Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pacific Rhododendrons Today

North Beach Trail, Deception Pass State Park

I was back in Deception Pass State Park this morning to check on the wild Pacific Rhododendrons.  As usual, the journey begins on the North Beach Trail.  Once again, I was joined by Jerry who also came on the hike last Friday.  Jerry is from Texas but he lives here now.  He has become fascinated with our Pacific Northwest nature scene and how different it is from what he is used to.  He is like a sponge learning everything he can about this part of the world,

Discovery Trail, Deception Pass State Park

We left the North Beach Trail to head up the Discovery Trail.  This archway under Highway 20 serves as a gateway to the rhododendron grove.  Even without the rhododendrons, this is one of the prettiest hikes in Deception Pass State Park.  Visitors will pass under some enormous Douglas Firs in this old-growth forest.

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

We spotted many more blooms beginning to open on this visit.  As the buds begin to open, a flash of bright magenta makes them easier to locate.

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

These buds are about half opened.  I would give them another four or five days before they are completely open.

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

Another blossom about half opened, this one along the Goose Rock Northeast Summit Trail.

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

Some dappled sunlight manages to reach the plants through the canopy.  Viewed from underneath, they appear to glow.

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

This trio of blossoms was growing over our heads.  Pacific Rhododendrons can exceed 25 feet/8 meters in height.

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

I had to shoot through the leaves to photograph this blossom.  As they open, the deep magenta buds will become a clear pink color.

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

This is what the buds look like before they begin to open.  There is just a hint of pink apparent.

North Whidbey Island from the Goose Rock Summit

We continued on up to the Goose Rock summit once again.  The views from the top are the rewards for a vigorous climb.  This is the view looking south-southwest towards Oak Harbor and the Naval Air Station.  The Olympic Mountain Range is in the background.  The mountains are about fifty miles from where we stood.

I am planning my next visit for Monday, May 5th, 2014,  Several of the buds should be fully opened by then.  If you want to join me, we'll meet in the North Beach parking lot at 9:30 AM, or thereabouts.  I'll head straight over after my haircut, so I might be a tad late.  Enter the park through the main entrance on Whidbey Island and follow the signs to North Beach.  The road ends at the parking lot.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pacific Rhododendrons...and Friends

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

On Friday April 25, I returned to the Pacific Rhododendron grove in Deception Pass State Park.  I wanted to check on the progress of the blooms.  A bit more color was showing, but the flowers were not yet fully opened.

I began visiting these beautiful native shrubs last year.  This is probably going to become an annual tradition.  I have grown and enjoyed Rhododendrons in the garden for many years.  Visiting this grove is like a pilgrimage for me.

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

The Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum) is the Washington State flower.  Deception Pass State Park is one of the few places where they can be found growing wild.  They grow in the shady understory of a mature coniferous forest on the southern flank of Goose Rock.  The usual bloom time is late April into early May.

Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum)

One blossom has been a bit more eager than the others and is almost fully opened.  The brown seed heads visible in the photos are the remnants of previous years' blooms.  Above the flower and to the left are two more buds that will be opening soon.

Cornet Bay from the Southeast Summit Trail

I was very pleased to be joined by three new friends on this "rhodie trip."  After checking out the Rhododendrons, we decided to continue on up to the summit of Goose Rock.  In the spring, this is a wildflower mecca and we wanted to see what was blooming up there.  From the trail, we caught this view of Cornet Bay below.  Starting at sea level, the climb takes us 484 feet/148 meters to the top.

Harsh Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida)

The Rhododendrons also had some friends on Goose Rock today.  Meadows of wildflowers ring the summit, especially on the south side.  The first one we spotted was Harsh Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida).  The further up we went, the more we found.

Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Shady spots next to the trail were carpeted with Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) also starting to bloom.

Morel Mushrooms?

We were surprised to spot these tiny Morel Mushrooms growing from a mossy stone.  At least that's what we thought they were.  They were only about the size of my little finger.

Spring Gold (Lomatium utriculatum)

One of the most abundant wildflowers around the summit was Spring Gold (Lomatium utriculatum) from the parsley family.  It also goes by the names Fine-leaved Desert Parsley and Foothill Lomatium.

Paintbrush, Spring Gold and Club Lichens

Spring Gold is growing with Harsh Paintbrush.  On the left side of the photo are several kinds of Club Lichens including False Pixie Cup (Cladonia chlorophaea).  I could use some help identifying the rest.  Right-click the photo to view it full size.

Broad-leaved Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium)

Broad-leaved Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) is just beginning to bloom.  You can find this little succulent growing all around Deception Pass on vertical stone walls.  It seems to thrive in the driest spots.  The plant is sold in nurseries as Sedum 'Cape Blanco.'  I have tried to grow it in the garden, but it doesn't readily take to soil.  I am now trying to get it started in the stone wall next to the driveway.

Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)

Another regional native which is also found in nurseries is Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum).  This is a great shrub for dry spots and it will grow in sun or shade.  It's one of the indigenous shrubs in my yard where it will come up wild.  I let them grow wherever this happens.

Common Camas (Camassia quamash) with Death Camas (Toxicoscordion venosum)

The blue flowers are Common Camas (Camassia quamash) from the Lily family.  According to Pojar and MacKinnon, it is one of the wildflowers in our region restricted to rainshadow climates.  The white flower growing with it is Death Camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum, Zigadenus venenosus).  As the name implies, the bulbs are poisonous.  Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition became ill eating the Death Camas bulb.  Common Camas bulbs, on the other hand, were relished by local indigenous peoples.

Common Camas

Five or more Common Camas flowers will grow on a single stem.  They like to grow in grassy meadows and forest edges and seem to thrive in our low rainfall and marginal soils.  Another place where they grow is on dry, windblown Flagstaff Island in the Kukutali Preserve.  Flagstaff is literally a large stone in the middle of Skagit Bay.

Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis)

Here growing with Buttercup and Common Camas, the Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis, F. lanceolata) is one of the special attractions of the Goose Rock summit.  I have read that wildflower fanciers are often brought here specifically to view this plant.  Pojar and MacKinnon specify that they are rare in many places and should be left undisturbed.

Naked Broomrape (Orobanche uniflora)

This little purple flower is another local oddity with a bizarre name.  Naked or One-flowered Broomrape (Orobanche uniflora) is a parasitic plant without leaves or chlorophyll.  It attaches to the roots of a host from which it draws its nutrition.  Those gray-green plants are probably serving the purpose.  I used my Washington Wildflower app from The Burke Museum to identify this unusual plant.  I used the "Search by Characteristics" function and it came up on the first try.  It is available to download at Apple iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.

Spotted Towhees (Pipilo maculatus)

We have had a lot of rain over the last few days.  It seems to rain at night, then the sun comes out in the daytime.  This probably accounts for the beautiful wildflower display we found on Goose Rock.  Some puddles had formed on the summit.  This pair of Spotted Towhees (Pipilo maculatus) took the opportunity for a good bath.  We could tell they were really enjoying it.  This pair has probably found a good spot to nest up here where there is not much competition.

Rhododendron Friends

Three new friends joined me on this hike, Jerry, Julie and Jill.  Jill publishes the Pacific Northwest Seasons blog, one of the best in the region.  It was a special treat for me to meet them and share this experience.  Good company, a wonderful state park and perfect weather made for a very pleasant morning.

My next visit to the Rhododendrons will be Tuesday, April 29, 2014.  Again, if anyone wants to join me, we will meet at 08:30 AM in the North Beach parking lot in Deception Pass State Park.  Use the main park entrance on Whidbey Island and follow the signs to North Beach.  Bring your Discover Pass or pick up a day pass from the ranger at the gate.  We will check on the Rhodie blooms, explore a little forest ecology and say hello to the Banana Slugs.  Plan on about two hours.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pacific Rhododendron Seedlings

Pacific Rhododendron Seedlings

The Rhododendrons in your garden likely started life as cuttings taken from a parent plant.  Wild Rhododendrons, on the other hand, must grow from seeds.  The trick is to find the little guys.  On yesterday's visit to the Rhododendron grove in Deception Pass State Park, I was fortunate to spot these four seedlings.  The most interesting thing about them was they were not growing in soil.  They were sprouting from a nurse log, a fallen tree that is undergoing decay.  Nurse logs are important components in Pacific Northwest forest communities.  They provide a foothold, nutrients, moisture and protection to seedlings of all sorts.  In addition, a fallen tree opens the canopy just a bit allowing some nurturing sunlight to penetrate the deep forest shade.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Pacific Rhododendrons 4/21/14

Pacific Rhododendron

I am back on the hunt for the wild Pacific Rhododendrons (R. macrophyllum) in Deception Pass State Park.  (Wow, the State Parks have a sparkling new website.)  It has now been two weeks since I first checked out the grove.  Today, right on schedule, the buds are just starting to show color as they begin to open.

Lower Forest Trail,
Deception Pass State Park

The Deception Pass grove is located along the Lower Forest Trail on the south face of Goose Rock.  The eastern side of this grove is accessed from the Southeast Summit Trail.  I am tentatively planning my next visit on Friday, April 25th.  If anyone wants to join me, we will meet between 09:30 and 09:45 in the morning at the North Beach parking lot.  This is accessed from the main park entrance on Whidbey Island.  Veer right at the Y or ask the ranger at the gate for directions.  These plans can change depending on the weather.  Watch my Twitter account @DaveOnFidalgo for updates.  I will use the hashtag #PacRhododendron.

Red Elderberry
Red Elderberry

While the Rhododendrons are not quite ready, the Red Elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) are blooming like crazy all over Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands.  These photos were shot right at the North Beach parking lot.  By summer, the blossoms will give way to bright, red, shiny clusters of berries favored by birds, but not humans.


At the parking lot and all along the trails I also spotted blooming Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis).  The berries are delicious and loaded with Vitamin C.  They have a lightly tart flavor that is very refreshing when hiking.

R. yakushimanum
R. catawbiense 'Alba'

Meanwhile, now starting to bloom in the garden are species Rhododendron yakushimanum from Japan (left) and R. catawbiense 'Alba' native to the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U.S.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sigma 18-200mm DC Macro Lens Part 2

Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Last week, I took my new Sigma 18-200mm  f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM lens out for a test drive at Deception Pass State Park.  In Part 1, I posted photos taken around the Deception Pass bridge.  For Part 2, I am posting photos from the West Beach/Cranberry Lake area of the park.  The site provided the opportunity to try the lens on several different kinds of subjects.  First up are some landscape shots taken along the Sand Dune Loop Trail.  It is spring and the dormancy of winter is giving way to fresh new growth everywhere.  All of the photos were shot with a Canon 7D in the raw format and edited with Photoshop Elements 11.

Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

A unique dune forest borders the eastern edge of the sand dunes.  Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce are the dominant trees in the forest.  Beyond the forest are the Cranberry Lake wetlands.  This was originally all part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Fine ocean sands blowing off the Strait built up and cut the lake off from the sea.  Gradually, springs and rainwater turned the lake to fresh water.  In the deepest parts of the lake, however, cold, dense salt water can still be found.

Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

This shot is taken at 18 mm looking south from the Sand Dune Trail.  There is an interesting house at the center of the photo.  Right-click the photo to view it full size.

From the Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

And here is that house taken at 200 mm with some additional cropping for composition.  When viewed full size, the trim and window frames have a jiggly appearance in both raw and edited versions.  I'll have to see if this occurs in other architectural photos.

Salal, Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

In shady spots at the edge of the dune forest, Salal (Gaultheria shalon) and mosses help to provide the sands a defense against the eroding winds.

Dune Forest, Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

The Sand Dune Trail loops back through the dune forest.  If you proceed quietly, you might catch a Pileated Woodpecker working on that snag.  The trail is paved making it wheelchair friendly.  Pets and humans are welcome if cleaned up after.  When it rains, be careful not to step on the Banana Slugs.  They are worthy of your protection.

Wetland Overlook, Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

An observation deck provides a view of the Cranberry Lake wetlands.  Male Red-winged Blackbirds were performing a choral symphony out in the marshes.  They sing to attract mates and to defend their territories.

Witch's Hair Lichen, Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Many of the trees in the dune forest are host to Witch's Hair lichens.  They wave in the breezes like delicate laundry.  It's a beautiful sight.  With the Canon EF-S 15-85mm lens, the filaments of this lichen usually turned out indistinct.  This is an example where the Sigma 18-200 out-performed the Canon.

False Lilly-of-the-Valley

False Lily-of-the-Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) was coming up in the shadiest spots along the trail.  Look closely at the full size image and notice that three of them are starting to bloom.

Red-flowering Currant

Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) has been blooming in the dune forest for a month or more.  This is a respectable macro shot taken with the Sigma 18-200.  I am surprised and pleased how well it turned out.

Sea Blush near the Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Upon emerging from the dune forest, there is another surprise waiting.  Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta) is beginning to turn the dunes a rich pink color.  If you can, try to catch the display over the next week or two.

Sea Blush near the Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Here is one of the little plants responsible for the spectacle.  These are annuals that come up from seed every year.  In the wind-blown conditions of the dunes, they grow very low to the ground.

Sea Blush near the Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Sea Blush near the Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Sea Blush can be found in fields and patches at the north and south ends of the dune forest, and near the beach at the south end of the Loop Trail.  Interpretive signs around the loop trail were created by marine biology students at Anacortes High School.

Food Service Building, Deception Pass State Park

The food service building at West Beach includes a meeting hall and is open during the summer season.  Events such as the Rainshadow Running Deception Pass 25k/50k use it as a staging area.

Cranberry Lake, Deception Pass State Park

The north end of Cranberry Lake is a place to spot beavers at work, Great Blue Herons grazing the shallows and dragon flies checking out the visitors.  They come up close and hover to get a good look at you.

Northwestern Crow, Deception Pass State Park

Speaking of wildlife, there are always critters out and about at West Beach.  I did have some trouble getting them in the right lighting, but here is a small collection to test the lens.  This Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) was patrolling the grounds near the food service building with his mates.

Canada Geese, Deception Pass State Park

This gaggle of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) was out for a stroll, but it wasn't a friendly outing.  There was a lot of squabbling and quarreling.  I think the breeding season probably brings that on.  During my last visit here, there was only a single pair.  The back lighting actually makes the geese stand out more distinctly from the scene.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, Deception Pass State Park

I spotted this fellow coming alert just as I was entering the dune forest.  It is probably an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) introduced as a game animal in the 1930's.  We have two native rabbit species, but both live in eastern Washington.  This one dare not venture from the forest lest it become eagle food.  The lens did very well capturing him in deep shade.

Juvenile Gull Cracking Shellfish, Deception Pass State Park
Juvenile Gull Cracking Shellfish, Deception Pass State Park

Just as I was packing up to leave, I heard a loud CRACK behind me.  I turned around and spotted this young gull.  They drop shellfish onto the parking lot to crack them open and this youngster has already mastered the technique.  Some of the crows will also do this.  The white specks all over the parking lot are bits of broken shells left by the birds.  I think this qualifies as tool use.  The focus is a bit soft in the shot with the bird in motion.  There wasn't time to switch to AI Servo focusing which might have helped.

Deception Pass Bridge

When I first arrived in the morning, I took the short trail over to North Beach to check out the bridge.  From this direction (looking east) the lighting is pretty bad.  What caught my eye in the photo were the power lines above the bridge.  They are actually a fair distance beyond it.  Again, the Sigma lens did well to catch that fine detail, even in poor lighting.

North Beach Amphitheater, Deception Pass State Park

Here is a study of the amphitheater at North Beach.  This is a nifty spot with an outdoor movie screen and a big bonfire pit.  It was rebuilt as an Eagle Scout project in 2012.  This would be an interesting shot taken closer to noon when the shadows are deeper.

Pass Island, Deception Pass State Park

Of course, a visit to West Beach should include some seascape photos.  That is Deception Island which together with West Point at the end of the parking lot mark the entrance to Deception Pass.  Fraggle Rock is on the left edge of the photo.

Windblown Tree, Deception Pass State Park

I have tried several times to get a decent shot of this old, dead tree draped in lichens.  The lighting is always terrible.  This is the best one yet, another success for the new lens.

Olympic Mountain Range from West Beach

Someone built a driftwood fort on the beach.  On the horizon, the Olympic Mountain Range is visible in the haze.  Those mountains are about 50 miles/80 km away.  The Strait of Juan de Fuca is a wide channel directly to the Pacific Ocean.  There is usually surf rolling in at West Beach and ocean conditions here produced the sand dunes.

Sand Dune Trail, Deception Pass State Park

This boardwalk provides beach access from the Sand Dune Loop Trail.  This is a good spot for watching wildlife of all sorts.  I understand migrating whales can sometimes be spotted in the Strait, a privilege I have not yet experienced.

I am very pleased with these first shots taken with the new Sigma lens.  I had fun preparing the photos for the two posts.  The lens has been described as the "best superzoom for Canon APS-C" cameras.  After trying it out on my 7D, I have to agree.

With a more than 10-fold zoom range, there will be some issues.  Distortion is apparent with this lens, but it is easily corrected with editing software.  Some of the landscape shots show a bit of vignetting which is also correctable.  These photos have nice colors; if anything, reds and magentas need to be taken down a bit.  I am also finding I have to do fewer lighting adjustments with this lens compared to the Canon EF-S 15-85.  Photos with a lot of fine details are clearer with this lens than with the Canon.  The lens is well constructed but surprisingly compact making it easy to carry around.  There was no lens creep when it was pointed downward.

This doesn't mean I will be tossing out all my other lenses.  But I do anticipate this lens will get a lot of use.  Yet to be determined is the mean time before failure.  Only time will tell in that regard.