Simple Gifts

I believe I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world; the Snoqualmie Valley. I get to see amazing things everyday. It's time to celebrate that. (You can view pictures in larger format by clicking on them)

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Snoqualmie Valley

I took another ride through the Valley. I went to the Snoqualmie Falls to get a picture. (I posted the picture in my original entry about the Falls on 6/7). I didn't stay long since it's a Saturday and there were lots of people. I'm glad I went. The power of the Falls is amazing. I've been there on flood days when you can feel the rumble in your chest and the mist soaks you. Even on a low flow day like today, the mist sprays were reaching far. I've always love water drops on leaves.

Then I started driving home, but I took the back way so I wouldn't have to drive through Snoqualmie. And there was Mt. Si. I love this side of Mt Si. Mt Si is best at dusk I think. The sun can catch it and turn it red. It may be best when dusk paints it, but I love watch the clouds embrace the mountain too. It makes me feel poetic. And of course I've stood in the dark and looked at mountain against the night sky and thought of the people who did that thousands of years ago. I guess mountains give me a sense of time and history.

I'm so lucky, because I feel like I live in the most beautiful place. I know the world is filled with amazing places. There are plenty of places I would like to explore, but I can't really imagine moving away. I can't and won't take the beauty of this place for granted.

Mt Si, taken near Two Rivers Park

Monday, June 20, 2005

Low Tide!

I love living in North Bend. I love the crazy weather and mountains all around. I don't mind the wind or shorter days that comes with being in the foothills. I do miss the beach though. I miss doing beach programs. I miss the crazy, amazing variety found on the beach.

So when Alan mentioned there was a low tide I got my lazy butt out of bed and got up to his house moderately early. We headed off to Golden Gardens and hit the beach. At first it didn't look promising. There were school buses, kids, sail boats and people galore. But they were in the main part of the park and we quickly wandered away from them. There were so many herons. I kept snapping pictures and then finding better 'photo ops'. They were fairly unconcerned to us and finally we stopped paying much attention to them. I was being typical me, which means I was in the water, doing cart wheels and exploring every tide pool. And touching stuff of course. I was thoroughly engrossed in a tidepool and looked up and there was a heron so very close! It apparently figured out just how intrigued I can be by bright and slimy things. I did get his picture and I am quite please with the results... it was almost as if he was posing!

Once again there were plenty of Moon Snail egg cases. Like so many people, the first time I saw an egg case I thought it was a bit of garbage. The Moon Snail takes sand and mucus and makes this amazing thing. If you ever get a chance to touch one they are smooth and not slimy. The remind me somewhat of a banana skin. The Moon Snail itself is a big, big, BIG snail and looks quite nasty (in a cool sort of way). It's giant slug-like body hangs out of it's large shell. I remember a guide picking one up once and water just pouring down as the snail moved into its shell. An amazing amount of water came out and I've since learned that it will suffocate if it remains in it's shell.

I love tidepools! There were anemones, crabs, seastars, sea cucumbers, shrimp and snails. Some really large anemones. I like to touch them (ok, fine, I like to touch most critters) but there is something amazing about feeling this soft sticky thing touch and hold your finger. The seastars were great too. I kept trying to find one that I could pick up, but they were holding on well. Of course that IS an important survival skill. I found one of my favorite seastars too the Pycnopodia or Sunflower Star. I did get to hold that. There body is soft, unlike other seastars and they don't hold on so tightly but they can move much more quickly. You can actually watch them move. They also grab hold more quickly and I once had a Pycnopodia suck its little tube feet on my hand and not let go. When I finally pulled it off, the tube feet were still attached to my hand... I hold them much less long since then. They tend to make an impression, the reason I can remember the scientific name, when I've forgotten so much else from college, is because of the impression one made on a fellow student. We were on an oceanography field trip and he went diving to share his find with us. He saw a very large pycnopodia. Later that night he was.... well, drunk. He kept repeating all night "A pycnododia THAT big" and showing us with his hand show big it was.

Sea Star

I was really excited to see the sea cucumbers. They are such bizarre and amazing creatures. In times of stress they will eject there stomach. Yep, they barf out there stomach and while the predator is either thoroughly grossed out or happily eating the nastiness they make there mistake. It happened once to one I was holding and I don't gross out easily but that did get to me. It was amazing how much came out. If you touch them they feel... hollow. It doesn't seem like there is anything inside. The outside is slimy and they can be quite beautiful. All my programs at Titlow beach I never encountered this specie which turns out to be Red Sea Cucumber (Cucumaria miniata).

Sea Cucumber

After exploring the tide pools I had to play in the water. I noticed a sand bar so I waded out to it and stood watching the waves break. At that point the wind was calm and the water was clear. I walked along looking into the water and found another favorite, jellyfish. Usually I see them washed up on the beach where they are just a big blob, but in the water they have a grace to them. It's strange to think they are related to sea anemones. They seem so different


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Elk Adventures

One of my favorite local walks is on the Sno-Valley trail in the Meadowbrook area. It's never crowded, you can get down to the river, there's great views of Mt Si and great birding. Another plus is that it goes past fields that are one of the favorite places of the Elk. I always look. I brought my camera in hopes of seeing them... and it worked! I took some pictures on my way too my walk. They stayed off in the distance. Sometimes the herd can be 20 strong. It was hard to count because they were in shadows. I finally took pity on Coal and we went for our walk. At the river Coal waded and I enjoyed the beauty and listened to the scolding Killdeer. Then we loaded back up in the car. The elk were still there and a wee bit closer. I parked in the field again, but this time I got out. I didn't want to stress them, so I didn't get too close.

The white butts stand out. They use them as a danger signal for the herd.
The white flairs out, indicating "RUN"

They were aware of me, but not too worried

One mature bull and several immature bulls

Trying to photograph them made me feel like I was producing a nature show. I always wanted to be Jane Godall or the Wild Kingdom guy. The sense of adventure reminded me of another time with the Elk. I was once again on the Snoqualmie trail but a little farther east. I found what I wrote at the time.... (Sep 20 2004, 11:39 pm)

It was just so damn cool!

... well literally and figuratively!

Off I go for my walk, it's late, I'm tired and my pants are very tenously
safety pinned together and and I see some elk.

So I crawl through the bushes, keeping Coal mellow and go right up to the
fence, and count 6 cows and calfs..

so I am kneeling there on moist ground, feeling the cool air blow up through
the split and my pants and their are 8 elk! And the bull is wandering towards
us.... Coal wants to leave and I convince him to settle down and there are 9 elk, one bull, and the rest calves and cows.

Coal realizes I'm settled in so he calms down a bit and there are now 12 elk!
The whole herd is out in the field now!

Coal tells me he's bored, an ant bites me, my butt cheeks are might cool and
the elk have settled down into natural behavior. In fact, they have settled
down so much that a calf starts to nurse off it's mom


.... errr.... did I mention I had a lousy day? Did I mention I split my
pants... no? Well, it doesn't really matter anyway! I sat 25 ft away from a
heard of elk and watched a calf nurse off it's momma :) :) :)

View from work

That's one of my favorite look out points from work. I get caught in all the work crap but it's such an amazing place. And a sacred place to many of the local tribes. I've been there at night and looked at the mountain and felt that sense of awe and age and magic. I've been many beautiful places. I've been places 'prettier' but there is something about that mountain that touches my soul. I love it best at night when the sky is midnight blue and it's just the sillouette.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Viewpoint Mike Trail

We went for a great hike. It was at the head of Lost Creek Lake. While we were looking for the trailhead we parked at the side of a road and there, directly above our heads, was an osprey nest and a very annoyed osprey. The osprey flew off the nest and then circled around apparently scolding us. It landed on the nest and took right back off and went back to circling. We actually walked underneath. We watched for a bit and then finally found the trailhead. I'm sure the Osprey was relieved, but watching and being that close was just so wonderful!

The nest is on a platform that keeps it safely above the lines

The trail took us through meadows and oak forest. There were beautiful wildflowers including one of my favorites, Indian paint brush. (I took the picture later at camp, when I was alone and could spend lots of time. People and Coal tend to get imatient with me when I get 'stuck' in one place). The trail had clearly not been used much and was quite overgrown. There wasn't a lot of wildlife and if it hadn't been for the flowers it would have seemed unrewarding. I know Chris would have preferred a hike in a more dense forest. We did hear a grouse booming. I loved the suprised look on my friends' faces when I told them it was a bird, it was a new experience for them. We also had lizards scurrying out of our way which delighted Tasha. Towards the top the forest changed from oak to pine. There was a lot of Poison Oak around too which was worrisome.

Looking down at the dam

We had our lunch at the top where we could see the lake and damn. We could also just barely see Union Peak which is the southern end of Crater Lake. The view was great. We had turkey vultures circling over our heads, Coal was hot and Sheba was tired but I didn’t think we looked dead! We then moved on done a BLM road. It was a pine forest. We saw scat (coyote I think). The trail was muddy there and we saw plenty of tracks (Nae was the sharp-eyed person for tracks). We saw raccoon, fox (maybe), deer and elk.

We came to another clearing and found the columnar basalt the trail guide had promised. It looked like giant fence lines and a submarine tail emerging from the ground; more volcanic remnants from Crater Lake. As Tasha and Chris tossed rocks over the edge I watched a red-tail hawk circle over head.

At the end of the hike we once again passed under the osprey nest. We found some lava rock on Big Butte creek and let the dogs at the water. Coal was so hot. Sheba had napped at the top, but after coal cooled off he conked out. The bugs there were awesome. We were seeing more stoneflies. I held this big guy! It was a new insect, Californian Pteronarcys, and I'm such a geek that would have made the whole trip worth while. They were everywhere. Renae wouldn’t hold it, but donated her shoe to the photographic cause. She wouldn't have liked holding it, it was large enough that you could feel it's feet pricking into your skin. Not really painful, but much more than the usually buggy tickle. One more pass under the osprey nest and we headed back to camp. It was a wonderful hike. On the drive back we were really watching and saw 5 osprey nests. It's amazing the things you can see, once your eyes have been opened.

Everyone should end a hike with a dip in the stream and a nap

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Crater Lake

There was so much snow at the lake. Which was unfortunate because the hiking trails were all closed. We had planned to hike.

I try and imagine an eruption of that magnitude and my mind just can’t grasp. I know that one theory is that the eruption caused the last ice age; I was about 7000 years ago. I always want to know what things like that sounded like. How far away could it be heard? It spread ash over 5,000 sq miles. What did people think when the sky went dark and ash started falling far from the volcano? In the pumice desert near Crater Lake ash still lies 50 ft deep. It produced 150 times as much ash as Mt St Helens. I remember that eruption so clearly. After the eruption the magma chamber emptied and the whole volcano collapsed. Did it happen quickly? What kind of noise did that make? The caldera was so hot at first that it couldn’t hold water. So when it did rain or snow it must have hissed and steamed.

There has been no volcanic activity there for 5,000 years. There are no streams into the lake. And now, the precipitation and evaporation keep the lake at a consistent level. The lake is so deep that the tallest building would fit in it (almost 2000 ft). It’s the deepest lake in the US and the 7th deepest in the world. It’s one of those things that the scale is just so hard to grasp. We were about 1,000 feet above the lake which put us at about 71000 ft above sea level. Nae did the best job of giving it scale. Talking to Tasha she pointed out a peak about the lake and talked about how almost 2 of them could fit in the lake. Wow! We’ve been collecting pumice out of Stewart Lake which is about 20 miles away. Pumice from something that happened over 7,000 years ago.

As we couldn’t hike there due to all the snow we drove down to the entrance and found Annie Creek trail.

1.5 hours
Length: 1.7 mile loop
Elevation: 5,800 to 6,000 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Amphitheater at Mazama Campground
Features: Deep stream-cut canyon, Annie Creek, wildflowers, and occasional animals

Well, that's the trail description but even there was too much snow. Tasha found the hike really scary and when we got to the stream we lost the trail. That part was a bit of a disappointment but it was still worth the trip. We did get to stop and watch a ground squirrel eating cones. He wasn’t afraid at all. It was another chance for me to play with my camera. It was another chance to really watch an aniaml. I love that. The trip may not have been great for hiking but was another reminder of how powerful the natural world can be.

He put on quite a show

A great drive

We headed off to Crater Lake. On the drive we saw some deer. The change from mostly meadows to forest was interesting, especially the variety in the forest. I love staring out at the landscape. I love losing myself to motion and the land. This trip made me realize how much I don't know about forestry.

There was overgrown, densely packed forest. Then there were areas where the forest had been eco-thinned. That was interesting to me, because it was forest service land. Typically there priority is log harvest and yet there were all these logs lying on the ground. Then we passed through a large area where there had been a fire. It was amazing. Pine trees that had lost everything but their trunk were finally growing back there branches and needles. They looked like very tall seedlings the green was so fresh. There were also trenches at very frequent intervals in the forest. I can't figure out what they were for, they were obviously artificial. It's driving me nuts.

And of course, there is that distinct transition when you enter the National Park. The trees are so much bigger. It is closer to the majesty of old growth forest. We also passed a beautiful river that was spilling over lava rock; it looked like it should be in Hawaii not the Oregon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Ordinary birds, youthful uniqueness

We'd seen lots of birds. The first day we'd watched a adult Brown-headed Cowbird feeding a juvenile. I thought nothing of it, until much later when I was explaining nest parasitism. Then I was perplexed. Why did we see mature cowbirds feeding young? Could we have been seeing males feeding females? It didn't look that way. We saw very few species of other birds in camps. Swallows and robins and many, many Cowbirds. Could they be forced to raise their own young because there aren't enough birds to parasize? All my reading says the never raise their young and yet we watched what appeared to be just that several times. An ornithology professor I had once often reminded us birds weren't bound by the books written about them, he would say:

....birds don't read the books

I was pondering this and listening to the osprey in the distance when a juvenile robin wandered into camp. I quite liked the mornings in my tent. Everyone else would be in the camper and it would just be me, coal and the birds. I had noticed this juvenile before. He seemed to stick near to our camp and he was just so... awkward looking. I was watching him go through the motions of feeding. (Of course I don't know it was a he, but he reminded so much of a young teenage boy). He was going through the motions but there seemed to be an uncertainty in spite of the act. I think he would have been surprised as I if he had caught something. And then while he was concentrating seriously a cowbird ran by. This startled the robin greatly who jumped up and landed on the fireplace grate. It wasn't hot, but it also wasn't solid. The robin most not have known this and was flailing about the grate trying to get back onto his feet. I thought I might have to run to the rescue when he finally flew off.

Crappy picture but this was just before "The Great Cowbird Scare"

Monday, June 13, 2005

Time at the Lake and fun with insects

Sunday we rode our bikes down a trail to the lake area. The ride was about 3 miles round trip. We moved from a more meadow area to woods. There were so many wildflowers including more lilac, Shasta daisies and columbine. The ride was great except for sore butts. When we arrived at the lake some girls were coming up with a fairy large fish. They were proud to show off their catch. We watched osprey circling the lake and it was clear there was food for them. It wasn't just the sky and lake that was interesting, we found tons of pumice! It was plentiful. There was no effort in finding it, it was a question of which piece you wanted to pick up. We also found a pair of Killdeers. There was a 'puddle' where the lake level had dropped. We were looking in the puddle for tadpoles and annoying the Killdeer. It seemed like they might have a nest nearby. One finally left with the "ki wi wi wi" and the other moved to the far side of the puddle.

The Killdeer hides across the puddle.

We still had to ride back to camp and that was mostly up so we headed off fairly quickly (much to the Killdeers relief). Monday we loaded up the truck and drove down to the lake to spend quality time. We brought books, towels, swim suits and snacks. Tasha brought her fishing pole (a practice pole with no hook). This time we got to see osprey diving. I'd listened to them in the morning, before anyone else had woken up. We spent some time just relaxing in the sun (or moved to the shade). Tasha didn't catch any fish but we got reading done and watched them jump.

Nae and Tasha

A cool insect flew by. It was an awkward flier and looked sort of like a termite at first, but it definitely wasn't that or an ant. Its body was long and shaped ant-like but its wings were much more ornate. It landed on a cement block just in the water. I was trying to squat down for a closer look and keep my butt out of the water (hey, I still had my shorts on) and the darn bug flew away. Hmpf! I think it was a stonefly.

The common name for the order derives from the fact that stoneflies spend most of their brief adult lives (about 2 - 3 weeks) crawling among stones in or near freash water) - National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

Then we walked down the beach a little ways. I was lagging behind playing with the camera. OK, I might be a wee bit obsessed. Up ahead there were so many butterflies, maybe up to a dozen! They were sitting on the bank getting moisture and maybe minerals (must do more research) from the sand. Nae told me when they first got they were all apparently on sitting on the bank. We watched the Swallowtails for quite some time. They would swirl around us and then land back on the bank.

The sand bank and a few butterflies

After the butteflies Tasha and I went swimming again. The lake water was so clear and the bottom was almost entirely sand. We had fun splashing and playing games (and once again, I gained a following of children). Then I discovered a shiny insect. In the water with light reflecting off it and the water I couldn't tell what it was. Even I won't grab a shiny mystery insect with my hand so I wandered about peering at the lake bottom looking for a stick. It was hard to find, I've never seen such a clean sandy bottom. Finally I found a stick and thank goodness for agile toes. I lifted the stick to my hands and rescued the bug. Back on shore I took a picture (of course!) and pondered identification. I wabeginningng to think the bug wouldn't make it when he finally headed off.

I think it's a Pine Sawyer

Tasha's zoo

Tasha is a great kid, she likes bugs and such. Of course she's been influenced by her mom and Auntie Chris. She was traveling with tadpoles, praying mantis egg case and a butterfly. What fun!

The tadpoles were rescued from the neighbor’s pond, apparently they don’t like frogs. Who doesn't like frogs? But Renae and Tasha offered to take the tadpoles. We kept looking for legs. They sloshed around in an ordinary tuperware container. What fun.

The praying mantis and caterpillars were mail ordered. It's good to have a teacher as a mom. She knows how to do all kinds of cool stuff. The praying matnis case was large. Apparently there can be several thousand eggs in there. Tasha got the caterpillars about 3 weeks ago. They are Painted Ladies. She had already released the other butterflies but wanted to bring one to show me. I was quite pleased. She let the butterfly go in the morning. Nae and I almost missed it, we were cleaning up from breakfast. Fortunately the butterfly took it's time. It seemed to like the sunshine (except when I wanted to take pictures, then it liked shade). It finally headed off on its own. There is certainly plenty to eat in the nearby meadow.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Trees and distance

It's good to get into an area with new habitats and species. It reminds me how much I don't know. It reminds me how vast the world is (I didn't even get out of the Pacific Northwest and the world seems vast). It makes me dredge up rusty bits of knowledge from college. This area has many meadow areas. Even the forest areas are mostly open forest. It so different from the dense, dark forests filled with Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock that feel like home to me.

Many of the trees around are oak trees. I don't really know my oak trees but since I stumbled on an oak that was distinctly different. It refreshed my memory, most of the oaks we were seeing were black oaks and that one must have been a white oak? It looked silver. The oaks were interesting to me, mostly because I associate them with the endangered Western Gray Squirrel. Once I had a wonderful field trip tromping around oak forest searching for the squirrels and found...nothing..except the good times that adventures in the woods bring.

Along with all the oaks there were the normal pine trees and a few cedar/sequoia mystery trees. It had the coolest bark. Not a tree I'd ever seen before. Several of the trail guides talked about incense cedar. It wasn't in Pojar which is the best guide book for plants in Washington. Although that thwarted my identification efforts it was nifty because it shows just how far out of my home range I had come.

The bark of the Cedar/Sequoia

And there were wonderful madrones. Once again I was forced to ponder on the absolutes we hand out. The books generally say they only grow 50 miles east of the ocean. I'm not motivated enough to figure out how far we were from the ocean. Certainly we were at there extreme eastern edge of the madrone tree, but they are wonderful, healthy species.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

More about the swallows

On the walk Renae and I took we watched the swallow on the snag. Renae said the song sounded like the bird water whistle you would have as a kid. After seeing the pair nesting in the snag and hearing its liquid song, we saw more flying over the lake. I love to watch swallows fly. I like them more now that I've noticed how much like bats they are. They even fly the same. There are the first swallow to return in the spring and once I see them I start watching for bats. The swallows seem more brilliantly colored than I'm used to. Maybe it is just that the light is so much better or maybe they were in full breeding splendor but they seemed to almost glow.

Tree Swallows are the only swallows that make substantial use of vegetable food such as seeds and berries. They favor bayberries. Eating berries when insects aren't available helps these swallows withstand bad weather, especially during their early spring return to the breeding range.

Later on our walk we found a series of nesting boxes. Several were being used by the swallows. We watched them flying in and out feeding their young. I tried like heck to get a picture of the swallows flying in their boxes but didn't have much luck. There were so many nest boxes around! After reading up on swallows I learned that they are very dependent on tree cavity or nest boxes. The swallow condos really aren't the best. Unlike a lot of swallow species they don't nest in big colonies.

Swallow condos

We also discovered that of the one of the boxes was full of bees (or were they wasps, I have to admit I'm a wuss when it comes to the bee class and didn't get close). You could here the whole box humming. Even with bees and close quarters the swallow condo was being used. This is the only picture that has a swallow in it, this guy was waiting for us to leave. (OK, the next step in my photo process is to be able to edit the pictures)

Swallow on the roof of the swallow condo, his head matches the sky

view from camp

view from camp
Originally uploaded by NLChris.
And here is the view from our camp. Past the small rise is the large meadow Tasha and I walked around. I enjoyed the meadow habitat. It's not something I see a lot of normally.

The tree on the left was Tashas fort. You could go under the branches and she had an entire came set up.

Moving camp

Renae and I drove about 45 minutes (NE) to a new campground. We wanted something more woodsy and less populated. Modern technology worked and we called Chris and Tasha and told them to join us. Here we are going for the outdoor experience and relying on our cell phones. Life is odd.

It is on the Lost Creek Reservoir. Over 30 miles of hiking trails to explore! The dam was built in 1977 and the primary purpose is to control flooding. I don't think of building dams and creating reservoirs like that for flood control. It does generate power, I wonder if that was the primary purpose and saying it was built mostly for flood control is just propaganda. The whole upper area has been turned in to a preserve now and is only accessible by bike or trail.

Lost Creek Lake

We took a short walk while waiting for Chris and Tasha. We found a nice lake trail. We saw signs of fire and looked down on the lake. We also saw swallows nesting in a tree cavity. They were too high up for pictures and of course I as anxious to take pictures with my new camera satisfied chuckle). There were plenty of butterflies flying about and the sweet smell of lilac filled the air.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Vacation time!

I headed down to Southern Oregon to meet my best friend and her family. We were going to have a week of camping. The drive down was mostly uneventful. I used to think my dad was nuts, he'd drive and be peering up at the sky at airplanes. Now I drive peering up at the sky at the birds. I did see some raptors. They were mostly unidentifiable, except for all the turkey vultures. I also saw a raven in a flock of crows. Wow, was the size difference obvious. All these little black birds and there in the middle, twice as big was the slow flapping raven. I wonder what it was doing with the crows?

We stopped at a rest area in Southern Washington. Coal was desperate to poop. Rest areas tend to be unexciting and I was watching him ready to scoop when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a very small, young cottontail rabbit. It must have been well hidden or the poop desperation was all consuming because it was so close. It wasn't more than 4 Ft in front of us. It ran right past Coal?s nose but he was so busy taking a dump he didn't even notice. It was so small I could have held it in one hand and the white tail seemed huge.

We met at Rouge River camp ground. It's an OK campground but we planned to find a better place the next day. Tasha and I took a walk. She's almost 8 now. Walking with her is so interesting, sometimes she sees so much and other times she just runs ahead. Tasha remembered the alligator lizards from last year. She had tried so hard to catch them last year, but never came closer than almost. We weren't having much luck this time either, the weather was fairly cool. It was one of the days when Tasha was running ahead. Of course she'd been stuck in the truck for the long drive from California. I stopped for a major humming bird brawl. At least 4 different hummingbirds zipping through the sky all highly worked up. There noise seems perfect for a tiny cartoon character's exclamations. I couldn't tell you what species they were. They were just sound and motion. They sort of remind me of tiny version of Taz (Yep, I'm back to cartoons). There wings beat about 80 times per second, no wonder they sounds like little humming motors.

Then I noticed a Common Yellowthroat on a branch. I learned from Katie that in our area, if the bird has yellow on it, it's mostly likely a warbler. This held true. It was brightly colored and singing quite beautifully. I've never actually seen one before. Another great quote from the Cornell website:

A skulking masked warbler of wet thickets, the Common Yellowthroat is far more frequently heard than seen.

After returning from our walk, they insisted I open my present. It seemed odd since my birthday is at the end of the month. I am sooooooo spoiled! It was this wonderful digital camera! They gave it to me the first day so I could take pictures. It's absolutely great. For now on there will be pictures!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Valley, Falls and Beach in one day

Snoqualmie Valley: I had a doctors appointment in Seattle. I was going to work before the appointment, but I woke up tired and cranky and the sun was shining. So I revised my plans and pointed the car in a different direction.

I stopped at Snoqualmie Falls. (Edit -The picture to the left was taken 6/25 from the main gazebo at the top). I walked down the nature trail to the lower access to the Falls. Once again on the walk I heard Cedar Waxwings. Now that I'm interested my ears are attuned for that whistley call. I was alone at the look out point. The sun was shining down and making the mist glow golden. The falls weren't heavy but the spray patterns were entrancing and would sometimes reach to the top of the falls. There was a fly fisherman near the base, silhouetted in the golden light. It was quite beautiful. Then I drive the long way to Seattle, through the Snoquamie Valley. I saw lots of wildflowers and a harrier with that distinct low flight.

The beach:After my appointment I got together with Alan. He loaned me a digiatl camera so I can take pictures now! We took lunch to Golden Gardens park, I took my camera of course. The tide was out and we walked down the beach a ways then found a place to eat our lunch. Several crows and a gull were watching us eat. I started tossing bits of my lunch to them. I found it interesting that one of the crows seemed dominate. I've feed the birds at the beach many times and usually gulls dominate due to sheer size. The crows may get more, but that's speed and savvy. And yet this crow was clearly the boss. After a bit I had collected more birds of course. (It reminded me of when I was young and would forget that I'm actually supposed to eat my lunch in my enthusiasm of sharing with the birds. Some things never change). Several times the crows or gulls caught the food in midair. I love that!

It's hard to see but the gull is displaying his seaweed. Woo hoo!

When we were done eating the 2 gulls were still hanging around. One had adult plumage while the other was immature. The adult kept giving this soulful call. At first I thought he was begging but he??? was following the immature around. He seemed to be trying to impress the younger bird. Alan said it seemed the 'older male was trying to pick up the cute younger female". The gull kept picking up seaweed and carrying it about. It was clearly done as a display not for food. The immature was not suitably impressed.

Alan and I walked down the beach. It was grand! The weather was wonderful. We saw many moon snail egg cases, anemones and crab shells. Alan has been walking there for years and he was impressed by the numbers of anemones and moon snail egg cases. Some of the anemones were quite high on the beach. Of course I could resist rolling some rocks and I saw the usual crabs, some worms and a polycheate! I had the polycheate in my hands for a moment but didn't have it real well and didn't want to damage it. I now know they are called bristleworms. I guess that's my new fact for the day :)

We saw some mammal circling in the water not far off shore. We didn't think it could be a seal or sea lion because it never really poked it's head up like they do. Our guess was otter, but we never really saw it. The behavior reminded me of hunting behavior of dolphins and I definitely have to do more research. And then we saw a heron. His plumage was very bright, the wonder of mating season.

Heron at Golden Gardens (picture was taken 6/20 with new camera)

We headed back and I got a few more thrills. There was a nice big turtle basking in the pond! I love turtles and miss them and this was a big guy. Then as we were standing at the railing looking at the pond a redwing blackbird landed on the railing right next to Alan's hand. I wish I'd been faster to snap a picture, but the bold guy was definitely looking for a handout! I also heard a seal (well, probably a sea lion) off in the distance.

The turtles (picture was taken 6/20 with new camera)

And home again:When I got home I took coal out for a walk. No wonderful animal sightings but I walked the river right by my house. The cloud formations around Mt Si were quite dramatic and I was convinced we'd have thunderstorms. I did get to visit with some of my favorite neighborhood dogs and Coal was quite excited by a dead mole in the road (quite big). There were plenty of foxglove flowering in the unmanaged areas. Of course my favorite part is down by the river. I'm so lucky to be able to walk 3 minutes and be standing on a quiet beach on the shores of the Snoqualmie. (I'll add a picture here, once I figure out how to download them, darn technical issues!)

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Cedar Waxwings

photo taken from Birds of the Northwest

We've been hearing and seeing the Cedar Waxwings at the Education center for 2 weeks now. I quite enjoy them. Dashing from the Welcome room to the Library I startled the flock out of the stream. I was so delighted to see all these ruffled waxwings. There was one still in the creek with his tail feathers spread. They are very social. Apparently their behavior is similar to tropical fruit eating birds like conures. Which is cool, because conures even have that high pitched call. That should mean they are pretty intelligent too.

I've held the feathers before. They tips really do feel like wax. I've been so curious as to the purpose and apparently no on really knows. I was right about one thing, I figured the 'wax' bands came from their food, just like flamingos get their pink from their food. This seems to be true, because in the East where a new species of honeysuckle has been introduced the yellow tail bands are turning orange.

"Cool fact: Over most of North America, the Cedar Waxwing is the most specialized fruit-eating bird."

I got that quote from Cornell's website. They are such a great source of info. I also learned they travel long distances in search of food. Apparently it can be hard to tell whether they are migrating or just searching for food they travel so far. I've seen them here eating the Hemlock berries.

Walking near Carnation

Heading out: I started driving with Coal planning to go someplace new. A few weeks ago I had driven home from Mt Vernon by driving through the Snoqualmie Valley. I'd stopped and taken a short walk on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. The drive had been glorious so I meandered that way. Driving down the ravine from Snoqualmie falls the hillside was full of flowering foxglove and Shasta daisy. Then I headed out into farm land. I discovered the farm where my food comes from while searching for the trails. I like that connection to my food and community.

The Trail: I finally found the trail and it was a part I had never been to before. I moved from valley farm land to mixed forest and as I moved higher the forest thickened. It was amusing because after walking about 1 mile I came to a sign that said "Trail Closed 2.3 miles ahead". After walking another mile I came to another sign that said "Trail Closed 2.3 miles ahead". I walked another 1.5 miles or so.

I walked North of the trail closure

The Animals: There were plenty of farm animals to begin with. Horse and cows were seen and heard. I also heard chickens, turkeys and a peacock. As we moved out of the valley and up it was the birds that predominated. Of course since it was forest, many of the birds I only heard. I've been fascinated with the Cedar Waxwings at work and had planned to make an entry about them. I was delighted when I heard them. I caught a glimpse of one, but it was typical Washington gloom and other than shape and crest the colors weren't distinctive. But then heading down, one flew and the tail and wing feathers shone out brightly.

I'm forgetting many of the bird songs I learned in college and encounter completely new ones. I need to study up, but what I saw and heard was:
  • RW Blackbird
  • Raven
  • Cedar Waxwings
  • RS Towhee
  • Blacked capped chickadee
  • (maybe a chestnut backed chickadee)
  • Robin
I saw a chipmunk run by. It was very humid and coal was hot. I went much further than I planned (like normal) and I was searching for water for Coal. I found a ditch with clear, fresh water. I called Coal over but he was off sniffing something and then I got so excited. Tadpoles! I think maybe... They were Western Toad. I really want to go back and check. They were already developing back legs.

When I was almost back there was a rustling and 2 beautiful, large garter snakes heading off to hide. I wonder what the to were doing :) They were a chocolate brown with blue stripe and very thick compared to most I see. I tend to catch them and I would have liked to have done more identification, but if I did interrupt mating, I just didn't have the heart to bother them more.

We took one side trail down to a stream and there was a field so fully of spit bugs it looked as if it had rain spit. Of course I found this thoroughly delightful and not gross at all. I've never seen so many spit bugs in 1 place, it was amazing!

Other adventures: While I was still searching for access for the trail I drove under a trestle got to walk over it too. I know Alan will love that. We went past a working saw mill, a residential camp and a farm having quite the party. We also (to Coal's horror) encountered a horse back rider. She was great and must have realized Coal is a complete wuss, because she had the horse pulled well off to the side. I didn't have Coal on the leash and held his color as we passed in case he decided to panic and run. He did try to run past, but then after she had ridden off he had to walk back and thoroughly sniff the area. We probably had an hour were we passed no one and we really saw very few people. The biggest annoyance for me was a plane doing some stunts. It was just a bit noisy.

Small mammal

Alan and I took a grand trip all over E. Washington. Maybe he will let me copy his post or link to it. We saw a fair number of birds. We also saw a mammal, which we are now debating the identification.

It's funny, because we've had a debate before. I say we saw a muskrat at ... hmm... it's on Lake Washington, I wish I was better with place names, near UW. Anyway, he says it's a beaver. I didn't see a big flat tail. He says he did. I think beavers would be unlikely there. But (shhh, don't tell Alan this) I could be wrong. I think he is more convinced it was a beaver than I am it was a muskrat.

But this time, I am convinced we did not see a weasel. Yes, it was long and ran somewhat bouncy, but it didn't move like a weasel. It was too big. But then what was it? I strongly suspect it was a yellow-bellied marmot. Or maybe it was the Columbian ground squirrel, I'm still going with marmot though.

What I saw very clearly was the hind end. I was long, but chunky with a moderately bushy tail (no black tip). It had yellow under the tail. It bounced but didn't prance (that's how I think of weasels movement). It wasn't fat like you'd expect a marmot to be, but wasn't super thin either.

Anyway... I have now spent entirely too much time looking at this site: Mammals of Washington. For most mammals it was a good refresher from college, but I think much of the whale info was new. I will have to spend more time when it isn't so very late.

Friday, June 03, 2005


I have another blog. I write my thoughts and fears in there. It can be quite depressing. My poetry is in there. Some day I will actually make a web page for my poetry

I was reading alan's blog about trip and added my own comment about the birds and things we saw. I've been quite inspired by his blog. I love the pictures and links. My other blog is too full of 'issues' and perhaps my mind is too. I wanted to focus on Nature. And since I'm so damn verbose anyway it seemed natural to start my own blog. So here it is. :)

I'm adding this picture of coal, because I realize his name is going to keep coming up. Besides... any opportunity to show off the best dog in the world is fine by me :)