Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Breaking Records:  Barometric Pressure

Yesterday, December 30, 2014, a weather record was broken in the Pacific Northwest.  At 11:00 AM Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle recorded an atmospheric pressure of 1045.5 hPa or 30.87 inHg if you prefer.  This exceeded the previous record of 1043.4 hPa (30.82 inHg) set just three years ago on December 1, 2011.  You can read more details about the event here.

Between 9:25 and 10:25 AM my station, located 2 miles/3 km east of Deception Pass, recorded a pressure of 1045.2 hPa (30.86 inHg).  My barometer is about 40 feet (12 meters) above sea level.  The cause was a high sitting over British Columbia.  The result was chilly temperatures, but beautiful sunny skies.  I went hiking in Deception Pass State Park.

Image:  Chelsea Clock

Friday, December 26, 2014

Skywatch Friday:  Shades of Gray

Skywatch Friday

December 15, 2014, 7:36AM, Temp 35.2° F, Dew Pt 31.1° F, Hum 85%, Wind Calm, Bar 29.92 inHg

Usually, gray skies in the Pacific Northwest mean overcast and rain.  During this sunrise over Skagit Bay, the camera caught a moment of grays in a cloudless sky.  I added a bit of vignetting to make the sunrise pop.  Other than that, the photo appears as shot.  Winter skies here are always the most interesting.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Took the New Lens Out for a Spin

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

I have been waiting and saving up three years for this.  Canon finally released the new, long-rumored 100-400mm II telephoto lens.  I preordered one from Amazon on November 10th.  After a bit more waiting, it was delivered last Friday December 19th.  Yesterday was the first opportunity I had to try it out.  I went over to Kiket Island in the Kukutali Preserve.  Since this is a lens built for wildlife, I was sure I would find something over there to point it at.

The full name of the lens is Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM.  It replaces the venerable 100-400 released in 1998.  No one can accuse Canon of rushing to market with new products.

My First Shot with the 100-400

I was hoping my first shot would be the Bald Eagles that often perch on the east end of Kiket.  They weren't there, however, so this is the first shot with the new lens.  It is either a Glaucous-winged or Western/Glaucous-winged hybrid gull swimming in the pocket estuary.  I am posting it only because it is the first, not necessarily the best photo to show off the lens.  I thought it deserved to be commemorated.  Remember, this lens is considerably better than the novice photographer wielding it.

The first thing I noticed was the extra 18 ounces (510 gm) hanging around my neck.  Compared to the 70-300 L lens I have been using, this one is noticeably heftier.  Mounted on the 7D, which is a tank on its own, I was toting a total of 5.27 pounds (2.39 kg).  I recommend a good ergonomic neck strap.  The stock Canon instrument-of-torture strap is out of the question.  I have been using one by Op/Tech USA which sits lower on the neck and it was reasonably comfortable.

The Push Boat Quilceda in Similk Bay

Have crane, will travel.  The next thing I spotted was this barge and the push boat Quilceda steaming out of Similk Bay.

A Red Helicopter Passes Over

Continuing the transportation theme, this small helicopter buzzed over next.

Douglas Squirrel

Finally, there was some wildlife which is what I bought the lens specifically to shoot.  On the North Trail, I encountered this Douglas Squirrel.  The lighting was very poor here, deep forest shade with some back lighting.  These guys are usually hostile to intruders in their territory.  A noisy scolding is what I expected.  This one was more interested in munching on that fir cone.

Spotted Towhee

The Spotted Towhee is one of my favorite birds.  Singing their tow-HEE notes as they forage, this largest of sparrows is always charming.  They are usually patrolling thickets where it can be difficult to get a clear shot.  This one was right at the edge of the large clearing where the Dunlap home stood.  This is a male, and he was a moving target.  I was only able to get two shots before he was gone.  The lens did well under the circumstances.

Driftwood and Flotsam

I headed to the beach hoping to spot the Black Oystercatchers that make their home on Flagstaff Island.  There were none on the beach, but a small group flew by low over the water.  Instead, I spotted this bit of flotsam tangled in the driftwood.

Crab Fishermen

Next, these crab fishermen motored by a couple hundred meters off the beach.  If they noticed me photographing them, they didn't seem to mind.  That's Hope Island in the background.

The lens has two distance range settings for auto-focusing, Full and 3m to infinity which I tried.  After a couple of shots, I started getting an Error Code 01 on the 7D.  That's a lens to camera communication error.  When I switched it back to Full, everything was fine again.  I have cleaned the contacts and will recheck it the next time out.

UPDATE:  The 3m - ∞ range setting is now working.  Switching the camera off before changing the setting may also be helpful.

UPDATE 2:  I took the lens out a second time on 12/26/2014.  After about 50 successful shots, I started getting Error 01's again.  The lens failed in every range, focus and stabilizer setting.  Cleaning the contacts with solvent did not fix it.  I tried the eraser end of a Lens Pen and that got it working again.  It remains to be seen if this fix will be permanent.

What is it?
Spurge Laurel

Left:  Does anyone know what this is?  I recall the standpipe along the South Trail, but it just had a flat, round cap on top.  The yellow structure is new.  It looks important with its shiny paint.

Right:  Spurge Laurel has been marked for eradication.  This is an invasive, noxious understory weed in western Washington that can spread quickly and choke out native plants.  The berries and plant juices are poisonous to humans and pets.

Forked Bone Lichen

While not a macro lens, the 100-400 can step up if called upon.  You just have to stand back a couple yards.  I believe this is Forking Bone Lichen which grows on the branches of conifers.  It is found on the ground when a branch breaks off in the wind.  The 70-300 has a macro designation, but the 100-400 does not.

Lens Hood for the Canon 100-400 II

The lens comes with a hood that has a little window for adjusting a circular polarizer.  When I got back to the parking lot to head home, I could not get the hood off the lens.  I was able to replace the cap with the hood still mounted.  After I got home, I discovered a little release button that unlocks the hood from the lens allowing me to flip it around for storage.  Of course, that's right there in the instructions.

Beachcombing Haul

Finally, here is my beachcombing haul, some weathered Dogwinkle shells and a piece of sea glass.  I collect a few of these broken snail shells every time I'm at the beach.  Don't ask me why.

I had a good time trying out the new lens.  Except for the lens and hood photos from Canon USA, all were taken with the new 100-400.  It's fairly large and heavy compared to what I am used to, but the image stabilizer works well.  It focuses very quickly, and I think I am getting better colors with this lens.  I am very pleased after my first outing.  I just have to see if that error code problem recurs.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Skywatch Friday:  After the Storm

You could not tell from the photo that a major windstorm blew through here the night before.  All is calm now in the late afternoon December sun.  The storm did kick up some driftwood and debris that the tides are now washing into northern Skagit Bay.

This is the same storm that delivered high winds and more than 3 inches/8 cm of rain to the San Francisco area.  It moved up the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington before crossing Vancouver Island into British Columbia, Canada.

South Fidalgo Island was spared the worst.  Peak winds at my station only reached 34 mph (55 kph), significantly less than the 65 mph (105 kph) that was predicted.  We didn't even lose power which is unusual for this neighborhood.

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Friday, December 12, 2014


Windstorm Aftermath

After all of the dire warnings, last night's windstorm turned out to be rather average on South Fidalgo Island.  We didn't even lose power.  Nobody is complaining, of course, it's just that this was one of the locations predicted to be hit the hardest.  How these storms affect a particular spot can be highly variable.  It depends to a large extent on the specific course the storm takes and the geography of the area.  My weather station recorded a peak wind speed of 34 mph (55 kph or 29.5 knots) at 15 feet (4.6 m) off the ground.  That is a significant wind speed, but not the 65 mph that was predicted.

Today, the wind has literally been dead calm.  The photo above was taken at about 9:30 AM, just before high tide.  It looks like a lot of driftwood and debris was shaken loose by storm and it is now washing in with the tide.  Most of this comes from the flooding Skagit River.  It flows into the bay about 5 miles (8 km) to the southeast.  It then comes swirling up with the tides and collects on the beaches here.  There are Tidelines revealed where strings of debris have formed.  They will disappear shortly after high tide.

Windstorm Aftermath

When storms hit during high tides, the driftwood can get washed up onto front lawns along the shoreline.  Near the foreground, driftwood has even been kicked up over the riprap sea wall.  Driftwood that accumulates along a shoreline is actually an asset.  It provides soft armoring against future storm surges, helps prevent beach erosion, offers nesting sites, a food source and cover for wildlife and leaches valuable organic nutrients into the sea water.

Windstorm Aftermath

This is a closer view of the spot I mentioned in the previous post.  There was once a driftwood field here.  It was built of large logs, roots and debris.  Birds nested in it and native dune grasses grew up between the logs.  The new owners tried to get rid of it and replace it with lawn.  As you can see, nature has a different plan for this site.

Windstorm Aftermath

The storm delivered only minor windfall in my yard.  My rhododendrons have taken a beating from falling limbs over the years.

Windstorm Aftermath
Windstorm Aftermath

The shade garden took a hit (left).  More windfall landed in the wooded strip between the neighbor's yard and mine (right).

Windstorm Aftermath

These are some of the "plants" growing in my back yard, and what attracted me to the property.  Many would have cut them all down, but that was not my vision.  Each one of them is a friend.  These Douglas and Grand Firs have been designed by evolution to withstand our windstorms.  To protect themselves, they will give up some of their limbs to the wind, then heal the wounds.  Natural movements in the wind stimulate the trees to add wood to week areas, called reaction wood.  When trees blow down in the wind, it is usually because excess ground water has destabilized the anchoring of the roots.  Assuring good drainage is important for preventing this.

Windstorm Aftermath

This is my beach access this morning during high tide.  At just under 10 feet, the tide has overtopped the sea wall.  In two weeks, we will be experiencing what are knows as king tides, the highest tides of the year.  These will be 12 foot tides, two feet higher than what you see in the photos.  If these occur during windstorms, there can be major effects on shoreline properties.

December 25th at 8:05 am, 26th at 8:48 am and 27th at 9:32 am are the dates and times of the upcoming king tides for Yokeko Point.  I plan to run over to Ala Spit, a low sandbar on Whidbey Island to view and photograph them.

All things considered, we got through yesterday's storm in good order.  Even the power stayed on which is unusual for this neighborhood.  The sun has come out this afternoon giving us a very pleasant day.  It is perfect weather for my next chore, cleaning up all the debris that fell in the yard.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Into Each Life...

At the moment, we are experiencing the second of three successive storms off the Pacific.  This photo taken this morning shows what can happen to low lying beach front.  An 11.2 foot tide combined with a bit of wind can push driftwood and debris up onto lawns.  I remember one storm several years ago pushed large driftwood almost a hundred feet up that broad lawn.  Can you spot the neighbor's Davis weather station right in the middle of the action?  Click or right-click the photo to view it full size.

There was once a small and beautiful driftwood field where that wash section is now.  It included tall native dune grasses and was a nesting site for birds.  It actually provided protection against these storm surges.  I would have used it as part of the landscaping to preserve this natural feature.  The neighbors had a different vision.  They pushed the driftwood out onto the beach, tried to fill in the low spot and planted grass.  As you can see, nature is having none of it.  She keeps trying to rebuild the driftwood field, and this is not the first time.  What was once beautiful and natural is now just a mess.  Fighting nature will be a never-ending battle.

This is a photo from yesterday's storm.  Yes, those are rain drops on the lens filter.  I lost power for about 8 hours which was a good excuse to go out for breakfast.  Skagit Bay looks just like this again today with driving rain and winds ranging between 5 and 29 mph (8 to 47 kph).  The power is still on, but I'm rushing to get this posted.

Tomorrow is supposed to bring the big one.  There is still some uncertainty depending the exact course the storm will take.  The Washington coast and the north Sound (that's me) will get the worst of it.  Rain will be heavy all over western Washington.  The Weather Service is issuing landslide warnings.  Emergency repairs to the Skagit River levees around Mount Vernon are underway ahead of expected flooding.

This is a "pineapple express" which is a warm, wet storm system out of the tropical Pacific.  Right now, it's 54° F (12° C) so if the power goes out, at least we won't freeze.  This is the same storm that will hit California tomorrow that has all the news media excited.  They never get excited about our weather.

Flagstaff Tombolo Erosion

Flagstaff Island Tombolo

A tombolo is a natural sandbar that connects an island to the mainland, or an island to another island.  The latter is the case with the tombolo between Kiket and Flagstaff Islands in the Kukutali Preserve.  They are built by wave action and currents flowing along the shoreline.  A large driftwood field has formed on the south side (left in the photo).  Broken clam shells marked the pathway along the sandbar.  This is a traditional place of food gathering by the Swinomish people.  A history of this activity is preserved by the broken shells.

As you can see in the photo, significant erosion has taken place.  The clam shell path now veers off onto to the beach.  This is recent, occurring sometime between November 16th and December 1st.  The accumulation of driftwood on the right is also new.  This section was previously a clean gravel beach.

This is a closer view of the erosion.  A section of the clam shell path has washed away, then picks up again closer to the split rail barrier.  Visitors are creating a new path along the narrow strip that remains.

As I can perceive, nothing has been done here by preservation efforts to cause this.  I am wondering if the accumulation of new driftwood on the north side is disrupting the normal wave action.  Could this be causing the erosion?  Will the erosion eventually break through completely and separate the two islands?  Would removing the driftwood allow the sandbar to rebuild?  Is climate change playing a role here?  One thing is for sure.  Nature can build and nature can also destroy.

Other tombolos in the area can be seen at the following sites:
  • Between Kiket Island and the Fidalgo mainland
  • Lone Tree Point south of Kiket
  • Between Fidalgo Island and Rosario Head at Bowman Bay
  • Between Fidalgo Island and Reservation Head at Bowman Bay