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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

July 16, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Our shrinking glaciers: Watch new movie from National Park Service

Jerry Freilich at the Olympic National Park checked in by email to share a link to a documentary he has been working on about our shrinking glaciers in the Northwest. Here’s Jerry: “Some of you may be aware that one of my jobs is as director of the North Coast & Cascades Science Learning Network. That organization…

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July 10, 2013 at 9:00 AM

It’s summertime on the beach for seal pups, too

As the summer beach and boating season revs up,  Robin Lindsey of the Seal Sitters  reminds beach walkers and boaters to turn around and head the other way if they encounter a seal pup on the beach. The pup needs to rest, and its mother is probably nearby fishing. The last thing either of them need is people encroaching on the vulnerable pup, or scaring off the mother. Dogs should be leashed and led away pronto.

Lindsey has too often seen partying boaters endangering young pups. Her blog has some disturbing humanoid behavior to report. Remember, it was the seals’ beach first. And it’s against the law to harass marine mammals. Stay at least 100 yards away if you encounter a pup and urge others to do the same.

Two seal pups nurse from their mother. It's pupping season on Puget Sound beaches. Cute as they are, seal pups should be left alone and given lots of space -- at least 100 yards -- if encountered on the beach.   Photo by Robin Lindsey

Two seal pups nurse from their mother at a South Sound seal haul out. It’s pupping season on Puget Sound beaches. Cute as they are, seal pups should be left alone and given lots of space — at least 100 yards — if encountered on the beach.
Photo by Robin Lindsey

As pupping season gets underway, the Seal Sitters are in full swing. The non-profit’s volunteers cordon off beaches where pups are found, to keep people out of the area until pups returns to water. Or, volunteers will call for professional help if it looks like a rescue is in order. To report an animal in distress at Alki, the Seal Sitter hotline is (206) 905-7325. Here is a link to maps of stranding networks to contact elsewhere in Puget Sound.

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July 8, 2013 at 2:37 PM

Kirkland eaglets sail through July 4th

The eaglets at Kirkland’s Heritage Park seem to have made it through the 4th of July fireworks festivities just fine, reports Mary Brisson of Eastside Audubon. The chapter helped get the annual fireworks celebration at the park relocated away from the vicinity of the nest so as not to disturb the birds, as reporter Keith Ervin wrote recently in the Seattle Times.

“It seems the whole community is now waiting for them to fly,” Brisson wrote me today in an email. “It’s wonderful to see how many people are coming to the park to see the eagles.”

Who wouldn’t? Here’s a great current photo of the family:

Bald eagle family at Heritage Park on July 4. Photo by Mick Thompson

Bald eagle family at Heritage Park on July 4. Photo by Mick Thompson

Mary has more on the eagles and how they are doing in a press release she wrote, which I am posting here:

“After a day of cannon fire from parading Seafair Pirates, citizen pyrotechnics, and a late night bagpipe serenade at the base of their home tree, two young Bald Eagles at Heritage Park in Kirkland were seen flapping their wings and hopping around their nest on the morning of July 5.

“They seemed fine this morning,” said Nancy Roberts, an Eastside Audubon member who worked with Celebrate Kirkland! to have the fireworks barge moved farther south of the park for the sake of the eaglets.

When unofficial fireworks went off north of the park before the planned Kirkland show, one of the adult eagles called out from a perch near the nest, Nancy reported. “It was almost like a little reassuring chirp,” she said. “The eaglets just lay down flat in the nest and we didn’t see them again.”

Earlier in the day, one of the eaglets was clearly startled by the first boom from the Pirates’ cannon nearby. The young bird was perched at the edge of the nest at the time and remained alert afterward. The other crouched low in the nest.

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July 3, 2013 at 5:17 PM

Table Mountain Fire: images of destruction and renewal

Last September the Table Mountain Fire burned more than 41,000 acres of public lands, mostly in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest outside Ellensburg. The forest service closed public access to the mountain for months, only reopening roads to the popular recreation site last month.

What’s there to be seen today is a fascinating mosaic of lands touched, and untouched by the fire. Amid the charred remains of trees burned to charcoal are others only lightly touched by fire, and other areas still fresh and green. And everywhere, there are signs of renewal.

To protect the meadows just starting to regenerate,  the popular Table Mountain Star Party which usually draws more than 750 people to this 5,000 foot high mountain redoubt has been relocated. That’s to allow the meadows to recover, and protect bare soils  from weed seeds tracked in with people and their vehicles, said Judy Hallisey, district ranger for the forest service based in Cle Elum.

With its sweeping views, Table Mountain is a popular star gazing spot. The annual Table Mountain Star Party is being relocated this year because of fire damage.  Photo by Douglas MacDonald

With its sweeping views, Table Mountain is a popular star gazing spot. The annual Table Mountain Star Party is being relocated this year because of fire damage.
Photo by Douglas MacDonald

The fire was a actually a series of fires started by lightning the evening of Sept. 8, 2012. Those fires came together as a blaze dubbed the Table Mountain Fire on September 19, and burned until November seasonal rains finally put them out.

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July 1, 2013 at 10:51 AM

Trading eyes for ears to hear the sounds of nature

Readers of The Seattle Times will remember Gordon Hempton, profiled in our pages for his work to define and defend one square inch of silence in the Olympic National Park.

Hempton in 2005 launched what then was his one-man quest to eliminate air traffic across Olympic to maintain the natural quiet around that one square inch — and thereby, the park itself, for miles. His campaign garnered lots of attention, and Hempton went on to write a book about it. His quest to end air traffic over the park and advocate for a quieter world continues.

Sound recordist Gordon Hempton has devoted his career to recording the sounds of queit that he now can't hear In this photo by Seattle Times photographer Ken Lambert, Hempton, a sound recordist, takes a noise level reading, on Thursday, June 9, 2005, in Olympic National Park, after a three mile hike to his one square inch of quiet space. Hempton wants to declare one square inch of the Hoh valley a sanctuary of natural quiet as a way to defend the "soundscape" of Olympic National Park.

Sound recordist Gordon Hempton uses a meter to check the sound level in Olympic National Park.  Photo by Seattle Times photographer Ken Lambert, in June, 2005.  Hempton wants to declare one square inch of the Hoh valley a sanctuary of natural quiet as a way to defend the “soundscape” of Olympic National Park.

All along, Hempton continued his day job: recording the sounds of nature all over the world, for sale to all sorts of users and customers. They are transformational recordings. Try one: here’s Breathing Space, on the One Square Inch website. Bring his recording of the sounds of rain in the forest at Olympic National Park into your world for just a moment, and feel the result.

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June 24, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Humpbacks are back and thriving

Once hunted for subsistence by the Makah tribe and then heavily targeted by non-Indian commercial hunters in the 1900s, humpback whales took a beating. By the 1960s the animals were still being hunted in U.S. waters, with the great mammals slain for pet food.  But today, humpbacks are making a comeback.

It’s no accident. Commercial whaling was banned in 1966. The animals have also been protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act since 1972. And in 1994, the waters off the northern Washington Coast were protected in the Olympic National Marine Sanctuary. 

The results are plain: Cetaceans in Washington waters have rebounded. Grays whales are back. And humpbacks are booming.

A humpback whale shows its flukes in the waters off Washington's outer coast. Photo by John Calambikitis

A humpback whale shows its flukes in the waters off Washington’s outer coast. Photo by John Calambokidis

Commercial hunting had reduced populations from an estimated 15,000 prior to 1905 to only 1,200 to 1,400 animals due to whaling. Today, ship surveys turn up humpbacks in abundance off the northern Washington coast. Researchers reported humpbacks as the most common species seen, with 232 sightings of 402 animals during ship surveys from 1995-2002 in the waters off northern Washington.

John Calambokidis, biologist at the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia and other researchers put the numbers of humpback in the North Pacific at more than 20,000 today, with their populations healthy and growing at the rate of 5 to 7 percent per year.

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June 21, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Head out this weekend to enjoy native plants, supermoon

What is it about a campfire that makes us slow down as we should more often, to notice the beauty around us? Including the native plants.

At our campsite in the Teanaway last weekend I found myself awake in the early dawn light, and instead of trying to go back to sleep, got up with the song of the Swainson’s thrush. I put on the coffee in the French press lit a campfire, and settled in with a book I had long been wanting to read: Theordore C. Frye’s Ferns of the Northwest, a slim, lovely, old volume too long on the bedside table and waiting for a read. Published in 1934 by the Metropolitan Press in Portland, Oregon, it is written with the  stately cadence of deep observation.

bracken book

The pages are yellowed, the illustrations black and white. And the descriptions of our native ferns delicious. The chapter on bracken fern, one of our Northwest standards, alone was worth getting up early for.

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