Category Archives: beaches

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Tailed frog tadpole.

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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)

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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Common Camas in full bloom at Glacial Heritage Preserve.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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The Yellow Breasted Chat and Lazuli Bunting did not disappoint.

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

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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.

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Yun Peng displays a horned lizard after hunting intensely.

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Thompson’s Paintbrush, parasitic on stiff sagebrush.

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

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Studying biodiversity and adaptation in the lithosol community.

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

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Working on flower ID on Umtanum Ridge.

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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.

Olympic Coast: Shi Shi to Rialto, 4 days, March 2013

This is a classic northwest trip, and deserves a longer write-up. My wife and I took 4 days over my spring break to explore this long stretch of wilderness coastline. We started by riding the bus out of Forks to Neah Bay, and then hitching a ride with a friendly woman from the reservation (thanks!) to the trailhead. By our first night, we had made it all the way to the Ozette River, in place for a cold ford at low tide early the next morning. On our second night, we were sprayed by a spotted skunk in the middle of the night as we slept on an isolated patch of beach south of Yellow Banks. Our gear and clothing are still recovering from that one! Unfortunately, with the tide high, we were not able to move out of the skunk’s territory until early the next morning. The stretch from Norwegian Memorial to Chilean Memorial was some of the best and wildest coastal walking I’ve ever done, and we spent plenty of time basking in the warm spring sun on beaches and headlands while waiting for tides to go out. We had many excellent bird sightings, including a flock of red crossbills eating clay at the edge of the beach, and oyster catchers close at hand on the nearby rocks. I love this time of year because fox sparrows are still around, and they are beginning to sing their melodious songs as they head north. We saw a whimbrel and other shorebirds on the Sandy Beaches of Sand Point. There is so much more to say about this trip, and many photos that need to be posted. I highly recommend the Olympic Coast at any time of year, but especially in the off-season.