Saturday, September 30, 2023

Opuntia columbiana

While on a field work venture along the Yakima River in central Washington I came across a patch of what I believe to be Opuntia columbia. I felt fortunate to have seen this patch before I walked into it as I was wearing light shoes. I was once no so fortunate while traversing an area above the Okanogan River.     

Patch of cactus on a high gravel bar above the river

I determined that the patch was broad enough and populated enough that it would be ok to extract a paddle.

Long thorns of Opuntia columbia?

I am nowhere near enough of a botanist to know if this cactus is Opuntia columbia, hence, my tentative identification. That said, I am pretty confident based on my review of Burke HerbariumDesert Northwest provides a nice discussion of the various cacti species in Washington and discusses the botanical debates, but also comes down on this likely being Opuntia columbia

I enjoy seeing cacti in Washington State. Cacti do not have much of a presence in Washington even in the dry areas. This patch was growing on a cobble/gravel bar elevated above the river. The site is high enough that flooding must be very rare as there were some large ponderosa pines on the bar. The cobbles and gravel add to the dryness and have kept competition down just enough to allow the patch to thrive.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Phytoplankton, Puyallup River and Mount Rainier

I previously posted on phytoplankton-in-commencement-bay based on a set of oblique aerials I came across on the Washington Coastal Atlas. On a recent trip I got to see the phenomena myself including very good views of the source of sediment that feed the bloom in the bay.

Phytoplankton bloom in Commencement Bay

Puyallup River sediment discharge into the bay

Puyallup River on lower left with the source of sediment looming in the distance
The combination of andesite magma and grinding glaciers provides an abundant source of phosphorus to the bay via the Puyallup River.

Dirty late summer glacial ice extending down the lower flanks of Mount Rainier

Summit of the big mountain

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Rocks of Bulson Creek and Bulson Creek Falls, Skagit County

I have had several ventures on the steep north slope of Mount Frailey above Lake Cavanaugh in Skagit County. These ventures were to assess alluvial fan hazards which has meant assessing the steep drainages above the alluvial fans. Like much of the Northwest Cascades bedrock exposures are sometimes limited to stream channels. Hence the steep drainages on the north side of Frailey Mountain provided a good opportunity to see the bedrock hiding under the thick forest landscape. The lower slopes of Mount Frailey are underlain by sedimentary rocks called Rocks of Bulson Creek.  

     Bob contemplating our route
Conglomerate of Bulson Creek

Note weathered perimeter of greenstone cobble 

The hard conglomerate of the formation forms cliffs and a few nice cascades on the stream Bob and I were exploring. The clasts in the conglomerate are derived from nearby metamorphic rocks of the Eastern Mélange Belt which is well exposed on the slope above this outcrop. The Eastern Mélange Belt consists of Triassic to Jurassic age ocean floor terrane thrust up onto the edge of North America. It is one of several accreted terranes in the Northwest Cascades.

The Rocks of Bulson Creek are Oligocene to Eocene and post date the terrane accretion. The Bulson appears to be deposited on the metamorphic rocks (Marcus, 1981) and appears to be a localized sedimentary in a localized basin that formed during the late to post Eocene time likely associated with the Devils Mountain-Darrington Fault (Lovseth, 1975 and Marcus, 1981). In the Lake McMurray area to the east the Bulson has clasts of Eocene to Oligocene volcanic rocks that are of local derivation.    
Distribution of Rocks of Bulson Creek from Marcus (1981)

Lovseth (1975) recognized the Bulson as a separate sedimentary unit than the similar looking Chuckanut Formation to the north. The Bulson is primarily marine while the Chuckanut is non marine. And while the base of the Chuckanut does contain locally derived clasts of Northwest Cascades rocks, most of the Chuckanut sediment is derived from a source area to the east of the Cascade Mountains at a time prior to the uplift of the range. 

The term Rocks of Bulson Creek is from Bulson Creek located along a section of the Devils Mountain-Darrington Fault Zone. The creek incises down through the rocks and providing good exposures of a section of the formation. On the day of my venture up Frailey Mountain I also had a project along Bulson Creek and got a view of Bulson Creek Falls over a layer of hard conglomerate. 

Bulson Creek Falls


Saturday, June 10, 2023

Guarding the Cattle Guard

Upon approaching a cattle guard a local residence popped up to see what was coming. It stood there facing me. My anthropizing suggesting I was being challenged to proceed as this guard seemed to be standing its ground. I assumed it would be safe to cross and no harm would be befall either if us.  

Saturday, June 3, 2023

A bit of wildlife viewing luck

I noted a couple of rabbits munching clover and dandelions in an open meadow. This observation was made by a bald eagle as well. The eagle swooped past me and landed on the rabbit. 

After a minute pause and looking for potential thieves of its meal (including eyeing me), the eagle lifted off. 

This time of year the likely destination is a nest. 


Monday, May 29, 2023

Former Giant Western Red Cedars above Lake Cavanaugh

I have had numerous ventures up the north slope of Frailey Mountain south of Lake Cavanaugh in Skagit County. The slopes are steep and streams on the mountain have had a history of debris flows; hence, I have had numerous ventures assessing the geology risks of the area. 

The forest on the lower sloes is predominantly western hemlock. It is one of the easier forest areas to walk through as there is very little understory brush as the hemlocks shade out just about everything. But amongst the hemlocks are big(!) hints of the past.   

Western red cedar stump amongst the western hemlocks 

Large cedar stump and if you look carefully an even bigger one back in the trees

The western hemlock forest is about 80 years old. The Lake Cavanaugh area was nearly devoid of trees by 1940. There is a small remnant patch of old trees on the steepest upper slopes that were either too hard to log or poor quality timber. 

1941 aerial view of area

The big stumps are a reminder that the forests we see today are not static. Given the age of the forests around Lake Cavanaugh area, there has been significant logging in the area the past few years. As noted in a previous post (HERE), the trees that were left are habitat for marbled murrlets and hence some of the forest is protected. And some of the slopes may be precluded from logging due to potential landslides and debris flow hazards. I say 'may' because that can be a geology judgement call clear cut logging has been permitted on active alluvial fan areas.     

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Colaptes auratus (Northern Flicker) Duel

 I was alerted to the nearby presence of a northern flicker by the drumming on a metal gutter. The bird then swooped past my head and landed on the edge of a plowed area where he confronted another flicker.

The two birds pushed out there chests and faced off for several minutes. Occasionally one would jump upward and the other would respond in kind. 

I do not have a camera that allows for spectacular bird shots, but these were so focused on each other that I was able to witness their activity from about 30 feet and managed a few ok shots while enjoying the drama. What I failed to get was a picture of the nearby female. She was busy poking around for insects behind the dirt clods.  

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Chrysemys picta takes a walk

Approaching a pond in eastern Washington there was a sudden loud splashing. It has been a cold spring, but on this day the sun was warm. The splashing was from turtles jumping into the water upon my approach. 

Turtle heads in the water and one bolder turtle on the shore

While pausing nearby one the the turtles began walking across the grass away from the pond

A bit later I heard rustling and saw the turtle in a patch of bark chips

This turtle kept going across a street and off to parts unknown to me at least

I suspect this turtle is a female and was off to lay eggs some distance from the pond. Painted turtles are common. This particular turtle habitat is clearly not natural with lawn and pavement. But the pond itself is not natural; the pond us part of a broad irrigation system. Prior to the irrigation system there would hev been no turtles within several miles of this location. 


Monday, April 24, 2023

Olympia Nonglacial sediments south of Penn Cove

I had a venture on the east coast of Whidbey Island a bit south of Penn Cove. The geology strata changes rather substantially along the shore. The last time I had been to this shore reach the tide was not favorable but this time I could take in some of the nuances of the bluff geology. 

The carbon-rich layer at the base of the bluff provides an age of about 35,000 years (Polenz, Slaughter and Thorse, 2005). These are non glacial sediments deposited during the period prior to the last incursion of glacial ice out of British Columbia into the Puget lowlands. These non glacial units have been termed Olympia deposits. 

The fine silt/clay layering is horizontal but there is an overprint of oxidized iron staining that confuses the eye as the staining is a bit convoluted. 

It appears that a thin sandy layer had a bit more water flow leaving a darker banding of iron staining. 

I first observed this offset a few years ago and had forgotten about it. I found several other offsets nearby. 

There are a number of fault zones that trend across the Puget lowlands from the southeast to the northwest. These off sets may be associated with those fault zones, but they also could be glaciotectonic. That is the thick glacial ice sliding over the area and loading the land surface with a few thousand feet of ice could be the source of deformation of these pre glacial sediments.
Thick layer of glacial till forming bluff cliffs just to the southeast of the Olympia non glacial sediment exposures and off sets. 


Sunday, April 16, 2023

Observing landscapes I have not been to

I had a long day of travel with a walk to the train station, the long train ride and then the long plane ride. I had a window seat on the flight. I did get a glimpse of northernmost Scotland and the north coast of Iceland. Then flew over landscapes I have never been to and that are not easy to get to.  

Ice cap area of Greenland

Islands and a frozen sound on the west coast of Greenland

Tracks across snow covered ice to and from Uummannaq, Greenland

Large landslide?

I have read tales of arctic ventures across the ice. Good ice on the left and not so good on the right

Glacial striated land with frozen lakes and forest
This time of year might be the best time to travel through this landscape

Gas and oil wells in northern Alberta

Cold Lake Canadian Air Base and the Beaver River

Vegreville, Alberta and snow melt pattern along roads
The Canadian Rockies

Dropping down out of the clouds over Seattle

Monday, February 6, 2023

Asio flammeus on Samish Flats

The Skagit Flats and Samish Flats is birding destination. There are plenty of wintering birds that attract the birders, but the short eared owls are particularly cooperative for observation along Bayview-Edison Road near the mouth of the Samish River into Samish Bay. Besides getting to see them in close flight, the owls have taken to perching on the top of the Fish and Wildlife signs within 60 feet or so from the road regardless of the crowd. On a recent mild sunny day the line of people and cars along the road stretched several hundred meters. The short ear owl is not rare, but their habit of hunting during light allows for much easier viewing than the more nocturnal owls.  

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Winter Field Work

I have developed a preference for geology field work in the winter. Geology field work in western Washington State is generally pretty easy. The hardest challenge in western Washington is the thick vegetation. If you do not like smashing through brush, western Washington off trail field work is not the place for you. In the winter the vegetation is less dense with leaves off of the deciduous trees and bushes. However, Himalayan blackberries with their long canes and thorns still present a problem. On a recent excursion to a slide complex my initial thought was navigating on the slide complex might be limited due to the thick blackberry growth over much of the slide area. However, as I made my way onto the slide I realized the mid December heavy snow followed by freezing rain at the site had flattened down the much of the blackberries making my traverses on the slide complex much easier than initially anticipated. 

I still had to high step a bit to get over the blackberries but it was much easier than if done at another time of year. 

I caught another break with winter weather making my traverse easier after a couple of days steady temperatures well below freezing and before a big snow. I muddy slog with mid shin water and muck. I had been across the same area before. Though the site looked very wet the freeze allowed for easy walking across the frozen mud and frozen ponded water.

The weather does not always work out but, there are the other added benefits: no bugs, easier to see where water has been flowing, and not much worry about dehydration.    




Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Penn Cove Whale Watchers

Many of my shore walks to visit slides and bluffs are non social events. I most often do not see anyone particularly on chilly breezy day in winter. But on this trip on southeast corner of Penn Cove on Whidbey Island I came across a group with long camera lenses. Their aim was well out in the water beyond my ability to see with my own eyes and out of my field point and shoot camera.  

The whale watchers looking out over Saratoga Passage with 
Camano Island across the water and Mount Baker and Twin Sisters in the distance

 The group was tracking a pod of Orcas and with their lenses were able to identify specific wales by their dorsal fins. 

Penn Cove was the location of a rather notorious Orca capture in the early 1970s when Orcas were herded into Penn Cove and young Orcas were taken from the pod and at least 5 Orcas died. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Sea Level Rise: Notes on the December 27, 2022 Tide Flood

Back in mid December I visited a dike on the distal Skagit River delta area near Samish Island. The dike holds back high tides from Alice Bay from inundating the low farm fields and road. My site visit took place during high tide. During low tides Alice Bay typically fully drains becoming a broad mud flat.  

Samish Island Road and the dike between the road and Alice Bay.
The road is below sea level

View of the dike looking north. Alice Bay on the right, the east end of Samish Island is in the distance and the Chuckanut Range in the far distance 

View looking south along the dike.
Grassy areas in the near distance are saltwater marsh.

Dike District 5 portion of dike. This section of dike was and lined with with rock last year.

Last February there was a tide surge that caused tidal flooding in Edison. The minimal free board and dike erosion resulted in significant dike raising by the District. However, the district boundary ends between the above shown new work and the high ground to the north at Samish Island.

On December 27, 2022 a very deep and broad area low pressure storm system combined with very high astronomical high tide. The low pressure path and associated wind pattern added to the water levels. At Port Townsend the storm tidal surge was 2.5 feet.

    The result was water overtopping the dikes shown  above. 

Sea water over topping the a low spot in the dike

Multiple over flow locations along dike and water filling the low area behind dike including the road

Tide flood water pouring across road into fields to the west.

Flooded fields viewed from the north

While the above shown flooding covered on the order of 150 acres of fields with sea water, the impact for other areas was more acute. Flooding was reported at multiple locations from this event including Olympia and Port Townsend. 

North shore of Samish Island looking east.
Note that water just reached the top of the slightly elevated area between the homes and Samish Bay.

From the same location above but looking west.
Note here that the berm between the homes and bay is lower allowing flood waters to reach the homes.

Water getting over or around the elevated shoreline berm flooded the whole low area behind the berm. I had some work to do at this area and the water over topped my rubber boots. Not particularly pleasant as the flooding included flooding all the septic systems.  

Sea level rise is pushing what in the past had been a close call tidal flood to full out flood events with a higher frequency.