Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Harlequin ducks and shorebirds, Cattle Point, Victoria

I took a walk to Cattle Point on a blustery Monday, all the better to see that most gorgeous of waterfowl, the harlequin duck.

There were also at least three black oystercatchers foraging along the rocks.

Here's one chiseling into a crevice. It came out with a limpet. Earlier, I saw it clutching a sculpin in its beak.

Then my bird ID skills were put to the test by a parade of shorebirds in winter plumage. Judging by the size, bill length, and the fact that they were foraging in the grass, I think the little birds next to the glaucous-winged/western hybrid gulls were dunlin.

Here are some more.

I also came across two black turnstones. This one seemed to be huddling into a rock crevice fore shelter.

And perched on a rock off Willows beach, two more species. I think the short-billed ones are black-bellied plovers, and the long-billed one is a willet.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Icy morning, Green Lake

A week into the cold snap, Green Lake was fringed with ice, and had big rafts of ice floating in the middle.

Hooded mergansers were putting on a great show in the willows on the east side of the lake. I spotted some males grunting and arching their necks at each other. Also, one female, who caught a large fish, had to evade all the others in her flock of 16 birds in order to swallow it. She managed.

Here's a splendid male.

Here's the biggest find of the day, a young green heron, perched discreetly in a willow. Too discreetly for my liking.

As usual, I could see it better than I could photograph it.

One of these wigeon is not like the others...

It's a Eurasian wigeon, likely visiting for the winter from Siberia, making it more exotic than the American wigeon that make up the rest of the flock. They breed in boring old North America.

And here is a lovely common merganser. Also seen: northern shovelers in full breeding regalia, three ruddy ducks and a common goldeneye.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hooded Merganser, Green Lake

I saw lots of hooded mergansers and a few common mergansers on Green Lake this beautiful morning.

Lovely creatures.

Birds, Discovery Park

From yesterday:
Ruby-crowned kinglet, part of a raucous mixed flock that included ruby-crowned kinglets, golden-crowned kinglets, black-capped and chestnut backed chickadees, a nuthatch and...

...brown creepers. Here's one.

Over by the pond a song sparrow was hopping around, apparently eating tidbits from the duckweed and occasionally wetting its feathers.

Slime mold revisited, Discovery Park

Remember this, from Nov. 18?

It's a slime mold amoeba climbing a tree so it can produce spores. Here's what it looked like yesterday:

Fred Rhoades says it is likely Physarium polycephalum, a species that is easy to culture and as a result, widely studied. Among the discoveries about Physarium: it can navigate mazes and can provide the computing power for a light-avoiding robot.
It's impossible to say for sure, what it is, however, without having an expert examine the fruiting bodies closely -- possibly under a microscope.
In case you ever need to do this, here are Rhoades' instructions for sending slime mold fruiting bodies through the mail.
"The best way is in a tiny box that you put in an envelope. Take the fruiting body scrap removed on a small sliver of the bark that is on and glue it down in the bottom of a small matchbox or similar. Put a bit of cotton ball or some such in on top to stabilize it and slip the whole thing in an envelope, perhaps gluing the box down on a card to stabilize its position in the envelope. Any small, rigid container will work. The main thing is to protect the fruiting bodies from being crushed or shaken as they are very fragile."

American Searocket, Discovery Park

Still blooming.

Amanita muscaria, Woodland Park

Around a pine tree by the Zoo, Fly Agaric, one of the world's oldest mind-altering drugs (though I understand it's only trippy in an "Oh, look, I'm violently ill" kind of way), and insect repellents (an old use was to mix it in a potion to stupefy flies.) More recently, an icon of the fungal world, accessory of garden gnomes, favored residence of smurfs and object of desire for the Mario Brothers.

I wonder what's been eating this one.

Cooper's Hawk, Good Shepherd Center

This young Cooper's Hawk was lingering among the apple trees near Seattle's Good Shepherd Center.

I couldn't see any bands, which any Seattle-born Cooper's Hawk would have. I guess it's from out of town.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beach scenes, Discovery Park

Discovery Park on Wednesday. Sea frothy and gray with floodwater, Rainier visible.

A bald eagle soaring by.

And river otter tracks on the North Beach. Check out the scuff marks where the tail went by.

Yummy slime, Discovery Park

A giant amoeba oozes up a tree to release spores, and a slug takes a slimy meal. Although it's not as weird as its drippy lunch, the mollusk is pretty odd. It's a native species, Phrophysaon andersoni, with two distinctive talents: it can shed its tail when attacked and it gushes orangish yellow slime when disturbed.
It's not possible to identify the slime mold until it sets up its spore releasing structures. Fred Rhoades kindly identified the moss as Ulota or a small Orthotrichum.

Here's another look at the slime mold.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Golden-crowned kinglet, Discovery Park

This time of year, songbirds tend to rove around in mixed flocks, hopping from tree to tree, gleaning for tiny insects. And usually, if you're in the woods, golden-crowned kinglets will be along, chattering in their high silvery voices. They are tiny - weighing it at 6 grams -- but tough enough to flit and chip their way through New England winters. It's hard to get more than a glimpse of one, because they seldom stay still, always hopping from branch to branch, sometimes dangling upside down, sometimes dodging behind leaves. Many a time I've tried to follow one with the camera. Most of the time I get pictures of feathery blurs or places where kinglets used to be.
Yesterday, I got lucky. This bird was in a mixed flock with black-capped chickadees and dark-eyed juncos.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Birdy day, Discovery Park

A friend of mine calls it a birdy day, the sort of time when avifauna of all kinds present themselves to be seen. Thursday was one of those days.

Northern Flicker


Young red-tail, circling over the south meadow.

Steller's jay.

Golden-crowned sparrow posing on matching lichen.

Bushtit on dead gumweed.

The bushtits really liked the gumweed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Here be otters, Discovery Park

Thursday at Discovery Park's North Beach. Three river-otter heads, one large, and two small.

Here's another view. Looks like a mother and two kits. The kits stay with their mother until the next litter is born in the summer.

And there were lots of tracks about, too.

Figuring out fungi, revisited.

An expert, Fred Rhoades, a mycologist and lichenologist based in Bellingham, kindly gave me feedback on my IDs. The good news: one of them is right. The rest? Well...

I had arrived at Cryptoporus volvatus. Rhoades says it's not that. In fact, I don't just have the species wrong. I may have the kingdom wrong. Rhoades says it looks like a slime mold, Lycogala epidendrum.

My assessment for this: Lactarius subflammeus. Rhoades says I'm sort of right: it is a Lactarius, and it might be subflammeus. Or it might be something else.
" need to taste all those little orange, white-milked Lactarii to separate the peppery ones from the mild ones. Then precise color, viscidity and host trees nearby (all Lactarius are mycorrhizal) are important."

My call: Boletus zellerii. Rhoades's verdict: correct.

I said Clitocybe clavipes. "...looks like it might be an old Gomphidius glutinosus," Rhoades says.

I think it's a Russula. Rhoades says the stem is too skinny. "Perhaps Leucopaxillus???"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Figuring out fungi, Discovery Park

I adore mushrooms. I love their shapes and colors, and the way they stay unseen most of the year, only emerging one fleeting time to fruit. But do I know my mushrooms? Oh, no. I do not. But I'm trying.
I have two guide-books, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
"Mushrooms Demystified," by David Arora, is a magnificent book, the best-written field guide of any kind that I have ever encountered. Arora has a strong and amusing authorial voice, the book is crammed with info. On the minus side, it is ancient. The most recent edition is from 1986. And most of the pictures are in black and white. Plus, it's California-centric.
My other guide, "Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest" by Steve Trudell and Joe Ammirati was published in 2009, and it's as local as they come (both authors teach at the University of Washington. It's not as comprehensive as Arora's book, and well, it isn't written by Arora.
Along with these books, I can turn to the Internet, which can be helpful sometimes.
So let's see how I do with these mushrooms I encountered on Tuesday's soggy walk.

These were hard, woody, and browner than they look in the picture. I think it's a polypore, but I don't see anything that looks like it in the polypore chapter of Trudell and Ammirati.
In Arora, I follow the key to Piptoporus & Cryptoporus. Looks like Cryptoporus volvatus is a possibility.
Arora writes:
"This bizarre evolutionary anomaly looks like a cross between a confused puffball and a bemused oak gall. The smooth, warmly tanned exterior is quite attractive (often reminding me of a small loaf of bread) and gives no hint of the tube layer within. Slicing it open, however, reveals a hollow interior with a "ceiling" of tubes. The "floor" eventually ruptures and tiny bark-boring beetls enter the "trap door" in search of tasty tube tissue and spores. After feasting they depart to construct brood tunnels in old or dying conifers, and the spores they carry with them gain entry to a new host. Later, fruiting bodies may emerge through the very holes bored by the beetles!"
Next step: Google Cryptoporus volvatus. Hey look: it's still called that.
One problem: it grows on conifer wood, and I'm pretty sure that's an alder log.

These were growing in a crowd, and I can't resist red. One broke when I was looking at the gills, but I didn't notice any latex. (I wasn't looking for it though, so that doesn't mean there wasn't any.) They look like Lactarius subflammeus in Trudell and Ammirati, and they're consistent with the description in Arora, and there are pictures that look like them online. So: Lactarius subflammeus. I think.

This is a bolete. The gills are tubular and yellow-green, and when I poke them with my fingernail, they don't turn gray. Looking at Trudell and Ammirati. I think it the cap seems more like B. Zelleri, but neither one has seems to have that green stipe. Turning to Arora, who appears to have a thing for boletes, I'm leaning toward Zelleri -- for one thing Arora says the tubes often don't stain blue.

As usual, the things I notice about this mushroom are not necessarily the things that are likely to help me identify it. What I notice: it's big, and funnel shaped with this nifty wrap-around thing going on. What I should have figured out: the spore color, as it's how Trudell and Ammirati sort out the gilled mushrooms, whether the flesh is brittle or not, and whether or not it smelled of grape bubble gum. If it did, it may have been Clitocybe clavipes.

There were a bunch of these handsome white mushrooms under a cedar tree. I think it's a Russula. Which one, I can't tell. I might have a chance if I looked at the spores under a microscope.