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Showing posts from May, 2011

Are the Madrona Trees Dying?

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Last August I posted an article about a very special tree that grows in the Pacific Northwest.  I noted that it doesn't follow any of the tree rules.  This is the Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii), as we call them around here.  In California they say Madrone and in Canada, Arbutus.  As I have pointed out previously, I practice a kind of "serendipity gardening."  Along with the plants I purchase in nurseries, I often let things grow that spring up on their own.  I am fortunate to have had several Madronas come up in my yard.  My driveway is lined with them, and this has become a very special feature.  They cannot be transplanted and the Sunset Western Garden Book notes, "if you live in Madrone country and have a tree in your garden, treasure it."

In a local news feed that I follow, I was startled to read that hundreds of Madronas are dying in the nearby San Juan Islands.  The problem has been attributed to a fungal disease that has thought to have gained a f…

Mystery Plant:  New Clues

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When interesting things come up in the garden, I tend to let them grow to see what they will become.  I guess it's a symptom of my general curiosity.  Last summer I posted photos of some plants that came up wild for help in identification.  I hoped that perhaps someone knew what they were.  One was identified (Purple Toadflax - thanks Malcolm), but the one at the bottom of the page in that post is still a mystery.  At the time, I noted that these shrubs had never bloomed or bore fruit.  Now I can report that two of the plants, both about ten years old, are now bearing flowers for the first time.  In fact, the larger of the two will be absolutely loaded with blossoms.  I will post more photos as the flowers continue to open.


I currently have three of these bushy, evergreen shrubs and one is now about 8 feet/2.5 m tall.  The leaves are ovate, or is it lanceolate, 3 to 3.5 inches/7.5-9 cm long.  New growth is reddish, but gradually turns a deep, shiny green.  The leaves do not turn …

Return to Wiley Slough

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Last January I discovered Wiley Slough on Fir Island, Washington.  Even in the middle of winter, I was completely blown away by what I found.  The Skagit is one of western Washington's major rivers, and Fir Island is the Skagit River delta.  It is triangular shaped, formed by the north and south forks of the river and the Skagit Bay shoreline.  Historically, the delta would be inundated by river flooding and tides, but a system of dikes now encircle the island.  These protect island homes and farmlands.

As the river flows towards Puget Sound, it divides into a myriad of channels, sloughs, ponds, marshes and bogs.  This is a natural process that controls the flow and filters sediments and pollutants from the water before it enters the sea.  It is also the site of numerous, highly productive plant and wildlife communities.

The wetlands of the Skagit State Wildlife Recreation Area are accessible by foot using the Spur Dike Trail.  We will start at the Washington Fish and Wildlife Hea…

Time Lapse 10

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The blossom trusses of Rhododendron 'Kristin' are now fully opened.  The BirdCam caught this photo without wildlife which I thought would be fitting to complete the series.  Over the next couple of weeks, the blossoms will fade and drop leaving seed heads.  Gardeners routinely remove these seed heads to encourage new growth.  The process is referred to as "dead-heading." Another R. yakushimanum hybrid, Rhododendron 'Aloha,'  is beginning to open in the background.  There are currently eleven Yak rhodies in this section of the garden, with room left for a few more.

Time Lapse 9

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The sun has finally emerged from behind the overcast to brighten the opening blossoms of Rhododendron 'Kristin.'  Above, a House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) and an American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) are in their best breeding colors.  Later in the day when the light has changed, a Townsend's Chipmunk (Tamias townsendii) strikes an uncharacteristically wary pose.  I wonder if they hear noises from the BirdCam.

Time Lapse 8

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A Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) makes his BirdCam debut while the Rhododendron 'Kristin' blossoms continue to open.  According to iBird, these birds prefer open deciduous woodlands near water, with a mixture of trees and shrubs.  This aptly describes the small wetland habitat across the road.  They are fond of safflower seed which is currently stocked at the BirdCam station.  They are not year-around residents on South Fidalgo, but a few come every spring and summer.  This is a male in breeding condition.  Above, the BirdCam also caught something flying off in the upper left corner.  Below, he has a tortoiseshell appearance from the back.

Time Lapse 7

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Though slightly rain-bedraggled, the Rhododendron 'Kristin' blossoms continue to open.  Today's photos offer studies in style.  Above, the muted tones of House Sparrow females (Passer domesticus) offer a contrast to the bright, flashy American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) below.  House Sparrows are also known as English Sparrows.  They were introduced from England, becoming one of two "Old World" sparrows from the family Passeridae in North America.  Native sparrows all belong to the family Emberizidae.

Time Lapse 6

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Today I have two photos of the blossoming Rhododendron 'Kristin."  Above, a Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) is almost lost in the floral display.  Below one of the local Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus a.k.a. Spinus pinus) returns to enjoy some safflower seed.

Time Lapse 5

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Blogger hiccups and my work schedule notwithstanding, the flower trusses of Rhododendron 'Kristin' are beginning to take shape.  Meet Townsend's Chipmunk (Tamias townsendii a.k.a. Neotamias townsendii) who has become a daily habituĂ© at the BirdCam station.  He's a bold little fellow allowing me to get very close.  He has apparently decided I am not a threat.  The feeling is mutual.

Time Lapse 4

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The individual blossoms of Rhododendron 'Kristin' are now visible.  In Rhododendrons, they form in clusters called trusses at the ends of the stems.  A Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) attired in drab business pinstripes is almost rendered invisible by the developing display.

Time Lapse 3

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The blossoms of Rhododendron 'Kristin' continue to open while a camera-shy trio of American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) look on.  Goldfinches are just beginning to arrive this week.  They are among the latest nesting birds, starting in late June or early July according to iBird.

Wild Fidalgo:  American Robin

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My neighbor Dan Codd has provided some terrific photos chronicling a pair of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) raising a brood of young in his yard.  This is an amazing album which can be seen in total over at Wild Fidalgo.



Photos:  Dan Codd


Time Lapse 2

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The blossoms of Rhododendron 'Kristin' continue to open while Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus) enjoy some thistle seed.  The genus name Carduelis comes from Carduus and refers to the birds' taste for thistle seed.

Sea Blush

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My blog friend Whidbey Woman posted some photos the other day taken at Cranberry Lake in Deception Pass State Park, Washington.  One, in particular, caught my eye.  Some of the West Beach Sand Dunes next to the lake appeared to have turned pink and I had to check this out myself.  I was amazed by what I found.


The flowers responsible for this spring display are aptly called Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta).  Like most of the plants in the Sand Dunes, it is low growing, only about 4 inches/10 cm tall.  According to Pojar, it is common near the ocean from the Strait of Georgia south to California.  It is an annual, growing anew from seed every year.


While Cranberry Lake and West Beach are technically not "near the ocean," the conditions here are similar to oceanfront.  It was quite windy during my visit and the wind had kicked up a surf.  A good 30 mph/25 kt sustained wind was blowing off the strait, a reminder of the weather conditions that created the sand dunes.  Cranberry …