Sunday, August 25, 2013


This past week, I posted a photo for Skywatch Friday titled Midsummer.  It was shot on June 25th, 2013.  The photo above is the same scene taken yesterday, August 24th at 07:40 in the morning.  At the time, air temperature in my yard was 58° F/14.4° C, dew point 57.2° F/14° C and relative humidity 97%.  Bands of cool air over the warmer waters of the bay are revealed as strands of fog.  The fog appears to be claiming the islands for itself.  By 09:00, the fog had disappeared, and the overcast cleared. In typical fashion, the day would end up warm and sunny and looking more like the "Midsummer" photo.  Living close to an ocean often means early morning overcast skies, even in the summer.

In this area, autumn begins its arrival in mid-August.  Weeks of warm, dry weather is suddenly interrupted by the first rain system moving in off the Pacific.  As I write this, a band of showers is moving north from Olympia and Tacoma.  I doubt they will reach us here in the north Sound.  These early fronts generally don't amount to much, but even light sprinkles are welcomed by our gardens.  There will still be plenty of nice weather through September.

My Mystery Plant No. 5 has been identified thanks to The Furry Gnome in southern Ontario, Canada and Small City Scenes in Stanwood, Washington agreed.  It is Musk Mallow (Malva moschata).  It is a European native that has become naturalized in North America.  It apparently likes sandy, rocky soil that is always bone dry.  We'll see if it produces more seedlings next year.  By the way, if you like beautiful photography, I recommend following these folks.

I have been gratified by the response to my post about the cutting down of the neighbors' Douglas Fir.  The tree was a hub of wildlife activity, especially for the Bald Eagles which used it as a hunting and resting perch.  I received a number of private emails expressing sorrow and disbelief.  Apparently, I am not the only tree-hugger around here.  I am also not the only one who will be missing it.  One neighbor said they also watched the eagles perching in this tree from up on the hill behind me.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Skywatch Friday: Midsummer

Skagit Bay in Washington State is the northern-most reach of Puget Sound.  The bay is connected to the Strait of Juan de Fuca by Deception Pass.  The photo was shot June 25, 2013.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Avis Puppis

I must apologize.  I realized only last night that my weather station has not posted any measurable wind velocity since July 31st.  Today I checked the anemometer cups and found them jammed.  I went to the Davis Instruments website and found their Sensor Maintenance page.  Here were instructions for removing and cleaning the cups.

Avis puppis turned out to be the problem.  If you need a translation for that, you can find it at Google Translate.

Everything is running smoothly now.  The wind is blowing on South Fidalgo Island as it should.  Again, my apologies to anyone who may have been relying on this data.

Northwest Native Plants: Deer Fern

The Pacific Northwest is fern country.  Our forests are literally carpeted with them.  If you enjoy native plant gardening like I do, take a look at the Deer Fern (Blechnum spicant).

Ferns are associated with shade and damp conditions.  I have a lot of shade, but my glacial soil and Rain Shadow location can be hostile to moisture-loving plants.  When I spotted some Deer Ferns at the Ace Hardware nursery in town, I decided to to try one and see how it fared.

I planted it in a mostly shady spot at the northwest corner of the house.  It gets some mid-afternoon sun and a little watering, but the sandy, rocky soil is always pretty dry under the bark mulch.  Nevertheless, it seems to be thriving here.  I planted it in early spring, and it has since doubled in volume.

It has also sprouted fertile fronds.  The bolder fronds growing in a rosette from the base are sterile, i.e. they produce no spores.  The taller, thinner, lacier fronds growing above the main plant bear the fertile spore-producing leaves (right-click the photo to see the full size image).  Unlike seed plants with flowers, ferns have a two-stage reproductive cycle.  First the spores grow into an intermediate plantlet called a gametophyte or prothallus.  Then, the gametophyte produces egg and sperm cells.  In the presence of moisture, the sperm cells migrate to fertilize the egg cells and grow into the adult fern.  A more detailed discussion of this is here.

I like ferns because they add a beautiful architectural quality to the garden.  Most native varieties are not demanding or fussy plants and require very little care.  Evergreen species might need a little pruning of the dead fronds in the fall if you don't care for the look.  Once established, they are surprisingly drought tolerant.  Mix them in with shrubs like Rhododendrons, Red-flowering Currants, small Vine Maples and Evergreen Huckleberry.  Sword Ferns do very well planted around the bases of mature Douglas Firs, where other plants might struggle.

Because of the success of this trial plant, I intend to add more Deer Ferns to the shade garden this fall. They will join my indigenous Western Sword Ferns and Lady Ferns, and the Wood Ferns already growing in the yard.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Rest In Peace

I am stunned.  My neighbors had this tree cut down.  The big Douglas Fir was a favorite Hunting Perch and resting place used almost daily by Bald Eagles.  It was also a favorite haunt of Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Steller's Jays.  I have posted several photos from this tree on my blogs.  It was not just an asset to the neighborhood.  It was an asset to the entire ecosystem of northern Skagit Bay.  Now it is gone forever.  An empty void in the sky is all that is left.  I simply cannot fathom how something this mindless, crass and ill-conceived could have taken place.  Rest in peace, old friend.

The people are from eastern Washington and don't actually live here.  They probably have no idea what they have done.  For them the house is just a status symbol.  For the rest of us, this is our home.  We live here because we appreciate the things that we have here.  We don't just show up once in a while to party.

The neighbor and I spoke about this tree just the other day.  He mentioned how much they enjoyed seeing the eagles come to the tree.  Obviously, they didn't enjoy it very much.  We talked about having some limbs trimmed to make it more wind tolerant.  There was not a hint that they intended to cut it down.  I think somebody talked them into it, somebody whose business is cutting down trees.

It was a sturdy tree, more than 100 feet/30 meters tall and almost 3 feet/1 meter in diameter at the base.  It stood firmly against several major windstorms in the twenty-five years I have been here.  Because of the direction of prevailing storms, no structure was in jeopardy.  I was never concerned about it damaging the house.  It fit beautifully into the forested hillside landscape.  It did not hinder a view of anything for anyone.

This tree was not mine, but I will miss it profoundly.  At least I have photos.  Please enjoy these memories of a very special tree.  I will start with the most recent photo posted at Wild Fidalgo:

When I posted this photo, I assumed There Are Always Eagles.  But never again in this tree.  I thought she looked a bit worn and speculated there may be eaglets back in the nest.  The clue was the spit-up on her breast.

Last winter I enjoyed a Sunday in the Yard with George.

Christmas, 2012 brought Holiday Eagles to the tree and the two photos above.  From the ground, I did not realize there were two birds.  I discovered that only after downloading the photos to the computer.

Eagles were not the only birds that used this tree.  Chestnut-backed Chickadees found the tree an excellent winter food source.

Featured in Similk Bay Shorebirds, this Northwestern Crow used the tree to broadcast his thoughts to the neighborhood.

The wind made it a Bad Hair Day for George and Martha.  This pair will never be seen in that tree again.

It was an Eagle Afternoon when this fellow came to visit the tree last summer.

And yet Another Eagle would come to visit the tree, also last summer.

At least there is still this Douglas Fir hunting perch on the west side of my yard where the eagles also come to visit.  This tree is mine and as long as I live here, no one will cut it down.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Deception Passage

I posted this photo over at Google+ yesterday and it got quite a response.  It was shot in early May while I was visiting the wild rhododendron grove at Goose Rock.  A few comments from Europe and one from the northeast US remarked that "this is something we never see."  That is a point that had not occurred to me.  Around here this is a sight we can see almost every day, somewhere in the area.  My best guess is that the logs are headed to a paper mill, perhaps in Everett, Washington.

The waterway is Deception Pass and the photo was shot from out on the bridge.  I had to work quickly.  Those tugs and the raft of logs were moving surprisingly fast.  No time for fussing with a camera.

The tugboats are from Dunlap Towing in La Conner, Washington nearby.  The tow boat is the Swinomish which we have seen here before.  The small tender is the Pull & Be Damned.  Apparently, she was named for a local road with the same name near La Conner.  Or the road may have been named after the boat.  It works either way.

The grassy headlands in the background are Lighthouse Point in Deception Pass Start Park.  You can hike there through beautiful old growth forest from Bowman Bay.  It is one of the best spots to photograph the bridge.

This is another photo shot a few days earlier from the same spot.  The bridge is seen as a shadow cast on the waterway by the early morning sun.  Deception Pass is famous for the turbulence created by tidal flows through the narrow waterway.  Whirlpools and standing waves may be seen during swift flows.  Smaller boats must sometimes wait for the tides to slacken before venturing through the pass.