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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

June 30, 2011 at 7:00 AM

No sockeye season … again

The runs of silvery sockeye through the Hiram Chittenden Locks are a bust, at only about 10 percent of a good year’s return.


That’s one lonely sockeye at the fish windows at the Ballard Locks, where sockeye returns are way below what will be required for a sport fishery for the fifth year in a row. Mark Harrison, photo

So far only about 14,000 sockeye have entered the fish ladder at the locks, and only about 35,000 are forecast to make it back home this year, said Mike Schrumm, a fisheries technical assistant for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe who counts fish at the window. It takes a return of 350,000 fish to have a sport season for sockeye on Lake Washington, so barring a miracle, that’s not happening this year.



June 29, 2011 at 8:15 AM

Weird creatures: an Alaskan fur seal found in a cow pasture

It was inauguration day 1993. On the East Coast, Bill Clinton and Al Gore were swearing an oath. On the West Coast a lost marine mammal was barking up a storm.

The 8-month-old northern fur seal was supposed to be out at sea. But it got disoriented in a storm during its journey south from the Pribilof Islands in Alaska. Instead of staying on course 20 miles off Washington’s coast, this tiny pup turned left and washed up in Hoquiam, Grays Harbor.

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Al the fur seal at the Seattle Aquarium. Mark Harrison, photo

It “came ashore and just kept moving until it ended up in this cow field,” said C.J. Casson, life sciences curator at the Seattle Aquarium, which adopted the creature and named it “Little Al.”

I wrote a story this week about bizarre creatures that have shown up unexpectedly in Northwest waters. Check out the story here. But I didn’t have enough space to talk about Al.

While the range of northern fur seals extends from Alaska to Russia and Japan and south to the Channel Islands, they almost never make it to the mainland. Their lives are spent almost entirely at sea, and they come ashore on a few select ocean islands to breed. They aren’t supposed to show up in Puget Sound or the Washington coast.

But, sometimes, they do.



June 28, 2011 at 5:30 AM

Sharks, dolphins, birds and whales: weird visitors to Puget Sound

After researchers last week documented two long-beaked dolphins swimming in waters near Olympia, we decided to check out the unusual creatures that have appeared in recent years in the Northwest. We found documented visits by marlin and mackerel, leopard sharks and Bryde’s whales, and a crazy round beast called an Ocean sunfish. We spoke to a…


Comments | Topics: booby, dolphin, fish

June 27, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Our summer of long, sweet grass

Ahhh long grass. Not the scruffy stuff by Aurora Avenue. No. I’m talking about the pleasure of a meadow of long, sweet grass.

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Long Grass at Discovery Park

Living in the city, it becomes rare to see grass actually grown to the point that it can set up a nice fat seed head. Let alone long ripples in an expanse of tall grass, unleashed by the wind. Unleashed: that’s just the feeling, out of the realm of the clipped, managed, tidy realm of lawn. The birds sure know the difference: song sparrows on a recent evening were calling, and the click and buzz of insects snugged deep in the sheltering grasses was soothing as a lullaby.

In no time, I settled in for a nap, the long grass framing the cloudscape.

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Grass, from the napper’s vantage point. Long grass sings one of life’s best lullabies.

Good as a meadow feels for us, it’s actually important for wildlife. Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society in Portland, a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates, notes the value of long grass for birds, bees and insects.



June 24, 2011 at 3:07 PM

Spiderlings cut loose like tiny popped fireworks

Tinier than poppy seeds, spiderlings just hatched from their egg sac are often seen in a tight, huddled cluster. Spiderlings huddle together just after hatching. Seattle Times photographer Steve Ringman shot this picture this week on the Sammamish Plateau. Just why they huddle up like that isn’t known, said Rod Crawford, spider expert at the…



June 23, 2011 at 4:03 PM

Mule deer vs. cows: Can livestock grazing benefit wildlife?

It has been one of the most controversial questions in southeast Washington: When livestock graze on public land does that ever actually help wildlife? A host of science over the years has made clear that running cattle on sensitive landscapes can damage soils and streams and change the ecology of the land. But some research has…



June 21, 2011 at 6:30 PM

See it now: dragonfly splendor at Magnuson Park

Walking at Magnuson Park today with Seattle’s own Dennis Paulson, the world-renowned dragonfly expert noticed a species he’s not seen at the ponds before: a Western forktail. That brings to 19 the number of species Paulson has counted at the ponds, the best diversity of dragonflies anywhere in Seattle.

To celebrate the first day of summer I invited Paulson for a field foray at the ponds, and he was gracious enough to agree — despite being in the thick of proofing the manuscript for his forthcoming book, the definitive field guide to dragonflies and damselflies of the East, the companion to his field guide published by Princeton University Press in 2009, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West.

What an afternoon: drowsy, sun-dappled, actually warm. Imagine it: outside without a jacket at last. Actually hot, even. And the dragonflies! Creatures of the sun, they require warmth to zip about, nailing tiny bugs on the wing. And out and about they were. Some of the species we saw: the ravishing cardinal meadowhawk, its gleaming red abdomen and red head living up to its name:

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The cardinal meadowhawk lives up to its name.

Dennis Paulson, photo



June 21, 2011 at 12:22 PM

Summer solstice: a day to walk in the beauty of the world

Summer arrived in Seattle today — and blissfully so. At 5:30 this morning the light was golden on the maple outside my window, and the day bright, and forecast to be one of the prettiest so far this year. Longest, prettiest: a fine combo indeed.

By 9:30 a.m. new roses had opened in the back yard in all that warmth. rose with swing.JPG

Sun on summer solstice morning in Seattle, and everything blooms, even us, reveling after a long cold spring.

Fat berries on my breakfast. Fledglings fluttering in the trees. On the drive to work, great cushions of clover beckoned in the green swards of Green Lake Park.

Walking in the Beauty of the World is a good book for today. Do you know it? If not, you should: and it’s the right stance for today. By Joseph Arnett, it is a compilation published by the Washington Native Plant Society in 2004 of his writings as the botanist for the Central Puget Sound Chapter of the society, writing for its monthly newsletter.

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Some 24 articles in all, they are informative celebrations about the native plants in our midst, but also our relationship with nature. “The title for this collection came out of remembering moments when I felt deeply happy and part of the beauty of the world. My own mission is to find a way to reconcile the need to be close to nature with the needs to make a living and be part of my culture. These essays are an interim report on that ongoing experiment.”

Not a bad solstice thought.

Meanwhile, the sun, the star of the solstice after all, started the day off with a bang, with a massive solar flare, pointed directly at Earth. For video and updates of this morning’s solar flare go to this link:



June 20, 2011 at 11:10 AM

Out and about! Fairview crows fledged

Empty nest syndrome is settling in at The Seattle Times, where we are unplugging the crow cam this morning because both crow nestlings have successfully fledged. This morning, one baby was across the street, begging up a storm in a tree. The other nestling was in the nest tree, but far enough from it to be…



June 20, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Local diver captures rare video of octo-mom in Puget Sound

Baby birds are taking wing across the Puget Sound region this month. But under the surface of the sound, female octopuses still have a lot of work to do before their eggs even hatch.

This poignant cycle of reproduction, which ends with the mother’s death, plays out every year — unseen by all but the luckiest divers. Now, one of those divers has documented the labors of one of those eight-armed mothers.

“It’s hard not to get emotional,” said underwater videographer Laurynn Evans, who observed the female over a 10-month period. “This mother gives everything of herself.”

The story began in November 2009, when Evans and a few companions were diving off Alki Beach. Yes, the water was cold — but it always is.



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