Natural History Journal – Week 9

Date: Wednesday December 3, 2014
Weather: Clear
Temperature: 41°F
Time: 10:00am – 11:30am
Location: Ravenna Park spot

My final nature observation for this quarter offered a much needed respite from the troubles of human society. Over the past few weeks, new injustices have been piled on top of the ones in Ferguson. More people of color have been beaten and killed and their attackers continue to be let go, never to be brought to justice for their actions. Ignorant white people continue to blame the victims and choose to deny the existence of racism in the United States.

Today I was glad to see many birds, creatures that are, in some ways, outside of the corrupt systems that I find myself a part of. Other animals, bound to the structures of the earth, are confined to smaller and smaller ranges by the encroachment of human property and destruction. And while birds are severely impacted by the havoc wreaked on their habitats, individuals can always fly away and escape to wherever they please for a while.

The main birds I always see and hear are American crows. Today I watched several chowing down on a broken pumpkin in the ravine (apparently someone decided to dump their old Halloween decoration off the 20th Ave bridge). I saw a Varied thrush for the second time. It was sitting on a high up branch, just keeping watch.

I was very excited to see two birds I have never seen before – a Pileated woodpecker and a Northern flicker! I think one factor that helped me find them today was the disappearance of leaves from many of the deciduous trees, which allows for seeing the snags that these birds use. It was interesting to observe the different behaviors of the two woodpeckers. The Pileated woodpecker was using very powerful, individual strikes to open up holes in the trees, where it found invertebrates to eat. It did this for a long time, hopping around the entire circumference of a tree before moving on to another one. I only saw the Northern flicker briefly, but it was drumming on a snag rather than drilling for food. Drumming (rapidly striking a tree with the beak) is a technique that woodpeckers use to communicate with each other.

A major change from the previous weeks was the snow that feel a few days ago. This caused many of the small plants by the stream to wither and die.

Snow on the ground

Snow on the ground

Horsetail that was worn out  by the cold, snow and wind

Horsetail that was worn out by the cold, snow and wind

The beaked hazelnut that I had been monitoring for so long at my site had finally lost all of its leaves. This was sad to see, as I had always looked forward to the comforting fuzziness of these leaves.

Beaked hazelnut with no leaves

Beaked hazelnut with no leaves

Fallen beaked hazelnut leaf

Fallen beaked hazelnut leaf

Natural history with Tim Billo has been a wonderful class. Amid all the stresses of these past few months, the field trips and nature observations were oases of calm and pure discovery.

My perception of my observation site has changed drastically throughout the quarter. I remember my first impression was that there wasn’t very much going on. How was I going to find new things to write down every week? The same plants would be there every time and I would certainly have a hard time finding any invertebrates or animals. But despite my worries, each visit to my site was an exciting experience with new surprises. I now view my part of Ravenna park as a dynamic habitat with notable changes even from minute to minute. I have also gained a good understanding of where to look for various species. There is the pacific madrone which is great to check out for seeing birds. The piles of dead branches and logs are good places to rummage for mushrooms. I feel like I belong in this spot.

My sense of the Puget Sound region has also been refined this quarter. I now understand this region much more as a whole system than as a set of places. It’s not just the Cascades, Seattle, Olympia, and the peninsula. There are patterns of geologic activity and climatic conditions that interact across all these places to form the characteristics that many people think of. Pacific winds bring the moisture that rains down on all parts of Washington west of the Cascades. First fog reaches the beaches of the Olympic Peninsula. Then the moist air rises up the Olympic Mountains and condenses into rain that feed the Olympic Rainforest. The moisture that’s left continues across Puget Sound to give us the classic Seattle autumn weather. As the air rises yet again going over the Cascades, more rain is dropped. And finally the air reaches the eastern edge of the Cascades, where it is mostly dry, creating the shrub steppe zone over there. This is just one of the many systems that are in action across the whole of Puget Sound.

I would say that I know my observation spot in Ravenna Park pretty well now. What does it mean to intimately know a place? For me to get to this point took hours of close observation and repeated visits to the same spot. These two factors could be generalized as frequency and intensity. To know a place, you have to come back many times to see how it adapts in response to factors like weather and seasonal changes. And each time you go you have to inspect the organisms closely in order to really internalize their defining traits and their traits that change. You also have to understand the space of possible regional changes that might occur at any time in order to predict what might be going on at your place in response. So for example, I learned that during cold and dry weather spells, I would be much less likely to find mushrooms at my site. I can now predict this before even observing anything. So knowing a place involves understanding macro and micro level processes. What is the outcome of all this? For me the outcome has been a renewed excitement about visiting Ravenna Park. Without knowing this place intimately, I could visit the park many times and each time would be the same: enjoyable, but without much of anything new. Now that I know what to look for and what changes I can predict, it much more exciting to visit the park. Each day I go there brings new discoveries.

To finish up this journal, I’ll close with a repeat photo slideshow of one part of my site. This shows some of the changes I’ve witnessed over the past months. I’m sure I will continue to go back to this spot in the future, but for now, adieu!

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Natural History Journal – Week 8

Date: Sunday November 16, 2014
Weather: Clear, blue sky
Temperature: 42°F
Time: 3:00pm – 4:30pm
Location: Ravenna Park spot

The dry, clear weather continued on this day, although I was relieved that it was not as cold as it was previously. In general there were not too many changes from last week. I think everything about the plants is happening slower now that the cooler temperatures of fall have set in. The animals on the other hand seemed to be in a great hurry. The squirrels were especially active – running around and climbing up and down trees, frantically collecting food and materials.

Repeat photo of part of my site

Repeat photo of part of my site

Most of the deciduous plants have dropped their leaves at this point. The beaked hazelnuts are still holding on, but all the leaves are dry and shriveled up.

Further changes in the beaked hazelnut

Further changes in the beaked hazelnut

The red huckleberry continues to lose the characteristic vivid green color in some branches.

Red huckleberry branches continue to lose their bright green hue

Red huckleberry branches continue to lose their bright green hue

The main task for today was to observe birds and their interactions in their habitat. I was lucky to find hundreds of birds around my site, although the sheer quantity of them made it hard to follow specific individuals. The black-capped chickadees and northern flickers were audible but not visible to me. The first bird I was able to follow was an American robin hopping around eating fallen berries off the ground. It would hop several feet, then stop and bend down to eat something. Eventually it stopped and flew up into the tree branches above it. It switched trees and branches for a while and then found it’s way near the top of one of the tallest western redcedars. There it perched and looked around for a long time until it flew off and I lost it. There were many other robins as well and they didn’t seem to be particularly social with each other. However, they were competing for space and food with other birds, including the next bird I saw, which was a Bohemian waxwing. This bird and several others were perched in a tall pacific madrone that was easily viewed through the gaps in the canopy. I liked watching the waxwing very much because it seemed like a very carefree, lazy, happy bird. It mostly just perched in one spot high in the canopy for a long time. It’s behavior followed a very consistent cycle of reaching out to wrestle a berry off the twigs, swallowing it whole, resting, sometimes pooping, and then eating another berry. I didn’t see any other waxwings around, so this bird seemed perfectly okay without being social. Occasionally it would fly a very short distance to another branch in the same tree and continue eating. Eventually an American robin forced the waxwing out of the tree and I lost it.

Pacific madrone that was full of birds eating berries

Pacific madrone that was full of birds eating berries

Pacific madrone berry

Pacific madrone berry

Here is a gesture sketch of the American robin’s behavior of hopping around picking up berries.

American robin gesture sketch

American robin gesture sketch

And here is one of the American robin flying around between trees.

Bird flight between trees gesture sketch

Bird flight between trees gesture sketch

Natural History Journal – Week 7

Date: Tuesday November 11, 2014
Weather: Clear, blue sky
Temperature: 44°F
Time: 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Location: Ravenna Park spot

It has been a weird weather week in Seattle, and I do not like it! One thing I love about here in general as opposed to Maryland (where I’m from) is the winters. Maryland’s winters are cold and dry and barren, and when I’m there my skin turns into sandpaper and I wake up every morning with my throat and nose completely parched. But here in Seattle it’s supposed to be wet and mild and green! It’s really wonderful.

But not this week! This week we have had a block of cold air coming down from Canada that is blocking the usual mild, moist Pacific air that that blows from the southwest and gives Seattle it’s wonderful winters. It’s gotten below freezing a few days and humidity is stuck around 30%. Sure there have been no clouds, but this is worthless if you can’t go outside without being extremely uncomfortable. There’s nothing better than sandpaper skin and frostbite to ruin a beautiful sunset.

Anyway, my whining is somewhat related to the nature observation this week. We were supposed to find examples of fungi, but these organisms are really big fans of water. They were out in hordes a few weeks ago when the classic Seattle autumn weather was doing its thing, but this dry spell made them particularly difficult to find. Or at least that’s my theory, but it could also be that people pulled up all the mushrooms to take home and eat before I could document them.

Repeat photo of general site

Repeat photo of general site

To show how dry it was: the ground is still covered with bigleaf maple leaves, but instead of being flat and soaked into a uniform mat, they are dry and loose

To show how dry it was: the ground is still covered with bigleaf maple leaves, but instead of being flat and soaked into a uniform mat, they are dry and loose

This red huckleberry branch was turning brown from its usual bright green

This red huckleberry branch was turning brown from its usual bright green

I turned over a log at my site a found a mycelium, which is a mass of hyphae, the parts of fungi that perform vegetative growth by breaking down and extracting nutrients from the substances they colonize. Fungus will be an important player facilitating the decay of this log into soil.

Mycelium under log

Mycelium under log

The next thing I found was a lichen. Lichens are organisms composed of algae and/or cyanobacteria growing in the structures created by a fungus. This particular example was a foliose lichen, which is named for the leaf-like shapes that the structures take on. Lichens are very resilient, so they are found on many surfaces throughout Ravenna Park.

Lichen covering fallen branch

Lichen covering fallen branch

Next I found a mushroom growing beneath the underbrush of the forest, in the decaying debris that covers the ground. It had a conic shape with a thick stalk and fine gills underneath. These mushrooms reproduce by dropping spores out of the gills. The stalk had a single ring near the top – a remnant of the veil membrane that protects the spore producing part of the mushroom when it is still young.

Mushroom

Mushroom

Same mushroom, alternate view showing the gills and ring

Same mushroom, alternate view showing the gills and ring

Then I found a mushroom that I believe is from the Mycena genus. It was very fragile with a thin stem and a delicate cap hiding very well-defined gills with large spacing between them. It was growing in the moss covering the bark of a tree, along with many others of the same kind.

Mycena mushroom

Mycena mushroom

Gills

Gills

While walking down the path towards the stream, I noticed a log off to the side with some odd-looking white patches. These turned out to be a type of crustose lichen.

Crustose lichen

Crustose lichen

The puffball mushroom below was growing in the soil of one of the steep walls that were formed when the trails through the park were cut. Puffballs have an interesting reproduction method: instead of dropping spores, the spores are stored internally and escape only when the mushroom breaks open.

Puffball mushroom

Puffball mushroom

Finally I saw a group of bracket mushrooms protruding from a log near the stream. These mushrooms are polypores, so instead of gills they have tubes on their undersides which release spores. They do not have stems and are generally fan-shaped.

Ganoderma mushroom

Ganoderma mushroom

Natural History Journal – Week 6

Date: Thursday November 6, 2014
Weather: Overcast, windy, drizzling
Temperature: 55°F
Time: 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Location: Ravenna Park spot

Today was a fairly typical autumn Seattle day in terms of weather, so I wasn’t too hopeful for seeing a bird as was required for this week’s journal entry. But I ended up finding a really cool bird after walking around the park for a while!

My site

My site

In general I felt like the evergreen plants at my site were rebounding after beginning to turn brown a few weeks ago, which is probably due to the increased rain as fall sets in. Of course, the deciduous trees are still losing their leaves though. The ground was covered with bigleaf maple leaves of different colors and at varying stages of decomposition. Mushrooms of many types are popping up everywhere, capitalizing on the high moisture and availability of dead plant material all around.

This patch of salal was much more vibrant and green this week

This patch of salal was much more vibrant and green this week

Beaked hazelnut leaves turning brown

Beaked hazelnut leaves turning brown

Bigleaf maple leaves cover the ground

Bigleaf maple leaves cover the ground

The canopy has opened up as the trees lose leaves

The canopy has opened up as the trees lose leaves

Douglas fir cone soaked with water. The bracts are clearly visible

Douglas fir cone soaked with water. The bracts are clearly visible

Planar polypore mushroom anchored in a hole of a log. Maybe that snail is seeking shelter under this natural umbrella

Planar polypore mushroom anchored in a hole of a log. Maybe that snail is seeking shelter under this natural umbrella

Jelly mushroom

Jelly mushroom

For the next part of this journal we were supposed to describe some organisms without using the usual words that we would use. Here goes!

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Lobes extend symmetrically from the central supporting beam. These are smooth to the touch, but be careful of the spiny edges. Veins pump red blood from the center to the rest of the vibrant structure, which handles the wind with ease, bending but never even coming close to breaking.

Varied thrush (did not get a picture of the bird)

Fifty feet in the air it sits confidently on it’s perch. Like a flame, its streamlined body is highlighted by vivid orange streaks. The long thin spear in front is perfect for prying, probing, and picking up insects. Its head swivels in all directions, searching, the eyes intensely alert, framed by the fiery patterns around its face. And then it is gone, darting away through the air to another tree, too quick to follow.

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It sits stoically

Sleek, brown, unassuming body

Weathering the wind and chill

Long wings buffeted by the gusts

Spindly legs grasping the slippery leaf with firm conviction

And the will to live

Natural History Journal – Week 5

Date: Saturday October 25, 2014
Weather: Overcast, drizzling
Temperature: 60°F
Time: 10:30am – 5:00pm
Location: East of the Cascade Crest

This past Saturday part of our class went east of the Cascade Crest to see what kind of environment lies in the rain shadow of these mountains. Of course we first had to drive about two hours to get there, but even this was a good educational experience as we saw the weather change from Seattle, through the mountains, and down to the hills on the other side. In Seattle it was raining, and as we drove closer to the West side of the Cascades, it started pouring because the elevation change forces the water vapor to condense. Continuing through the mountains, the rain and clouds gradually backed off until we came to the East side where it was drizzling slightly, but with visible patches of blue sky towards the eastern horizon. Occasionally throughout the day the sun would poke through, amply gratifying those of us who had chosen this trip in hopes of a respite from Seattle’s autumn weather.

Once on the eastern side of the crest, we had clearly entered a different type of environment: the shrub-steppe ecosystem. Our first stop was Umtanum Creek. Below are several landscape images of this area. In the shrub-steppe zone, most of the land is dominated by grasses and shrubs. In lowland areas with more moisture, such as those next to rivers, trees can grow. In the photos below, there are black cottonwoods and quaking aspen growing right next to a creek, and ponderosa pines growing beyond those. Moving up into the hills, most of the vegetation is shrubs and usually there are no trees. On particularly steep hills, like in the second photo below, a lot of barren rock is visible providing no suitable habitat for plants.

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An interesting part of visiting this region was seeing many familiar species growing with species we had never seen before in a completely different landscape than that of the Puget Sound. Some of the familiar organisms are shown below and they include: tall Oregon grape, nootka rose, snowberry, willow, and song sparrow.

Tall Oregon grape

Tall Oregon grape

Nootka rose

Nootka rose

Snowberry

Snowberry

Possibly tall Oregon grape, although the leaflets were cupped upwards and had different coloring than what I've seen before

Possibly tall Oregon grape, although the leaflets were cupped upwards and had different coloring than what I’ve seen before

Willow

Willow

Tim caught a song sparrow!

Tim caught a song sparrow!

Tim catching the song sparrow was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. He set up a net and played a song sparrow song through a speaker next to a taxidermied song sparrow. This attracted the live bird to fly through the net. Once caught, Tim held up the bird for us to examine it more closely, which is a rare opportunity since we usually only see the birds as dots zipping around through the trees.

Some of the unfamiliar species that are not present in Puget Sound are shown below and they include: gray rabbitbrush, tall sagebrush, mock orange, serviceberry, Douglas maple, rattlesnake, and several species which I could not identify.

 

Gray rabbitbrush

Gray rabbitbrush

Tall sagebrush

Tall sagebrush

Mock orange

Mock orange

Serviceberry

Serviceberry

Douglas maple

Douglas maple

Rattlesnake (it was dead)

Rattlesnake (it was dead)

Unidentified spider

Unidentified spider

Unidentified shrub

Unidentified shrub

Unidentified shrub

Same unidentified shrub (leaflet close up)

Same unidentified shrub (berries)

Same unidentified shrub (berries)

Orange lichen covering many of the sagebrush plants

Orange lichen covering many of the sagebrush plants

After Umtanum Creek we went to Umtanum Ridge, an area at higher elevation, which was noticeably different. There were no trees at all on the ridge, and the shrubs were generally smaller.  These shrubs have a growth strategy that aims to minimize the effects of living in a relatively dry, windy location. Some of the adaptations include not growing very tall, growing compactly and densely with small fuzzy leaves to minimize desiccation, and employing two roots systems: one shallow to suck up the rare surface water from rain, and one deep taproot to find a more consistent underground water source. At this site we saw tall sagebrush, eriogonum, stiff sagebrush, and Thompson’s paintbrush. 

Eriogonum

Eriogonum

Stiff sagebrush

Stiff sagebrush

Thompson's paintbrush

Thompson’s paintbrush. This plant is a parasite: it latches onto the roots of sagebrush plants and steals nutrients

Unidentified moss. It is very low-growing and fuzzy, adaptations to a dry, windy environment

Unidentified moss. It is very low-growing and fuzzy, adaptations to a dry, windy environment

The final stop we made was a trail next to a stream in a small valley among the hills. This was a interesting place because it felt very reminiscent of areas of the Puget Sound region. There were quaking aspen, alder (white), and black cottonwood growing near the stream. Beyond these, in the same pattern as at the first site, were ponderosa pine. Oddly, there were also Douglas fir growing in the shade of the ponderosa pine because in this habitat, Douglas fir is shade tolerant relative to ponderosa pine. This is different from in the Puget Sound region, in which Douglas fir is not shade tolerant compared to the climax species of the forest, western hemlock. We also saw crab apple, wooly bear caterpillar moth, tall Oregon grape,  and wolf lichen.

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Douglas fir

Douglas fir

White alder

White alder

Crab apple

Crab apple

Wooly bear caterpillar moth, crossing the trail as they often do

Wooly bear caterpillar moth, crossing the trail as they often do

Tall Oregon grape

Tall Oregon grape

Wolf lichen

Wolf lichen

At the end of this hike we were rewarded with a beautiful waterfall descending into a secluded pool. The walls surrounding the pool were made of columnar basalt, clearly indicating the volcanic history of this region. Millions of years ago, this land was covered by lava flows which eventually cooled and formed the distinctive columnar basalt we see today by this pool and in the cliffs of many of the foothills in the area.

Waterfall

Waterfall

Columnar basalt

Columnar basalt

Natural History Journal – Week 4

Date: Monday October 21, 2014
Weather: Overcast, windy, drizzling
Temperature: 60°F
Time: 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Location: Ravenna Park, just southeast of the 20th Ave NE bridge over the park

This was a gloomy, dreary Seattle day, so at first I wasn’t looking forward to my observation time very much. The wind was chilly, it was drizzling, and the sky was overcast – signs of what will be the norm for the next few months. But with all the knew knowledge I’ve gained from this class since my last observation on October 6, it was actually a pretty exciting experience to be able to see my spot in Ravenna through a new, better-informed lens.

First of all, I have discovered that my favorite plant is beaked hazelnut. I had touched the leaves of this plant before and felt how soft and fuzzy they are, but without knowing what it was, there was only momentary appreciation of a nice leaf. But it’s interesting how just being able to identify something changes your feelings toward it. Now I notice beaked hazelnut everywhere! It’s all over Seattle, and it is great to know that I am surrounded by this wonderful, fuzzy organism and can count on it’s comforting fuzziness being only a short walk away if I’m ever having a crappy day. Although I’m not sure how much longer the leaves will be there because many of them are turning yellow or look diseased with leaf miner or other pests.

Beaked hazelnut, my new favorite plant! Too bad the leaves are becoming diseased and starting to turn brown

Beaked hazelnut, my new favorite plant! Too bad the leaves are becoming diseased and starting to turn brown

In general I saw much evidence of the transition towards winter all over the area. The ground was much wetter from the more frequent rains. There was also leaf litter everywhere, especially from bigleaf maple and western redcedar trees. This leaf litter along with fallen branches and logs were showing signs of decomposition with the appearance of the first mushrooms I have noticed on the site. Many other plants were showing color changes, including some salal which is pictured below. Also, most of the large spiders with beautiful circular webs that I had been noticing throughout the park have disappeared, which is unfortunate since we were supposed to document invertebrates for the journal assignment today…oh well. However, I have recently learned more about these cool spiders, commonly known as cross spiders, or European garden spiders. Here is a description of their web weaving from that link:

“The very act of web spinning by a Cross Orbweaver is a captivating feat of instinctual engineering. She begins by floating a line on the wind to a nearby surface. She secures the line and then drops another from the center, making a “Y”. The rest of the scaffolding follows, all constructed with the spider’s nonsticky silk. Once the radii are in place, the spider can move from strand to strand, attaching the spiral of sticky capture silk.

Web-building requires some special equipment — web spinners craft webs using three claws, two to place silk and one to navigate the spider on the nonsticky threads. Spider silk, a very strong and resilient spun protein fiber, is not simply for web building and capturing prey; Spiders also rely on silk as climbing rope to travel and to aid in quick escapes.”

Fascinating!

Bigleaf maple leaves and western redcedar leaves litter the ground

Bigleaf maple leaves and western redcedar leaves litter the ground

Salal turning brown

Salal turning brown

I thought this was really cool to see one leaf of a western redcedar in the middle of changing colors

I thought this was really cool to see one leaf of a western redcedar in the middle of changing colors

Mushrooms are starting to pop up in the fallen wood debris

Mushrooms are starting to pop up in the fallen wood debris

General view of one part of my spot showing changes in leaf color since the last photo of this view on September 28

General view of one part of my spot showing changes in leaf color since the last photo of this view on September 28

I found two species that I may have photographed before, but could not identify: tall Oregon grape and vine maple.

Tall Oregon grape, spinier than it's shorter relative

Tall Oregon grape, spinier than it’s shorter relative

Vine maple

Vine maple with its many-lobed leaves

For the other part of this observation, we were supposed to find as many invertebrates as possible, and sketch 5 of them. Honestly I had a lot of trouble with this. Of course I found many invertebrates, but most of them were extremely tiny things that I could barely see. The best description I could offer about these is the flying ones looked like flying white dots, and the crawling ones looked like crawling white dots. However, I eventually found 5 invertebrates that I could see in more detail.

The first one was a mosquito. It was hanging from a leaf by two of its legs and at first it was rubbing its other pairs of legs together, possibly to clean them. It had two translucent wings that were about a half inch long. In comparison its head was tiny and barely visible. The legs all came out of the thorax, which was hunched forward at it’s connection to the abdomen. The thorax looked furry.

Mosquito hanging from a leaf

Mosquito hanging from a leaf

I also found a spider, but not the European garden spider. This spider was weaving a web among some leaves. I noticed its legs had three major segments, and the back half of its abdomen sported a complex pattern of stripes and spots that I couldn’t really see the details of.

Spider

Spider

I found a tiny worm hanging off of the end of a fern. It was really interesting to watch because it was waving back and forth very intentionally from the tip of this leaf. It had three visible sections: a translucent head, a yellow portion right behind that, and a brown tail portion. Eventually the worm stopped waving and squirmed back onto the leaf.

Worm

Worm

I found several pillbugs crawling among the decaying material on the forest floor. Pillbugs have an exoskeleton of gray segments that looks like interlocking pieces of a knight’s armor. As it crawls around, it waves its front antennae to smell what is around. It’s face is a very small black part of the front section. When it feels threatened, for example by my poking it with a pencil, the pillbug rolls up into a ball, protecting its soft underbelly.

Pillbug

Pillbug

The final invertebrate I found was an earthworm. It was light brown with parallel grooves down the length of its body, except for the pale band near the head which produces eggs. It moved by contracting and expanding the segments of its body in order to tunnel through the soil.

Earthworm

Earthworm

Natural History Journal – Week 3

Dates: Saturday October 11 – Sunday October 12, 2014
Weather: Mostly cloudy/overcast, chilly
Times: Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 10am – 4pm
Locations: Saturday – Nisqually River delta, Mima Mounds; Sunday – Mt. Rainier

This past weekend our class went on an overnight field trip to the southern Puget lowlands and Mt. Rainier. Our first stop on Saturday was at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, which is located at the Nisqually River delta. This area is full of wetlands and mud flats and offers good opportunities for bird watching. We saw many birds there including Swenson’s hawks, bald eagles, Canada geese, mallard ducks, song sparrows, pintail ducks, ospreys, great blue herons, and many others.

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Wetlands near the visitor center

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Looking out to the estuary

The estuary is very rich in biodiversity due to the high nutrient density caused by the mixing of salt water from Puget Sound and fresh water from the Nisqually River. The salt marshes in the foreground of the sketch below fade into mudflats toward the middle of the sketch. This ecosystem is heavily influenced by the tides, as the high tide comes in and submerges much of the landscape, while the low tide leaves much of the landscape exposed. This alternating ebb and flow is what causes sediment to be deposited on the mudflats. Because of the high salinity of the mudflats and the fact that they are submerged much of the time, there aren’t many plants on them. However, there are many different types of invertebrates that live in the mud. These are big attractions for migrating shorebirds, which is what makes this area so good for birdwatching.

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Thumbnail sketch of the area around the estuary

The salt marches that are slightly above the mudflats have plants that are adapted to living in salty conditions. One example of these plants is pickleweed, which looks like green spaghetti strewn across the marsh. Pickleweed still grows even though it is often submerged in salty water.

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Pickleweed in the salt marshes

There is an artificial dike through the refuge that creates an interesting divide between the salt water and fresh water marshes. A common plant on the freshwater side is the broad-leaved cattail. Cattails are often the first plants to colonize wetland areas and they enable the settling of sediment to build up the soil.

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Sketch of a cattail

Farther away from the estuary there is a gallery forest, which is a type of forest that occurs near rivers and streams. This forest had many of the same plants that we have seen in Ravenna Park in Seattle.

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Sword fern

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Close up of sword fern

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Snowberry

It was not surprising to see bigleaf maple here because this plant grows well in wetter areas next to streams.

Bigleaf maple

Bigleaf maple

Here I saw Indian plum for the first time. Indian plums have an interesting strategy of producing leaves very early in spring, much earlier than the other deciduous trees and shrubs. This is a good way to take advantage of available light before the canopy fills in with the leaves of other plants.

Indian plum

Indian plum

There were many interesting animals throughout the refuge:

Tree frog

Tree frog

The wolly bear caterpillar moth likes to cross roads for some reason. They can be seen doing this all of the gravel paths of the refuge.

Wooly bear caterpillar moth

Wooly bear caterpillar moth

Banana slug

Banana slug

Garter snake not on the ground, which is odd

Garter snake not on the ground, which is odd

Close to the end of our visit we had the rare opportunity to see a tornado in the distance! It was spectacular to see it shoot down from the sky and move around a bit before dissipating. Luckily we weren’t near it.

Tornado!

Tornado!

After leaving the refuge we went to see the mima mounds. This is a very intriguing ecosystem at the southernmost edge of where the Cordilleran ice sheet stopped at its fullest extent. There are many theories as to how these mounds formed, but no one is absolutely sure yet.

Mima mounds

Mima mounds

Kinnikinnick

Kinnikinnick

Moss only on the north side of the tree, away from the sun

Moss only on the north side of the tree, away from the sun

Harebell

Harebell

After staying the night in the cabins at Pack Forest, we ventured up to Mt. Rainier on Sunday. First we stopped for a little bit at Kautz Creek and learned about the effects of the floods and mudflows on the forests in this area. We also caught a glimpse of the top of the mountain.

View of the top of Mt. Rainier

View of the top of Mt. Rainier

Next we visited an old growth part of the forest on Rainier. Here again we saw many of the same plants as those in Ravenna Park.

Old growth forest

Old growth forest

When trees fall over here, new trees will growth on top of them. Because of this, the fallen tree is called a “nurse log”. This strategy gives new trees the advantages of more light from being higher off the ground and more water from the moist log.

Nurse log

Nurse log

The main trees here are Douglas firs. These trees are common throughout the Pacific northwest due to their ability to grow well after disturbances such as fires or wind storms. They are long lived and very tall.

Douglas fir

Douglas fir

Another common tree here is the western hemlock. This is the climax tree of this forest zone, which means that if there were no disturbances, the forests would have only western hemlocks. These trees are shad tolerant and grow up under trees that colonize earlier, such as Douglas fir.

Western hemlock

Western hemlock

Close up of western hemlock

Close up of western hemlock

Dwarf Oregon grape

Dwarf Oregon grape

Red huckleberry

Red huckleberry

Vine maple

Vine maple

Artist's fungus

Artist’s fungus

The Douglas fir mushroom is interesting because it is adapted to grow specifically on decomposing Douglas fir cones.

Douglas fir mushroom

Douglas fir mushroom

After leaving the old growth forest we headed up to the bridge that is just below the Nisqually glacier.

Steller's jay in a silver fir tree

Steller’s jay in a silver fir tree

From the bridge you can see the end of the glacier where the river begins from the water flowing out from under the ice.

Nisqually glacier

Nisqually glacier

From here we drove up to Paradise. I was here earlier this year at the beginning of July and it was amazing to see the changes that happened at Paradise since then. The whole area was covered with snow before, but now the meadows were visible with many vibrant colors, especially reds and yellows.

Meadows at Paradise

Meadows at Paradise

Many of the trees here are subalpine firs. These trees do not grow very tall because they would be toppled by snow and wind if they did. They have a distinct conical shape that enables them to shed snow in winter.

Black tailed deer amidst subalpine fir trees

Black tailed deer amidst subalpine fir trees

Close up of mountain hemlock

Close up of mountain hemlock

Black tailed deer

Black tailed deer

Many of the plants at this elevation, including the pink mountain heather, grow fuzzy hair-like parts all over in order to help retain moisture. The hairs create a barrier against the wind, thus slowing the rate of evaporation of water from the plant surfaces.

Pink mountain heather

Pink mountain heather

After exploring the meadows for a while, we hiked to the edge of the moraine formed by the Nisqually glacier.

Nisqually glacier

Nisqually glacier

Nisqually valley

Nisqually valley

Moraine formed by Nisqually glacier

Moraine formed by Nisqually glacier

The view across to the other side of the valley provides insight into the glacial history of this area. First of all, we can see that the glacier used to be much thicker at this point and used to extend much farther down the valley, which is evidence by the U-shaped curve of the valley walls. As the climate has warmed, this glacier has receded from the point of it’s fullest extent, which was below the bridge we stopped at earlier. During the initial advance of the glacier down the mountain, the rock underneath was ground up into pieces that form the glacial till now seen in this valley. As the glacier has receded, it has deposited large boulders called “erratics”  all over the area and exposed the lateral moraine walls that were formed in the advancing period. The clear trim line at the top of the moraine divides the part of the mountain where vegetation grows from the part that used to be covered in ice and is still too harsh for much vegetation to colonize effectively.

Thumbnail sketch of the moraine formed by the Nisqually glacier

Thumbnail sketch of the moraine formed by the Nisqually glacier

Finally, we hiked up the Panorama Point just for fun!

Chipmunk sitting on a rock

Chipmunk sitting on a rock

View of the top of Mt. Rainier on the way up to Panorama Point

View of the top of Mt. Rainier on the way up to Panorama Point

Natural History Journal – Week 2

Date: Monday October 6, 2014
Weather: Sunny, clear skies
Temperature: 67°F
Time: 1:30pm – 3:30pm
Location: Ravenna Park, just southeast of the 20th Ave NE bridge over the park

The weather on Monday was beautiful, so I decided to do my second site observation that afternoon. When I arrived, the first thing I wanted to do was check on the cool spiders I saw last time – but most of them had vanished! Eventually I found a new one in a different part of the site. I watched it for several minutes because it was actually very active compared to the ones from last week. Most of the time it hung completely motionless in the middle of the web, but then it would occasionally poke at a strand of its web with one leg. I’m not sure what this was for, but I would guess it was either to test the strength of the web or to figure out where the trapped insects were in the web. After poking for a bit, the spider would then climb down to the edge of the web, and sometimes it would eat the tiny trapped insects. Then it would let go of the main web and swing back and forth on a strand from the center of the web and eventually ascend back to the center. Then it would reorient itself to face downwards and hang motionless again.

I noticed a few color changes that I hadn’t noticed the last time. On the western red cedars, many of the leaves are turning brown. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern of which leaves turn brown as there are many interspersed evenly throughout the trees. The brown leaves are much rougher and drier than the green leaves which have a waxy texture.

Several of the Cascade Oregon grape plants were changing color as well. Some leaves had red patches that faded into brown, dead parts at the edges of the leaves. These parts were much rougher and drier than the green leaves, which are smooth and shiny. I looked at the Oregon grapes more closely to see if there were any features common to all of them. It seems that most mature plants have between 12 and 18 leaflets per leaf. Often the leaf will end with a single leaflet at the top, which I found odd since the rest of the leaf has pairs of leaflets emanating from each node. The leaf stems are very smooth, but they originate from a very rough, woody base.

One bird sound that stuck out to me on this visit sounded sort of like teetee who who who. But of course I couldn’t see it through all the foliage.

Check out the pictures below showing some of the organisms I observed, including some new ones like devil’s club, skunk cabbage, and horsetail. I found these a short way down the hill from my site by the stream that runs through Ravenna Park. Devil’s club is very aptly named – the entire plant except for the leaves is covered in sharp thorns. Also included in the photos are some sketches I made of Cascade Oregon grape, western red cedar leaves, and two unidentified shrubs.

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Natural History Journal – Week 1

Date: Sunday September 28, 2014
Weather: Mostly clear skies
Temperature: 60°F
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Location: Ravenna Park, just southeast of the 20th Ave NE bridge over the park

I ventured out to do my first observation and journal entry for my Natural History class today. I waited until the sky cleared up in the evening, and it ended up being very pleasant weather by around 5pm. I decided to go to Ravenna park, and I was going to walk around for a while to find a good spot. But I ended up choosing the first place that I came upon near where I entered the park because I heard some rustling in the underbrush, and after looking for a little bit, I saw a small snake slithering among the dead leaves! So I thought this would be an interesting spot to stay in since I had never seen a snake in Ravenna park before. I took a lot of pictures, which you can view in the slideshow below.

Why am I taking this class and what got me “into nature”?

I can’t remember a particularly profound early experience with nature, but I think my appreciation of it has grown gradually with many experiences. Surprisingly the very earliest experience with nature that I remember instilled in me a great fear of nature that I have only slowly overcome. I remember walking with family members through some type of park or orchard, when one person (I think my grandfather) pointed out a large gray fruit hanging in a tree or bush. He went to check it out, and it was in fact not a gray fruit, but rather a nest of bees or wasps. The insects came swarming out and I was stung several times on my hand, and I probably cried after this, but I don’t recall that part. I think this may have contributed to my fear of stinging/biting insects during childhood. I am still afraid of spiders, bees, wasps, and centipedes when I find them indoors, but I’m okay with them when I’m outdoors now.

My parents have taken me to many national parks, so allowed me to be comfortable in nature (not counting scary insects). I have always enjoyed hiking up mountains and seeing wonderful views at the top. Whenever I travel, I usually try to find some high point that I can get up to for a bird’s eye view of the area. I also really enjoy watching animals go about their daily routines.

My current interest in natural history stems from the desire for something new to do in nature, and also from a practical standpoint. I sometimes find myself bored when walking around in nature because there is not much I can “do” when I don’t know anything about the organisms I’m seeing. Enjoying the peace and quiet only goes so far for a short attention span. Some basic natural history knowledge will allow me to understand the significance of the life around me and give me things to do, like plant and bird identification, while I’m exploring the outdoors.

I also want to learn natural history for the practical purpose of being able to identify edible and medicinal wild flora. First of all, I think this would be a really cool skill to have. But also, it could be very handy in the future if climate change turns out to be disastrous. I think that catastrophic climate change can still be avoided, but in the case that it is not avoided, it seems prudent to hedge my bets so that I can still find food if the agricultural system collapses.

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While I was in the park, I made the following observations at my spot, and on a short hike through the area around my spot:

At 1 sq. meter:

There is a covering of debris (sticks, leaves, etc.) over the ground. There are many small and large shrubs, most of which I cannot identify at this point. The one that I could identify was Oregon grape. There is a tree, which I am fairly certain is a Western red cedar. There are several large brown spiders with black striped legs hanging in their beautiful silk webs, spun in concentric circle patterns between the shrub branches.

At 50 sq. meters:

I’m pretty sure the snake I saw was a Northwestern Garter Snake, based on what my field guide says. There are many sword ferns around. There are a few plants with berries – one is a type of blackberry and the other may be pacific madrone). There are several trees with a lot of peeling bark and they are very smooth where the bark is missing – I am fairly sure these are pacific madrones. In the area I explored, there is one flower, which I was surprised to see in late September. I think this may be a flowering salmonberry plant. I can hear many different types of birds singing around me, but I have no idea how to describe their sounds. The only ones that I have seen are some very small dark birds hopping around in the bushes. They seem to usually be in groups in a single shrub, and they make more of a buzzing-type noise. I also hear many crows. The smell throughout the park is very fresh.

Reflection on my 23rd year of life and plans for the 24th

My 23rd year was an important one. Some people may remember that I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis starting in summer 2013. I realized I didn’t care about my research project and I had a general feeling that by studying engineering after high school I had initiated a career path with good job security but very little personal satisfaction and no chance of making significant positive contributions to society.

I decided to see a counselor for this and other issues in my life at the time, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In one of our last sessions, my counselor happened to mention something that was a catalyst for much of the recent positive change in my life – the UW Farm.

At first I liked the farm because I had an excuse to be out of my office during the great summer weather and I got a ton of produce for free. But slowly it has become one of the most important communities I am a part of. So many wonderful people have come into my life through the farm. Many of them share passions of mine that I hadn’t been able to share with my other friends.

Through the farm, I found out about more avenues that were available to explore and contribute to issues I cared about, however I still wasn’t happy with my work in computer science and engineering. But this spring, I had the good fortune of taking a human-computer interaction class with Alan Borning, who has given me hope that I can do some good in the world with computer science. I am very much enjoying doing web design work with the CarbonWA campaign for my current project.

The final major bit of change I’ve experienced has been in my understanding of the privileged position I hold in society. This has been a both a relief and a source of great sadness and personal regret.

Oddly enough, I have been relieved to realize that I am where I am now largely due to the fact that I am a straight white male American with no financial problems. At many times in my life I have been told that I am smart, and I have won various awards and scholarships for things, but I never felt like I was especially smart and I don’t feel like I deserved many of these awards. A previous advisor of mine once told me that I got an award purely because of my presentation skills, not because of any great effort on the actual work. It is comforting to have an explanation for this discrepancy. Much of my life has been a quest to become more intelligent in the conventional Western industrial sense of intelligence in order to try to live up to people’s expectations, and possibly make up for my previous mediocre work. I wanted to learn more math and science and become a logical wizard who could figure out the most puzzling technical puzzles. These are important areas to improve in, but I now feel that I don’t have to be extremely smart to do good work and it is more beneficial for me to analyze the world and figure out what changes need to be made and how I can help them happen with what I already have.

On the other hand, knowing more about systems of injustice has made me realize some regrettable things that I have done in the past and ways in which I have acted inappropriately with people who I should have had more respect for as fellow human beings. I wish I could redo several parts of my life, but I can only hope that I will be better in the future.

I’ve already experienced some major changes in the first few hours of my 24th year. I have moved out of the house I was living in for the past two years and into Sherwood Cooperative. So far the people (and chickens!) I’ve met here have been very friendly and I’m excited to see what joys and challenges this new living experience will provide.

I have a few goals for this year in order to continue my personal growth:

  1. Become better at talking and connecting with people and be less awkward
  2. Become more deeply involved with campaigns for justice and sustainability at UW and in Seattle
  3. Notice and prevent stress during the school year so I don’t burn out at the end of each quarter like in the past
  4. Improve my physical health by getting treatment for chronic wrist and leg pains, and by exercising regularly and paying attention to my body more closely to prevent injury
  5. Write blog posts regularly on contemporary issues that I care about
  6. Practice steel tongue drum regularly