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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Salmonberry!!!

Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis





The bringer of Rufus Hummingbirds.




Get your feeders ready!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hydrotherapy



What a whirlwind it has been the last few weeks. Work has been suddenly very busy and I have not had the opportunity to get out for my walks most days. I see that the Public Works department is getting ready to do some digging at my pond, so I am not sure I am going to be able to see Spring fully unfold in this pretty corner of my workaday world.

A place the yields pictures like this

A jaunty Fox Sparrow male. His female was inside the blackberry bush





or this beautiful macro of a plum (?) blossom. I am hopeless on garden ornamentals.





and this sleepy Mallard framed by a Gum tree getting ready to be glorious.


But no matter, there are plenty of places to explore on the weekends. Last weekend after working a morning pulling invasive blackberry at the Wilcox Flats parcel for the Nisqually Land Trust, I visited the Mima Mounds preserve. This unique area is home to interesting geologic formations and, in a month or two, interesting flowers. I will be revisiting and doing a whole article about this mysterious place.

I will probably include some dry theory on glacial out wash and earthquakes forming the landscape. I learned last weekend that there is a devoted group that holds true to the theory that this place was formed by the Giant Blue Gopher. The GBG is a mysterious animal that only emerges from underground, for the purpose of mating, in the light of a blue moon. Followers meet on the site during the blue moon to keep watch.

Today I didn't need to be at work and had no commitments, so I dashed up to Port Townsend to visit Pt Wilson / Fort Worden.


Fort Worden was made famous in the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman". It sits on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula at the mouth of Admiralty Inlet. This marks the end of the Straight of Juan de Fuca and, after passage through the inlet, the beginning of Puget Sound. The old protective gun placements are great for exploring. There is a matching facility across the inlet at Fort Casey, on Whidbey Island. This is a great place for kids to have fun.


On the seaward side of the placement, the bunkers are hidden by dunes of sand and rock breakwaters. The banks are planted with gorse which in theory would have helped slow down invaders on foot. At Fort Casey the gorse was particularly thick, the last I visited many years ago. In the picture below , the battery is inside the grassy area between the trees.


The inlet is subject to regular disruption of the intrepid little ferry that crosses to Whidbey Island. Severe winds and currents as well as extremes of high and low tide levels will shut down runs. When you see this tiny boat, a throwback to the early days of the ferry system it is easy to understand the caution. I have ridden the ferry on a day with weather worse than today. It can best be described as thrilling. Water splashes over the bow and if your car is first on, you might get a free front end wash with your passage.

Today the wind was really whipping. It is easy to see the effect of these winds on the trees.


The beach is a nice rocky one. There was very little evidence at high tide of shells or tide pool life. The rocks are colorful and varied. This small collection was gathered by a woman strolling the beach. She told me she liked to collect pretty and interesting rocks from beaches she visits. She takes them home for her rock garden. I love this idea. I often take away a particularly interesting rock for my aquarium.


The birds of Wilson Point can be pretty exciting. I have seen Puffins here as well as Snow Buntings on the sandy beach. Today there was little evidence of bird life on shore. Out in the water it was possible to find Surf Scoters and Barrows Goldeneye. I saw a flock of Robin fly over and they progressed sideways more than forward. Overall the bird life was pretty sparse and I figured most were further west in Dungeness Bay, well sheltered from the battering winds and waters.

The flowers of Pt Wilson can be fun to discover. There is plenty of Seashore Lupine not yet in bud. I found these tiny Small-Flowered Blue Eyed Mary in the sandy protected habitat. I would have missed them if I had not been seeking any blooming item. The flower cannot be more than 6mm across and flat on the ground. (I love my digital macro)
Near the Fort Worden housing there is a Rhododendron garden. One unfortunate issue is that the bushes are not labeled. Many were full of buds and will put on quite a show in the coming months. There were several that are in full bloom now.


The grove was filled with Robins, Varied Thrush and Junco.


Pt Townsend is really a little gem as far as Washington cities are concerned. There are many Victorian era buildings and homes, well preserved. This is a the clock tower from the Jefferson County courthouse. It almost appears, from this angle, to be an interesting ogre.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aaahh what a day!

I would have been very upset if I had not been able to get out for a walk today.






Wednesday, February 17, 2010

So Close You Can Taste It!

Spring, I mean.





Monday was the perfect day to have time off. I had quick work duty to perform so I decided to return to Washington Park in Anacortes to check out some area I missed on my previous visit.

I followed the trail markers and made my way to the south slope of the park. This rock face is Serpentine , a hard, mineral deficient soil that supports unique plants. The wildflower population hereincludes plants I have never seen, including Chocolate Lily and many of the orchids.
Juniper trees thrive here and all I could think of is what made some person convert those berries into Gin? Isn't this a wonderful old tree. This is something more usual in the high mountains.


These patchwork leaves are Rattlesnake Plantain. By next month they will support an orchid with very tiny flowers.


I captured this macro of a dried bloom from last year. I am not sure of the flower, but it likely belongs to the carrot family. I love the detail.


It was a perfect sunny day and the trails meandered everywhere. I followed them all over the south slope. I felt a little guilty since I am sure I was off the true trail at some point.
I cannot wait to see what these turn into.


I discovered this tiny early blooming flower. I posted it on line but have not yet found anyone familiar with it. I am sure as it opens it will be easier to figure out. The bloom is only about one inch across wedged under a protective rock.


At Green Point there are some excellent graphics explaining the ecology of the flowers there. This is where the Chocolate Lily is to be found, along with Camas, a tuber that was used as food. As common a food as it was throughout the region, I don't believe I have ever seen a specimen.


Green Point gets you right down to the water. I was lucky to capture these two Black Oystercatchers. Their red bills reflected so much sunlight that getting a clean shot was a challenge.


This is what the Oystercatchers are likely to be eating. Snails all over the place.


I drove about "Old Town" Anacortes. Many shops and restaurants and some wonderful late 1800's early 1900's homes and buildings.


I am working on a volunteer project down at Wilcox Flats on Saturday. The weather is going to be glorious so I intend to make the most of being down in that area.
I need to decide if I should get new sunscreen.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Walk in the Rain


I had no choice but walk in the rain today.


It didn't start out bad. I considered my options and decided that I might as well visit Nisqually NWR. I had not visited the refuge in many years. It is much changed since I last visited and I was interested in taking a look.


The Nisqually NWR is on the delta of the Nisqually River. In the early 1900's this land was purchased and diked to make farmland. In this day and age such an alteration of a sensitive habitat would not likely take place. Information panels near the old historic barns reveal a series of trails and tribulations that the owners of this land faced.


For most of the last century the dikes have remained in place and the conversion of the property to a NWR created a large pond and marsh complex which was a haven for ducks. A 5 1/2 mile ring dike was a great way to tour the complex.


As a beginning birder I spent many hours here. This is the area I saw my first Great Horned Owl . I had many encounters with new birds I had not seen before. The complex of trees and water and open grassy areas supported many different habitats. I can remember one warm Spring visit where mosquitoes bit so viciously that I was swollen like I had mumps.


The refuge is still a wonderful place, but there has been a major change. The dikes have been intentionally breached, allowing salt water to once again return into the delta. This is a rare habitat in Puget Sound and vital for the health of the land and water life. Unique plants and animals live in these areas. Inter-tidal riparian areas are an important habitat for salmon, both early and late in life.

Now, instead of walking on the gravel tops of the dikes, elevated boardwalks are available where waters might come and go.

There are nice sitting spots which allow you to pause and wait for the wildlife around you to become active. I have seen otters, mink, beaver and long tailed weasels here.
There are always birds about and in the Spring it is best to arrive right at dawn. The swallows are fantastic since the marsh supports a lot of mosquito habitat as well. I even saw bugs of unknown species moving about today. No bites so not sure what they were. The migration return has not yet started. Today I got this nice picture of a Song Sparrow.


I had nice observation of a Great Blue Heron fishing.



I watched a Peregrine high in a tree preening and keeping careful watch on where its next meal was coming from.


Two juvenile Bald Eagles looked very wet and miserable in the rain. There were full adults further down the river. Now is the time for the start of nesting and I have to wonder if these two youngsters were soundly told to "leave home" so the parents could get on with a new years work.

I met with a volunteer far out on the dike where we enjoyed this view.



I asked him about the nest in the tree to the right of the barns.

He said that in 1997 the eagles built this nest but much of it blew down in a hard wind storm. Since then the eagles have nested to the west on the ridge bordering the margin of the refuge. That area gets less severe wind.


Since the eagles abandoned this nests, Canada Geese have used it. I was amazed at that idea but he said it was true. Two visitors observed a pair of geese honking and carrying on at the bottom of the tree. They looked up and sure enough, the young goslings jumped out of the nest and plummeted to the ground. Wood Duck nest in trees and the ducklings, once they are dry from hatching, launch themselves from the nest hole. They bounce a bit, get up and waddle away, no worse for wear. So it was for the geese. I cannot imagine the impact from that great height.


He mentioned that the Canadas use trees by the Education center. I did then remember that fact, I always thought it was odd. They are lower trees, not like the ones near the barn. He said that the geese of the delta are a closed, non-migrating population. I speculated that they had likely learned this nesting habit over time. The Bald Eagles have learned that the geese nest like this and there have been some easy pickings of setting birds


We talked further about the changes to the complex. He said the best time to come was during an extreme high tide. He said that the salt water fills this area pictured and comes to within two feet of the base of the dike.


I will keep my eye on the tide tables and repay a visit.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bickering Neighbors , Part Three

Monday is turning out to be my most reliable day to get out walking at lunch. The fog and low clouds were just starting to break when I got out. There was a lot of bird action around. I am getting a taste of what is to come on this territory in the next few months.

This Mallard was enjoying a quiet sit on an old pond. At this spot there is an old chicken coop so I suspect this was once someones backyard. Now this wooded edge is between three large business buildings.




Further down the way is the spot where "Mr Plateau" Anna's Hummingbird had set up his territory. Sure enough there he was calmly sitting right on the edge of the trail. Unfortunately the light, still foggy / cloudy, did not result in a pretty colorful portrait.

I continued my walk and noticed how active the birds were. I had a large mixed flock of finches roll past me. Robins are starting to sign their Spring song. There are more Red-winged Black Birds in the reeds.

This bit of greenery moss and unidentified small plants will be fun to keep an eye on. I think the heart shaped leaf might be a violet.



"Mr Pond" Anna's was at his tree, calm and quiet.

I was able to snap this Indian Plum bloom detail. I love these plants.

As I returned to the territory of Mr Plateau, I hear his sharp display whistle. There he was swooping about. I stopped to watch and immediately heard his song. Anna's Hummingbird song sounds like a small reel to reel tape rewinding; zip seep zip.

Well that was new. He flew up I saw why he was singing, a female flew out too. He flew over and got behind her and appeared to place his bill on her rump. They descended to a twig.

Mr Plateau got lucky.

I checked with the Tweeters group and a member confirmed that Anna's do nest this early. I have never observed hummingbird copulation. I was aware that Rufus Hummingbirds start active courtship in late March but have never seen Anna's on territory. Typically the female will nest somewhere close by so it will be interesting to keep an eye out for her.

Mr Plateau will have nothing further to do in the raising of the brood. He will mate with as many females as he can and might actually have a second mating with this female after she fledges the first brood.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Discoveries Big and Little

I spent the morning with the Nisqually Land Trust at their Salmon Creek property. I had never been to this property before but had driven past it many, many times. It borders I-5 right before you enter the Nisqually NWR, at the Mounts Road exit.


One would never guess that this magic little place is tucked in this spot. It was a wonderful day to discover it. Bright blue skies, lovely clouds that hold no threat of rain. Today was different from the usual work parties. Instead of lovingly, peacfully planting trees and shrubs...


Today we armed ourselves with Weapons of Invasive Destruction...





and pulled out English and Climbing ivy from a woodlands.

Non native ivy "runs" and will readily climb trees. Some trees can become so choked with ivy that they are brought down. The ivy robs the trees of their water and on the ground they compete with native plants.





It was tricky work. In areas where the ivy climbs trees it was easy to spot and pull the ivy. The ivy must be rolled into bundles as you work . Runners dropped or left will simply re-root and start running again. In spots where the ivy is not so dense you start losing the eye for spotting the leaf. There was a lot of native trailing blackberry and other lovely native plants. I tried very hard to spare our good plants while hunting for the bad.


The road to the property cut through a golf course and then made its way back towards the NWR. as the road turned and headed down to the property I saw a treasure, a sweet little cottage, just my style.



At the end of the road I was stunned to find another house. Raw wood plank sides and everywhere ceramic art.



Two artists who had lived here for many years greeted us. Both in their 80's they shared a little information about the property. They pointed to a lush green area and cautioned us to not get our cars in it. The soil was clay. They said that they use to harvest the soil for their ceramics. They pointed out their old clay processor still standing by a shed.


We grabbed our tools and set out for the woods. I instantly saw what the gentlemen meant. The surface of the pasture was like walking on wet mashed potatoes.


As we made our way to the woods I noticed many roses with thick mats of lichen. The hips were noticeable small. One of the managers mentioned that the clay soil dries out so severely in the summer and that the roses are somewhat stunted. There were so many, it must smell wonderful in bloom.




In the woods there were times when you really had to search hard for ivy. Ferns needed to be lifted and looked under and leaves gently sifted through.


Naturally I found many delights.


Every ones favorite, Banana Slug , Ariolimax columbianus. School mascot of the University of California , Santa Cruz



Haplotrema vancouverenses, a pretty native snail. This shell is empty.







Mushrooms in a hole protected by a log.





Indian Plum is starting to burst into bloom





An elk spent the night here





Snowdrops, a non native garden flower that has escaped from one of the houses.









Violets, also a non-native type, found all about the property.




The artists house overlooks the clay field and new plantings.





A grove of oak trees. Native oaks have become quite rare here. The Fort Lewis reservation and the areas around them hold some of the last Oak woodlands in western Washington.