Thursday, September 22, 2016

Skywatch Friday:  Autumnal Equinox

Skagit Bay, Washington, September 22, 2016

Looking south, the Skagit Bay sky at the moment of the autumnal equinox, 7:21 a.m. US Pacific Time, 14:21 GMT.  At that moment, the sun is directly over the equator.  The weather forecast for the day:  Mostly sunny, 65° F, 18° C.

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Skywatch Friday:  Meteorological Fall

Skagit Bay on September 2, 2016

September 1 is the first day of "meteorological fall" and our weather has changed right on schedule.  This is the sky over Skagit Bay this evening.  This seasonal reckoning is different from "astronomical fall."  It begins this year with the autumnal equinox on September 22nd.  The tilt of the earth defines it.  The months of September, October and November make up meteorological fall defined by the weather.

Skagit Bay on August 31,2016

This is what the sky looked like three days ago.  That night and the next day, September 1, we would get almost an inch of rain.  Before that, the last time it had rained here was July 9th.  With one of the warmest summers on record, we were experiencing a significant drought.  Gardens and woodlands were suffering.  A statewide outdoor burn ban was in effect.  The drought was finally broken with a convergence zone sitting over us for several hours.  At one point, my weather station measured a rainfall rate of 3.11 inches/hour, 78.99 cm/hour.

Those roll-shaped clouds reveal turbulence and predict possible thunderstorms.  That's exactly what we experienced that night.  Before the rain came, the sky had been mostly cloudless and hazy.  It is much more interesting now.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Kukutali Rambling

Kukutali Preserve

I rambled through the Kukutali Preserve yesterday.  Today I'll ramble a bit about what I saw there.  After non-stop sunshine during most of July, the morning gave us an overcast sky with temperatures around 60° F, 15° C.  Rain was threatened, but mostly to the south.  By my reckoning, this is perfect weather for both hiking and photography.

Kukutali Kitty

As I set off, I was greeted by Kukutali Kitty who gave me a welcoming rub on the ankle.  My ownership had been established.

Black Twinberry
Himalayan Blackberry

Nootka Rose

Wood Rose aka Baldhip Rose

Hiking along the road, the first thing I noticed was all the summer fruiting going on.  Left to right from top to bottom:

Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)
Hamalayan Blackberry (Rubus discolor, R. armeniacus)  Introduced invasive

Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana)
Salal (Gaultheria shallon)

Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
Baldhip Rose (Rosa gymnocarpa)

Feral Apples

It is not uncommon to find feral apple trees around here that have escaped cultivation.

Bull Thistle
Pearly Everlasting
Common Tansy

We are now in the summer wildflower season.  Left to right:

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)  Introduced
Western Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
Common Tansy (Tenacetum vulgare)  Introduced

South Beach and Flagstaff Island

The south beach along Flagstaff Island is off-limits during August and September.  That rules out checking on the resident Oystercatchers right now.  I did hear their high pitched calls, so I know they're still around.

Purple Varnish Clam

The north beach along the Flagstaff tombolo is open during August, but closed in September.  I have been trying to find out the reason for these intermittent closures.

Here I spotted this broken shell of the Purple Varnish Clam (Nuttalia obscurata).  This is an Asian species that was introduced in the early 1990's by the dumping of ballast water into Vancouver harbor.  The clam has quickly spread throughout the Salish Sea.  It has become a favorite food of Dungeness Crab which may be responsible for so many broken shells on local beaches.  I'm guessing the Oystercatchers like them also.  The outside of the shell looks like it has been coated with varnish.

American Glasswort
American Glasswort

Also on the north beach, this odd plant is American Glasswort (Salicornia virginica).  It is a halophyte allowing it to grow in the intertidal zone in salt water.  Also known as Pickleweed and Sea Asparagus, it can be eaten.  It will add a salty flavor to salads and rice or pasta dishes.

Nootka Rose

Bigleaf Maple

Effects of our summer drought were apparent throughout the Preserve.  The last measurable precipitation here occurred on July 9th, and that only amounted to 0.14 inches/3.5 mm.  Some will be surprised to learn that the Pacific Northwest can be the driest section of the country this time of year.  Our native plants and trees have adapted to these conditions.  They look poorly and fall-like now, but will recover when the autumn rains return.  The Nootka Rose in the upper right photo is growing at the west end of Kiket Island.  Exposed to wind and unprotected by shade, it is looking almost dead right now.

While I was crossing the causeway back to the parking lot, I got sprinkled just a little.  It was negligible, however, not nearly enough to do any good.  This is typical in the Olympic Rain Shadow.  By the time I got home, the skies had cleared and the sun had come out.

Kukutli Preserve Staff

As I approached the tombolo causeway on my way back to the parking lot, I encountered some Kukutali Preserve staff.  They were setting survey markers to assess erosion of the tombolo.  Years ago, rip-rap had been placed along the north side.  Tidal action has now washed behind the stones.  Instead of protecting the shoreline, the rip-rap may actually be contributing to its erosion.  Kukutali is not only a culturally important place to the Swinomish people.  As one of the last remaining natural islands in Puget Sound, it is also a site for scientific research.

I came looking for nothing in particular, but ended up finding a lot.  There always seems to be an abundance of interesting things to discover around here.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Skywatch Friday:  Daybreak, Softly

Skagit Bay, Washington

This morning, lifting fog over Skagit Bay painted the sunrise in soft pastels.

Time 5:39 a.m., Temp 53° F, Dew Pt 50° F, Humidity 88%, Barometer 30.16" Steady, Wind Calm

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Pacific Madrona:  Breaking Rules

Pacific Madrona

Deciduous trees sprout new leaves in the spring, then drop them in the fall.  Coniferous trees are evergreen and hold their needles or scales year-around.  Those are the tree rules.  The Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii) breaks those rules.  They are evergreens, deciduous trees that stay in leaf year around.

Pacific Madrona

Actually, Madronas do drop their leaves, but not at the usual time or in the customary way.  Like other deciduous trees, they sprout new leaves in the spring.  Then in midsummer, the one year old leaves turn yellow and drop and that is happening right now.  Rhododendrons, the Heath family cousins of Madronas, do this as well, but they will drop their two year old leaves in the summer.  Although the Madrona looks like a tree, it really behaves more like a large evergreen shrub.

Pacific Madrona

After an unusually spectacular flowering this spring, Madronas are also setting their fruit right now.  As summer progresses into fall, the berries will gradually turn yellow, then a bright orange-red color.  This is the source of one of the tree's nicknames, "strawberry tree."

Pacific Madrona

Another rule the Madrona breaks is with its bark.  It's really more like skin.  Every year, as the tree grows, it sheds its bark revealing a fresh, new layer underneath.  In a few weeks, the new layer will turn its characteristic red color.  In this respect, the Madrona behaves more like a reptile than a tree.  Also like a reptile, the tree is "cold-blooded."  Place your palm against the trunk.  Even on the warmest summer days, the tree will always feel cool to the touch.

Pacific Madrona

Yesterday, I discovered this Madrona seedling coming up in my yard.  Unfortunately, it has sprouted in a gravel pathway.  As a rule, the tree does not transplant easily.  I am going to try and move it to a better location anyway.  Maybe this seedling is still young enough to survive the process.

By the way, my "Miracle Madrona" is still coming along nicely.

Some may notice I use the common name "Madrona."  Others in the Pacific Northwest call it Madrone or Arbutus.  It seems what we call the tree will depend on where we grew up.  In my case, like the Seattle neighborhood, it was called Madrona.  That's the word that sounds right to me.  I have enjoyed the discussions we've had on this blog about its name.  Someone should tell Google to stop responding with "Showing results for Pacific Madrone."  At least Bing uses "Including results for..."

Dr. Arthur Kruckeberg called the Madrona "one of nature's most ornamental works of art."  As we know, great art often breaks the rules.  The Madrona is no exception.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Skywatch Friday:  Uncertain and a Bit Angry

This was the view looking southeast over Skagit Bay, Washington last night.  Thunder and lightning danced around to the south, but left us alone here.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Barking Up the Right Tree

The Pass Lake Forest, 
Deception Pass State Park

There's going to be a quiz, so don't whine that you weren't ready for that when it happens.  ;-)

For me, hiking is only 50% getting outdoors and exercising.  The other half is discovering what's out there, trying to learn something about it, then sharing what I learned through blogging.  This started when I was about 7 years old.  I spent many hours exploring the woods and ponds in the neighborhood where I grew up.  I never lost this fascination for nature.

Identifying the trees in a forest is one of the things I like to do.  The usual ID method is by looking at the leaves or needles.  In a mature forest, however, they may be up so high, they can't be seen well enough to distinguish.  Sometimes, the tree tops are totally hidden in the canopy.  The trunks and their bark might be all that is visible.  This makes it necessary to learn to identify trees using only their bark.

The following six photos show the bark of trees common in this area.  See if you can identify any or all of these trees.  Email me the answers rather than posting them in the comments.  I will reveal the ID's in a future post.  This is meant to be a fun exercise and to help learn how to see the forest for the trees, as they say.

Here are some hints to help ID the trees:
  1. All the trees are native to the Pacific Northwest coastal ecosystem.  This is a strip that runs from southeast Alaska to roughly Cape Mendocino, California.  All of these photos were taken in the Hoypus Point Natural Forest at Deception Pass State Park.
  2. One of the trees doesn't fit with the other five in the group.  There is extra credit for identifying this difference.  (It's just like the S.A.T.'s)
  3. Number 2 and number 3 can be tricky to distinguish.  Number 2 tends to have strips in longer runs and deeper grooves.  Number 3 has a patchier look.
  4. The important characteristic of number 4 is a shingled look to the bark.
  5. All six trees have commercial value in the Pacific Northwest.
  6. One is the Oregon state tree, one is the Washington state tree, one is the Alaska state tree, and one is the British Columbia official tree.
Identify all six trees and you'll be ready for a hike in the woods.  Good luck.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Last Trail:  Goose Rock to Cornet Bay Road

Deception Pass State Park Admin Building

No, I am not giving up hiking.  When I say the "last trail," I am saying with this hike, I have completed every official trail in Deception Pass State Park.  This one opened last fall and doesn't even have a name or appear on the park's trail map (.pdf).  Park staff just refer to it as the Goose Rock-Cornet Bay Road trail.  It branches south from the trail that connects the Park Administration Building with the Goose Rock Perimeter Trail.  For this hike, I parked at the Admin Building and headed down the trail towards Cornet Bay.  Find a map of the trail on page 6 of the October, 2015 issue of The Current (.pdf).

Goose Rock to Cornet Bay Trail

The weather was atypical for July.  I set off under an overcast sky in occasional light drizzle.  The temperature was a comfortable 57° F, 14° C.  The forest would be my umbrella.  I remained dry the entire hike.

The trail begins like most of the others in the park.  It's a closed canopy coniferous forest trail bordered by shrubs, plants and mosses.  This is now a segment of the 1,200 mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail that runs from the Continental Divide in Montana to Washington's Olympic Peninsula coast.  The new trail eliminates the need for hikers to wander through campsites or walk along the highway.

Bob Matchett Memorial Bridge

Puncheon Bog Bridge

As I proceeded, I noticed the canopy starting to open up ahead.  I found myself at the edge of a wetland.  What allowed the formal opening of this trail was the construction of a puncheon-style bog bridge through the wetland by volunteers from SWITMO.  This has also become a primary point of interest on the trail.  Before the bridge, this bog area had been virtually impassable.  The wetland has now become a destination, a reason to hike the trail.

The insert in the upper photo shows the plaque that dedicates the bridge (.pdf) to the memory of Bob Matchett, an outdoorsman and SWITMO volunteer.  He had worked on creating this trail.  When he passed away, the organization chose this bridge as a fitting memorial.

When I started across, I expected the bridge to bounce and slosh in the mud.  It didn't.  It was rock-solid, as stable as any concrete sidewalk I have ever traversed.  I congratulate the guys from SWITMO on this engineering feat in such a difficult place.  Since keeping my feet dry is always a goal, it is greatly appreciated.

Cooley's Hedge-nettle 
with Queen Anne's Lace

Cooley's Hedge-nettle (Stachys cooleyae) and Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) were blooming all around the bridge.  I could also see remnants of spring wetland wildflowers, especially Skunk Cabbage and False Lilly-of-the-Valley.  I will definitely be adding this trail to my spring rhododendron and wildflower treks.  It's a convenient extension to the Goose Rock trail network.

Cornet Bay Road

The trail ends at Cornet Bay Road near the State Park Retreat Center driveway.

From the Admin Building or Quarry Pond Campground to Cornet Bay Road and back is an easy one hour hike.  There is no difficult terrain.  Allow more time if you stop to look at things like I do.

Shady Way, Hoypus Point

North Fork Trail-Shady Way Junction

Earlier this week, I checked off the Shady Way Trail at Hoypus Point.  This was the only trail in the Hoypus network I had not yet explored.  It's a short trail, but you need to cover a lot of ground to get to it.  Altogether, this ended up a three hour hike.  The photo shows the junction to Shady Way (left) from the North Fork Trail.  Hoypus is a fascinating, primitive area of the park for hiking.  I'll be returning there many more times.

One way to describe Deception Pass State Park is "4,000 acres with 50 miles of trails."  Completing these two trails, and thus all the Deception Pass trails, is a milestone for me.  Nevertheless, I know I have only scratched the surface.  I am also learning there are more "unofficial" trails to be discovered.  I am not finished exploring this great state park.  As commemoration, here is a quick list of all the trails I have hiked in the park: