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Thursday, March 31, 2011

...Tra La

Further adventures in flower seeking last Saturday. My friend Ron Hanko has several blogs about nature and orchids of the Pacific Northwest... http://nativeorchidsofthepacificnorthwest.blogspot.com/ http://ronaldhanko-orchidhunter.blogspot.com/ He told me his orchid club was having a show on Saturday at the Skagit Valley Garden Center. How convenient is that, right along the Freeway on the way to/from Washington Park!?! Do you sense method to my madness? I knew there would be something wonderful to see so I made it my must do. The garden center had many nice things about but I particularly loved these pussywillows. A Weeping Pussywillow
little cat

French Pussywillow. The wind was blowing and that added to the charm of the yellow tipped catkins.

Inside the main building the Orchid enthusiasts had their plants up for judging. Ron featured his Orchid Mountain.

Oh, it took my breath away. Inside this case was filled with orchids small and even smaller yet. Impossible small. Tiny small...teeny. Ron has featured many of them in his blog "Orchids in Bloom". You can see his report about the event and some of his wonderful pictures. ( he has a new camera too )

Here are a few of the photos that turned out. I hope I got the i.ds correct. I am sure Ron will let me know.

Trisetella gennata.

Lepanthes manabina. I recognize this from Rons Blog. A fuzzy leaf serves as a platter for the minute flower. The stem you see here, barely thicker than the base of a cats whisker. Visit Rons Orchid in Bloom blog to find out how the show went and to see another picture of this wonderful plant.

Lepanthopsis astrophora. It reminds me of some odd bit of hair fashion. The flowers bobble at the end of stems that spray out, thinner than the stem of the manatina. The body of the flower I would estimate not much longer than a rice grain.

This Dendrochilum wenzellii blooms in a long chain.

Finally this frustrating subject. I should have tried for more shots, the focus is off on this one. Bulbophyllum sharese "red spiders" I would estimate not more than the width of a 50 cent piece... 14 different flowers connected by the thinnest of stems.

Can you imagine transporting these little gems???

I could not resist taking pictures of these simply because of their form and beauty.

Jumellea aracnantha

Dendrobium hybrid "Princess Asai"

I was thrilled to get the opportunity to experience the range of form and size orchids can have.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring...

I lucked out on my plans for the weekend. I was thinking now is a good time for the Eastern Washington early blooms. The Pass report mentioning snow, traction tires and even snow in Wenatchee put the damper on that bit of enthusiasm. I decided to focus closer to home and pretty much everyone can guess I went up to Washington Park, my favorite Spring venue.

You will be proud of me for strictly obeying the speed limit on Hwy 20 from I-5 to Anacortes.

A few weeks ago we visited without a hint of Spring on the grounds. Only a few Red Currents waiting for Hummingbirds. Saturday was a different story. The best part is that it didn't rain a lick and I actually got a bit too warm in my hike around the loop. Now flowers are starting.

I encountered a camera club having their first meeting and getting to know their cameras. I encouraged them to visit the park often and clued them in on some of the best spots for nature study.

Along the south face of the park the path to the Serpentine slope holds a treasure trove of mosses and ferns. It is here that Fawn Lily grows in abundance. This day there were two flowers already up and dozens of buds just breaking through the moss carpet. It is interesting to see that these flower buds are already quite white when they are erupting from the ground and not encased in a greenish cover, like so many lilies. All over the mottled leaves give promise of the bounty that will cover this path. It is here that I also find Calypso Orchids, but they are still quite tucked in underground.

Other early blooms include the impossibly small Blue-eyed Mary. These love the open slopes along the south face and happily tuck themselves into every rocky foothold. If moss grows on the surface, the Blue-eyed Mary appears nearby.

Paths along the south face are a little misleading. Many of them are blazed by deer and can take you to spots you do not recognize. There is always the potential to see something from a new perspective. The deer trails certainly show you where the more sturdy footing is. The superficial soil, characteristic of the south rock face, can be plenty treacherous. This Pacific Juniper makes a fantastic sculpture. On the slope the Juniper and the Madrone are the dominant species.

Yellow Monkey flower was up an blooming. They love the steep rocky walls and seem to have the longest bloom period of the showy flowers.

I followed some deer tracks and came upon a secluded break in the trees. Here I found a nice population on Satin-flower ( Douglas' Blue-eyed Grass). These flowers have an early and short blooming life. They time with the Blue-eyed Mary and Spring Gold. The "satin" in its name comes from the sheen the petals have.

Field Chickweed grows in abundance. I think it is a pretty little backdrop for the more showy, less common flowers.

I am glad I followed the little deer trail. It led me out onto a trail into the woods. "I know this trail" I thought and I looked down to my right. And there it was, exactly where one was last year. The first blooming Calypso Orchid of the year. Last year I spotted one here , very early in March. It was my first wild orchid spotting of the year then as well.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More "Offerings to the Wind" Art

On Jan 16 I told you about artist Dan Cautrell and his Offerings to the Wind Project http://offeringstothewindproject.typepad.com/blog/

I mentioned these works to a co-worker who regularly drives in the valley. Since then she has been on the lookout. She quickly found two along HWY 203. This weekend she went out to see those I had found and actually found two more. She provided me with pictures which I share here with you

She said she is always looking at stumps that project out hoping to find a new treasure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Long Walk on a Long Pier

I grabbed the advantage of a rain free day to visit the new pier at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, near Olympia. The walkway has been open only a few weeks and based on the number of cars in the parking lot, many had the same idea.

This NWR is at the mouth of the Nisqually River, which my blog followers will know from my many volunteer work parties with the Land Trust. The NWR is actually bound by two flowing waters, the Nisqually on the east and McAllister Creek on the west. On its north face, the foot of Puget Sound.

Ten years ago, February 28, 2001, a 32 mile deep, 6.8 earthquake had its epicenter right across from the mouth of these rivers. Damage to the ring dike, created long ago to drain the intertidal marsh for farm land, allowed salt water to return to the former intertidal marsh. The rest of the dikes were breached on all sides, up to the Twin Barns. This was the beginning of returning the artificial fresh water ponds to the true intertidal estuary so vital to the ecology of the rivers. It is here that young salmon make their transition to salt water life and adults transition to the upriver spawning habitat. Unique life forms will inhabit these areas creating better food ecology for the plants and animals.

Now a boardwalk pier takes you out over the intertidal area allowing you to get close to the different habitats like never before. It is 2.8 miles from parking lot to the end of the pier. Today the tide was well out when I arrived. The wind was pretty brisk, something I was not fully prepared for. Everyone seemed in a happy mood, finding rain free skies and plenty of new things to see.

This is a bird watching Mecca and almost everyone had binoculars or cameras, or both. It is always easy to find something interesting, just watch for this sign.

The object of their interest was a young great Blue Heron. The bird was "hunting and striking" and appeared to be only getting grass reeds.
Birds are pairing up and there are many courtship and territory displays to watch.

This Robin has partial albinism. Many patches of white make him easily identifiable. His condition might be the result of illness or genetics. It will be interesting so see, if he nests, if there with be more splotched birds here.

The pier is beautiful with many places to stop undercover and scope. Soon there will be benches to encourage folks to sit and observe and to give rest to the weary. The whole complex is wheelchair or scooter friendly. There is a photography and viewing blind ideally situated to allow views up McAllister Creek. Bald Eagles nest along this creek and today it was possible to see both adults flying along the ridge and to their nest.
There are several outflows to McAllister Creek where the water that gets impounded from high tide is cutting drainage tracks. I noted today that many ducks and and gulls were attracted to this area where the water was rushing. The Bufflehead ducks were diving and feeding very vigorously.

Looking back, Twin Barns really let you know how far out you were.

Over time this intertidal area should develop a new plant system. Today you could see holes in the mud that represent clam or worm burrows. Mud is everywhere and the smell is that particular scent of saltwater beach at low tide. I love it!

The clouds rolled in as I walked and I was so pleased that I was able to get a few shots of the Olympics before they lost their sparkle.

This Great Blue Heron is in beautiful breeding plumage. The long wispy filoplumes shows you which way the wind was blowing.

Gold Crown Sparrows and Song Sparrows were actively feeding in the edges. These edges were filled with vegetation and reeds. They must have been filled with bugs and seeds.

Returning to the parking lot the trail takes you through a river forest. It is in these trees and shrubs I developed many of my early bird watching skills. It is here I saw my first Yellow Warbler and learned the spring song of Gold-crowned Kinglet. Today a Song Sparrow gave me a great photo-op. It was finding many tasty things in the moss and lichen.

I was thrilled to see Tree Swallows have returned. This complex will host all of our regional swallows by the end of Spring.

Finally, here is my new traveling companion, Pearly Mae. She is nimble and raring to go.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ivy Pull

I spent the morning with the Nisqually Land Trust pulling English Ivy on one of their properties.

This little property is right along side the freeway, just before it enters the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. February of last year we did some of the same type work on an adjacent property. I wrote about that day with the enchanting houses and the charming artistist who live on that property.

If you look back you will see that it was a glorious sunny day. Today was quite a different story. Rain, rain rain. I think this is storm five in the chain of ten storms slated to come our way over the next week. Thankfully the wind was not blowing, but there was no hope of keeping remotely clean or dry.

English Ivy invades and runs. Its biggest damage potential comes when it climbs trees. The strong thick runners form solid mats around the trunk and between the weight of the plant and the choking off of circulation these vines can bring down a tree.

Because the creek that passes through the property is a salmon stream, the trees are vital to protect and maintain the water temperatures. They also help filter the toxins in the environment.

We focused on clearing the ivy from around the trunks in a girdling like pattern. Leaving a gap of about 2 to three feet between the ivy high in the tree and the ground will result in death for the higher ivy. I focused on the newer growth with my hand clippers. Others used saws and pick-axes to pry vines as stout as my arm from the sides of the trunks. The ground around the trees could benefit from having the vines pulled up as well. It is a daunting task. Everything you see here that is clear, bare dirt was ivy when we started.

Unlike last year the woods are not quite up to speed. Indian Plum is blooming, but there is very little fresh new growth. The native snails are asleep. I did find some tiny, fresh turkey tail fungus.

This remarkably bright cup fungus earned a new home in a rotten tree trunk.

I didn't get an opportunity to take many pictures. My hands were muddy and my camera collected its own wet and grim even inside my pocket. My coat is not waterproof and why I am putting off actually getting suitable clothes for this task is beyond me.

I could not resist taking a picture of these lovely Violas. They are a garden species and not native. No one is particularly worried about their presence.

After visiting Washington Park last week , I revisited my blog entries from last year at this time. What a difference our somewhat normal weather this winter has made. Last year we had a mild, wet, non-winter with hardly any cold, freezing temperatures.

Last year at this time Washington Park was already in bloom with flowers everywhere. Last week I could not find a one, thought I found plenty of evidence that they will be here soon!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Washington Park Anacortes

Sunday I returned to Washington Park in Anacortes.

It is that time of year. If you followed my blog last year you might remember the multiple visits to this gem of a park. I went to see what the status of the wildflowers is for this La Nina year. This point of land is part of the upper Puget Sound area that got hit hard several times this winter with snow and wind events.

I saw a lot of new green bits that are going to Spring into those wonderful Deer Lily and Orchids from last year. All over the south facing slope new growth of all wildflowers is poking up.

In the woods there is a lot of evidence that the wind storms of the last week kept the rangers busy clearing the road and paths. Some of the minor trails still have fallen trees to duck around. Overall it is less than I would have thought. Only the strongest live on this point of land.

Given the variety and vast views, it was also a chance to play with my camera again. When I was underway, I sadly realized that I left my glasses at home. Gaaaah!

And I got my first speeding ticket on the highway ( Gaaaaah !! ). Tricky part about being on a divided highway after coming off the freeway where you have been doing the legal 70. ( grrrrr)

Enjoy the show.

First part of the walk goes along the Guemes Channel, looking out to the San Juan Islands.

It is always possible you might see Black Oystercatchers here.

I selected some trails I have never walked. Through the woods looking for something fun.

Making my way to the wonderful south side. This Towhee greeted me. I only got two shots, he was so busy.

This bench at Burrows Channel overlooks the Rosario Strait and the confluence of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You can sometimes spot Orca from here.

The south facing slope is mostly Serpentine soils and bare rock. Many of the rocks show evidence of glacier etching. If you go down the right trail you can find a huge glacial tube etched into the rocks.

Juniper trees are not common in this region, but here they dominate.

There is also a lot of Madrone. Madrone loves slopes and bare soils.

This will not be the last you see of this park in the coming months. I hope to get into some of the lesser areas of Skagit county as well.