Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wild Fidalgo:  The BirdCam Catches Winter Weather

Red-shafted Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

From Wild Fidalgo, the BirdCam catches some avian visitors during a stretch of unseasonal winter weather.  Although we have gotten snow as late as April here, even February snowfall is rare.  The February 23rd storm dropped as much as 14 inches/36 cm in some areas of lowland western Washington.  For a time on Wednesday evening, 30 miles of Interstate 5 was shut down between Arlington and Alger where drivers were overwhelmed by the conditions.  South Fidalgo received about 6 inches/15 cm during the storm.  Temperatures have remained below freezing. 

February is normally rainy and overcast with temperatures in the 40's and 50's F (4° to 13° C).  Occasional sun breaks provide evidence that spring is on the way.  Tomorrow promises to bring back normal temperatures and very welcome rain, under the circumstances.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Another Mystery Plant

I have another unknown plant to submit for help with identification.  This one grows out of the high bank that borders the west shore of Similk Bay.  The habitat is continuous, deep shade under overhanging trees with constant seepage of springs out of the clay bank.  It must also tolerate the splashing of salt water during storms and high tides.  Large, palmate leaves grow more than 18 inches (46 cm) wide on thick stems from a common origin forming a rosette.  Leaves and stems are smooth, almost waxy, hairless and shiny.  I have never seen any flowers.

They grew in great numbers out of the exposed clay low along the beach amid constant seepage.  Recently, I was startled to discover that much of the bank had collapsed.  Very few of these plants remain at the moment.  This little specimen with 6 inch leaves was the only one I could reach for a photo.

Searching through Pojar and the internet have not been productive.  If anyone can identify it, I would appreciate hearing from you.  It may not seem important, but I do like to know what the things are that I see around me.

Meanwhile, I still have not been able to identify another plant submitted previously:

These are slow-growing evergreens that have come up voluntarily in part shade under Douglas Firs in one of the driest parts of my yard.  One bush is now about 7 feet (2 m) tall after more than 10 years.  I have another that is more sprawling and a third in full shade that has remained only about a foot tall for several years.  New growth is reddish, but quickly turns green.  The 3 inch (7.5 cm) leathery leaves do not change color in the winter.  Leaf tops are deep green and shiny, while the undersides are a lighter green.  The leaves have a sweet smell when crushed and deer like to browse on them.  I have never seen blossoms, fruit or seeds of any kind.  I am unsure if this shrub is a native or a nursery plant that escaped a nearby garden.  I have searched the Kalmias, Bays and Laurels but none found match this plant.  Again, any help with an ID would be appreciated.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Take Your Weather Station Mobile

In a previous post, I described some "apps" for the iPhone/iPod Touch useful for nature lovers.  If you have a home weather station and upload data to a Weather Underground account, you can create a nifty, comprehensive weather "app" for your mobile device.

Note that these instructions refer to an iPhone or iPod Touch.  They may also work with an Android, Blackberry or other platform.  The app is nothing more than a web site viewed in your browser.  Give it a try and post a comment here with the results.  I will update this post to include what has been learned.  For simplicity I will just use "iPhone" in the instructions.

UPDATE:  For Android devices see the post "Android Update" (July 20, 2012)

You can create a feed for any Weather Underground station.  To illustrate, I am using my friend WxRanger's station in eastern Washington.  You can substitute the appropriate data for your own PWS:

1.)  Open the internet browser on your iPhone and navigate to the site  For a different mobile device, try the site

2.)  In the search box, type the zip code or city name corresponding to your weather station:  grand coulee wa.  The site will open as shown in the photo above.

3.)  If there are several WU stations in your locale, you will need to find the correct feed for your own station.  Scroll down to the button "View Station's History" and move the slider for "Use PWS Locations" to "Yes."

4.)  Scroll down again to the same button and you will see a drop-down listing all the stations in your area as in the photo on the left.  Choose the correct one for your feed.  To verify the station ID, touch "View Station's History" and the top of the next screen will show the WU station ID.

5.)  Once you have verified the correct station ID, touch the plus sign at the bottom of the screen to save the feed as a favorite.  To create the home screen app icon, touch the button "Add to Home Screen."  Give the app a short name of your choosing.

You have now created an app on your iPhone home screen that opens to the current feed for your personal weather station.

If you have a website listed at your Weather Underground account, you will find a link to it in your app as shown at left.  If you use a Blogger site, be sure you have activated the mobile format option:

Settings »
          Email & Mobile »
                    Show mobile template » Yes

To add the South Fidalgo feed, enter anacortes wa in step 2, and select South Fidalgo Island from the drop-down in step 4.

This app turns your home weather station into a sophisticated mobile weather tool.  You can toggle between "View Station's History" and "Current Conditions" to find radar, NWS warnings, forecasts, station charts and more.  Hey WxRanger, looks like a nice day there in Grand Coulee, chilly and a little breezy, but nice clear skies.  Could be worse.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Heart Lake Close-Ups

Back in December, we visited Whistle Lake in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands.  Recall that these are 2,800 acres of pristine forest, meadows and wetlands located within the city limits of Anacortes, Washington.  Networks of trails and old logging roads provide access to the interiors of the forests.  Heart Lake is another section and again we are joining a hike led by Denise Crowe of Friends of the Forest.

The trail begins at the parking lot in the photo above.  The large stone on the left has been used as a feeding station by squirrels.  Notice the Douglas Fir cone leaves left behind after removing the seeds.  On the right is a Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii) showing evidence of leaf blight.  This has appeared on some of the trees around the area this year, including one in my yard.  They are very sensitive to environmental conditions.  They will most likely survive and new leaves will sprout in late spring.  These are broadleaved evergreens related to Rhododendrons.  They routinely drop last year's leaves every summer.

Our trail meandered through the woods and crisscrossed Ace-of-Hearts Creek several times.  The creek drains Heart Lake, flows through Anacortes neighborhoods and eventually into Fidalgo Bay.  This is a reminder that we are in the Fidalgo Bay watershed.  Whatever enters the water here, or from the urban areas along its course, will end up in the bay, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean.

Siberian Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia sibirica) is just coming up.  They will have tiny white or pink flowers in the spring.  As the stems grow, the leaves form in opposite pairs.  Local Native Americans used them medicinally, including as an oxytocic to facilitate childbirth.  This one is growing at the base of a tree where a little soil has accumulated under the moss.

One of the show-stoppers this day was Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor).  This is a bracket or shelf fungus that likes to grow on dead, decaying tree trunks.  The green colors are caused by algae growing on the surface of the fungus.  It is believed to biodegrade a variety of pollutants.  It also has medicinal value and one of its components is being investigated for use in treating cancer.

Another attractive little plant is Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia), a member of the Orchid family.  Shady, moist areas in the Pacific Northwest are hosts to several orchid species.  Later in the spring, this one will have spires of white to greenish flowers.

A second bracket fungus encountered looked like toasted marshmallows, but we were not tempted to have a taste.  I am not 100% sure of its ID.  The best I could come up with was Red Banded Polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola).  Most of the images of this one, however, had a sharper edge where orange met white.  I would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows for sure what this is.  My mycological knowledge is not up to par.

Stepping back from the plant life a bit reveals an old friend, the Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) together with its epiphytic moss and Licorice Ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza).  Chewing on the fern's rhizomes yields a licorice flavor, hence the name, glycyrrhiza.  Both moss and fern like to grow on shaded, vertical rock faces but love to grow on the trunks of Bigleaf Maples.  This special relationship of moss, fern and tree becomes a mini-ecosystem seen throughout the coastal Northwest.  My blog friend Ivan has joined the Tree Year Project and will be following a Bigleaf Maple down in Oregon this year.  Check out his blog and keep tabs on the project.

Another old friend is the Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) that is really not a fir.  Its scientific name indicates it's not a hemlock either.  Such an important tree deserves a better nomenclature.  This one shows borings probably created by woodpeckers.  Since there is no sap flowing from the holes, the tree has probably not suffered any real damage.  The birds remove insects and larvae from the bark which may be a benefit to the fir.

For many of us, two hours in a Northwest forest have a therapeutic effect.  The sights, sounds, smells and a brisk walk on a chilly morning offer a special, restorative experience.  Here on Fidalgo Island, we are fortunate to have the unique resource provided by the Anacortes Community Forest Lands.  We encountered a bit of wildlife on this day, and I posted about that at Wild Fidalgo.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Winter Bloom

February is when thoughts of gardening start coming to mind more and more.  A walk around the garden this weekend revealed that things are starting to come to life.  Among the native plants, Oregon Grape and Indian Plum are beginning to bloom now.  Red Current is sprouting leaves and won't be far behind.  The tiny flowers of Sarcococca are filling the air with perfume.  Hellebores and Chinese Witch Hazel are also opening their flowers and Irises are coming up.  Japanese Skimmia are still holding the shiny red berries they bore last fall.

Even in the dark and cold of mid-winter, there is one plant that always treats us with flowers, even here in our northern latitude.  The hybrid Mahonia x media 'Charity' is a cross between Chinese and Japanese Mahonias.  These are cousins of our native Oregon Grape (M. aquifolium).  Mine grows well on the shady north side of the house.  Although it can "see the sky," it never gets direct sunlight.  Nevertheless, it always delivers a little sunlight in the middle of winter.  The photo was taken in December.

Rainyside Gardeners offers a list of great plant choices for the Northwest winter garden.  Now is the time to start planning for next year.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Once upon a time... a land far away, food insurance was provided by big, wealthy corporations.  They were members of the Really Big Business guild.  To purchase food at the supermarket, you simply showed your food insurance card to the checker and your food plan took care of the payment.  Well, at least, that was the theory.

The cost of food in this land was fairly low, but the price of food was very high.  It was the most expensive food on earth.  Most people did not understand the difference between the cost of food and the price of food.  The people equated the price of food with its quality.  The details were hidden from the people by a complicated food insurance system.  The Town Crier, whose salary was paid by Really Big Business, made no effort to inform the people of the facts.  Because the price of food was very high, the premiums for food insurance were also very high.

Many employers provided food insurance to their workers.  Because the premiums were so high, this was an expensive burden for them.  It put some companies in a competitive disadvantage.  Small Shopkeepers could not afford it at all.  People who did not get food insurance from their employers had to buy it themselves.  It was very expensive.

There were companies who tried to stop providing food insurance, or force their workers to pay more for it.  Other companies chose to move to the neighboring land where their king payed for food with taxes and the price of food was much lower.  There were Wealthy Lords who claimed "that system was evil" and the food in the neighboring land was bad, yet nobody seemed to be hungry there.  Meanwhile, some workers lost their jobs at companies who moved to the neighboring land.

Now, there were tribes in the land, called the Slackers, Deadbeats, Bumpkins and Yahoos, who believed that they should have the choice not to purchase food insurance.  They proclaimed, "we are self-reliant."  The people thought that "choice" meant either choose to purchase food insurance, or choose to pay for your own food, but that's not how it worked.

There was a rule in the land that anyone who came to the Grocer must be provided food, regardless of ability to pay.  For some Grocers, as many as half of the people had no food insurance and could not pay for their food.  These people got their food at no cost.  Sort of.  There were also people who went without food.  They would become so hungry, eventually their food bill would be huge.

To keep operating, a certain amount of money must flow through the food system.  Because so many could not pay for their food, the Grocer was forced to raise prices drastically.  Now, those people who had insurance and those who paid for their own food, also paid for the food provided to the Slackers, Deadbeats, Bumpkins and Yahoos.  This was called "cost shifting" and was one of the main reasons the price of food was so high.  The cost of food did not change, but the price of food went up.  When food prices go up, insurance premiums follow in a vicious circle.

Food insurance companies, members of the Really Big Business guild, were very wealthy and they wanted to become more wealthy.  One way was to demand big discounts from grocers and grocers had no choice but to accept them.  Another way was to find excuses to deny food payments for their policy holders.  This is a second reason food prices were so high.  After paying premiums for ten years, Mary decided to buy ice cream.  "Not allowed," proclaimed her insurance company, and kicked her off the roles.  The Grocer received no payment.  Mary was marked for life because of a taste for ice cream and was never again allowed to have food insurance.  Since the insurance companies didn't pay for all the food, the Grocer had to raise prices again and shift more of the costs to other payers.

Then, a new King came to the throne in the far-away land.  He understood this was a bad system for providing food and he wanted to fix it.  A single-payer food system would be the most cost-effective, as it was in the neighboring land.  This idea was taken off the table, however, because the King knew the Wealthy Lords would never allow it.  The people liked this idea, but nobody cared what the people thought.

The King proposed a new system with three basic propositions:
  • All the people must have food insurance
  • Food insurance companies must pay for all the food
  • The king will help the people who cannot afford insurance
Once all the food was paid for, the price of food would come down.  There would be no more cost-shifting for food in the land, and everyone would be able to buy food.  What's not to like?

Well, the insurance companies liked the first point, but didn't like the second.  They wanted all the people to buy food insurance, but did not want to pay for all the food.

The Slackers, Deadbeats, Bumpkins and Yahoos didn't like the first point.  "We are self reliant," they shouted.  "The king is taking away our choice."

The Wealthy Lords didn't like any of it.  They were getting a lot of money from the food insurance companies and Really Big Business and wanted things to stay just the way they were.  They really hated the third point.  They wanted more tax cuts instead.

Small Shopkeepers and the Grocers were intrigued by the idea that food prices would come down.  They also liked getting the King's help paying for food insurance, but Really Big Business wanted no part of it.  They were getting big profits out of the current system, and were sticking up for the food insurance companies.  After all, Really Big Business and their profits were all that mattered in this land.

The people who already had food insurance didn't like it because they were told things that were not true:
  • "There will be Starvation Panels deciding who may and may not get food"
  • "If you don't buy food insurance, you must pay a fine and go to jail"
  • "You cannot keep your current food insurance policy"
  • "The King is taking control of your food"
The Town Crier didn't understand any of it and made no effort to learn.  He was not interested in educating and informing the people.  He just wanted to please Really Big Business, his employer.  He repeated all the lies, took delight in watching all the factions fight with each other, and sought to keep everyone battling.  This increased the Town Crier's ratings and made Really Big Business happy.  As usual, the Town Crier was completely useless for the people.

Now that the King's program has been adopted, the Wealthy Lords, the Slackers, Deadbeats, Bumpkins and Yahoos and Really Big Business are all working very hard to get it revoked.  Food insurance companies are straddling the fence.  The Grocer is caught in the middle.  The Town Crier, as expected, is doing nothing at all, except keeping all the parties fighting.  The people in the land are left completely out of the discussion, as it has always been.

Will the people live happily every after?  We'll just have to wait and see what happens in Chapter Two.

Weather Statistics for January, 2011

TemperatureHigh 52.5° FLow 25.0° FMean 41.5° F
Rainfall3.51 inches
WindHigh 40 mphAverage 1.9 mphDom Dir S

South Fidalgo Station Data (See Climate page for complete climatological data)