April 26, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Author Eric Dinerstein will talk about his new book at Town Hall April 29.
The Kingdom of Rarities, new from Island Press, is Dinerstein’s magnum tour of rare species around the world, and he will offer thoughts in his talk about why some species are rare and what we can do to prevent more from sliding into the oblivion of extinction.
Lead scientist and vice president for conservation science at the World Wildlife Fund, Dinerstein actually has local roots, as a Western grad.The talk starts at 7:30 p.m. and costs $5.
April 25, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Sometimes nature can wow you, often at an unexpected moment.
Most outdoors lovers have a story about a surprise display of natural action on a hike, a fishing expedition or a mushroom hunt.
But in the Puget Sound area, with nature surrounding the metropolitan footprint, sometimes that unexpected moment can happen right in your front yard. That’s the way it was for me and my cat, Harley, earlier this month.
To tell the story I need to give you a little front-yard geography. I have a smallish bamboo thicket on the north side of my driveway and my neighbor has a tall hedge in front of his house. There is a constant burble of sparrows going back and forth between the two. It happens so often that I rarely notice the movement anymore.
But in this case I was carrying Harley down my front steps. And being a cat, Harley noticed the sparrows fly over our heads and into the bamboo. In that natural bit of instinct to follow the eyes of another, my gaze followed his. We had yet to notice the predator gliding in just over our heads.
The Peregrine falcon started out as little more than a blur until it slowed itself for the bamboo. I’m sure the sparrows thought they were taking cover. I would have thought the sparrows could have darted behind branches and beyond reach in there, but it didn’t work out that way. The falcon waded into the bamboo with little if any hesitation
It emerged with a male sparrow basketed in its talons and gracefully sailed away. I looked at Harley and it appeared as though his face was reflecting what mine was, near disbelief with what we had just witnessed.
I had long carried an image in my mind of Peregrines diving from the sky to rake some hapless pigeon trying to escape. This display of tearing into the bamboo after prey was out of the context of my knowledge. It was shocking and added a layer of fierceness to my understanding of falcons.
Harley, who fancies himself a bird catcher, seemed more than a little humbled. He was not the only one in the neighborhood in a bit of shock.
For the next half hour, my neighborhood was under a cover of radio silence for all birds. No sparrow chatter, no robins chirping out spring, no flickers hammering on the chimney caps. Even our ubiquitous crows, which are constantly cawing out territorial messages of one type or another, were dead quiet.
Bigger raptors, eagles and red tails, pass by through our neighborhood all the time and the crows are out, instantly full of noise and harassment. But not for the Peregrine. The crows came down off their high perches. Instead they found places under eaves or in large trees right up against the trunk.
Like the samurai of the bird world, Peregrine’s have honed their technique and weapons to an intimidating perfection.
The circle of life has sharp edges, and those sharp edges can carve out amazing scenes, even in your urban front yard.
April 23, 2013 at 7:00 AM
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will protect two desert plants under the Endangered Species Act, the agency announced Monday.
Umtanum desert buckwheat and White Bluffs bladderpod have two things in common. Both have a sunny yellow color bright as the desert environment they inhabit. And both are rare, occupying a narrow band of the bluffs above and on opposite sides of the Columbia River along the Hanford Reach in Eastern Washington.
The decision includes designation of more than 3,000 acres of critical habitat in Benton and Franklin Counties — on land already protected within the Hanford Reach National Monument, the only place where the plants are found.
The buckwheat is a low-growing wood plant that astonishingly can live up to 150 years. It lives only on a weathered basalt outcrop on the very top edge of the Umtanum Ridge in Benton County. Among the biggest threats to it are fire, invasive species and stray cattle.
The bladderpod is the looker of the two, with its pretty yellow bloom. One of the biggest threats to it is landslides created by seepage from agricultural irrigation on the lands above it.
Now that the plants are listed, the service will begin the process of crafting a recovery plan.
April 22, 2013 at 7:00 AM
We’ve waited, and now we get our reward: Wildflowers are just coming into bloom. Need some sun and flowers? Head to the Columbia River Gorge to enjoy the spectacular bloom now underway. I met up with long time native plant activist Rob Cavanaugh of Olympia last week at his camp in the Klickitat, where he has enjoyed the spring bloom every year for some 35 years.
He very often takes his paints along for a little en plein air appreciation. This time, he kept it simple and just showed up with Ceasar, his terrier, and his camping gear. He was planning to stay several weeks, just to enjoy the flowers, and whatever might come with each day. Perhaps the call of a great horned owl, or mid-air ballet by pairs of courting ravens.
April 21, 2013 at 7:40 AM
KCTS 9 will air a special at 7:30 p.m. Monday on the threat of stormwater to the waters of Puget Sound. The special includes underwater footage shot by local diver Laura James.
For more, check out this link.
April 18, 2013 at 11:48 AM
In my last post I challenged people to identify this unusual red-fronted spider, and many readers were familiar with it.
According to Rod Crawford, the curator of arachnids at the Burke Museum, this spider is likely Dysdera crocata. It goes by one of several common names all related to its main source of prey, the woodlouse. If you’re not familiar with woodlice, you probably are by another name, pillbug, sowbug, potato bug, and armadillo bug just to name a few.
The woodlouse spider is relatively new to our area and appears to be moving north from Oregon as our local climate warms. The species is native to Europe and was introduced to North America sometime in the 19th century.
It made its way west to Portland by the 1930s but has been slower to move north. It didn’t cross the river into Vancouver until the 1980s. According to Crawford, the time it took to move north is pretty good evidence that its spread was being limited by climate.
Beyond the wagon-red color, which immediately called the spider to my attention, I noticed its long nasty chelicerae, which is a term I must admit I just learned. Before I would have called them “fangy things.”
Those fangs appear to have given the woodlouse spider a reputation for being venomous that it doesn’t really deserve. They are long and strong to puncture the exoskeleton of its main prey, but apparently the strength of bite is where the nastiness ends as far as humans are concerned. If you want to read more about it, see a clearer picture of Dysdera crocata and read about spider danger myths, Crawford has a good page devoted to it.
Crawford’s whole site on debunking spider myths is a very good source on local spider information.
I’d also like to congratulate Christina Wilsdon, who was the first Times reader to correctly identify our mystery spider. If you have a good photo of some interesting biota from our area, send it our way and it might end up here in Field Notes.
April 18, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Here are some more amazing shots of the red goo phenom on the Elwha River, from Anna Torrance and Heidi Hugunin, fish techs for the National Park Service. They are out on the Elwha all the time, monitoring the river’s response as the dams come down, and have documented their observations extensively.
Including the red goo art made by the river.
And here is another:
Anyone visiting the Elwha river at the former Elwha Dam site and Lake Aldwell has probably scratched their head at this sight: Gloppy, oozy, red gunk on the bottoms of feeder streams to the river and pools along it.
Red staining of the same color also is on river rocks. On roots. On anything that is in the sand and gravel along the banks in some places. What’s causing it?
I invited Andy Ritchie, Elwha Restoration Project Hydrologist of the National Park Service to weigh in with an explanation, and did he ever. Here’s Andy:
April 16, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Something new for your hikes: a wildflower app, designed in consultation with local native plant experts.
The Herbarium at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, authors of Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest and High Country Apps have partnered to produce the new Washington Wildflowers identification app for iOS and Android mobile devices.
With images, species descriptions, range maps, bloom time and more, covering some 850 species of common wildflowers, shrubs and vines, the app covers most of what will catch your eye in Washington and neighboring territory in B.C., Idaho and Oregon.
It’s also a great tool for learning more about plant communities and getting familiar with botanical terms and plant-identification techniques.
Native species are the focus, but introduced species common to the area are also included. The app, once downloaded, doesn’t need an internet connection to run, so it will be useful in the most remote locale.
April 12, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Cindy Beckett was driving along Thursday morning when she and her husband spotted something red on the beach at Discovery Bay. Intrigued, they pulled over to check it out.
“We’re beach combers, so we had to have a look,” said Beckett, who lives in Port Townsend. “We are always looking for treasure. We are still looking.”
But what they found was pretty cool all the same:
While she doesn’t know for sure what it is, Beckett posted a photo of the object on Facebook, wondering if it’s perhaps a piece of debris from the devastating March 11, 2011, Japan tsunami. It claimed nearly 20,000 lives, destroyed countless homes and structures and swept some 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean.
Most of it sank near Japan’s shore, but some has been traveling the Pacific ever since. Only a few confirmed items have been documented in Washington. Who knows, maybe Beckett’s find is yet another. Any ideas? Post a comment and let us know.
April 10, 2013 at 7:00 AM
The Burke’s annual daylong workshop on environmental writing kicks off May 4, at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.
This year’s instructors include Seattle’s own David Montgomery, the rocking geomorphology prof at the University of Washington with three books under his belt, most recently, The Rocks Don’t Lie. Winner of the so-called “genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation, he knows his way around weaving a narrative better than most anybody. Instructors David George Gordon and Brenda Guiberson round out the mix.
Facilitated by David Williams of the Burke, and author most recently of Cairns Messengers in Stone, I’ve attended this workshop in the past, and taught it, too. It’s a day rich with the pleasure of the company of other writers and joy of learning the craft.
Class starts at 9 a.m. and goes to 5 p.m. Lunch is provided with the $100 fee and scholarships are available with a student ID. Ten percent discount for Burke members.
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