Friday, July 31, 2009


Check out this post from Rock Paper Lizard.

Merganser Pond, Saltspring Island

On the other side of Ruckle Provincial Park, the campgrounds are jammed, and people line the sandstone shoreline watching the ferries go by. But here in the woods: nobody. My father and I broke cobwebs across the trail as we walked up at 11 a.m.

Nestled among the cedars, a pond, abuzz with dragonflies: eight-spotted skimmers, blue-eyed darners (at least I'm pretty sure they were blue-eyed darners. I never saw one stop.)

Also meadowhawks mating...

They were leaving their eggs among the duckweed, which doesn't strike me as a very permanent spot. They must overwinter as larvae.

...lyre-tipped spreadwings...

...and duets of bluets.

And once we'd stayed still and looked long, we found we were surrounded by dozens of Pacific tree frogs, most of them small enough to perch on a fingernail.
Perched among the duckweed, they were hard to spot.

Here's a closer view.

Many of them perched on blades of sedge.

Here are a couple more tiny froggy pictures.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Where the giant yellow amoebas roam

This weekend I went up Rattlesnake Mountain, near North Bend, Wash., and had a delightful hike through the woods. We saw a couple dozen of these:

This is a slime mold: Fuligo septica, or if you prefer the common name, dog vomit slime mold.
What we're seeing is the mobile, amoeboid form of the slime mold, one giant oozing, branching, decaying wood devouring cell. At the right stage, and on a diet of wood chips or beauty bark, it can look so much like dog vomit that it triggers calls to the veterinarian.
Here's one that is a little further along in development:

There's a black, bruise-like blur in one spot where spores are forming. Eventually, it'll go through a series of changes, ending up as a blue-black sporing body.
Also coming into bloom on the forest floor was Indian Pipe. Indian pipe is ghostly white and fungus-like because it doesn't get its energy from sunlight. Instead, it uses a fungus as an intermediary to get energy from nearby trees.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fossils, Saltspring Island

Stroll along the beach from my parents place on Saltspring Island and you can find shale deposits from the late cretaceous. And if you look closely enough at the shale fragments, you can find relics of the seafloor at that time. Here's my son with a piece of bivalve.

Beach critters, Saltspring Island

Barnacles feeding from their perch around a clam siphon

Nudibranch egg ribbon. What kind of nudibranch? I don't know.

Mossy chiton.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is that a species of concern in my mother's petunias?

It's a duskywing skipper, probably Propertius duskywing. Washington lists the species as vulnerable, and British Columbia lists it as a species of concern because it depends on Garry Oaks, a tree which is becoming scarce in British Columbia, largely because great chunks of its habitat have been swallowed up by towns and suburbs.
According to the references, these insects are most likely to show up in May, though flights in July have been known to happen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Black Oystercatcher, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

As you might have guessed, I like black oystercatchers. This one was on Russell Island, off Saltspring Island.

Three hummingbirds, Saltspring Island

One of the great pleasures of lounging on my parents' deck on Saltspring Island is watching the hummingbirds come and go. By July, most of the ones we see are juveniles and females. They spend a lot of time chasing each other, but once in a while, hunger overcomes the need for territorial protection, and they gather together. These three hatched this year. The middle one is an Anna's hummingbird, a species which, these days, stays in the area all year. The other two are rufous hummingbirds. They'll soon be gone, first to the mountains, in search of flower nectar, and then to their wintering grounds in Mexico and South Texas.

Beach bucks, Saltspring Island

What brings these black-tailed deer(a subspecies of mule deer) to the lower intertidal zone? Sea lettuce, or just salt?

Cedar waxwing, Discovery Park

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One big baby grebe in Green Lake

I visited the pied-billed grebes this morning and found they have one baby remaining, and it has grown in the two weeks since I visited last.

It was diving and swimming alongside its parents, making lots of noise between dives. The parents would feed it. After a while, they went back to the nest. One parent climbed on, and the baby rested and groomed nearby.
The parent called a couple of times.

After a while, the other parent came back. They both added some material to the nest. Then they ducked under a willow branch and sang a duet. The baby stayed put.

What are they up to? Another clutch? It seems a little late in the year.

Previous posts:
June 3: one egg.
June 10: seven eggs.
June 27:first hatching.
June 28: second hatching.
June 30: three babies, two eggs
July 1: still three babies, two eggs
July 3: three babies, one egg
July 6: two babies, away from nest.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Man catches Humboldt Squid in West Seattle

Those ten-tentacled harbingers of ocean warming, the Humboldt Squid, are on the loose in Puget Sound. King 5 reports that a man caught an eight-foot-long one off West Seattle.

NOAA photo.

How dragonflies see

Living the Scientist has an amazing article on vision among dragonflies and damselflies.

Blue dasher, photographed at Green Lake.

Great Blue Heron, Montlake Fill

Caught a fish.

Down the hatch.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Yes, we have scorpions in these parts

Pacific Slope Blog describes an exciting (to a nature geek) encounter with a female Pacific Northwest scorpion.

Finding a nest

Laura Goes Birding has a step-by-step explanation of how to find a bird's nest, along with a video sample of the rewards a birder can find: cedar waxwing nestlings. I'm going to try and take her advice.

Forest fire without firefighters in the North Cascades

Chattermarks has a post about the Panther Creek fire, now burning on a roadless hillside in Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The terrain is steep, the fire is small, and the ecosystem is fire-adapted, so the National Park Service is letting it burn for now. They have, however, taken some precautions, such as wrapping a trail bridge in old fire shelters.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pacific tailed frog

Huckleberry Days has this post about finding Pacific tailed frog tadpoles in a creek west of Hope, British Columbia.

The plankton blooms of summer

West Seattle Blog has a photo of the plankton blooms now visible in Puget Sound.

Studying the endangered Fender's Blue

The Corvallis Gazette-Times has a story about research into the habits of the Fender's Blue, a Willamette Valley butterfly so rare it was thought to be extinct until 1989. The reason it is so rare: its caterpillars feed on only one plant: the Kincaid's lupine, itself a threatened species.

Via Sightline Daily.

Saving salmon in California helps Salish Sea orcas

The Bellingham Herald has a story about how planned water restrictions on farmers in California's central valley might help not only the salmon of the Sacramento and American river, but also safeguard the future of the orcas of Puget Sound.

Inmates raise endangered frogs

Want to boost populations of a dwindling amphibian? Hire an inmate. As the Seattle Times explains, two inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections center, earning 85 cents an hour to raise Oregon spotted frogs, have raised more and bigger frogs than professionals at zoos.

Pied-billed grebes away from the nest

I arrived this morning to a blustery gray lake. The pied-billed grebe nest was empty. I could see one of the adults just beyond the edge of the lily pads.

Hmm. This bird is riding pretty high in the water. And where's that peeping sound coming from? Wait. Those back feathers are wiggling.

It turned out the parent had two small passengers. And they're staying close by.

I found the other adult diving among the lily pads a bit farther south. No passengers there.

Previous posts:

June 3: one egg.
June 10: seven eggs.
June 27:first hatching.
June 28: second hatching.
June 30: three babies, two eggs
July 1: still three babies, two eggs
July 3: three babies, one egg

Song sparrow, South Lake Union

Friday, July 3, 2009

Green lake grebes eating feathers

As of 10 a.m. today, there were three babies and one egg in the pied-billed grebe nest. Here the adults are singing a duet, while the babies swim toward them.

Martin Muller emailed me with this fascinating point about the feather seen on the baby's bill in Wednesday's pictures. He wrote that grebes eat their own feathers, and that their flank feathers molt constantly, giving them a steady supply.

"All grebes will eat their own feathers as well as some 'found feathers' (for instance when ducks are molting and many small feathers are floating around). Sometimes the very first 'meal' a newly hatched grebe chick receives is a feather the adult provides.

Feathers line the inside of grebe stomachs and also provide a 'plug' in the pyloric exit (stomach to small intestines). The feathers are thought to provide protection from sharp fish bones (adult grebes swallow fish whole and they slowly dissolve in the stomach acid, youngsters are proffered smaller pieces of fish but those may contain fish bones too), as well as a 'strainer' to keep the partially digested food inside the stomach long enough to dissolve.

A third theory postulates that the feathers provide bulk for pellets (grebes regurgitate pellets containing indigestible matter like chitin shields of insects they eat, or plant material ingested along with animal mater). The pellet is also thought to clean the esophagus of parasites as it works its way up and out (like the sponge that is sent through pipes, using water pressure, to clean the inside of the pipes at dairy farms, hence the name for the theory 'polishing sponge theory' -translated from the original Dutch 'poetsprop theory'-)."

Here's an adult feeding a youngster a feather.

Previous posts:

June 3: one egg.
June 10: seven eggs.
June 27:first hatching.
June 28: second hatching.
June 30: three babies, two eggs
July 1: still three babies, two eggs

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fast moving water in mountains

A snowy winter, a slow-starting spring, followed by a few hot weeks and all of a sudden, you have the situation of a whole lot of snow melting at last and surging down the mountainsides into the sea. Lynda Mapes of the Seattle Times has the story.

Save the giant Palouse earthworm

The Wenatchee World has the story about the effort to save the enormous and elusive spitting annelid.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Blue-eyed darner, Discovery Park

Fireweed field, Discovery Park

In one corner of Discovery Park's south meadow is a stretch of fireweed. The pink blooms, in spikes six to seven feet tall attract wild bees galore. I tried, and failed to get a picture of a leaf-cutter bee carrying an actual piece of cut leaf. At least three Anna's hummingbirds and one Rufous hummingbird zipped around. Once in a while one would stop, hover and eat, and then they'd go back to buzzing each other, and doing diving loops.
Meanwhile four species of swallows flitted around and more birds called from nearby trees. And this was at 9:30 a.m., well before fireweed's peak nectar time, which is 1 p.m.

Fireweed is a colonizer of barren places. It's one of the first species to sprout up after a fire or a landslide, and when those busy pollinators are through, and the flours mature, they'll turn into capsules that will burst, each sending hundreds of fluffy seeds into the wind, which will carry them to the next fireweed meadow.

Still three baby grebes, two eggs

I stopped by Green Lake at about noon and found the three baby pied-billed grebes looking lively. (One is on the other side of the parent.)

The parent swam over to meet its mate and they sang a duet until one of the babies swam out to remind them of the task at hand.

It pays to speak up.

One of the babies appears to have a down feather stuck to its face. I guess that can happen when you use your parent's feathers as a climbing structure. There are still two eggs left. I wonder if they'll hatch at all?

Previous posts:
June 3: one egg.
June 10: seven eggs.
June 27:first hatching.
June 28: second hatching.
June 30: three babies

Berry season

It's now the time of year when a walk in the woods is seldom far from a juicy snack. Among the delicacies coming into season at Discovery Park:


Red huckleberry

Trailing blackberry (my favorite)

Indian plum, a fruit I like more and more. It tastes kind of like a cucumbery watermelon, but sweet, and so purple it stains your fingers.

Red elderberries. I've never tried these. You have to cook them before you eat them. Otherwise they cause nausea.

Black raspberry. These are edible, though I've never tried them. Someone likes them, though.

Damselfly eats while mating

Damselfly mating is a wonder of flexiblity and coordination. The male uses a special pair of arms on the end of his abdomen to grab the female behind the head, and she bends to touch her abdomen to the sperm stored in his thorax. They can do this while flying around.
Heck, they don't even have to drop what they were eating, or at least this female doesn't. She's holding something to her mouth-parts and munching away.

Photographed in Discovery Park.