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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beach Clean; Critters Galore

Time for the January Long Beach clean.  The local community of Long Beach has a well organized volunteer group which makes every effort to care for the worlds longest beach.  Some members of the community walk their portion of the 28 mile beach every day.  Every January during the period of highest tides there is a call for a big community wide clean.  This effort is repeated every April during Earth Day weekend and on the 5th of July.

In years past I have worked the beach strip in Long Beach proper.  Other years I did the beach near my lodgings; Cranberry Approach.  This year I opted to work on one of the more isolated areas.

The drive down was wet and rainy.  It never let up.  The radio promised weather in the 50s and possibly 60 by Sunday.

Hard to believe this weather is going to turn into 55+.  Waiting for a train in the rain.

I was happy to see the little Thai restaurant open after the owners long vacation.  These women present the best food with a real charm.  From Thanksgiving to Christmas  they were enjoying a trip to their homeland.

Saturday morning dawned as usual.  It was not raining so that was a bonus.  I elected to wear my windbreaker pants and coat and a fleece hat.  No thermal layers, no waterproofs.

The fog was settled and this was about as good as it got all day.

This gentleman and his dog walk the beach every day and pick.  He was the only citizen aside from me for the first half hour.  Eventually we were joined by others and some of the neighbors who live on the beach were seen coming down from their property and work around the front of their properties.  My fleece hat was soon in my pouch and the coat undone.  I could feel the warm.  There was no wind at all.

It is a worthy effort.  Tons of debris comes ashore each year and tons are removed by volunteers.  A majority of the debris these days are bite-sized plastics.  Caps, broken shards of plastic junk.  Several years ago it was tsunami debris; line, floats, household goods.  This line has likely been at sea for some time.  That is a small Goosneck Barnacle.

Very rare was the large debris like plastic bags or bottles.

I did find this little treasure

Picked two bags which were left for pickup and decanted 1/2 bag to the pickup truck and carried out 1/2 bag for a total of three bags.  Almost all of it plastic.  It is easy to spot.  Bright blue dominates.  Anything perfectly symmetrical or evenly colored is likely man-made.

The beach changes every day.  Tides roll in and out giving and taking.  The winds can cover over debris and treasures overnight.  Sometimes you can spot something just by the way the sand in mounded.

This winter has been hard on the sea-life.  In December it was noted that seabirds were being found dead of starvation in the hundreds.  The persistent warm front in the NE Pacific may have driven their food out of reach  They are still being found.  I easily found 20 small petrels, two gulls and what I think is a shearwater.

  These gulls are gathered around what appears to be a young Elephant Seal.  These seals are known to stray north from California and perhaps the warm systems led it astray as well.  The Ravens and gulls were feasting.

A Merlin falcon flew up off the beach as I worked.  This was its handwork.

The day never cleared and I went in search of a bookstore and lunch.  After recharging, another short walk on the beach with bag in tow.

This morning it was sunshine all the way home and the promised 60 degree weather overdid itself.  I note that it was 73 degrees near the Willapa Bay NWR and 64 at the beach.

Cranberry bog in the morning.

Next trip for beach clean is in April for Earth Day.  It will probably snow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

There Was No Partridge

I spent the morning with the Nisqually Land Trust working on the historic Van Eaton property in Eatonville.  This property borders the Mashel River and consists of the old farm barn and pond along with forest and tiers of land which run down to the river.  The Land Trust donated the historic barn and pond to the town.

Today we had a great turn-out.  A group from Edmonds Community College was with us.  These students were not traveling during the holiday break and had the option to do community service and have experiences related to their school work.  They were staying up the road at Pack Forest and had already done a full days work there.

We have visited this property several times over the last few years focusing on Scots Broom.  My partner and I were assigned the clearing where major work had been done before.  We were to scout for new growth and grab up as many as possible.

It was challenging work as the grass is well grown up and finding the green growth within the tall grass meant we did a lot of slow walking back and forth, scanning for unwanteds

My shoulders ache

As I was prowling along I found this shiny brown object.

At first glance I thought it was a mushroom of some kind but looking closely I tipped up the chewed on side..

It is a pear.  A very large very substantial pear.  Around this area I found more, some were just skins with all the flesh eaten out.

These wonderful trees ringing the opening are the remainders of the original orchard.  Most likely these moss and lichen covered pear trees are at least 100 years old.

If you look very closely at the top of that right arching branch you can see one pear hanging on.  I bet they would make great cider.

After gleaning the meadow we moved on to tackle the blackberry that has invaded the shoreline and backwater areas on the river.

Saw plenty of evidence of deer, Elk and Coyote in the meadow...

but not a single Partridge.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Live Stakes

Saturday I returned to a project area I talked about last Spring.  We had spent a fine Spring morning burlapping to supress Reed Canary grass.

Now is the time to get native plants placed in this area.  Fast growing plants to fill in this open side channel will help to further choke down the Reed Canary grass.  The cold, crisp weather continues and I ventured a look at the Mesonet weather report for the area.  Seventeen degrees Fahrenheit with no wind (thank goodness).  This is a terrific site and for planning a day out it cannot be beat.  Temperature Wind High/Low rainfall all in one handy place.


Didn't need the Mesonet to tell me what my car window could.  Armed with a nice cup of coffee in my thermos mug I drove down to Yelm, enjoying a lovely clear blue sunrise.  I was early, as usual and wandered around the meeting area.

You know it is DARN cold out when a glacier fed river is warmer than the surrounding area and sending up wisps of warmer vapors.

The ground is covered in Big-leaf Maple leaves and samaras.

This one is a science experiment in the making as the seed is down in a hole in this post.  The surrounding moss guarantees that it will stay insulated and moist.  I wonder if it will sprout?

Today's group included 20 gentlemen from McChord AFB.  Young troops and their leaders, these helpers from the base are always eager to work and work hard.  One was from El Paso Texas and had never experienced woodlands like we have here.

The backwater area still has burlap in place and the grasses were tamed down.  The beavers who contributed to some of this side-channels construction appear to have moved out of the area in the last season.  They left behind an empoundment deeper in the woods that made out usual woodland trail no longer available.  We hiked about 1/2 mile along a service road to access the property area.

Today we are driving live stakes of three native Salix willow species; Pacific Sitka and Scoulers. These stakes were cut from growing plants.  The beveled end is plunged into the ground half the length of the stick, which was about 2 feet long.  Nodes that make contact with the moist soil will sprout roots, above ground the nodes will send out branches.

The ground is soft here and there are hardly any stones.  A drive bar starts a hole and you simply plunge it in.  A few good whacks with the mallet and the live stake is planted.  Charlie and I placed the stakes on the steep portions of the creek bank.

Charlies neoprene hip-waders made this pretty comfortable duty.

Others working in teams of 4 or 5 placed the willows along the top of meandering bank.  There are hidden pitfalls in this area thanks to the handy work of the beavers and the coverage of the Reed Canary grass.  Occasional jeering and hoots were heard from the troops when someone came afoul of a slippery place.  Happy to say there was only one soggy leg and I believe it was that of an officer which no doubt delighted the younger airmen.

The live stakes were driven then protected with the usual tubes and wooden stakes.  This keeps rodents from chewing and enjoying.  A further application of latex paint mixed with sand followed. This can be a good beaver deterrent.

It took about 2 hours to plant over 450 stakes.  What a treat to have such a good turn out of help on such a cold day.  No one really felt the cold, the sun and activity once again made this a pleasure.

Added bonus is that it is a pretty peaceful place.  It is going to be fun to watch this area quickly transform into a more complete habitat.  Willows grow fast and they are wonderful habitat for many of our native songbirds like warblers and flycatchers.  We will be returning in a few months to place transition plants like Salmonberry and roses as well as some tree species.

Within a few years this place is going to be totally transformed.

Back in my car, the thermos mug did its job and my morning coffee is still warm.  Isn't technology grand.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Berry Cold

A combination of a typhoon remnant running into Alaska and the benefit of high mountains to our east we have been socked by the first cold snap of the season.

The pressure of the storm in Alaska has shifted a low pressure mass out of the Arctic and into the east.  As this mass comes south the pressure differences set up.  East of the Cascades, cold high pressure to the , warmer low pressure over us in the west.  Gaps in the Cascade range sets up a funnel for the high pressure to run into the low.  Columbia Gorge is famous for the fierce winds which come with these events.  The Enumclaw Gap is another.  Wednesday people awoke to downed trees and power lines for 40 - 60 mph winds.  This high wind and its cloudless sky has removed our insulating blanket and overnight we have gone from typical 50's to barley making it out of the 30s.

So heading out to a land trust work party, the mornings rising sun could not do away with this.  I love the feathery ice patterns on the glass.  Happily it defrosts in a jiffy.

Driving south the freeway was fine but rounding the corner at Kent I met the outpouring of winds from the Enumclaw Gap.  They were light, relative to what had passed through overnight but trees were whipping and bending and my car danced a bit along the road.

I stopped for hand warmers to share with co-workers

This new property was donated by a private citizen.  It is her hope that in the long term we can return the 40+ acres to what it was in her youth.  Today we got started by attacking the blackberry that has over-run this clearcut land

I left my work gloves at home, they need a bath from last weekends work party.  I pulled a leather and fleece combo, just a thing for a cold and sticker filled day like this.

Blackberry can rapidly overtake cleared areas.  Here we have a lot of native plant mixed in so one has to be careful about attacking anything with thorns for good natives like Salmonberry and Snowberry  are desired.  Even our native Trailing Blackberry is here.  It was doing a good job of running and blending in with the undesirable Himmalayan and Mountain ( cut-leaf) blackberry.

We attack the job.  I use a shovel and a pair of clippers.  Trim down the long vines and try to get it into some kind of pile, then dig out the root ball.

Two gas powered cutters were deployed to really attack the bushes that were growing thick and high.

Those Alder trees are totally engulfed by these plants with vines growing up and over the limbs at lease 12 feet up.  The safety gear is needed for sure.  There is nothing that saves you when you go hand to hand , however.  Even the leather gloves did not save my hands from punctures and my arms and legs are covered in little scratches where  thorns got through.

After the canes were cut through in the base two of us went in and worked out the puzzle of pulling the canes out of the high branches.  Sometimes it was pretty straight forward pull this and it comes down.  Other times it was sort of figuring out the layers and the ways they entwine.  We succeeded, however in getting 5 trees cleared of they vine burden.

A Robin nest was inside this mass.  They will have to make do next season with one of the areas nearer the woodsland

This property needs a lot of work and some plantings are already planned.  By liberating the trees and freeing up the soil and light penetration for the native shrubby plants we already have a head start.

A cold sunny day and hard work go together.  Much easier to work hard when you don't fight the rising temperatures.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Landtrust Magic

It is the time of year when my work with the Nisqually Land Trust shifts over to weekend volunteer events.  There is ongoing work every day of the week with volunteer Wednesdays staying popular with school, corporate and some members.  I have been able to join on a couple of Wednesdays due to over accumulation of vacation days.  I have to use them or lose them, so occasional days off, mid-week, keeps me on par.  When I feel caught up, I will take something more afield.

We work, rain or shine.  I can only remember one event cancelled and that was for frozen ground, a rare event here.  I joke that there is a bit of magic in the Nisqually basin that makes the rain stop at 9am and resume again at noon. So often threatening weather seems to pause for the morning.  When it is bad weather, it always seems to be not so very bad.  The few times it has really rained, it did not matter for we were in deep woods.

Last Saturday I joined a small work party on a new property in Eatonville.  This little wedge of land goes right to the edge of the Mashel River and the old pasture was starting to support Scots Broom. School children were going to come and plant native shrubs and trees but first we wanted to get a head start on pulling broom.

It was raining fairly well when I left at 7am but as I got further south, it was lightening up to a simple sprinkle.  Arriving at the site I donned my rainproof pants and discovered I had left my jacket at home.  Somewhere in the recent weeks I had brought in the supplies for washing and never returned them.  Ah well, I thought, I was going to get wet and sweaty anyway so why bother.

We got ourselves together, had a warming cup of coffee and bravely pushed on across the road.

And the rain stopped.

Scots Broom, introduced and encouraged for some foolish reason is a foul invasive that seems to have no normal enemy.  Fire will not suppress it for the seeds endure.  To make the task of getting these beasts from the ground we use everyone's favorite gadget, a Weed Wrench / Root Jack.

Clamp the base, pull the lever, toss uprooted invasive aside.  Great therapy for whatever frustration ails you.

We worked for about 15 minutes then stopped.  Layers were coming off for the sky went from rainy to this

The property, facing full east, quickly warmed up and before long we were sharing a gallon of water.  Everyone got slower and slower and by noon we had a pooped out, over-dressed work party and four huge mounds of broom.

We returned to the cars and sure enough, it began to rain.

Yesterday was the annual Ohop Valley planting.  This is my favorite property and I have featured it several times.  This day we are planting further south in the valley.  The plants from prior work in the area are still quite small, not the impressive regrowth of the areas planted five years ago.

 Having worked on these projects for some time it is rewarding to return to this property  in particular where you can see the beautiful red barn up the valley disappear behind the luxurious regrowth of bottomland trees and shrubs.

Volunteers of all ages and experience join.  There was a lot of coffee and Halloween candy for all.

This year seems like a smaller crew than usual but no matter.  There is plenty of hands to get the job done.  Once again the weather threatens, but never happens.   It remained foggy and cloudy the whole morning.  People were pulling off waterproofs and dragging them along as the army progressed.

We planted cedars, firs, pines, rose, willow, snowberry and cottonwood.  The soil was mercifully free of rock and was perfect for digging and planting.  The plants were beautifully done in one gallon pots.  We found plenty of worms in the potting mix and some plants had little mushrooms and good bugs like spiders and springtails to add to the ecology.

We started at the far end of this section and worked our way back to the vans.  There was a reason for this, the area near the vans was quite wet and every hole dug quickly had water seep in to the bottom. Shovels and gloves were covered in mud.  When you stepped in your finished plant, it seemed to sink into the ground a bit further, which is not good for the plant.  But they will love the wet rich soil.

If you think this is impressive , you should see the rest of the elephant.

It was a great morning of good work, good cheer and silly jokes.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday ramble

After yesterdays wild weather it was good to get out from a walk in the woods.  Here in my neighborhood we had some pretty good wind along with thunder and driving rain.  Down the Sound there was a waterspout that showed enough rotation that a tornado alert was triggered.  Check out the video from the Nisqually Nature Center.  It shows the spot from interesting clouds to funnel.


Professor Mass has posted a discussion about the funnel


It has been about 50 years since the Columbus Day Storm which saw a F3 tornado hit the Kent valley, so they can happen here.

And that is why I love this time of year.  warm days that make you think summer will never end followed by crisp nights and foggy mornings.

We don't get the fantastic color in our natural environment, but the local ornamental trees are busting out with colors.

Our woods are more about a slow and quiet change from green to yellows, browns and blacks.

I went over to Cougar Mountain Park for a couple hours of rambling.  After yesterdays rain the trails, covered with Big-leaf maple leaves are just perfect.  The leaves are not crispy, so they are not great for shoofling through.  They do, however, make nice quite stepping.  Easier to hear what is about.

The mushrooms are coming on.  So many shapes and sizes.

Tall shiny ones

Big shaggy ones

tiny dew covered ones

and Angel Wings, the ones you want to pick and take home

I leave them for the critters.  Douglas Squirrels and Flying Squirrels will harvest and take these for drying.  You will sometimes find them out at the end of fir tree branches, drying.

Feeding flocks were out and about with Gold and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, the chickadees,nuthatch and Hairy Woodpeckers all over the place.  Tree Frogs could be heard most everywhere, impossible to spot.

This Woolly Bear was easy to find.

The trails in the park go every which way and a walk all the way out the Wild Side Trail takes you to the entrance of the old Ford Slope Mine.

It is hard to imagine the saw mill, mine support structures and the town that was once in these woods.  Nature has done a pretty wonderful job of covering it all over.  These mine entrances pop up, usually with suitable warning signs showing Mr Stick Man in peril.

One can ramble for hours on many trails.  There are good water features here.  Even after yesterdays rain, it will take a while longer before we can expect good running creeks.  A few of the bridges had shallow rivulets under them.

Given the forecast for the week ahead, the water will rise soon enough.
I love this time of year.