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.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Storm That Wasn’t (and some that were)

Can anyone remember a storm that was so hyped that in the end delivered so little? From October 13 to 15 the Pacific Northwest was supposed to have the storm of the century rivaling the 1962 Columbus Day storm. The biggest wallop was supposed to happen late afternoon into the evening of October 15.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, there was a smaller windstorm that didn’t get much hype. During that storm several trees (willow and madrone), several large branches (Douglas fir), plus a large section of Juniper came down. I cleared the trails prior to and in anticipation of the BIG ONE.
Willow across the trail
Madrone snapped off
How do big storms affect Yellow Island? The biggest problem is having a boat on a mooring. Yellow has two moorings, one on the north side, one on the south. I have my personal boat on one and the TNC boat on the other. When a storm of this predicted magnitude  (70 mph gusts) is imminent, I take one boat to the TNC slip at the Port of Friday Harbor and use the mooring in the lee of the island for the other boat. In fact, any time the wind gets above 30 mph it’s a good idea not to have a boat on the windward side of the island. Below is a photo of my boat in a 60+ mph wind in August, 2015. You can see there are a plenty of places a mooring could fail in such situations. That day I got lucky.
Boat at mooring in 60+ mph gusts
In fact I got lucky twice that day. The mooring didn’t fail and the storm delivered a nice piece of cedar lawn furniture that wasn’t too much the worse for wear given it had rolled around in the surf and intertidal for quite some time.
Cedar bench, a gift from the sea.
And if the boat did break loose, what does the beach where it would end up look like?  The following photos are from a storm on November 12, 2007 near high tide. Gusts were again in the 65+ mph range. This storm didn't receive any where near the hype of  October 22 event.

So knowing all this might happen on October 15, I did in fact tow a boat to Friday Harbor on Friday afternoon. But Saturday morning a couple things happened. First they were backing off on the 70 mph gust but still saying it could be a damaging storm. Second, they kept changing the direction of the storm through various models from NE to SE. At one point the prediction was the storm would start from the NE and over several hours move to the SE. All the time the winds were to be above 50 mph gusting to 60 mph. What that meant is there was no way the boat could be out of the storm the entire time. Instead of being the Harry Truman of Yellow Island, I decided it would be best to get both boats to safe moorage. Fortunately, I had several friends offer places to stay on San Juan Island so that is where I weathered the storm that wasn’t.
When people got up Sunday morning, peak winds the night before were ‘only’ in the 40+ mph range, enough to create some nice surf and do something the previous portions of the storm hadn’t done, rearrange the landing beach at Yellow. Since last winter, the shape of the beach was a gradual slope up to a 20 foot wide flat area where I could leave the dinghy above the high tide. After the storm, the flat area was gone and the slope lead straight to the driftwood at the base of the vegetated bluff. Now there is no way to get the dinghy out of the water at high tide. That means strictly using the north mooring and beach on that side for the dinghy. until the beach is again re-arranged.
SE landing beach at a foot and a half below high tide
In the above photo you can tell the wet driftwood, floating at the last high tide, from the dry driftwood. Clearly there is no safe place for dinghy here.

And how does the cabin fair in these storms? It has survived almost 70 years of storms and I feel totally safe in it. But it is exciting. The following photo was taken during the 2011 Thanksgiving Day storm. Again there were 65+ mph gusts and this was at high tide.

Storm side of the cabin protected nicely by the rock outcropping.

Bottomline: This was a good drill for when the big one does happen. And while the storm would have been exciting to experience, we really dodged a bullet with the damage the storm could have caused.