Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Large Flock of Snow Geese

Driving across the Skagit Flats in winter I frequently encounter snow geese. I have posted about snow geese before: white-russians-in-northwest-washington. On my way to Whidbey Island late this morning I encountered the largest snow geese flock I have seen south of Bay View. They had been out on the tide flats during the snow, but grass fields are their preferred wintering ground.  



Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Tree to Follow

Hollis at plantsandrocks.blogspot has been seeking a tree to follow. I like the idea. I have had trees I would pay attention to through a year or two or sometimes longer.

During a different era I would stop to admire a struggling elm on the side of a ravine in eastern Washington. The tree was the highest up the slope growing along a good 100 feet above the trees growing in the ravine bottom where water was more plentiful.

There was another elm growing adjacent to a very old hand dug well in a lonely valley in the Horse Heaven Hills south of Kennewick. It was the only tree for miles. For several years it contained a great horned owl nest. I would purposely plan long runs to visit the tree - it was a 12 mile round trip.

A lone maple growing on the south edge of High Street Park in Bellingham is still a favorite. It's fall show was always spectacular. It is not a native maple and had survived its previous use as a landscape tree for the elementary school that had once occupied the site.

So when Hollis had a post about finding a tree to follow for a year I thought I should find one that I can easily visit once a month. Yesterday I found one nearby as I was returning from my ventures.


I do not believe this tree is a native, but clearly it is well established and appears to be more than tolerating the environment upon which it was planted.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Snow Day on Samish

The variable nature of snow events in western Washington is fascinating. I enjoyed our first big snow at our new home on Samish Island. Roughly a foot fell over night.

The snow was sticky and gave the "plantation" part of the forest a good coating 

I made about a dozen ski runs on the very mild slope

The snow had coated the calm tidal areas of Alice Bay and Samish Bay and rafts of slush were floating out with the tide at the east end of the island


Barge with tractor is part of the shell fish farming operation in Samish Bay

Northeast shore

Slush on shallow tide water

Bald eagles returning from their duck hunting

Young eagles on a well designed perch 

Tidal lake covered with slush

This snow event was a tree trimming event. Lots of loud snaps as limbs snapped off in the forest


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Big Blowdown at Moran State Park and Winter Field Notes

Samish Bay and the Chuckanuts

The winter weather event has covered the entire state with a mix of winter stories. I managed to have two field days between the storm systems. One day entailed a projects on Hood Canal, Olympia and Kent. I appreciated that Skagit County had plowed many of the county roads so I could reach I-5 with ease.

It is not very often that this shows up on the temperature gauge:

10 degrees at Conway in southern Skagit County

The second trip was a team effort with Ben and Geoff to the San Juan Islands. 
  
Early morning view of Mount Baker an Twin Sisters through Obstruction Pass

Trace of snow over a covering of big leaf maple leaves over loose talus made for tricky walking 

Examining a fracture opening near cliff top

 Orcas Island did not get much snow in the first storm, but did get wind. Whatcom County and the San Juan Islands get the brunt of cold outflow winds from the Fraser Valley. Within the San Juans, Orcas Island gets the hardest blast. The air from those outflow winds is cold.  A micro burst downdraft wave must have come down the lee side of Mount Constitution taking out dozens of large trees (Damage to Moran State). 

We got a glimpse of the trees blown over and some cases simply snapped off while passing through Moran State Park.





Monday, February 4, 2019

Western Red Cedar Die Back in Western Skagit County

Dead western red cedar

Kimberly Cauvel wrote a nice article on the die back of western red cedar in western Skagit County here: /warm-dry-summers-taking-toll-on-area-trees-plants.

Western Skagit County is partially within the rain shadow of the Olympic Range and hence a bit drier than some other parts of western Washington. Seabacher (2007) noted western red cedar die back on eastern Vancouver Island is similar dry sites.

Much of the die back I have observed in Western Skagit County has been on glacial marine drift soils near Bayview and and Samish Island (above picture). Many of these trees appear to have had previous stress as many of the trees have dead leads. But many now, such as the tree above, have completely died. The tree pictured above was one of six nearby cedars that have died within the past year or two. Within a quarter mile of this site are dozens more that have died.

Glacial marine drift soils in the area are silt and clay dominated. The silt and clay holds water and perched groundwater develops on these soils such that seasonal wetlands are common. However, the soils will become desiccated in the summer. A slight increase in overall temperature particularly in the spring and summer may be just enough to push the ability of some western red cedars to survive.   

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Western Washington Juniper Forest in Washington Park

Juniper trees are a relatively uncommon tree in Washington State. Much of eastern Washington is too dry and/or too hot in the summer so that there are only a few isolated stands of Juniperus occidentalis (western) and even rarer Juniperus scopulorum (Rocky Mountain). The western junipers are limited to the Juniper Dunes Wilderness just north of the Snake River and a few isolated spots in the Snake River Canyon and Wallula Gap where the Columbia River cuts through the Horse Heaven Hills. The Rocky Mountain junipers are limited to small very isolated stands along the Columbia River from Chelan to Vantage.

Western Washington has Juniperus maritima (Adams, 2007). The south facing slopes in Anacortes' Washington Park is the largest stand I have observed.   

Juniperus maritima in Washington Park

The south slope of the park has an alpine feel with open meadows of grass and moss between stands of trees and rocky outcrops. The junipers are the dominant tree over large areas with scattered stands of Douglas fir and madrone.

View to the west toward with the southern end of Lopez Island in the distance and the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

View to the southeast and of Mount Erie

Burrows Pass and Burrows Island

Lichen covered rock and junipers

Serpentinite of the Fidalgo Ophiolite

Anacortes is well within the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. The relatively low rain fall and south slope aspect of the location contributes to the presence of the junipers. The junipers are also present on south slopes in dry areas of the San Juan Islands and Gulf Islands.

The geology of Washington Park provides another advantage to the junipers. Serpentinite chemistry is a harsh plant environment due to the unusual ration of calcium and magnesium as well as a lack of phosphate bearing minerals. That chemistry limits other trees and allows the junipers a competitive advantage as the junipers have a higher tolerance to these harsh conditions.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Punch Hole Cloud Over Northwest Washington

Punch hole cloud

We noted several holes in the high cloud deck this afternoon over northwest Washington. Several folks sent the images to Cliff Mass and I will leave the explanation to him Here.