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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

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May 17, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Red wolf pups born at Tacoma zoo will give the public a glimpse of one of the world’s rarest mammals

For nearly four decades, Washington has been the hub of a breeding program for endangered red wolves. But the public has rarely had a chance to oooh and aaah over the offpsring — until now. One of the new pups gets a his first physical Wednesday A litter of eight pups, born this week…


Comments | Topics: red wolf; pups; Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium; Northwest Trek; Red Wolf Recovery Program; pups borngoramcqupoi

July 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Expedition brings other-worldly sea creatures into focus


Basket star with anemone on top of a boulder off Cape Arago, Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Oceana.) See complete pop-up photo gallery.

Off the coast of San Juan Island, greenlings doze on ledges 400 feet down. Sculpins snuggle into reefs scattered with scallops. Crabs camouflaged with feathery hydroids creep past crimson sea cucumbers.

It’s a world invisible to us, at depths divers seldom venture.

But a series of expeditions mounted this summer by the environmental group Oceana is bringing some of these scenes into focus for what may be the first time.

“No one has ever seen what the sea floor looks like in some of these areas,” said project leader Geoff Shester.

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Working on the cheap, the team outfitted small ROVs (remotely-operated vehicles) with the type of video cameras skiers strap to their helmets. Operators guided the craft with joysticks and oohed and aahed as images flashed across their shipboard monitors.

“Most people think of colorful coral reefs in the tropics, but we have just as spectacular a sea floor, and even more diverse, right off the coast of Washington,” Shester said. “We would go from eel grass beds to sandy bottoms with sharks cruising around to these amazing, rocky cliff walls — all within a few hundred feet of each other.”



July 13, 2011 at 9:45 AM

Join the hive: The Great Bee Count is Saturday

More than 2,000 Washingtonians are part of a collective that will have the country buzzing on Saturday.

It’s the Great Bee Count, when insect-lovers coast-to-coast will take to their backyards to count the imperiled pollinators.

The brainchild of San Francisco State University biologist Gretchen LeBuhn, the project is now in its fourth year. LeBuhn’s goal was to enlist a citizen army in efforts to monitor populations of bees, which have declined precipitously in some parts of the country in recent years. About 100,000 people have signed up.

Originally, LeBuhn asked folks to plant sunflowers in their yards and track how many bees visited during two 15-minute periods per month. That’s why the effort’s formal name is The Great Sunflower Project.

Thumbnail image for Sunflower bees_Ginny Stibolt_jpg.JPG

Photo by Ginny Stibolt



July 5, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Barnacle-nibbling bears: New Salish Sea checklist links land & sea

This photo of a brown bear cub snacking on barnacles illustrates some of the surprising links between land and sea uncovered during a recent survey by scientists from the SeaDoc Society.


photo courtesy of Jim Braswell

The work yielded a new checklist of all the birds and mammals that depend on the Salish Sea – the all-encompassing name for the inland waters of Puget Sound, the Northwest Straits and the Georgia Basin. (Crosscut published a history of the name and its significance last week.)

“If you want to restore an ecosystem, it’s really important to know what is there, or what has been there historically,” said Joe Gaydos, SeaDoc’s Orcas Island-based regional director.

Gaydos teamed up with Scott Pearson from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to compile the list, which includes 172 bird species and 37 types of mammals.



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.



June 16, 2011 at 11:47 AM

Minus tide alert: beach volunteers standing by

Stroll our urban beaches during minus tides over the next few days and you could find answers to your questions about sea stars, moon snails and the other fantastic creatures that inhabit a world normally hidden from view.


Last year’s May minus tide at Carkeek Park

photo by Alan Berner

Volunteer naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium will be on duty Thursday through Sunday, when Puget Sound will pull back the veil. And fortunately for us, the lowest tides will occur mid-day.

“We have this nice cycle where the low tides are during the day in the spring and summer, then very low at night in the winter,” said Janice Mathisen, coordinator for the Beach Naturalists program. Minus tides are simply lower-than-average tides.

Volunteers will be at Richmond Beach, Carkeek Park, Golden Gardens, South Alki, Lincoln Park, Seahurst and Des Moines Beach Park during various hours, depending on each day’s tides. Here’s a searchable tide table.

Volunteers also will be at Olympic Sculpture Park, Redondo Beach and Tillicum Village on Saturday only.

The program has a bumper crop of naturalists this year, with more than 200 signed up for a spring or summer session, Mathisen said.

Of course, you don’t need a guide to just wander and wonder.

“It’s kind of magical,” she said. “One of my favorite things to do is to stop at a particularly rich habitat, like the edge of an eel grass bed, and just watch.”



June 13, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Now despised, dandelions once were revered

Seattle Times photographer Steve Ringman snapped this portrait of a plant that’s instantly recognizable to everyone.


Dandelions inspire strong emotions — mostly negative in the modern world.

But until the rise of the lawn in the early 1900s, the plants were so valued that prize specimens were exhibited at county fairs. Gardeners would weed out grass to make room for dandelions.

I’ve always admired the dandelion’s tenacity. In late summer, when my lawn turns a crispy brown, only the dandelions thrive. What makes them so hardy?

I found the answers in this online presentation by Anita Sanchez, an environmental educator in New York state and author of “The Teeth of the Lion: The Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion.”



June 3, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Chilly spring confounds bumblebees

Fat bumblebees have been buzzing my backyard despite the drizzly cold, which made me wonder: Has our unseasonable weather had any effect on these “warm-blooded” insects?

The answer is yes, according to University of Washington biologist Sean O’Donnell, who has studied local bumblebee colonies and keeps an eye on what they’re up to.

This spring, O’Donnell is seeing a weird juxtaposition: Newly emerged queens foraging alongside mature workers from colonies that got an earlier start.

“There appears to be a very, very long period when queens are emerging from their hibernation sites and looking for new nests,” O’Donnell said.

Usually by now, most queens have long awakened from their winter slumber inside a rotting log or under an eve. Most have already scouted out an abandoned mouse burrow or other ground cavity and laid eggs that have hatched into worker bees. But this year, some queens are still rubbing the sleep out of their multifaceted eyes.

These tardy queens are the biggest, fattest bumblebees you’re likely to spot now, hovering above the ground like miniature helicopters in search of a nest site. The smaller bumblebees visiting flowers now are most likely the first batch of workers hatched from new nests.


Bumblebees set up housekeeping in a chickadee nest in Bonney Lake (photo by Vicki Biltz)