Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Rhododendron Trail Plus Two

Pacific Rhododendron

Yesterday's visit to the rhododendron grove in Deception Pass State Park revealed that the blossoms are finally starting to open.  With some warmer weather, the blooming should go quickly now.

Pacific Rhododendron
Pacific Rhododendron

Again, rain had been predicted, but it did not materialize.  There was a heavy, dark overcast which created very poor lighting for photos in the forest understory.  It was almost like night in some spots.  Nevertheless, I did manage to get a few shots of the opening buds.

Pacific Rhododendron

Based on what I am seeing, this year's bloom may not be as spectacular as it was last year.  I could be wrong about this.  The flower buds can be difficult to spot at a distance from the trail.  Rhody flower buds are set during late summer for next year's bloom.  The conditions at this time can determine the quality and quantity of next year's flowers.  I have also read that if there is a heavy bloom one year, some plants might take a year off.

Ensatina Salamander

As we have seen in previous posts, you can find more than rhododendrons in these woods.  On this visit, I found an Ensatina Salamander (Ensatina eschscholtzii).  This is the second one I have seen this season.  They are humble and reclusive yet fascinating little creatures.  This species has no lungs or gills, breathes by exchanging oxygen through its skin, and does not need water to breed.  You can identify them by the pinch at the base of the tail.

They should not be handled.  The oils and chemicals on your hands can disrupt the oxygen exchange through their skin.  They are most active during fall, winter and spring when it is cool and damp.  They even sometimes breed in the winter.  You can read more about Ensatina at Wild Fidalgo.

Plus the West Beach Sand Dune Trail

West Beach, Deception Pass State Park

Because it was so dark, I didn't spend a lot of time in the rhododendron forest.  I took the easy shortcut back to the parking lot via the Discovery Trail.  I still had some hiking yen left in me, so I decided to check out the West Beach Sand Dunes.  Since it is all open to the sky, the light was much better, but it was very windy.  There was surf rolling in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Sea Blush

Every spring, the Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta) paints the sand dunes pink.  I had forgotten all about this.  It's a spectacular display, especially in this place that is seemingly hostile to wildflowers.

Sea Blush

This flower is an annual sprouting from seed every year.  This is like a miracle with the winds and shifting sands.  These fragile plants are the only things protecting the dunes.  This is one of the reasons visitors are asked to stay on the paved pathways.

Seashore Lupine

The Seashore Lupine (Lupinus littoralis) is also blooming now.  Like Sea Blush, it crouches low to the ground as a defense against the winds.  Nevertheless, these flowers were put in constant motion by the breezes making them very difficult to photograph.

Unknown Flower
Beach Pea

Left:  I have not been able to identify these tiny pink flowers growing all over the north end of the dunes.  Click or right-click the photo to view it full size.  The closest possibility I have found is Redstem Filaree or Stork's Bill, but I can't be positive.  If anyone knows what this is, please post a comment below.

UPDATE:  I received word from Washington State Parks regarding this plant's ID.  They also believe it is Redstem Filaree or Stork's Bill (Erodium circutarium).  This is an introduced weed native to Europe now widespread in western North America.

Right:  When you are at the beach around here, look for Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus).  Find it around the driftwood at the top of the tidal zone.

Northwestern Crow

I spotted this Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) patrolling the dunes.  It was by itself which is unusual.  I usually see them here in gangs which are called "murders" or "musters."  Is that a cataract on the left eye or just the way the light was hitting it?  Some consider these a subspecies of the American Crow (C. brachyrhynchos), but I like the idea of our own regional variety.  They are always found around the beach.

Plus the East Cranberry Lake Trail

Trailing Blackberry

On the way out from West Beach, I stopped at the East Cranberry Lake trailhead.  This is always a good spot for wildlife.  I found the entire trail lined with our native Trailing Blackberry (Rubus ursinus) now in full bloom.  I am not sure if berry picking is allowed in state parks.  If it is, this would be a great spot.  When I find out, I will update this post.

UPDATE:  I have received information regarding berry picking in state parks.  Non-commercial berry picking for personal use is allowed in state parks.  Up to two gallons per person per day may be harvested.  WAC 352-28-030

Red Alder (Beaver Work)

East Cranberry Lake is beaver country.  You can see evidence of their work all along the shoreline.  There is a marshy island just offshore from the trail.  I keep wondering if it was built by the beavers.  It is well known that beavers can alter landscapes in major ways.  The island includes a stand of medium height conifers.  I believe these are Sitka Spruce because of the marshy conditions.

East Cranberry Marsh

Between the trail and the island is a wonderful, marshy waterway.

Canada Goose

Hiking southbound, I spotted this Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) floating motionless in the water.  I found this odd.  Usually, they get noisy and fly off when people get too close.  This one just sat there quietly, barely moving a muscle.  Although it looked healthy, I wondered if it was ill.  I put on my best wildlife demeanor, remaining quiet and avoiding threatening postures and movements.

Canada Goose

On my return trip back up the trail, I had a different view of the island.  From this angle, I discovered what was holding the first bird captivated.  He was standing guard for his mate who was sitting on her nest at the edge of the island.  By now the first bird had moved out into the lake, so apparently, he decided I was OK.  This was a great discovery, but I'm probably lucky I wasn't attacked.

I added a post about these geese with additional photos over at Wild Fidalgo.

This wildlife encounter capped off a perfect morning exploring some of the trails in Deception Pass State Park.  As I said, there is a lot more than rhododendrons to be discovered there.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Rhododendron Trail 2015 Week 4

North Whidbey Island

60% chance of rain was yesterday's weather forecast for Anacortes and Oak Harbor.  In fact, it turned out to be cool and breezy and partly sunny, but rain-free until after dark last night.  Such is often the case with predicting weather in the Olympic Rain Shadow.  Today, it is dark and overcast with a steady light rain.  My garden needed this rain.

This photo is of north Whidbey Island taken from the top of Goose Rock on yesterday's hike.  Those are the Olympic Mountains peaking through the clouds in the background.  Near the center is the Whidbey Naval Air Station.

Pacific Rhododendron

While the weather cooperated, the Pacific Rhododendrons at Deception Pass State Park did not.  The buds have not changed since my first hike into the grove.  By this time last year, there was definite color showing.

Pacific Rhododendron

Still, only that one atypical blossom we have seen in the previous posts is showing its stuff right now.

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
Western Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

Left:  Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is in full bloom.  This is a cousin of rhododendrons in the same Ericaceae or Heath family.  This is one of the most abundant understory shrubs in the Pacific Northwest.  I have a lot of this in my garden.  It makes a nice evergreen ground cover that will grow in harsh, conditions.  It also provides cover for wildlife.

Right:  Western Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) is blooming on the south slope of Goose Rock.  Also called Saskatoon (the Canadian city was named for it), I want to plant this beautiful native shrub in my garden  I hope I can find it available.

Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus)
Cyanide Millipede (Harpaphe haydeniana)

Watch your step when hiking in the Pacific Northwest.  I encountered two interesting and valuable critters on the trails yesterday.  Yes, valuable.  Both of these recycle plant material and turn it into soil that nourishes the forest.  Hikers, please give these humble creatures your respect and protection.  Remember, this is their world, not yours.

Left:  The Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus) is the unofficial mascot of the Pacific Northwest.  They are not garden pests and should never be regarded as such.  Somewhere, I read that they recycle 11% of the forest biomass every year.  I was actually pleased to discover them in my yard.  I cannot determine they have ever done damage to the plants.  That distinction is left to the introduced black, red and gray European slugs.

Right:  The Cyanide Millipede (Harpaphe haydeniana) may look threatening, but it's not.  Volcano Lands in Portland has a great post about it that explains the purpose of the bright yellow markings.  If you disturb them, they emit cyanide gas, but not enough to be harmful to people.  This is a defense against predators.  Like the Banana Slug, they are valuable to the forest and should not be harmed.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Back at the parking lot, American Robins (Turdus migratorius) were patrolling the grass listening for worms.  The little flowers are English Daisies (Bellis perennis) which is an introduced species from Europe.  The name daisy comes from Anglo-Saxon.  It means "eye of the day"  or "day's eye" because the flowers close at night and reopen at sunrise.

I will be hiking the Rhododendron Trail at Deception Pass again this coming week.  I will expect the rhododendrons to get with the program and start opening those buds.  If you want to come along, watch my Twitter feed and look for the hashtag #rhodyhike.  I will announce dates and times there.  Weather permitting, I anticipate the next one will be Tuesday, April 28th at 08:30 a.m.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Three Icons of the PNW

Bald Eagle

I was out early this morning working in the garden.  After I did some pruning, I finished planting the containers in the basement patio.  I planted Petunias in the hanging baskets where the slugs can't get to them.  For the big pots on the patio, Geraniums, Lobelia and yellow Marigolds.  This is also where the bird feeders are.  While I worked, a Townsend's Chipmunk joined me, completely unafraid.  There were peanuts to be collected, after all.

I used to plant Nasturtiums because the rabbits, deer and slugs didn't like them.  Then, the pots became infected with Pseudomonas and that was the end of that.  Who knew plants could catch bacterial infections?  I added some critter repellent to keep the deer away and the squirrels from digging in the pots.  Now I'm going to have to be diligent with slug patrols.

Just as I was finishing up, a Bald Eagle landed in one of my trees, so I took his picture.

Tugboat Swinomish

Just after noon, a tugboat steamed into Skagit Bay with a raft of logs in tow.  I see this fairly often.  They come into the bay and park for a while.  I think they are waiting for the best time to go through Deception Pass.

The air has been hazy.  Apparently, there are fires in Siberia and the smoke has reached the Pacific Northwest.

Tugboat Swinomish

A bit later, the tug had moved in front of Flagstaff Island.  She is the M/V Swinomish from Dunlap Towing in La Conner.

Rhododendron catawbiense 'Album'

This afternoon, I took a walk around the garden to see what else was happening.  My rhododendrons are starting to bloom like crazy.  This one is R. catawbiense, a native rhody from the Appalachian Mountains.

Rhododendron 'Lem's Cameo'

Rhododendron 'Lem's Cameo' is normally a May bloomer, but like so much this year, it's coming out early.

Amazing wildlife, a maritime culture and rhododendrons are three icons of the Pacific Northwest US. In a single day, I found these right in my own backyard.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Rhododendron Trail 2015 Week 3

Pacific Rhododendron

Again this week, that same extra early blossom has opened a bit more.  It's not what we would call a 5-star blossom either.  It is a bit of an outlier in both timing and conformation.  I have been looking for information to explain why one blossom on a shrub will open prematurely.  If anyone has an answer to this I would appreciate a link.

None of its companions in the rhododendron grove are showing any color at all yet.  It will be at least another week or two before the buds start to open.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of other things going on along the Rhododendron Trail in Deception Pass State Park.

Douglas Squirrel
Douglas Squirrel

It was a busy morning for Douglas Squirrels (Tamiasciurus douglasii).  I spotted two close-up along the Lower Forest and Discovery Trails.  Both were so preoccupied with their Douglas Fir Cone breakfasts, they barely gave me a notice.  One by one, they pulled the cone scales off to get to the seed underneath.  Like so many things around here, they are named for David Douglas, the Scottish botanist who explored the region in 1824 and again in 1832.

Other notable wildlife encounters were just sounds in the distance.  Pacific Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris regilla) could be heard from below the North Beach parking lot.  There is a pond along the trail to Little North Beach.  This time of year, the boy frogs are singing to impress the girl frogs.  You can listen to their concerts here and here.  Coming from such a small amphibian, their loud voices are amazing to hear en masse.  I also heard the calls of Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) reverberating in the trees.  For me, this sound always brings to mind a prehistoric forest.

False Lily-of-the-Valley
False Lily-of-the-Valley

False Lilly-of-the-Valley (Mianthemum dilatatum) is a perennial that dies back every winter.  It is now fully emerged and starting to flower.  It creates a beautiful groundcover along the trails wherever it is moist and shady.

Wood Fern

Ferns were particularly noticeable on this hike.  Western Sword Ferns, Lady Ferns, Bracken Ferns and this one, the Wood Fern (Dryopteris sp.) were ubiquitous along the trails.  I am not 100% sure, but I think this is Dryopteris expansa the Spreading Wood Fern.  It is called the Spiny Wood Fern in Pojar and MacKinnon.  I am going to have to study ferns more since they are so common around here.

Bracken Fern Fiddleheads
Wood Fern

Left:  The new shoots or fiddleheads of a Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum).

Right:  A Wood Fern frond.

Wood Fern
Western Sword Fern

Left:  Wood Ferns (Dryopteris sp.).

Right:  Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum).

Red Elderberry

Finally, good old Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) is really putting on a show right now.  This huge drift is right next to the North Beach parking lot.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Trolling a State Park


According to Wikipedia, "in internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community [...] with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion."

The term has been extended to include visit spam and comment spam on websites, and spam registrations in communities.  For the latter, the goal is harassment of members.  The once great and wonderful Nature Blog Network is now gone because of this behavior.  My first encounter with this was in a community that promotes tree planting.  I was contacted by a "member" who wanted to send me nude pictures of herself.

Trolls are the people who try to ruin the internet for everyone else.  It now appears that trolling has moved into the real world, and Deception Pass State Park has been touched by it.



First, let me advise that you do not visit any of these websites.  That's the whole point of this vandalism.  Visiting the sites would only reward it and encourage copycats.  In preparing for this post, I went incognito and did visit them so you won't have to.  The first batch is about little men with foreskin fetishes.  It's probably not their only shortcoming.  Is it surprising that men with such a preputial preoccupation would think nothing of defacing a state park?  It's ironic that the bottom two photos are from the interior of the Discovery Trail tunnel built by the honorable men of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The next batch, which appears to have the same handwriting, is more unexpected.


I would have assumed that vegetarianism, and the various versions of it, would have been more respectful of the natural world.  Of course, we might be dealing with the same people hung up on the issue represented above.  These vegans appear to be concerned with animal welfare, rather than diet.  That makes this defacement even more puzzling.  A state park is a place where animals are protected.  These trolls don't extend any courtesy to either the wildlife or to the visitors who come to the park to enjoy it.


I don't believe those responsible for this graffiti have any sincere beliefs or viewpoints.  Their only goal, in troll fashion, is to irritate others and ruin the park experience for visitors.  In so doing, they bestow shame, contempt and disrespect on those with honest convictions.