Sunday, August 27, 2017

The August top ten list.

While some months seem to flow one into the next without much difference, August is different. August happens to be a month were many things stand out. It’s clearly a month of transition.
1.     I don’t know if August has more fog than any other month, but the local name Fogust is well deserved. Fog can make for wonderful photography from macro, think moisture dripping from spider webs, to landscapes with sunlight streaming through the fog. It also can make for hazardous navigation to unprepared boaters.
Early morning fog

Sailboat heading into a fog bank
2.     Early August is when the woodland skipper butterflies appear. Usually they are common on Puget Sound gumweed but this year the gumweed is pretty well dried up. Fortunately the skippers are adaptable and this year the nectaring plant of choice is sea rocket, Cakile maritima (non-native) and Cakile edentula (native).
Woodland skipper on Puget Sound gumweed

Woodland skipper on sea rocket
3.     Birds: Several species of bird stand out in August. Song sparrows are fledging their second brood and seems like the adults are ready to be done with it. The new batch of fledglings are all nearly tailless when they leave the nest. This is not true of the first set of fledglings. 
Taillless juvenile song sparrow
Juvenile song sparrow investigates a woodland skipper butterfly

If black oystercatchers are successful, this is the month they fledge their young. The oystercatchers nest on neighboring Low Island but are daily visitors to Yellow. The following photo from several years ago shows an adult feeding a juvenile in our rocky intertidal. So far  no young this year. Typically they are successful every three out of five years.
Adult oystercatcher feeding a limpet to a juvenile

August is also a month when Bald eagles become scarce. The normal pattern is for the eagles to head north to the Frazier River for the salmon runs. This year is different in that the salmon runs were abysmal and the eagles have not dispersed. With some dead seal pups around the eagles weren't going hungry.
Bald eagle with dead seal pup

Finally, shorebirds are at the peak of their southerly migration. While we get very few shorebirds at Yellow, when we do this is the prime month.
Wandering tattler from a few years ago
4.     Crickets start chirping in mid-August. This goes on until mid-October. When I listen to the crickets it sounds like there are hundreds of them yet I almost never see them. Their chirping can be so loud that it is almost impossible to get descent bird song recordings.
5.     August is the month that a couple species of jellyfish come to the end of their life cycle. Some years I get several hundred lion’s mane jellyfish scattered on our various beaches. For some reason this year there are very few but there were several days with about a hundred moon jellies. I asked Claudia Mills, local jellyfish expert, about the moon jellies and this was new to her in over 30 years of continual data collection in the San Juans. Climate change and the resulting ocean conditions, warmer and more acidic, are supposed to favor jellyfish.
Lion's mane jellyfish on SE landing beach
6.     August is also known for the Perseid meteor showers. This year the peak night was supposed to be August 12. I rolled out my sleeping bag on the picnic table ready for the show. But I wasn’t in the bag 15 minutes when it started raining. It was our first rain in over a month. The rain continued all night so all I got was a soggy night out in the rain. The last couple nights I’ve been sleeping out and seen several shooting stars each night, but nothing like the Perseid at its peak.
7.     August is the end of seal pupping season. This can make for very noisy nights. The moms just leave their pups and the pups don’t like. A favorite nighttime haul out spot for the pups is Low Island. Their balling for their moms goes on throughout the night.
8.     Island work: To maintain the prairies on Yellow, we employ a couple methods. Some years we use fire, usually in late August, but not every year. This is an off year for fire so what I do is weed whack the prairie portions of the island, about seven acres. To date I have about an acre completed but fortunately this project doesn’t need to be completed until spring.
9.     Monitoring. The stewardship team monitors TNC’s land and easements every year to stay in LTA compliance. For me this begins in August. The monitoring I do is five islands, four owned by TNC and one by SJPT that TNC holds the easement on. To refresh myself on the software we use, Collector Companion, I monitored Yellow in mid-August. On August 23, Randi Shaw joined Dean Dougherty (SJPT)  and myself to monitor Jack Island owned by SJPT.
Dean and Randi inspect an area clear of English ivy by a WCC crew on Jack Island.
10.  The days are noticeably shorter. August 1 sunrise is at 5:56 with sunset at 8:47, nearly 15 hours of sunlight. August 31 sunrise is at 6:28 with sunset at 7:53, down to about 13.5 hours of sunlight. Where I notice it the most is in the evening. If I want to have dinner in Friday Harbor with friends, I now have to leave Friday Harbor by 8:00 if I want to be off the water before dark.
Bonus round:
11. Just now talking to some visitors and it reminded me of a photo project I wished I had started my first  year here. August is the month that Pacific madrone starts shedding its inner red bark in large sheets. This leads to very interesting and photogenic patterns on the madrones. Well, the project never happened because i didn't think of it until this year. But these are a couple of the patterns I've photographed over the years from different trees.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Seeds, Seed Pods, and Pink/purple Flowers

Agoseros bud pushing through a seed head.
The Agoseris grandiflora seed head may look like a dandelion but it's actually a native. What I find interesting about it is that some plants seem to go straight to seed head from bud without ever showing a flower. I know this can't be true so the flower must be in bloom for a very short period of time.

One of the reasons I like mid June through  July is that it is seed collecting time. I find collecting seeds very meditative. I like all the different shapes and textures of the pods and seeds. It gets me thinking about what a miracle seeds are;  seeds can be dormant for years and then just add water to create life. (For those interested in seeds, there's a very readable book by local award winning author Thor Hanson, The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History.) I like to collect a bunch and then sit at the picnic table and clean it while I'm waiting for visitors to arrive. The following are photos from seven flower species. Looking at the flowers, can you guess what the seed pods would look like, if they have seed pods, and from that what the seeds would look like?

Camassia leichtlinii, great camas

Castilleja hispida, harsh paintbrush

Dodecatheon pulchellum, few-flowered shooting star
Eriophyllum lanatum, woolly sunflower or Oregon sunshine
Erythronium oregonum, fawn lily
Fritillaria affinis, chocolate lily

Ranunculus occidentalis, Western buttercup

Following are photos of the seed pods and the seeds. Your challenge is to match the flower with the appropriate seed and seed pod. 

Seeds and seed pods. Note two species do not form seed pods. This is a double matching challenge. The seeds did not come from the seed pods above them.

On another note, what's with all the pink/purple flowers this time of year. While the meadow covering bloom is long gone and with it most of the yellow flowers, there is still plenty to see this time of year. Just about every visitor the past two weeks has mentioned how amazing the floral display is. Three of the main flowers in bloom now fall in the pink/purple category.
Brodiaea coronaria, harvest brodiaea
Harvest brodiaea can be seen across the island but not in large numbers. It's one of the first flowers to greet visitors at the top of the steps and has a healthy patch above the west spit. Although it is called harvest Brodiaea, I haven't found anywhere what it would be harvested for. If you know, please let me know.
Chamerion angustifolium, fireweed
Fireweed is dense above the east spit where it has been growing since before TNC bought Yellow. It is now spreading around the island with small pockets in the south meadow and on the north side. Some people find it invasive, but it is a native and provides the hummingbirds with a flower to nectar on when the main floral display is over.
Allium cernuum, nodding onion
There is a really nice patch of nodding onion west of the shrubby area above the east spit. Lewis and Clarke claimed the local onion was the antidote to the flatulence caused by eating camas.

Finally, there is still one yellow flower in abundance across the island, Puget Sound gumweed. If you want to know where the plant got its name, simply touch the top of the bud or middle of the flower.
Grindelia integrifolia, Puget Sound gumweed

Answers to the flower, seed pod, seed photos above:

                                SEED POD   SEED     
Camas:                            E               D
Paintbrush:                     A               E
Shooting star:                 D               B
Oregon sunshine:                             C
Fawn lily:                      B               G
Chocolate lily:                C               F
Buttercup:                                        A

(These lined up much better in edit mode; not sure how to get them to line up when edit mode doesn't show what's happening.)

Chocolate lily seed pod and sword fern

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Island Time on Yellow: June 9, 2017, orcas and birds, a morning to remember.

Island Time on Yellow: June 9, 2017, orcas and birds, a morning to remember.

June 9, 2017, orcas and birds, a morning to remember.

It's 0355, my usual get up time to record birds. As I lie in bed listening to the beginnings of the dawn chorus, I hear the pitter patter of rain on the roof. Not a good day for recording. I roll over and look to the west; there's a beautiful full moon dropping below the clouds just above the horizon. Clear skies are on the way!

I get up, make coffee and sit in the west cabin doorway with the audio equipment under the cover of the roof line. I'm listening to house finches and  a host of other birds when I hear a loud WHOOSH! Then another WHOOSH, and another. A small pod of orcas are passing 20-30 yards offshore on the west side. Three minutes of recording and it's over. The whales continue north with the flooding tide; I continue recording.

This is the recording from 0506 that morning. Enjoy, then read the rest of the story.

I like the recording because it combines a couple branches of natural history that fascinate me: birds and marine mammals. In this recording there are eleven species of birds according to my naturalist friend Monika. I came up with ten. I find it fun to know that even on tiny Yellow Island in a three-minute period you can see/hear that many species from one location. For those that follow birds, here's Monika's list: house finch, olive-sided flycatcher, rufous hummingbird, glaucous-winged gull, white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, black oystercatcher, song sparrow, orange-crowned warbler, northwestern crow, house wren. Nine of those species nest on Yellow Island and one nests on neighboring Low Island.

A day later I was talking to my naturalist friend Traci who told me the whales going by Yellow were the T2C family of Bigg's (transient) killer whales.  Traci and Monika both sent me links to an article on the family history, and an amazing history it is.  In 1970 T2 and others were captured in Pender Bay near Victoria. At the time no one knew there were different kinds of orcas, fish eating and marine mammal eating. In captivity they refused to eat the salmon being fed them; they were mammal eaters.  After 75 days one of the orcas died. On the 79th day T2 finally ate half a salmon offered by another orca in the pen. After that they continued to eat salmon and the health of the remaining orcas improved.

T2 and another orca were scheduled to be sent to Seven Seas but a miracle of sorts occurred. On October 27, 1970, someone loosened the net, threw a weight over it, and after nearly eight months of captivity the two orcas were free again.  They returned to their mammal eating ways. T2 gave birth to several offspring including Tasu, T2C. T2 went missing in 2009 and is presumed dead. However, Tasu, T2C, has had several offspring including Tumbo, T2C2. These are two of the  orcas that passed Yellow Island on June 9.

T2C2 is recognizable because he has scoliosis of the spine.  So Tumbo cannot actively partake in hunting nor can he swim against the tidal currents. The family can be seen slowly swimming with the currents with Tumbo lagging behind. When a kill is made, the family group waits for Tumbo to catch up and shares the meal with him.

We were fortunate to have this family group in San Juan Channel for just under a week, swimming back and forth with the tides. Their home area is near Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Without the 'Great Escape' back in 1970, this family group would not exist.  And without the strong family bond we see in orca pods, Tumbo would not be able to survive. I find this all quite amazing.

This is the link to the article I used for the above information:

The following photos taken from Yellow Island are of an unknown family of Bigg's killer whales hunting harbor seals in the same area that the T2C family swam by on June 9.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April on Yellow Island, it’s not all about the flowers.

April marks the real beginning of a couple things on Yellow: by the end of the month the meadows are covered in flowers with the resulting flood of tourists and the dawn chorus has started in earnest. The last two years we were spoiled with mild winters and early blooms. 2017 has been cool and wet and the flowers are two to three weeks behind last year. The few paintbrushes that were showing color then got desiccated by 60-70 mph winds on April 7.
Taken April 6, the day before the storm

Taken April 8, the day after the storm
Slight recover, April 24

Looking much better 100 feet away and somewhat protected from the wind
Likewise, a few fawn lilies didn’t survive the windy blast. Luckily most did and white pockets of this early spring bloomer can be seen scattered around the island. Shooting star on the north side is also doing quite well even though the first bloom was three weeks later than last year.
Fawn lilies that survived the storm
Shooting stars on the north side of the island not hammered by the wind.
For one species, it has been a spectacular year. I have never seen as much blue-eyed Mary as this spring. It grows low to the ground on the north side out of the wind and was unaffected by the wind storm.

Blue-eyed Mary, April 24, 2017
The birds add something the flowers don’t, song! The dawn chorus begins in mid to late March and builds through April into May. American robins are one of the first species to sing in the spring followed by the sparrows, song and white-crowned. Spotted towhee should also be included here.  Next up would be the warblers, orange and yellow-rumped (Audubon’s). Species arriving mid to late April include house wren and American goldfinch. Olive-sided flycatcher doesn’t arrive until mid to late May. Of course some bird species are vocal but far from melodious. I put Canada geese, northwest crows, glaucous-winged gulls and even black oystercatchers in this category. When recording it’s hard to avoid these more raucous birds. The following recordings are all from late April. The first is from 2004, the next from 2005 and finally 2017. They are several days apart in the calendar year plus at slightly different times in the morning so this would not be good for a scientific comparison. Yet it is still interesting how different the three recordings are. How many species can you pick out?
The 2004 list includes in rough order of appearance: white-crowned sparrow, spotted towhee northwest crow, house wren, and Canada goose.
The 2005 list has: song sparrow, northwest crow, spotted towhee, glaucous-winged gull, and black oystercatcher.
This year’s list includes: Canada goose, white-crowned sparrow, Bewick’s wren, black oystercatcher, spotted towhee, American goldfinch, and rufous hummingbird.
Let me know if your hear other species I should add to the list. I must admit there are songs included here that I don’t know.😉 

Finally, if you don't care about names but just like listening to birds, here's ten minutes of song form 4/24/17. It fades in and out as birds move between their singing perches, but ends with a bang! 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Some highlights from 2016 on Yellow.

January is always a great month for sunrises.

February has great sunsets.

The color in the sky gives was to color on the ground. In March fawn lilies dominate.
April is when camas takes over.
May paintbrush comes into its own after starting to bloom in March.
June has prickly pear cactus and fireweed.

July is seal pupping time with pups riding on moms' backs.

August has billowy clouds and colorful sunsets.

September also has colorful sunrises. On the equinoxes the sun rises straight down Wasp Passage.
October has spectacular morning light on the Pacific madrones.
November and December have wind  storms (willow across the trail),
king (high) tides with the dinghy sometimes filled with water and logs
sometimes on top of the floating logs.

But like the other months, also flat seas with beautiful, calming sunsets.