ENVIR 495C in the news!

The University of Washington College of the Environment recently published a nice piece on my summer course in the Olympic Mountains of Washington. Read about it here.

Also see my previous post about this summer’s course, where you can also link to a course blog developed by students.


ENVIR 495C: Landscape Change in the Pacific Northwest; Year 3!


The group poses on Sentinel Peak, >20 trail miles from any road, with Mount Anderson and the Eel Glacier in the background. From this vantage point, we looked down on a soaring Golden Eagle, saw swifts rising and swooping along the adjacent cliff face, found an alpine flower species endemic to the Olympic Mountains (isolated by past climate changes), looked across the now free-flowing Elwha River and the valley’s wide unbroken lowland forests, and compared the current coverage of Eel Glacier to historic photos taken from a nearby vantage point. We would also take time here to individually ponder the value of large ecosystem preserves (such as Olympic National Park), and the kind of remote wilderness recreation experience they provide as humanity enters the Anthropocene, and as nearby Seattle prepares to take on another 1.5 million people over the next 25 years. Photo Credit: Tim Billo

This post introduces our course blog (http://envir495onp2015.blogspot.com/) documenting the third annual offering (click here for last year’s blog) of the interdisciplinary summer field course, ENVIR 495C: Landscape Change in the Pacific Northwest, offered by the University of Washington Environmental Studies Program. The course, taught primarily through the lens of a nine-day wilderness backpacking trip (July 11-19, 2015) in Olympic National Park, explores changes in the regional landscape in the distant (back to the last ice age) and recent (the last 150 years of European settlement and industrialization) past, and what these recent changes mean for our future, from ecological, psychological, and philosophical standpoints. In short, the course uses today’s wilderness landscape as a “baseline” for understanding global change in the Anthropocene, and thinking about where we are headed at this critical juncture in Earth’s history.

Each student on the course led an evening discussion around a topic he or she was interested in, often incorporating outside quotes and background studies as a way to introduce the topic and provide more fodder for discussion. Discussion topics this year included: 1) Native American relationships to nature and wilderness, 2) the literature of the sublime and development of sense of place, 3) ecology of invasive species in the national park and philosophies governing human management of “wilderness”, 4) the wilderness preservation movement and ramifications of the figurative separation of man from nature, 5) the importance of formal integration of nature (and possibly wilderness) experience into  curricula at all educational levels from pre-K to college, 6) wilderness and landscape management issues around water (and fire) in a changing climate, 7) the process and importance of developing a land ethic (inspired by quotes from Aldo Leopold), 8) a history and evaluation of wilderness recreation styles and management philosophies around recreation in wilderness, and 9) envisioning a wilderness definition that is more inclusive of permanent human settlement—or vice versa, a human settlement pattern that is more in harmony with elements of a wilderness landscape.

While in previous years, our discussions have often taken place around campfires, this year was one of the driest years on record in the Olympics, not due to lack of winter precipitation, but due mainly to record warm temperatures causing winter precipitation to fall as rain. Snowpack at high elevation measuring stations this winter was less than 14% of average, and basically 0% of average at lower elevations, leading to extremely dry conditions on the ground throughout the region. Hence, we adhered to the strict park-wide ban on open fires. One major theme of the course is climate change (past, present, and future), and this year offered a particularly unique insight into what the average summer 50 years from now is projected to look like. August flowers were already blooming (or finished blooming) in July, and many alpine blueberry leaves were already taking on their fall colors, as well as being flush with ripe berries, typical of late August or September. Areas that would normally be covered with many feet of last winter’s snow in July, were completely dry, with much vegetation dry and crispy. Grasshoppers, typical of late August and September, abounded in the meadows, and caterpillar outbreaks were extensive, with obvious extensive defoliation of some species–particularly willows. Correspondingly, butterfly and moth populations were thriving. Stream and alpine lake temperatures were far warmer than normal this year, and swimming was downright comfortable. While our trip ironically began with 3 days of much-needed rain, it was not enough to extinguish the large forest fire burning in a remote area of the southwest part of the park. We grappled with the policy of the Park Service to control this lightning caused fire in a “wilderness” ecosystem that according to the 1964 Wilderness Act, should be left to its own “natural” devices.

The lack of snow made it an excellent year to assess the retreat of prominent alpine glaciers, such as the Eel Glacier on Mt. Anderson and the Lillian Glacier on Mt. McCartney. We were able to re-create historical photos of both of these glaciers, demonstrating massive retreat in the case of the Lillian Glacier, and possibly the last view ever of this glacier if this summer continues to break record high temperatures. Much to our surprise, the low snowpack also allowed us to “discover” an unnamed glacier near Graywolf Pass. The lack of snow had exposed the glacier ice and crevasses (a sign of downhill movement of the ice), as well as ice worms living in the glacier. Ice worms are a direct legacy of the last ice age (explained later in the blog), and one of the animals most endangered by glacial recession in the Pacific Northwest.

As in previous years, we were also able to study the effects of previous climate change events on range shifts of forest species up and down mountain sides. Large Douglas firs at high elevations are the remnants of a warm dry period 700 years ago, and silver firs at lower elevations seeded in during the Little Ice Age which ended only 200 years ago. Many alpine glaciers that expanded during the Little Ice Age have now massively contracted, leaving in their wake characteristic glacial deposits and a unique succession of species colonizing the bare soil. Along with the loss of ice and snow also comes a decline in a unique suite of species (in addition to ice worms) tied to this ecosystem. This was the first year in a long time that I have observed no Rosy Finches, a species that breeds on cliffs and forages best on the plethora of invertebrates that live (and die) on the surface of snow.

The Olympic Mountains and its many historical alpine glaciers were connected to the continental ice sheets that flowed through the Puget Trough and Strait of Juan de Fuca only 16,500 years ago (sounds like a long time ago, but really a geologic “eye-blink” and not that many generations ago for our longest lived trees!). Despite the intrusion of ice from the north, as well as the growth of alpine glaciers down valleys in the Olympics, many of the highest ridges and some valley bottoms remained ice free during the last ice age, providing refugia for many local species, as well as arctic species that had moved south. Many of these species can still be found today in small relictual populations (we discovered rare populations of Rocky Mountain Juniper and Engelmann Spruce this year), and some of them have evolved into forms unique to the Olympic Mountains (including alpine plant species such as the Piper’s Bellflower and Olympic Mountain Groundsel, which we discovered in several ridgetop locations). Plant and animal species isolated on high ridges will be some of the first to go extinct given current projections for human-induced climate change, and it will be up to humans to decide whether to help these species out by moving them to places more climatically amenable (assuming they are incapable of dispersal themselves), or to let them go extinct one by one. Certainly the ecosystem will not unravel at their loss, but whether we have a moral imperative to save them is a bigger question, which we explore on the course, especially in “wilderness” areas which we have traditionally thought of as areas where nature should be left to take care of itself.

Between 1895 and 2015, the Seattle area grew from 40,000 people to over 4.2 million. In the next 25 years, Seattle will grow by another 1.5 million. Virtually every piece of accessible habitat in the lowlands of the Puget Trough has been severely impacted by humans at one time or another, in some cases irrevocably. It was by stroke of luck (due in part to the inaccessibility of the terrain in the early days), and a big dash of courage from some forward-thinking leaders around the turn of the 19th Century, that Olympic National Park and other areas like it were saved from the ax and/or development. In only 25 miles as the crow (or eagle) flies from Seattle, an international hub of high tech industry, one can begin a walk into the Olympic Mountains, a roadless area of over 1 million acres (approximately 1600 sq miles), not to mention similar areas in the Cascade Range. It is this short gradient from ultra-urban to wilderness, that also makes the region such an appealing place to live, as well as a unique place to reflect on landscape change (past, present, and future), and ramifications of this change (namely, the loss of “wild” spaces) for society in the Anthropocene.


It was a pleasure hiking with and learning from the 9 inspirational students, from a variety of majors, who embraced the physical and mental challenges of the course. Miranda Knight-Miles, a student on last year’s course, and recent Environmental Studies graduate, provided additional leadership and enthusiasm as a Teaching Assistant. Each student has written about one day of the trip, and offered additional personal thoughts on the importance of wilderness, a commodity whose value has recently been questioned in some conservation circles, as we enter the Anthropocene. For my part, I have spent close to 200 days traveling in the backcountry of Olympic National Park over the last 15 years, and always enjoy getting to know the landscape more intimately, while encouraging others to do the same. I also relish the opportunity for reflection on what our local wilderness areas teach me about myself and the greater landscape of “home”, as well as the many values our wildernesses offer society, from the ecological to the psychological. Extended wilderness travel offers us rare time and space (both of which are commodities in today’s world)  to think deeply about how we might move forward as a society at this critical juncture in earth’s history, the beginning of the Anthropocene era. It is my hope that this blog conveys the power of the wilderness learning experience and its deep impact on the lives of those who are lucky enough to experience it. For those who do not have the opportunity to experience it, perhaps this blog will bring them a step closer.

Some stats from our trip:

Mileage Covered: 55 miles

Number of Days in Wilderness: 9
Number of Person-Nights in Wilderness: (11 people x 8 nights) = 88 (for reference, 88 was our contribution to the astounding 40,000 person nights a year typically recorded in Olympic National Park’s backcountry!)
Number of people encountered on the trail before the last day of the trip: 4 (Despite ONP’s high visitation rates, the backcountry did not feel crowded!)

Cumulative Altitude gained: ~19,000 feet (about 18000 feet were lost)

Highest altitude attained: ~6,700 feet

Number of bird species observed: 49

Number of bears observed: 0; most years we observe 1 or 2.

Number of mountain goats observed this year: 1

Number of deer observed this year: >9
Number of golden eagles observed this year: at least 4 (a record high for this course)

ENVIR 280, Natural History of the Puget Sound Region, Spring 2015

It was another incredible season of natural history exploration in the Puget Sound Region, with many personal highlights including an octopus and a tailed frog.


Visiting the same places year after year allows us to document important environmental change. Here is a view to the Elwha River in Spring 2014 which we will compare to spring 2015 below. Both pictures were taken in the 3rd week of April.


Elwha River Spring 2015. Note that the river channel has moved from last year to this year. Also note the gradual process of vegetative succession on the flood plain.

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Some of our group posing in front of Marymere Falls. We searched for and found the elusive tailed frog just downstream of the falls. (photo by Jorge Tomasevic).


I finally found the tailed frog, an endemic species to the Pacific northwest–its cousin in the Blue Mountains was recently split into another species. This primitive frog only lives in fast flowing side-branch streams in the mountains. It is not found in the larger valley bottom Barnes Creek (as far as I know). Here I am with the tadpole I just found clinging to a rock in a rapid. This was cold, wet work, but with some perseverance I finally found one.


We got some very nice photos of the tadpole and its amazing suction mouth, viewed clinging to the side of this water bottle. These tadpoles are famous for latching on to rocks in fast flowing streams, and the unusual suction mouth parts allow it to do so. They take 1-4 years to reach adulthood, and spend most of their time eating algae off of smooth stream rocks. Adults (with unusual tail which is a copulatory organ), practice internal fertilization (unlike most other frog species). Eggs and sperm would otherwise be washed away.


Tailed frog tadpole.


American Dipper in Barnes Creek (Photo by TA Jorge Tomasevic). The dipper was John Muir’s favorite bird, which he refers to as the “water-ouzel” in a book chapter by that name. John Muir was no stranger to the northwest, and he is known to have explored some of the Peninsula’s lowland forest several years before the famous “Press Expedition”, which was the first documented crossing of the mountain range by Europeans.

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The next day we headed to Salt Creek on the Strait of Juan de Fuca for tidepooling at Tongue Point. Again, we made some amazing and unusual finds, this time with the Pacific Giant Octopus. I noticed the tips of the tentacles of this animal moving beneath the kelp. Thinking it was a marine worm of some sort, I reached in (unsuccessfully) to pull it out and take a closer look. Minutes later this octopus appeared on the surface, and worked its way around the tidepool, looking at each one of us, and even crawling out of the water at one point for a better look, before heading back into deeper water. It seemed this highly intelligent being was as curious about us as we were about it. Although we share only a distant common ancestor, I have never felt so connected or close to a mollusk. What a treat to be briefly visited by this beautiful animal! (photo by Jorge Tomasevic)


With the exception of the blood star pictured here, sea stars were notably absent this year. Normally Pisaster stars would be abundant. This year we saw only a handful. Undoubtedly the effects of this absence, probably due to wasting disease, will be felt through the food chain. We mistakenly thought the blotches on the blood stars were signs of wasting disease, but the folks at UC Santa Cruz, who are running an excellent citizen science project assessing the disease, assured us that white blotches on blood stars are normal.

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Later in the day, we headed to Hurricane Ridge in summer-like conditions. Snowpack was 0% of normal. That is, where one would normally expect to find 3-6 feet of snow this time of year, there was 0 snow. The winter was not particularly dry, but it was too warm for much snow. This will make for very dry conditions on the ground this summer, and may give us some insight into climatic conditions that will likely prevail here by the end of the century.


Looking across the Puget Trough bioregion to the Cascade Range. No snow in the Olympics.


The beautiful alpine flower, Douglasia, though typically early, was blooming exceedingly early this year. Note also the unidentified caterpillar–perhaps from one of the rare alpine butterflies of the Olympics.


Riding the ferry home after a long weekend of natural history exploration. Exhausted, but in the words of David Douglas, “amply gratified.”


Next field trip to Mima Mounds and other Puget prairies. Luke working on his botany skills.


Common Camas in full bloom at Glacial Heritage Preserve.


TA, Andrew Jauhola teaches about native plants at Glacial Heritage Preserve. Harsh paintbrush in bloom in the foreground.


Douglas fir ever invading the prairies.

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A miniature Douglas fir further out in the prairie.

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TA Jorge teaching the correct way to hold a garter snake.


6’2″ TA Sam Timpe posing for scale in front of a cutaway Mima Mound.


Pondering the origin of Mima Mounds, the Puget Sound’s biggest natural history mystery.


Later in the quarter we moved to Yakima Canyon and Umtanum Ridge. A multitude of species, plant and animal, were encountered in this diverse convergence of ecosystems.


The Yellow Breasted Chat and Lazuli Bunting did not disappoint.


A copper butterfly (Lycaena) on what is probably Crepis atribarba.


Lewisia was in full bloom and very dense this year. For all the talk of drought, the area seemed quite moist and flowers were really the best we’ve seen them in the past 3 years.


Yun Peng displays a horned lizard after hunting intensely.


Thompson’s Paintbrush, parasitic on stiff sagebrush.


Emily getting ready to prepare the roots of the bitterroot, a traditional native food that Lewis and Clark famously sampled.


Studying biodiversity and adaptation in the lithosol community.


The group finds a scorpion in the lithosol community, amidst a variety of Eriogonum flowers.


Working on flower ID on Umtanum Ridge.

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ENVIR 280, Natural History of the Puget Sound Region, Autumn 2014, Highlights

Fall in the northwest! This was the first offering of ENVIR 280 in the fall (as opposed to spring), and we weren’t sure how it would work out. But it worked out splendidly, with awesome opportunities to explore the alpine and glaciers, chances to witness migration in full swing, plenty of life in the lowlands as the summer wound down, and an opportunity to see the fall colors come out as the landscape readied itself for winter. Thanks everyone for a great quarter! And a special thank you to the freshman FIG cohort who took a chance and made this one of their first classes of their college career. Hope to see you all again soon.


Early in the quarter, first stop: Nisqually Delta. Canada geese gathering for migration.


Nisqually Delta, looking out to the Puget Sound. Tornado approaching. Not what you want to see when you are leading a course. Luckily it veered away from us, and then the weather improved.


Tree Frogs abound at Nisqually Delta!


Such a variety of color forms.


More colors!


Garter snakes coiled in the trees, perhaps waiting for tree frogs.


Next stop, Mima Mounds. In the absence of fire, Douglas firs invade the prairie.


Journaling on the Mima Mounds.


Getting excited about a non-native Praying Mantis.


Allie drawing the mantid.


Macro mantid!


Jorge discussing birds on the prairie.

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Sunday: Mount Rainier, emerging from the orographic clouds!


A cloud layer descends over the lower Nisqually Glacier. The group studies the ice from the lateral moraine.


Sketching glacial formations on the Nisqually Glacier.


Sketching on the moraine, and studying the movement and deposits of glaciers.


The toe of the rapidly retreating Nisqually Glacier.


In the Puget Sound region, you don’t have to travel back to the ice age to understand what glaciers are and how glaciers work. Here is the outwash stream of the Nisqually Glacier from the moraine.


Clouds trying to lift.


Intrepid students of natural history braving the cool weather of our approaching winter on the mountain.


Examining a Ruffed Grouse.


Learning to “read” the forest at Kautz Creek.


Teaching in the grove of trees that hooked me on the natural history of the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to my mentor, Val Campbell for introducing me to this grove in 1997.

The remarkable Douglas fir cone mushroom, specific to, you guessed it, Douglas fir cones. We found this one beneath an old growth Douglas fir canopy in Mt. Rainier National Park.

The remarkable Douglas fir cone mushroom, specific to, you guessed it, Douglas fir cones. We found this one beneath an old growth Douglas fir canopy in Mt. Rainier National Park.


The group poses in the old grove low on the slopes of Mt. Rainier. Thanks to Jorge Tomasevic for the photo.


Jorge Tomasevic, photo.


Field Sketching workshop, with Maria Coryell-Martin, at UBNA on UW campus.


Halloween! The Natural History costume challenge.


To the east side to escape the rain. Examining the fangs and pits on this recently deceased rattle snake, now a specimen at the Burke Museum.


Mima Mound-like formations on Umtanum Ridge. The lithosol community is going dormant this time of year, and the cold winds of winter are returning. A far cry from the colorful palette of the spring landscape on Umtanum Ridge.


Naturalist at work.

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The fine hairs covering the leaves of Tall Sagebrush help it resist moisture loss in this windy, dry environment.


An aspen grove turns yellow, trees are probably all clones of each other. On the east side, Douglas fir is shade tolerant (relative to Ponderosa Pine), in the background.


Anthocyanins show through as chlorophyll is lost.


Peer TAs taking their job seriously, as usual! ;)


Wolf lichen! A yellowish natural dye can be made from this lichen.


Black Hawthorne in fall splendor, by Umtanum Creek.


Final trip of the fall, and perfect weather: Ebey’s Landing and Skagit flats. Jorge scanning the lagoon for waterfowl.


Golden-crowned sparrows are in abundance as winter comes on.


Releasing the sparrow.


Ebey’s Landing trail along Strait of Juan de Fuca. Photo by Kathleen Ervin (student).


TA, Jorge Tomasevic talks about gulls.


Journaling in the prairie strip along the bluffs.


Journaling and lunch above the Strait.


Mount Rainier from Skagit Flats, in the setting sun. A flock of snow geese had just flown over. In the distance in this photo, you can see a flock of shorebirds, appearing as a dark smudgy line on the left flank of Rainier, just above the shoreline hill.

ENVIR 495C, Summer 2014: Landscape Change in the Pacific Northwest

This post introduces and recounts the second annual offering of my unique interdisciplinary course called “Landscape Change in the Pacific Northwest”, offered through UW’s Program on the Environment, and taught entirely in the wilderness of Olympic National Park. This summer’s students have put together a beautiful blog about their experiences (including photos and personal stories), which you can access with the following link.


If you are interested, here is a brief explanation of the course:

From July 12th to July 20th 2014, this year being the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and the 105th anniversary of Mount Olympus National Monument, our course headed deep into the wilderness of Olympic National Park. At over one million contiguous acres of wilderness, Olympic National Park and its surrounding USFS wilderness areas, are arguably the largest tract of contiguous, roadless wilderness area in the lower 48. Shockingly, this wilderness is only 20 miles from the rapidly growing Seattle/Tacoma metropolitan area, home to over 4.2 million people, and hotbed of ultra-modern digital technology companies. During our trip, we used the wilderness landscapes of Olympic National Park as a model to understand the ways in which the landscape of the Puget Sound region has changed in the distant (1000s of years) and recent (last 100 years) past, and what human-imposed changes to the landscape mean for our future, from ecological, psychological, and philosophical standpoints. Direct observation of the effects of climate change and fragmentation on species and ecosystems, was coupled with student-led evening discussions on a variety of student-chosen topics related to “wilderness” including:

  • native American perspectives and relationships of local tribes to the land through story telling
  • perspectives on resource use in and around the national park, largely as debated by timber-based communities
  • appropriate lifestyle, development, and settlement patterns for a rapidly growing Puget Sound region
  • wilderness management concerns for endemic species threatened by changing climate, invasive species, and historical over-harvest
  • when and whether active species management is appropriate or antithetical to the concept of “wilderness”
  • Eco-feminism and other “unheard” voices offering alternative perspectives on land conservation

Readings included classical wilderness philosophy, as well as the philosophy of modern day writers and conservationists from this region, with much of our discussion beginning in an online format prior to the start of our wilderness trip. The course was taught by Dr. Tim Billo (faculty in UW Program on the Environment) and Carter Case (recent graduate of the UW Program on the Environment).

The purpose of this blog is to share the story of our daily adventures in Olympic National Park’s wilderness, and to invite you to join in discussion of the ideas we wrestled with often deep into the night during our trip. Each of us have written about a separate day of the trip, and added our personal impressions on the value of wilderness in today’s world. To give you a general sense of the location of the terrain we are talking about, a map of our hiking route can be viewed here. Enjoy!

ENVIR 280, Spring 2014, a few highlights from the rest of the quarter

Below are a selection of images to close out the spring 2014 quarter of ENVIR 280, some taken from student blogs. Thanks everyone for a great quarter of natural history!

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Tree Swallow at Nisqually Delta

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Nice close-up of fruticose lichen from a student blog.

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Bitterroot on Umtanum Ridge.

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Lazuli Bunting at Umtanum Creek, by Oli Veliz.

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Prickly Pear Cactus at Umtanum Creek.

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Common Camas at Nisqually Delta.

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Chickadee study by Mary Navarro, at Ravenna Park, based in part on her observations at a Black Capped Chickadee nest (See her photos below).

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Landscape study of Lake Crescent, by Cassie Halls.

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The Cascade Red Fox at Mt. Rainier.

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Tree frog at Nisqually Delta.

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Garter Snake at Nisqually.

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The Horned Lizard at Umtanum Ridge.

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Nisqually Landscape: Wetlands recently flooded with salt water after dike removal.

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Pollinator (a bumblebee–probably Bombus mixtus) visiting Yellow Flag Iris in Discovery Park, by Bryton Sefert.

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Half of our crew at Paradise, Mt. Rainier.

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Thompson’s Paintbrush, parasitic on the Stiff Sage Brush. Umtanum Ridge.

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Umtanum Ridge, Landscape.

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Nick Schippers sharing a Horned Lizard with his classmates, Umtanum Ridge.

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Red Naped Sapsucker, Umtanum Creek.

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Damaged Emerald Dragonfly at Nisqually delta.

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Pacific Tree Frog, Nisqually Delta.

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Chickadee at nest cavity, Ravenna Park, by Mary Navarro.

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Chickadee bringing food to nest, by Mary Navarro, in Ravenna Park.

ENVIR 280, Natural History of the Puget Sound Region–April 19-20 annual trip to Olympic National Park

We just got back from another banner trip to Olympic National Park. We left Seattle in grey, but otherwise non-rainy weather. The eastern Olympic skyline was visible from the ferry, but clouds were beginning to form on the higher peaks as a south wind whipped up the Sound.

Somehow we managed to get aboard the “training” ferry, and my ferry-board lecture kept hilariously being interrupted by the chief steward running a shipwreck training drill on the loud speaker. It was as if he was secretly watching me and interrupting me every time I opened my mouth. He even sent a new crew member over to our group to instruct us on the use of life jackets right as I was finally getting into my lesson.

On the ferry, Sunday night. Sadly, two of our 9 vans got shunted onto the next ferry at the last minute, so this is not our entire group!

On the ferry, Sunday night. Sadly, two of our 9 vans got shunted onto the next ferry at the last minute, so this is not our entire group!

We made our first stop at the Jamestown S’Klallam reservation to ponder native American relationships to natural history, and the connection of native languages to natural history knowledge. We then continued westward through the rain shadow of the Olympics, then further west and upward into more and more rainy weather. Our next stop was at the overlook for the lower of the two Elwha reservoirs. The Elwha River restoration in full swing, and red alders are actively colonizing (in some cases with a little hand from the restoration ecologists who want to prevent invasives like Scotch Broom from taking over) the deep sediments that were deposited behind the dam. Additionally, it has been amazing to see the oldgrowth stumps, a legacy of the original forest, emerging from the mud. Soon scientists will be able to document the return of salmon and the effects of marine derived nutrients in the upper reaches of the river.

Elwha overlook. Alders are colonizing the sediments that built up in the reservoir over 100 years, behind the lower of the two Elwha dams.

Elwha overlook. Alders are colonizing the sediments that built up in the reservoir over 100 years, behind the lower of the two Elwha dams.

On the shores of Lake Crescent, the cold rain really set in. At 90 inches of precipitation a year, Lake Crescent gets more than double the annual rainfall of Seattle, but is not quite a true rainforest. Just over the ridge in the slightly rainier Sol Duc drainage, one can find Sitka spruce and Selaginella growing in abundance. Nevertheless, the forests of Barnes Point may as well have been rainforests on this day, and the oldest trees there are as big and impressive as anywhere. Especially interesting is the hike up the west facing slopes of Storm King Mountain, where one finds many species that are adapted to drier micro-climates.

Before proceeding with some shots from my hike up Mount Storm King, I should also thank NatureBridge for hosting us again. We were especially thankful to be able to warm up and dry out at the end of the day by the wood stove with hot chocolate in their cozy historic lodge. This lodge is also where FDR ate breakfast on his famous tour of the Olympic Peninsula in the 1930s prior to designating the national park. It is a perfect location for our evening lecture on early naturalist/explorers of the Puget Sound Region.

Here are some pictures from our exploration of Barnes Point and Mount Storm King.

Calypso bulbosa in second growth Douglas fir forest on Barnes Point before the hike up Storm King.

Calypso bulbosa in second growth Douglas fir forest on Barnes Point before the hike up Storm King.

The rain drip pattern on the underside of a madrone.

The rain drip pattern on the underside of a madrone.

Manzanita, a species much more common in the California chaparral.

Manzanita, a species much more common in the California chaparral. Amazingly a subalpine fir grows right here too, at about 1800 ft elevation. One individual seed made its way down this rocky ridge and germinated far below the subalpine zone! Also amazing is Pacifc yew, growing in some of the driest and most exposed areas of the ridge. Clearly not solely a valley bottom species!

More twisted manzanita.

More twisted manzanita.

Fritillaria affinis, or checker lily, growing on a mossy cliff.

Fritillaria affinis, or checker lily, growing on a mossy cliff.

Trillium ovatum in a moist valley site. Note the moisture on my camera lens! Nice effect. All of us noted how much further behind Lake Crescent was phenologically compared to Seattle. Trillium ovatum dropped its petals in Seattle at least 3 weeks before this picture was taken at 900 ft. in Olympic National Park.

Trillium ovatum in a moist valley site. Note the moisture on my camera lens! Nice effect. All of us noted how much further behind Lake Crescent was phenologically compared to Seattle. Trillium ovatum dropped its petals in Seattle at least 3 weeks before this picture was taken at 900 ft. in Olympic National Park.

The elusive rainbow star! Amazing find in deeper sections on the edge of Tongue Point.

The elusive rainbow star! Amazing find in deeper sections on the edge of Tongue Point.

Sunday brought better weather and our annual excursion out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca for a minus tide at Salt Creek. The tidepools did not disappoint. Nor did the Sitka spruce trees in the coastal fog belt,  as well as Fritillaria along the bluffs, and amazing seabird diversity for our bird buffs (marbled murrelet, common loon, pacific loon, harlequin ducks, pelagic cormorants, surf scoters, white-winged scoters, 1 surfbird, 1 dunlin,1 oyster catcher, and much more). Tongue Point is also amazing for geology buffs. The hard basalt, part of the Olympic basalt, resisted erosion, and juts out into the Strait. It is littered with erratic boulders from the massive Juan de Fuca ice lobe that flowed out the strait only 16000 years ago. A smaller lobe of the same ice sheet pushed its way into the Lake Crescent valley during the same period.

Here are some of our other finds and some shots of naturalists in action:

The amazing kelp copepod! Quite the camouflage.

The amazing kelp copepod! Quite the camouflage.

Kelp copepod.

Kelp copepod.

Allie with a small nudibranch. Good find!

Allie with a small nudibranch. Good find!

A giant sun star next to a timeless green anemone. We also saw the striped anemone this year in a deeper tidepool.

A giant sun star next to a timeless green anemone. We also saw the striped anemone this year in a deeper tidepool.

The modern "i-naturalist" at work

The modern “i-naturalist” at work

Cassie making observations and notes for her journal.

Cassie making observations and notes for her journal.

Blood stars are common in the eel grass higher up on Tongue Point.

Blood stars are common in the eel grass higher up on Tongue Point.