could see the open area is doing quite well.

Today we planted bareroot trees. We worked our way back into the woods along the river. Unlike the project last month, we had only a scattering of older trees so there was not the constant damp to content with. I never clonked my head on low branches like last time and my rain pants are mud free.

I worked with a young man named Aaron. He was working as part of a class in college. He selected this project as he grew up about five miles away. His father worked at Wilcox farm back in his day and he told me about their egg separation plant. During the course of our mornings work, we worked next to a member of the BOD of the Land Trust and he told us about how vital a partner the Wilcox Farm family has become.

This is the staging area. Aaron is holding a bundle of 20 trees. We place tubes around the trees and the whole unit is staked to the ground. The tubes protect the young tree from deer and elk. The tubes and stakes are prepackaged in bundles of 20 in the bags filling the right side of the shed. Add a shovel and mallet and you are set.

Aaron has two pre-teen boys who he feels might benefit in getting out and doing some activities like this. I told him that I thought it was a great way for the family to have some time together. Aaron had mentioned a little crossroads place up the highway that had great hot dogs. Sounds like a family work morning followed by hot dogs is in the future.

In no time we planted about 80 hemlocks. There was lots of chatting and everything went at an easy pace. Once again the weather was fantastic. There was some great sky drama with bold clouds and rapid changes that seems to say the weather is setting up to be a bit wild.

The neighbor farm certainly makes a pretty picture.

The open area just south from Septembers work party is staked with flags for the work corps coming in.

This poor tree was harvested or trimmed poorly. It is trying to hang in there.

The weather certainly looks as if it is going to be changing over the next few days and certainly what the weather will be depends on what side of the convergence zone you are on. I hope for more big dramatic skies and low winds.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Amazing Experience Monday

A week ago Sunday the PBS series "Nature" featured a wonderful show about hummingbirds.


I try to get out on a daily walk at work. The loop takes me down to a pond and marsh complex. The weather was so wonderful I think I saw more people out and about than I have on all the days this month.

As I was nearing the end of the trail by the marsh I heard a loud strong bird sound. I did not recognize the call but I thought it might be a blackbird of some kind so I stopped to watch for it.

In almost no time an Anna's Hummingbird appeared and shot straight up into the air.

I knew what was next thanks to the wonderful show linked above. Hummingbird males perform territory display, usually to court females. They race up high then dive towards their selected spot. At the bottom of their dive they make a characteristic sound, unique to their species. I am familiar with the common Rufus Hummingbird display. I had always thought they were vocal sounds but from the show I learned that it was air through the tail feathers.

Just like the old trick of blowing across grass blades.

The hummer performed three more dives and I was amazed with how loud the ending "Cheerup" sound was.

All of a sudden two other birds appeared and they had a fast set-to with bickering swooping and chasing.

I had to laugh and I said "Boys, it is only January. Pace yourselves"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rain, Rinse, Repeat

What can you do? It is winter in Puget Sound Country and with El Nino set up, the normal wet weather seems to persist without those pretty "blue days" that serve up a reward.

This is a photo that I took Wednesday during my daily lunch-time walk. It is really raining in this shot. That rain that you cannot see falling. Everything gets wet...eventually. The native peoples called it "chu-bash" , I call it organized fog.

I tried to chase the sunshine Saturday. I started the morning early at the farm. High on a ridge over the Carnation / Duvall valley it is often quite fogged in. Saturday was no exception.

I did not hold great hopes at finding clear skies any time soon. I love the valley and the farms and community along the way. This pretty little farm is a great example. Those are Belted Galloway (beef) cattle. Some people call them Oreo Cookies Cows.

Double Stuff, perhaps. They look very furry and fat.

As I drove along the valley floor I wondered what Snoqualmie Falls might be running like. It was not but a few miles southbound when the skies looked like they were going to break. I stopped in at a Fish and Wildlife parking spot and walked for an hour along the river trail and wove through some open hunting fields.

What a treat. There was clearly still clouds and fog sitting in the trees high up on the ridge.

Down here on the valley floor the sun was breaking through. There was even patches of blue sky. What a difference a few miles and several hundred feet elevation makes.

I wandered through the fields and came to the river. Across the way, the historic Carnation Research Farm sits prettily on the side of the hill.

Further south along the river, I paid a quick visit to Tolt - Mac Donald Park. This park climbs the side of the valley ridge and has become quite popular with mountain bikers. I have spent some time birding in these woods. The trails are like so many in this region. I was a bit apprehensive to see what tire rutting had done to them.

You cross a pretty bridge to get to the park. It has a slight sway as you walk across over the very fast running Snoqualmie River. Look at the moisture in the air coming from the trees ( and sky)

People who enjoy fishing must really enjoy it to stand hip deep on a 40 degree day. Notice the sky. There has not been more than 30 minutes and 3 or so miles from the pretty blue sky and trees shot.

This park is unique that it has a camp group and yurts you can rent. I have to imagine someone who enjoys fishing might have a pleasant couple days so close to the city.

The park trails climb steeply, so it is a good workout. The trails have been well maintained with erosion control breaks. The soil appears somewhat sandy in places. I don't know if that is natural to this spot or representative of the maintenance the bike community has done to preserve the quality.

I saw this sign, posted last Fall. We have a cougar has been in the neighborhood of the farm, about 6 miles north along the ridge, for many years. A cougar can have a range of 50 miles so it comes as no surprise to me that a cat would like this nice patch of old forest. In all my rambles I have never seen a cougar.

To the east there is a hint of clearing sky. I can clearly see that the snow really seems to be lacking in this El Nino year. Not good at all as this snow represents the irrigation water that keeps our Eastern Washington agriculture going. At least they can manufacture snow for the Olympics.

By the time I get to the falls, it is fully overcast and dreary again. There is so much moisture in the air that between the spray from the falls and the fog and clouds, you could not see the foot of the falls. Indeed you could not even see 1/3 of the way down when standing at the closest vantage point.

After finishing at work today, I returned to the falls. It was much clearer, though still cloudy and the falls were putting on a great show.

Professor Mass http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/ is forecasting strong windstorms along the coast starting tonight. Most of the heavy El Nino rain gets diverted into California so we might get some blue skies in the coming week. The mountains might even get more snow. I wish I could scoot out to the coast for an exciting storm watch. Overall, however , the promise of some blue sky is enough for me.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

More Snow

I drove up to Skagit again to revisit some of the swan and Snow Goose habitat. The weather has certainly been fine and with no wind it was a pleasant day out.

The Johnson DeBay Reserve is east of Mt Vernon, up river from the Skagit Flats. I had read about this area but never visited it. It is snuggled in a back water of the Skagit River and is a quick drive from the freeway. I was surprised at how quickly the town transforms to farm country. I assume there is a significant risk of flooding in these farm lands. Since this is a less publicised area, there are few people who visit the reserve. The open field was stubble corn and fallow potato crop area. All around were little mushy spuds in mud.

There were two hunters picking up their decoys and blind when I arrived and these two photographers. I could hear bird song in the distance and was thrilled to find a flock of about 30 Meadowlarks chattering in the trees. They are a very uncommon bird on this side of the Cascades. The old corn stubble must appeal to them. They were pretty shy so there was zero chance of getting a picture. I love their song.

There were few other birds present. A small flock of about 30 Trumpeter Swans did everything to keep their distance from we present. I am not sure the hunters were to account for this.

Since I have not had a good look at Tundra Swan this year I decided to go back over to Fir Island. In the past it was almost always a good bet to find some birds in the field but there has been some change of attitude towards promoting the birds. Hunters and bird watchers certainly enjoy them, but farmers are having a tough time and more and more ex-urban residents don't want the birders and hunters.

I visited the Hayton Snow Goose reserve and had a fine viewing of this Great Blue Heron.

and this view of Mt Baker. I cannot do justice to the wispy veils of clouds rising from the peaks.

The final stop was at the very end of the road on Fir Island. This is a popular hunting area and there were many Snow Geese present. Hunters were about as were many photographers and bird watchers. I think most of us appreciate the efforts each group puts into environment preservation. I chatted with two women who had their dogs with them. One dog was wearing a camo body vest. I asked them about that and they said the vest protects the underside of the dog from rough plants and stubble. It adds a bit of warmth and you can even but floatation blocks in some pockets to help the dog during its water work.

The salt water, intertidal marsh can hold some good birds in spring but today it was pretty quiet.

This rose hip was about the best splash of color.

We had one great flight of geese, the thing everyone hopes for. This is the only time hunters can shoot. Photographers and birders instantly have their optics going. The sound is amazing, not only the calls but the whoosh and whistle of the wings.