December 31, 2012 at 7:00 AM
What better way to work off the holiday pounds and kick off those New Year’s resolutions than with a nice bracing winter hike?
Washington’s lowland forests provide excellent winter hiking opportunities.
Photo by Steve Ringman, staff photographer, The Seattle Times
There are plenty of snow-free options suitable for families, including the dog.
Washington State Parks is launching a year-long celebration of its centennial year with events all over the state, beginning with hikes on Jan. 1, in 13 parks participating in the program.
Options for the First Day Hikes, featuring hot chocolate for hikers, include everything from strolls through Pacific Northwest old growth forests to snowshoe walks in Eastern Washington. You will need a Discover Pass to park.
For a complete list of participating parks and descriptions of the hikes, see the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission web site.
December 28, 2012 at 7:00 AM
It’s bird count time again, as birders both novice and expert head out all over Seattle to take stock of the birds in our midst.
Begun in 1900, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count is believed to be the longest-running citizen science projects in the world. The notes taken help scientists understand how bird populations are faring and changing over time, not only here, but around the country.
The tradition is believed to have started as an alternative to hunting birds on Christmas day, said Toby Ross, science manager at Seattle Audubon.
Alan Berner, staff photographer for The Seattle Times,
took those photo of local birders at work in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count in 2011
In Seattle, the count takes place every year on the last Saturday in December. Birders divide up in teams to tackle count circles measuring 15 miles apart. Beginning in the darkness before dawn, with some birders counting owls, the count continues until nightfall, with birders noting “everything with a pulse and feathers,” as their saying at Audubon goes.
The day concludes with a potluck and fellowship at the Wedgewood Presbyterian Church at 8008 35th Ave NE, where birders turn in their data.
The data has helped spotlight local trends, such as the advent of Anna’s hummingbirds taking up year round residence in the city. It used to be the animals were only migratory, arriving in the spring, but by putting out feeders, people have changed that pattern. Anna’s are now year round residents in Seattle.
Last year’s count noted 129 species on count day, the second lowest total in the past 15 years. Notable among the missing were Bonaparte’s gulls, slate-colored juncos, Brewer’s blackbirds, and Western screech owls. However notable finds included two western tanangers in two locations.
Record high counts for the modern period (1973-present) were logged for snow geese, Pacific loons, peregrine falcons, pileated woodpeckers, common ravens, song sparrows and American goldfinches.
Another notable was the log of 74 bald eagles. Up until 1990, double-digit eagle numbers were never recorded.
This year, 36 Christmas Bird Counts will take place all over the state, from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.
For more information, see Audubon’s CBC website
December 26, 2012 at 7:00 AM
Jeff Bowman had never heard of frost flowers when he decided to study them to earn his PhD in oceanography at the University of Washington. But, as it turned out, they are a ubiquitous, spectacular marvel at both poles, forming whenever the conditions are just right, with superchilled air hitting newly formed sea ice. The result is salt crystals in the seawater forming structures in the frozen sea water, atop the sea ice: frost flowers. Acres and acres of them.
Photo by Matthias Wietz
Jeff Bowman was on an icebreaker in 2009 near the North Pole when his research team encountered miles and miles of new ice, covered with these frost flowers, each about one to two inches tall. The ice appears black to the eye, enhancing the visual effect. While it looks like rippled open water, the newly-formed sea ice is about three inches thick.
The team disembarked to collect samples of some of the flowers, which, it turned out, are teeming with bacteria. They also had surprising chemical properties, including very high levels of mercury, and formaldehyde, Bowman said.
His research team is still trying to understand just what these frost flowers are up to, chemically and biologically. But one thing that seems certain is whatever these flowers are, there are going to be many more of them as the area of perennial sea ice in the arctic shrinks. That means new sea ice forming on open water, blooming with frost flowers.
For more on Bowman’s research, here is a link to his blog.
December 21, 2012 at 7:00 AM
Winter storms and a big slug of new sediment from behind the Glines Canyon dam are resulting in buildup of something not seen at the mouth of the Elwha in a century: sandbars deep enough to sink a foot into.
Here is one of his photos, dramatic to anyone who knows the usually rocky, ankle-turning cobble of the beach at the river mouth.
Soft sand is piling up at the mouth of the Elwha River. Photo by Ian Miller
Here are some maps Miller made for Field Notes, to put the deposition in context:
Look how large the depositions of sand are at the river mouth, mapped by Ian Miller. Note too, how the shapes of the deposition reflect the prevailing west to east current of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Graphic by Ian Miller
Here’s another look, with the depositions drawn on the landscape. A good way to visualize just how much sand has been pumped out of the Elwha.
The large amount of sand coursing out of the Elwha reverses a 100 year trend of erosion … at least temporarily. The long-term effects are yet to be seen.
December 19, 2012 at 11:11 AM
The Nature Conservancy of Washington has just completed a tidal marsh restoration that reconnects 4,000 acres of tidelands at the northern end of Port Susan Bay in Snohomish County to Puget Sound.
The project included taking out 1.3 miles of a sea dike built in the 1950s to create more farmland. The conservancy built almost a mile of new dike roughly following the original shore to protect farmland.
But restoring the reach of salt water to the land will revive a tidal estuary environment that once supported shorebirds, salmon and other species. Two projects comprising the restoration cost more than $4 million, funded by a suite of partners, including many state and federal agencies and the Tulalip Tribes.
Port Susan Bay has become and even more important habitat for seabirds and salmon, with the completion of a restoration that reconnects tidal wetlands in the area to Puget Sound.
Photo by Mark Harrison, Seattle Times Staff photographer
The area is a longtime favorite for bird watchers. This photo from the Nature Conservancy of Washington shows why:
Photo by Marlin Greene/OneEarthImages.com
Snow geese flock at The Nature Conservancy’s Port Susan Bay Preserve after completion of a restoration project that removed 1.5 miles of sea dike and opened a diked area to tidal processes.
December 7, 2012 at 5:13 PM
After eight months of deliberation, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation decided earlier this month to open a hunt on wolves living within the boundaries of its reservation, John Sirois, chairman of the Colville Business Council said in a telephone interview Friday.
The tribe made the decision after surveying its membership, and discerning through the work of its biologists that the wolves on its reservation are denting the local population of deer and elk, which tribal members hunt for subsistence. The tribe elected to allow a wolf hunt in order protect the tribe’s food supply, Sirois said.
“Wolves are starting to have an impact,” Sirois said. “We decided it was much better to manage the population so we can keep the numbers down a little bit. We would rather do that than what the state Fish and Wildlife did and take a whole pack. We didn’t want a helicopter coming through.”
Sirois was referring to the decision by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in September to kill an entire pack of wolves in the northeastern part of the state, called the Wedge pack, after a rancher complained of cattle killed by the pack.
One of the members of Wedge Pack. All of the wolves in the pack were killed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Photo, courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Killing the seven members of the pack with a marksman shooting from a helicopter was highly controversial. Some, including UW wildlife biologist John Marzluff, say the state didn’t need to kill the Wedge pack. See his op ed in the Seattle Times.
The tribe’s decision to allow a hunt has also been hot.
“Oh man, it is blowing up,” Sirios said. “I have a lot of hateful messages from people, it’s ‘Why are you killing your brother.’ The decision wasn’t made easily, there was a lot of debate. But in terms of feeding our people, this is one we had to make.”
Sirois said he doubts many wolves will be taken. “It is not as easy as people think. We have authorized three areas, with threes wolves for each one. If they get one per zone, they will be lucky.”
No wolves have been taken yet, Sirois said.
The Colville’s reservation is a sprawling expanse of largely open country, in northcentral Washington. The tribe successfully trapped and collared several wolves last summer, Sirois said, part of its work to monitor the wolves within the tribe’s borders. At least two packs are believed to roam the rez. Collared animals may not be legally hunted.
Hunting with tribal permits on the Colville reservation is only open to tribal members.
Wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act west of SR 97, but east of it, on the tribe’s reservation, they are not. The tribe also has authority to set its own hunting regulations for tribal members on its lands. The season runs until the end of February.
Sirois said the wolf is an important animal to the tribe culturally. “It is definitely one of the animals we hold sacred, and that is one of the major internal discussions we had. But we also weighed the fact that a lot of people are utilizing the deer and elk as subsistence foods. In order to have some balance, it was something we had to do.”
December 5, 2012 at 5:06 PM
Voices of the Elwha opens Saturday, December 8 at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Pioneer Square, at 319 2nd Ave. S.
Designed and put together by six students in the museology graduate program at the University of Washington, the exhibit, called Voices of the Elwha have assembled a variety of perspectives to tell the story of the transformation underway in the Elwha during the largest dam removal project ever.
Two coho salmon upriver from the former Elwha Dam, removed in March, 2012
Photo courtesy of National Park Service
Thomas Aldwell, the developer of Elwha Dam,built without fish passage in 1910, the salmon, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the restoration project are all featured in the exhibit.
The exhibit runs through the end of April. For more information, call 206-220-4240.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. except for closures on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is free.
To learn more about the restoration, see our special report in the Seattle Times.
December 5, 2012 at 1:07 PM
Last week I reported that the region is enjoying a visit by snowy owls, in an echo of last year’s spectacular irruption.
One of those owls was spotted ripping up a seagull on Capitol Hill, causing quite the sensation with photographers.
Some quick work by Don Reiff of Seattle working with a serious telephoto garnered some amazing shots of the snowy feasting on a seagull Nov. 11.
A female snowy owl feasts on a seagull on Capitol Hill
Dan Reiff took this photo and reports the owl snacked on the carcass every 45 minutes or so, and slept on it to protect it.
But the owl didn’t look right, it was unable to fly. The Sarvey Wildlife Care Center in Arlington collected the bird November 13, and checked it for injuries, said Suzanne West, executive director for the non-profit. The bird didn’t have any obvious injuries, but spent several days being pampered at the center, feasting on rats and other delicacies.
The bird has recovered, and will be released back to the wild this Saturday at Volunteer Park. in Seattle, as close to where the owl was captured as possible.
The public is invited to watch the release, which will be at 11 a.m., West said.
West said just look for the center’s ambulance, which will be up at the entrance at 15th Avenue East. In addition to watching the owl fly off, an education specialist from the center will be on hand to answer questions about the owl.
Here’s another good place to learn more about them: BirdNote.
Meanwhile, the snowies are continuing to thrill photographers.
This photo, from Paul Hollis, shows all the beauty of a snowy on the wing:.
Paul Hollis took this amazing photo at Point Roberts in Whatcom County
Meanwhile, nature photographer extraordinaire Paul Bannick reminds us that the owls will let you know if you are getting too close. Any change in behavior — even a change in how widely they open their eyes — is a sign you are getting too close and should back off. Three is no set distance; it’s up to the owl.
Also, he corrects me that the birds are not here fleeing snow, they are here for food. They may seek out areas without snow cover, but will also come to places with snow — if there is food to be had.
Here’s one of his photos…a personal favorite of mine. Doesn’t it look like these two iconic birds have a lot to say to each other?
Snowy Owl and Raven. Photo by Paul Bannick.
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