Date: Wednesday December 3, 2014
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.
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.
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!