June 30, 2011 at 7:00 AM
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
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.
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
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 woman who helped rescue a tropical brown booby that leapt onto a crab boat along the Washington coast. And then there are the tales great white sharks.
Let us know in the comments on this blog post or in the story comments what unusual creatures you or your friends and family have encountered during your travels in the Pacific Northwest.
June 27, 2011 at 7:00 AM
Ahhh long grass. Not the scruffy stuff by Aurora Avenue. No. I’m talking about the pleasure of a meadow of long, sweet grass.
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.
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
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 Burke Museum. To me, it looks like they are chilly and want somebody to throw on a down quilt.
When they scatter, that, Crawford notes, is not to disperse to new habitat, but to defend themselves from some perceived threat. They may, or may not regroup, so to speak, after the scare has passed.
Spiderlings disperse if they feel a threat at hand.
Steve Ringman photo
Watching them, Ringman said the spiderlings looked like the tracery of popped fireworks — an image I can see perfectly in my mind, because the pace of the explosion of firework sparks is just the same as the scatter of the spiderlings … poof!
When I asked Crawford if they were ballooning to a new place, he thought not. To him, this species looks like a European cross spider, an orb weaver, an invasive species that is virtually the only orb weaver found on vegetation in urban and suburban yards in our area.
Spiderlings do often balloon, but “this species is not a very big-time ballooner,” Crawford wrote in an email to me. “It disperses more often by crawling and by being transported by humans planting nursery stock instead of using the perfectly good plants Mother Nature put on their property. Some other orb weavers balloon much more often than this one. Microspiders, wolf spiders, etc. balloon most of the time. At any rate, ballooning is a very efficient (though very risky) form of dispersal, something all organisms need to do if they are not to be confined to the one spot on earth where they first evolved.”
The time of year of dispersal by ballooning varies by species, as does the number of egg sacs and eggs. Araneus diadematus (the cross orb weaver) seldom makes more than one egg sac, usually in the fall. The eggs hatch before winter, but the spiderlings remain inside the egg sac usually until about May 1, “but there have been great delays this year thanks to our miserable spring,” Crawford notes.
To learn more about spiders, see Crawford’s Spider Myth Website .
For a beautiful account of ballooning spiders, read this account, The Aeronautic Flight of Spiders, written in 1877 Proceedings of the Academy of the Natural Sciences of Philodelphia:
June 23, 2011 at 4:03 PM
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 suggested that livestock chomping away poor old grasses may in some cases improve the quality of food that remains for creatures like deer or elk.
Into this debate in 2005, stepped Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington Cattlemen’s Association. With Gregoire eager to help ranchers, the state agreed to set up a “pilot grazing program” in the Blue Mountains in Asotin County. The program let ranchers graze on important wildlife lands in part to see if livestock could enhance the area’s “ecological integrity.”
The state spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and environmentalists sued, fearing damage to native plants and streams. A Superior Court judge ruled the state had not established a reason to think grazing would help wildlife; the state’s own biologists were sharply critical of the program.
Along the way, researchers at Washington State University were asked to look at a few key questions. One of those questions: Would grazing cattle in fragile shrub-steppe landscapes reduce old grasses and promote the growth of younger, more nutritious forage for mule deer?
The answer, released this week: It’s complicated.
Lisa Shipley, a wildlife ecologist at WSU and one of her graduate students, let cattle graze on several southeast Washington plots. Then they led tame mule deer to those plots to eat. The deer also browsed in plots where not cattle had grazed at all.
They learned that in areas where cows had grazed, deer actually ate diets marginally higher in protein. But they managed to consume less overall energy.
In other words, cattle had only a modest influence on the nutritional quality of vegetation eaten by deer. But the cows also reduced the area’s overall nutritional carrying capacity for wildlife.
“You might have expected it to be all really bad or all really good,” Shipley said in an interview. But “what our science says is it’s a tradeoff.”
Shipley was quick to point out there’s a limit to grand conclusions that can be drawn from this study. The results are specific to bluebunch wheatgrass landscapes like those found in Asotin County. It’s also not clear what the results would be over time.
But WSU, in its press release, described the study’s conclusions this way: “These results do not support the idea that spring cattle grazing will produce more nutritious forage for mule deer on these grasslands.”
Meanwhile, other larger questions still remain unanswered. WSU scientists also are studying cattle’s impact on soils and vegetation. Those results aren’t expected until 2012.
June 21, 2011 at 6:30 PM
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:
The cardinal meadowhawk lives up to its name.
Dennis Paulson, photo
June 21, 2011 at 12:22 PM
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.
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.
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
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 out of view of the cam. Both were lively, hopping, squawking and raising a ruckus.
They will still come back to the nest to visit, but it’s no longer their hang out.
One of the Fairview Crows Monday morning, visible in the photo on the upper right. Both crows have fledged and only visit the nest now.
Lynda Mapes photo
One of the babies was sleeping earlier Monday morning but on a nearby branch — not the nest — its beak tucked in one wing.
It woke up abruptly when a parent arrived, and opened wide for a nice big meal pushed down its beak.
Both parents were hard at work, with one parent feeding while the other was on security duty. A black shape sliced past my ear as I stood below the nest on the sidewalk. So fast and silent in its approach, I didn’t see the crow coming. Then the whu… whu.. WHU of its wing beats thrummed in my ear and it zoomed past my head.
I took the hint.
Right on time, the nestlings fledged in about three weeks. They’ll hang around with their parents for quite a while yet, begging for food, making a racket and generally acting like teenagers, big enough to look like they should be on their own, but not really ready.
Adieu, Fairview crows. May the french fries at Dick’s just up the hill strike your fancy. And, for the record, my bet that Monday was the The Big Day was on the money.
June 20, 2011 at 7:00 AM
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.
Selected Northwest animal webcams
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