Thursday, March 24, 2016

Skywatch Friday:  Into the Sun

Sunrise Over Skagit Bay, Washington

I have seen some beautiful and interesting photos that were taken directly into the sun.  Despite several attempts, I have never been able to pull it off.  They usually end up completely blown out and not fixable.  This past Tuesday's sunrise over Skagit Bay provided another chance to "give it a shot," so to speak.  This one turned out better.  Maybe I'm starting to get the hang of it.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Windstorm Aftermath at Kukutali

Kukutali Preserve, Washington

Previously, I posted some photos about the March 10, 2016 windstorm.  An unusually high tide plus a storm surge had some dramatic effects on my neighbors' front lawns.  The weather has improved significantly this week.  With a nice day, I headed over to the Kukutali Preserve for a hike.

Kiket Island (in the background of the photo) is connected to the mainland by a double tombolo.  A pocket estuary or lagoon (right edge of the photo) is sheltered between them.  A road over the main tombolo serves as a causeway to the island which was once privately owned.  The road is now open only to foot traffic and park maintenance vehicles.

I discovered that storm and tidal surge had some amazing effects here as well.  There is a private home next to the preserve,  A chain link fence separated a lawn from the road and marked the park boundary.  Where there was once lawn to the left of the road is now an enlarged driftwood field.  A line of debris across the road reveals where the tidal surge washed over it.

Kukutali Preserve, Washington

Much of the chain link fence has been knocked over.  The driftwood field that existed on the far end of the causeway has been expanded five- or six-fold now.  Besides driftwood, the debris includes various flotsam including a small catamaran.

Kukutali Preserve, Washington

Looking back up the road, the western end of the tidal over-wash is indicated by another debris line.  The other edge of it is where you see driftwood extending into the road in the distance.  You can click or right-click the photos to view them full size.

Kukutali Preserve, Washington
Kukutali Preserve, Washington

The hike across Kiket Island to the lawns at the site of the former Dunlap house is one of the most pleasant in the area.  Along the road, I saw little evidence that a windstorm had ever occurred here.

Kukutali Preserve, Washington

There is a corridor of shrubs and trees that leads from the Dunlap lawns to another sandbar tombolo connecting Kiket to Flagstaff Island.  What a shock it was to emerge and discover the sandbar is now completely covered with driftwood.  The grassy strip and path have disappeared under it.  The only approach to Flagstaff Island now is via the north beach.  Scrambling over the expanded driftwood field to the south beach has become a difficult undertaking.

Kukutali Preserve, Washington

In July, 2011, the tombolo was a grassy wildflower meadow traversed by a path.  I included this photo in a post about tombolo wildflowers.  There are additional photos of it in this 2009 post from the Gravel Beach blog.  The bottom two show the Flagstaff tombolo as it once was.

Kukutali Preserve, Washington

I took this photo in December, 2014 for a post about tombolo erosion.  A lot of the north side of it had washed away, but it was still intact and open between Kiket and Flagstaff Islands.  On the left edge of both photos, you can see a bit of the driftwood field that filled a depression at the southwest corner of the sandbar.

Kukutali Preserve, Washington

What an amazing site this is now.  A major driftwood accumulation covers the entire sandbar to the edge of the north beach.  A single windstorm with an unusually high tide caused all this change.  The south (left) edge of the tombolo received the brunt of the storm.  The north side was sheltered and remains relatively pristine.  The small island beyond the driftwood is Skagit Island Marine State Park.

Kukutali Preserve, Washington

All of the driftwood that previously lined the south beach has been tossed up and over the tombolo.  My weather stationed clocked a peak wind of 42 miles per hour (68 kph) during the storm.  This low lying sandbar is more open and exposed than I am.  It would not surprise me if the winds here exceeded 60 mph/97 kph.

Driftwood accumulations like this serve to protect adjacent land from wave and tidal action.  Waterfront homeowners are advised to leave such accumulations intact, letting them develop naturally.  My neighbors keep trying to rearrange the driftwood to their liking only to have nature thwart their efforts.  It will be interesting to see how these land forms in the Kukutali Preserve continue to evolve.

Deception Pass, Washington

This view of Deception Pass from Kiket Island offers little evidence of the tempest that must have raged here just a week before.

This system of islands and sandbars has existed here for centuries, perhaps millennia.  I have been here for only a tiny fraction of that time.  Based on the major changes I have witnessed in just the last five years, only a fool would not wonder if something is going on with the climate.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Skywatch Friday:  Second Storm

Skagit Bay March 13, 2016

This has been an unusual March.  It's supposed to be breezy, "comes in like a lion," and all that.  But this March has been more than breezy.  Yesterday, we had our second significant windstorm in three days.  The first one on March 10th hit at the same time as an extreme high tide.  The combination had some dramatic effects on the neighbors' front lawns.  My weather station clocked a peak wind of 42 miles per hour, 68 kph when the tide was highest.

A second storm rolled through yesterday afternoon, March 13th.  From news reports, it sounded like this one had more widespread damaging effects.  My weather station recorded peak wind speeds of 36 mph/58 kph several times during the storm.  Miraculously, my power stayed on through both of them.  I would expect this pattern of storms in November or December, but not March.

The photo above of a threatening sky over Skagit Bay was taken at 15:15 PDT as the storm was ramping up.

Skagit Bay March 13, 2016

At 18:45 the worst of the winds had passed by.  The weather spirits managed to eke out a bit of a rainbow and even some clearing skies in the background.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Now Showing and Coming Attractions

Sea Blush with Seashore Lupine

It's early March, and already spring is definitely under way at Deception Pass State Park.  In the West Beach sand dunes, I found this pink Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta) in the company of Seashore Lupine (Lupinus littoralis).  Both are hugging the ground to try and escape the winds off the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  I was surprised to find this one plant already blooming.  This reveals that the dunes will be washed in pink by the end of the month.  It is well worth a trip to the park to view the spectacle.  It's better than tulips in my opinion.  It's natural and there are no traffic jams or crazy tourists to negotiate.  For a preview, you can see photos of past blooms here and here.  Sea Blush is an annual that comes up from seed every year.

Red-breasted Mergansers

Just offshore in the breaking waves near the beach, this pair of Red-breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) were "snorkeling" in search of breakfast.  When they spotted something they would dive for it.  I tried to get photos of them upright but they were too caught up in their task.  Nevertheless, I thought this was an interesting bit of behavior.  These are winter birds in our area.  Soon, they will head to their breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada.

Red-flowering Currant
Red-flowering Currant

Our native Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) have been particularly beautiful this year.  Bushes are loaded with huge blossoms.  The extra rainfall we have been getting probably accounts for this.  These were growing along the Dune Forest Trail at West Beach.  I have both native plants that came up on their own and nursery stock in my yard and they are also looking better than usual.

Pacific Rhododendron

After finishing at West Beach, I headed over to the North Beach parking lot.  It had been closed all winter, so I was eager to get over there.  I wanted to check out the Lower Forest, Goose Rock Perimeter and Discovery Trails.  I am anticipating a good bloom in the Rhododendron grove this year.  Hiking down the Lower Forest Trail, I spotted an old friend, this Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum) growing from a Douglas Fir nurse log.  I didn't remember being able to get such a clear shot of it.

Windfall on the Lower Forest Trail

As I got closer to the Rhododendron, I realized why it was easier to photograph.  This big Douglas Fir had fallen across the trail sometime over the winter.  With the tree down, there was now a clear view of the rhody from the trail.  The pathway had already been reopened thanks to some timely chainsaw work.  This was a big, old-growth tree.  It looked like it had simply torn loose from its roots.  This could also be another result of our wetter than normal winter.  This old tree will not go to waste.  It will have a continuing mission in the forest providing nutrients and serving as a nurse log to new generations.

Western Skunk Cabbage

Despite a disagreeable name and reputation, American Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanum) is one of my favorite wildflowers.  Also called Swamp Lantern, it will be found in forest wetlands, either in standing water or boggy soil.  In the darkest, shadiest places, what a treat it is to suddenly encounter this bright flash of yellow.  Both the color and the odor it emits are designed to attract its pollinators, flies and beetles.  In the chill of early March, there was no detectable odor.  I know a hidden spot along the Ginnett Hill Trail where Skunk Cabbage puts on an extra special show.


The leaves are just sprouting on the canes of Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) and they are also just starting to bloom.  These shrubs produce the most delicious berries in our region and they're loaded with Vitamin C.  Almost nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer hike.


Although they are not blooming yet, the leaves are just popping out on Oceanspray (Holodiscus disculor).  Their creamy white flowers resemble white lilacs and by June, will be decorating our roadsides.  You can see an example here.

Indian Plum a.k.a. Oso Berry

Indian Plum or Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) has been blooming for a month now.  The flowers usually appear before the leaves erupt.  This beautiful shrub is an example of artistry in nature.  It reminds me of Japanese Ikebana where form and line and reverence for nature are emphasized.

Douglas Fir Snag

We have seen what happens when an old tree falls to the ground, dies and becomes a nurse log.  Some trees die first and remain standing.  These are called snags.  Like nurse logs, snags will also continue to have a role in the forest.  For example, they become a source of food for Pileated Woodpeckers who seek the insects and larvae that inhabit the decaying wood.  The cavities made by the woodpeckers become nest sites for chickadees in summer or winter nests for Douglas Squirrels.  This old Douglas Fir looks like a chickadee condominium.

Dead snags in the woods are easy to spot without looking up.  These trees will have woodpecker holes (the birds don't touch living trees) or fungi growing from the bark.

Bracket Fungus

Bracket Fungus

Speaking of fungi, I also noticed some interesting members of this other kingdom.  In the Pacific Northwest, they come in many different shapes, sizes and colors.  These are polypores, called shelf or bracket fungi.  What you see are the fruiting or reproductive bodies called conks.  The real fungal work is carried out by branching filaments or hyphae that penetrate the decaying wood and slowly absorb nutrients from it.  Eventually, the logs will be completely decomposed and recycled.  In this way, fungi serve as the cleanup crew of the forest.

Among these bracket fungi, can you spot the figurine of dad hugging mom?

Chanterelle Mushrooms

Another fungus right next to the trail caught my eye.  I believe these are Chanterelle mushrooms, but I have no guess what species they are.  I have read they grow in clusters like this and will come up in the same spot every year.  Again, the vegetative part of the fungus is the invisible underground hyphae network or mycelium.  In this case, they are helping to recycle decaying vegetation in the soil.  One species of mushroom in Oregon is reputed to be the largest living organism on earth.

I tried to find out why they were this bright golden color.  They are very noticeable against the dark background, especially when a little sunlight hits them.  Is it to attract something or is it a warning?  There must be some evolutionary advantage, but I could not find any specific information about it.

It looks like wildflower season is definitely underway at Deception Pass State Park.  There doesn't ever seem to be a dull moment.  You can bet, I'll be back soon to see what else is blooming.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

March Windstorm, 2016

March 10,2016 Windstorm, South Fidalgo Island

According to the adage, March "comes in like a lion," and that is exactly what it did this year.  March 1 was a windy day, but nothing like the tempest that hit us this morning March 10, 2016.  A pair of low pressure systems (dubbed the "Evil Twins") came ashore over British Columbia Thursday night.  The National Weather Service predicted the worst of it would begin about midnight and peak around 06:00 a.m. PST.

For some reason, Pacific storms like to cross over Vancouver Island when they come ashore.  When this happens, the Puget Sound Basin becomes a wind tunnel.  The Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascades to the east have a funneling effect.  This can deliver strong southeasterly and southerly winds up Saratoga Passage and Skagit Bay to Fidalgo Island.

It was still fairly quiet when I went to bed, but the noises of the wind woke me at 4 a.m.  By 06:00, there was enough twilight for me to see what was happening on the beach.  The predicted high tide here was ll.4 feet at 06:04 a.m.  At almost that exact moment, my weather station measured a windspeed of 42 miles per hour, 68 k.p.h.

Because of the storm's low pressure and storm surge, the NWS issued a warning that the tides would be an additional 1.9 feet higher than predicted.  That would make it 13.3 feet here.  That becomes a problem when the land is only a little over 11 feet.

07:52:  There was now enough light for the picture above taken from my front deck.  My neighbors' front lawns were being overwashed by sea water and driftwood.  Click or right-click the photos to view them full size.

March 10,2016 Windstorm, South Fidalgo Island

07:55:  I took the camera down to the shoreline and caught this photo at the top of my stairs to the beach.  The islands on the horizon are Skagit and Hope.

March 10,2016 Windstorm, South Fidalgo Island

08:01:  It was a bit scary to get down near the water like this.  The winds were still strong enough to make it difficult to stand and take photos.  Nature had become wild and noisy.  Some seawater splashed onto the UV filter causing the hazy spot in the upper left corner.

March 10,2016 Windstorm, South Fidalgo Island

08:11:  One last shot of the storm from my front deck.  The actual shoreline is revealed by the driftwood.  Are we getting a preview of what rising sea levels could be like?

March 10,2016 Windstorm, South Fidalgo Island

12:01:  By afternoon, the wind was dying down a bit and the sun came out.  By 15:00 the winds were 10-15 m.p.h., 16-24 k.p.h.  By 16:30, the winds were calm.

March 10,2016 Windstorm, South Fidalgo Island

Some of the neighbors' shoreline was washed away and giant driftwood logs were tossed onto their lawns.

March 10,2016 Windstorm, South Fidalgo Island
March 10,2016 Windstorm, South Fidalgo Island

Left:  My neighbor's chain link fence is ruined.  The line of debris and driftwood shows how much of the lawn was overwashed.  The sea crossed it like a river and took out the fence.  There is really very little we can do to control wind and water.

Right:  Their Vantage Pro2 weather station was also destroyed.  Poor baby, this is painful for me.  Its mounting post was uprooted and tossed inland.  The rain bucket, solar panel and circuit board housing were nowhere to be seen.  Amazingly, the anemometer was spinning and the wind vein was pointing when I took the photo.  The station was hit before by a storm in 2010, but not to this extent.

March 10,2016 Windstorm, South Fidalgo Island

The windstorm of March 10, 2016 will be remembered by this South Fidalgo Island neighborhood.

Skywatch Friday:  Olympic Rain Shadow

The Olympic Rain Shadow is a weather anomaly in the northwest interior of Washington State.  Weather systems off the Pacific Ocean are split by the Olympic Mountain Range.  The result is often clear skies and lower than expected rainfall in their lee.  At 06:30 last Sunday morning, it could be clearly seen as a break in the clouds over Whidbey Island.  That's it with the pinkish light of sunrise showing through.

Because we sit at the edge of the rain shadow, our precipitation on Skagit Bay is nearly half of what Seattle gets.  We experience about 21 inches or 53 cm of rainfall per year.  The windward side of the mountain range, on the other hand, can get 200 inches, 5 meters annually.  This produces the famous Olympic Rain Forest.

By 10:30 a.m. the wind had kicked up disrupting the rain shadow's break in the clouds.  But while the Seattle and Everett areas were getting periodic downpours, our weather continued dry and partly sunny for the entire day.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Hoypus Point:  Big Marsh and Slug Slough Trails

Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park

Last week, I continued exploring the Hoypus Point and Hoypus Hill sections of Deception Pass State Park.  I found two more trails on the map with interesting names, Big Marsh and Slug Slough.  These names implied wetlands which are always interesting places to visit.  I would encounter wetlands on this hike, but not where I expected.  I would also catch the little Julie Trail, Hemlock Hideaway, the Short Trail and some of the Old Hoypus Logging Road.  The photo above pretty much characterizes the entire three hour trek.  Where you see water, that is the trail.

Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park

To reach Big Marsh and Slug Slough trails, my route would follow some trails already explored as follows.  The numbers correspond to the State Park Trail Map (.pdf):
According to my wristband tracker, I covered 8.76 miles using 18,870 steps and climbed the equivalent of 58 flights of stairs up to that point for the day.  The trail map indicates an elevation gain of about 400 feet/122 meters.

Sitka Spruce, Deception Pass State Park

A maturing Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) that had grown from a nurse log caught my eye.  I had never seen a tree this large with its nurse log still intact and visible.  The spruce looked like it was now protecting and caring for its foster mother.

Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park

I made my way to the short Julie Trail off of Fern Gully.  It was a steady uphill climb to the Old Hoypus Hill Logging Road at the very top of the photo.  I wish I knew who Julie was and why the trail was named after her.

Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park
Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park

I was surprised that the Hoypus Hill Logging Road was actually a road and it showed recent traffic.  I guess I was expecting something more overgrown and primitive.  Don't let the word "road" fool you, however, it was quite muddy and soft to walk on.  After about half a mile, I reached the Big Marsh trailhead.  On the way, I took a side trip on the Short Trail to Ducken Road.  This is a paved Island County road and one of the access points to the State Park trails.

Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park

I never did see the "Big Marsh" where it was indicated on the map.  I believe that is it beyond the trees in the photo.  It was much further away than the lens made it look, so I didn't venture off the trail to get over there.  Maybe I'll try it another time.

Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park

The 0.6 mile (1 km) Big Marsh Trail was not an easy hike.  Constant ups and downs, bends, roots, debris and numerous water hazards (and I mean numerous) made it more of an obstacle course than a trail.  Be prepared for something more vigorous than a "walk in the park."  Hiking it brought a nice sense of challenge and accomplishment I wasn't expecting.

This winter has been rainier than usual.  In the week before this hike, we experienced what is called an atmospheric river rain event. This delivered inches of rain to the area.  One discovery I've made is a tendency to flooding and wet conditions on these Hoypus trails.  A long section of the Fireside Trail was now a flowing stream.  This is a stark contrast to most of the other hikes in Deception Pass State Park.  I will be curious to see what these wet conditions produce come spring and summer.

Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park

I was happy to reach the next trailhead to Slug Slough.  Unfortunately, I would not find any slugs.

Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park

Waterproof footwear is highly recommended for the Hoypus trails.

Palmate Coltsfoot, Deception Pass State Park

On the way back, I spotted some Palmate Coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus var. palmatus) popping up next to the West Hoypus Trail (left).  It likes wet, shady conditions, so it must have been right at home here.  Those leaves can grow to 16 inches/40 cm across.  Look closely and you will see a couple of flowers already blooming in late February.  Those are the female flowers.  The male flowers look like pinkish tufts of fur.

I also noticed lots of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) coming up next to the trails in more open areas (right).  Anyone in healthcare will recognize the genus name is similar to urticaria.  This is an unpleasant itching, stinging or burning rash.  Brush against the plant and you will experience this for yourself.  The plant injects formic acid through needle-like hairs on the stems and under the leaves.  That is the same irritant produced by ants (Formicidae) that deliver stinging bites.  Some people eat nettle leaves, but they can have my share.

Cornet Bay Fishing, Deception Pass State Park
Cornet Bay Fishing, Deception Pass State Park

On returning to the docks at Cornet Bay, I enjoyed watching people fishing for herring.  Besides hiking, is there a better way to spend a winter day?

I have now hiked 14 of the 16 named trails in the Hoypus Point section of the park.  Only the North Fork (22) and Shady Way (23) trails remain.  I'll catch those soon along with an additional 2 miles of the Old Hoypus Logging Road I have not seen.  I will wait for things to dry out a bit.  This also means I have hiked 28 of the 30 total trails in Deception Pass State Park.