Monday, November 1, 2010

Brown Pelicans delight on the Oregon Coast

I've long enjoyed seeing the large numbers of Brown Pelicans that call the area on the North Oregon Coast/South Washington Coast home in the summer/early fall. Watching them from areas south of the Columbia River has always been just so fun - they are such fascinating birds! A recent trip down to the areas between Newport and Astoria led me to use the crummy weather I was presented to change my photograph direction away from sunsets and lighthouses and look for pelicans worthy to photograph (or anything else that could cheer me up in the dreary weather!).

One nice place I found was the huge haystack right off Yaquina Head from the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Early in the morning they were large numbers resting there. Finally by 8:00am the gated road was open and I was out there - imagine being the ONLY person at the Yaquina Lighthouse for 45 minutes! That was me, and on a Saturday morning to boot.

But the best location I stumbled upon was further north a bit at Devil's Punchbowl State Park. Sure the punchbowl is fun, but just taking the short path 100 yards to the south and you are greeted with a beautiful cliff band/haystack right there very close to your vantage point. Lo-and-behold, there were 15-20 Brown Pelicans hanging out here as well! This was a great location to photograph and offered nice opportunities to capture them flying as well when they came in for a landing on the rock. Upon getting back to the truck I had to tell the cold looking elderly couple who were at the punchbowl to please be sure to go see the pelicans. They came back while I was putting my gear away and were so excited they almost hugged me in thanks for passing on "my tip". How fun is that!?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Return of the Bald Eagles

The holiday season has once again almost returned, bringing with it our annual season of joy, sharing, and hopeful happiness (What? Is it really November already!?). But while we all are busy with our holiday preparations, another visitor once again silently prepares to return to our neighborhood. This wintering natural neighbor is none other than our spectacular Bald Eagle as they typically make their annual winter visit from November through early March (some yearlong residents do live and nest locally as well, but many are only winter visitors).

Local winter populations of eagles do not compare to those present at river areas to the north, such as the Skagit, Sauk, and Stillaguamish Rivers. However, we do have many local hotspots, which often provide excellent viewing opportunities. In the heart of Fall City you can often spot these huge birds in the towering cottonwood trees near the confluence of the Raging and Snoqualmie Rivers. I’ve seen as many as four at once just across the river from town! They fish the Raging River often and I’m always keeping an eye open along the Preston-Fall City Road at each bend in the river. If you fail to see any in these locations, roam up to Borst Lake along Mill Pond Road out of Snoqualmie, or take the West Snoqualmie Valley Road to Carnation. Areas north of Carnation near Sikes Lake and along the river near Carnation Farm Road all offer excellent opportunities to see these magnificent birds!

The lives of Bald Eagles are fascinating, and one of the most amazing things about them to me is their nesting practice. Bald Eagles build the largest nests in the world that are made by a single pair of birds. Some nests weigh over a thousand pounds and the largest nests have been known to be up to 12 feet deep! They lay on average only two eggs in the nest and only 10% of all newborns will survive until adulthood. Adulthood is reached at age five when they finally develop the spectacular white heads we all recognize so quickly. What is so interesting to me is that their nests, once established, are used perennially by mating pairs of birds, and have been known to be used for up to 35 years!

Each eagle sighting I have becomes a memory that lingers with me for a long time. Whether it is a pair of them circling over the Snoqualmie River or a single bird perched in a large cottonwood tree, it keeps a smile in my mind for days. So keep your eyes open wherever you go around the valley this winter. You never know when you might spot our flying national symbol!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eeeek! Peeeep! Just who is that screaming from the mountain rocks?

They are elusive to see some of the time, but equally as up close and curious to be checking you out the next. One moment they are silent, the next they utter an amazing “Eeeek!” type of panic call and dash away to hide! These curious little fury creatures don’t live here in the lowlands. But anyone who has ventured up into the Cascades where high elevation open rocky slopes dot the landscape knows what I mean. The pika is a fascinating little mammal and survives in one of the harshest environments around us!
The pika is a small, industrious mammal that lives in our mountain regions, typically inhabiting the boulder-covered hillsides and rock-piles (aka talus) near timberline. Talus might seem like an inhospitable environment to us as we find it difficult and dangerous to traverse. But pikas can use the talus to escape predators and nasty weather. Under the surface is a labyrinth of pika-sized caves and passages. Still air trapped between the rocks, combined with a layer of snow over the surface, can insulate pikas from sub-zero temperatures and wind chill! Pikas lack the large hind legs that allow hares and rabbits to outrun some predators. But in talus, they can outmaneuver most predators!

They also are called "rock rabbits" by some. The 8-inch long, 7-ounce pika spends the summer busily cutting, gathering and drying leaves and grasses. It eats a variety of green plants like grasses, sedges, thistles, and fireweed. Some it will eat on the spot while some of it will be carried away and stored in a pile or "haystack." A pika haystack can contain as much as a bushel of plants! The pika will often move the pile to protect it from rain or to find a better drying spot. After the vegetation dries the pika will move it to its den deep in the rocks. The dried plants are then stored for use as a food source during the long high-altitude winters. They do not hibernate even in these harsh long snowy periods and thus have these food stores they worked all summer long to build to survive off of! When their food source starts to run low they will also supplement their needs by foraging on whatever is available under the snow, such as bark and lichen. A relative of the rabbit and hare, the pika is the size and shape of a guinea pig with a stocky, grayish-brown body. It has short legs, round ears, a tiny virtually invisible tail, and sharp curved claws. It is very alert and has excellent hearing and vision which helps protect it from predators like coyotes, weasels, martens and hawks. They emit a sharp, high-pitched whistle to alert other nearby pikas when predators are detected. Therefore they may well see the approach of a human as a similar threat and sound the alarms!
Females usually bear one or two litters, with two to four young in each. When the young are born, they have no hair and are blind. But within a short time they grow rapidly and are able to open their eyes. Amazing as it may sound, the babies will leave their mother after four weeks and are adult size in about three months. Pikas usually live for about four to seven years, which I find fascinating for such a small creature in the wild! So give them you attention the next time you see or hear one---they live in an amazing world of their own!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Full moon rises over the waters last month

With a late-August start to school quickly approaching we had a chance for one last getaway before our daily routines would suddenly be altered. Lucky for us it was full moon time for the month of August and seeing clear sky with full moon rising across Case Inlet was a great send-off to summer break.

It is a rare treat when we get both clear sky and smooth water to enjoy this.

Now it's time to prepare for a hopeful repeat of 5-6 years ago in November and again in February when sunrise happens directly behind Mount Rainier.

I've only seen that once - why is it always cloudy in November and February when we get out there? Oh, never mind :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A vacation tour with five birds in the fishing world

What an "interesting" year 2010 has been and after much lengthy silence I am finally getting my schedule and activities sort of "back to normal". Far too many serious family health issues to handle in one year, not to mention in just the past few months since spring!

Kicking off August was really nice as I enjoyed an annual trip to a family cabin on a lake in far Northeast Washington near the Idaho border, up north of Spokane. Eight full days with family and two dogs was just what I needed. Fishing was great as well, even if I lost the 2010 Annual Fishing Derby between the Bauer Pa vs. Bauer Son 8-3.

At least I caught the longest trout! But we weren’t the only creatures fishing the lake. Indeed, I enjoyed watching and photographing five bird species who were working the lake constantly just like all summers!

The occasional Great Blue Heron shouldn’t surprise anyone. Double-crested Cormorants were a bit of a new one on the lake for me, even after 22 years of visiting it every summer. A pair of Belted Kingfishers were eagerly working the waters of the bay every morning. But the stars of the show annually are the Ospreys nesting on the lake as well as numerous families of Red-necked Grebes! It is a challenge to photograph the ospreys but they are so active you just have to wait for a fly-over or be lucky to have a dead snag on your property they use to perch and hunt from.

The grebes, well they are busy out in the water 24 hours a day. So this year again I kayaked out into the lake as approaching them from the water is very easy on them and allowed me many chances to photograph their behaviors with the ½ grown young! It was very enjoyable…one youth was so vocal all of the time while the adult near it seemed to care less! And guess what…every one of these five bird species humiliated us Bauer Boys in our fishing abilities! It was stunning to be in a kayak and watch what it looked like seeing a red-necked grebe swimming underwater. That was a new sight for me and one I’ll not forget soon!

Monday, June 14, 2010

An annual trek to get my wildflower craving satisfied with Tweedy’s lewisia

Each year it is the same thing over and over. Come spring I get all antsy about starting to head out with viewing wildflowers as the main objective. What a great way to see nature putting on a show as well as offering unlimited photographic opportunities! Once I’ve had my share of shrub steppe region visits (aka. “Washington’s desert”) my attention focuses immediately to the dry east slopes of the Cascades. The open pine-fir mix forests where warm sun, rocky well-drained soils exist are prime habitat for some of the most stunning and rare wildflowers in Washington and it is here where I annually roam special areas to enjoy my most favorite Washington wildflower: Tweedy’s lewisia!

The flowers are up to 3-inches across and are a beautiful salmon to yellowish-pink in color. I think it is by far the most showy lewisia, as well as most beautiful wildflower in the Pacific Northwest! A close relative flower, known as Bitterroot, is much more widespread and easier to locate. (Bitterroot too is a spectacular wildflower – it is smaller and more pink in color, so don’t miss looking for it as well!) Tweedy’s lewisia blooms from May to July depending on what elevation you can find it at, and it does have a very limited geographic range where it is typically found. It is essentially limited to the Wenatchee Mountains, Chelan and Kittitas Counties, and a few areas in the Methow Valley.

While I’m sure it is present in other similar areas, I have my own “guaranteed success” trails where I repeatedly return to in June to have my annual craving to see them satisfied. Lower elevation locations such as the Chiwaukum Creek Trail and Tumwater Botanical Area region, both west of Leavenworth, are on the list for earlier bloom times since they are barely at 2000’ elevation. The photos seen here were taken on June 12th of this year but most years they will be in bloom in late-May here. A contrast to this location is hiking the Tronson Ridge Trail on the northeast side of US-97 near Blewett Pass. Here hiking along a stunning ridge at 5000’ you can readily find clumps of Tweedy’s lewisia typically a few weeks later than lower elevations. What fun! If you ever wish to get more information about finding these locations I’m happy to share exact details with you. I hope you have a chance to get out and see some of nature’s wildflower performances this summer, even if it is just while sitting in a car in a parking lot at Mount Rainier or along a mountain stream!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dip, Dip, Dip! American Dippers know how to jig!

You might enjoy the beauty of moss covered boulders, the towering forest canopy, or the sound of the babbling water when you stroll along a refreshing creek or river nearby. Stop, look, and listen. Isn’t it beautiful sight and sound? But suddenly you see movement of a small gray flying object and hear peeping noises zoom up the creek to break your train of thought. The movement stops on a rock, and then the show can begin. You’re ready to watch the unique antics of an American dipper!

The American dippers also are often called “water ouzels” by many people. These smallish songbirds (yes, they do have a very pretty call!) are about seven inches long and have a very short tail. They are an even gray colored bird and their names come from the behavior seen when they are closely approached or maybe disturbed by another creature. This “dipping” is the act of them quickly bending their legs so that their entire body quickly moves up and down. But I feel that the best part of their show comes when they are feeding. They are very well adapted to dive underwater---and good thing since their main source of food is aquatic insects! They aren’t like ducks as they don’t have webbed feet. However they can swim across water by paddling their feet and they can propel under the water with a “swimming-style” of motion of their wings. The really cool thing in their biology is how they have nasal flaps which keep water from entering their noses. I wish I could do that! Once their heads are underwater they simply go about their business of eating the buffet of insect larvae (mayflies, stoneflies, etc…) that await them. While they have predators such as sharp-shinned hawks and weasels, their nests are much protected from them. Nest locations are normally within the spray of the water and often are hidden back in behind a small waterfall or large rapid. It is a thrill seeing one dart into a waterfall and not come back out! They often re-use the same nest year to year and they are very territorial. It has been seen where a dipper will defend over half mile of stream.

While it is easy to think of these creatures as mountain dwellers in the vast network of creeks and rivers of the Cascades, they actually are happy in lowland areas as well. I’ve seen them at the confluence of the three forks of the Snoqualmie River above the falls. It is typical to locate them in places such as Tokul Creek and the Raging River. I’ve even seen them in an area surrounded by development as they thrive along Coal Creek below Coal Creek Falls in Cougar Mountain Regional Park. Healthy streams are necessary for them to survive. Without them, the insects they depend on will not flourish. So enjoy your opportunities to locate this special bird species---they will give you a free show and also let you know the healthy state of the water is worth cheering for as well!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A flowery day along Ingalls Creek

I used to make an annual May trip to hike the Ingalls Creek Trail. I remember the wildflowers to be one of the best shows I could find in the Cascades early in the year. As the long wilderness valley climbs from 2000' toward 4000' it allows you to see flowers of all seasons. When balsamroot and lupines are blooming in late May at the lower elevations, you reach far into the valley and find Glacier Lilies, Western Trillium, and many other early blooming species where spring is just waking up. And all of this along the thundering roar of Ingalls Creek which drains massive mountain ranges on both the north and south sides. Birds fill the trees along the valley bottom, but you can't hear them - the creek is too loud! But pausing and watching for a moment reveals all of the grosbeaks, tanagers, chickadees, and the list goes on. But the real show is at your feet.

(above: Glacier lily; flowering Kinnickinick; Hooker fairy-bells; Fern-leaf desert parsley; False Solomon seal)
For whatever reason, I had not hiked this trail for likely 12-13 years after having hiked it annually for at least five years in a row. A recent return visit, hiking 5+ miles up the valley, has me now knowing I'll never let that happen again! What a show...flowering serviceberry and chokecherry bushes/trees, deerbrush ready to blow out its fragrant flowers, lupines, red and yellow paintbrush (yellow ones I sure don't see very often around here), arrowleaf balsamroot, prairie-star flower, hooker's fairy bells, calypso orchids, larkspur, western trillium, glacier lilies, false solomon seal, vanilla leaf, three species of desert parsley including lovely areas of fern-leaf desert parsley, yellow violets, and more...all blooming at once! It was a fiesta of color and fragrance. Oh, and a brief hailshower, some rain, and one lovely female common merganser flying up the creek, all made for a wonderful day with a friend.

(above: Ballhead waterleaf; Ingalls Creek at creek-side and a fun rock art by previous bored hikers :) )
It has been a long cold spring, but even nature will push through and let spring and summer get here eventually!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Presentation in Bellevue today @ 2:00PM

It's a dark and stormy March morning and....oh, wait, it's almost June? Sigh - spring has been a stinker here in the Pacific Northwest! It's 45* and wet outside, so why don't you come on down to the Bellevue Main Library branch of the King County Library System at 2:00PM this afternoon and join me for an enjoyable hour of stories and adventure sharing hiking the many trails covered in the Day Hiking guidebooks series I'm a part of! At least you can be thinking about hitting the trails that way if you don't like today's weather for hiking in!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Boring Beetles aren't so boring: The Banded Alder Borer

Beetles aren't necessarily the most exciting critter to many people. In fact they can give some people the absolute creeps! But some play a positive role in nature and are downright beautiful. Mention the phrase "borer beetles" and usually the reaction isn’t going to be a positive one. Most species of this “long-horned borer” beetle family can cause extensive damage to nature as they bore into live wood. Some of you may recall hearing about the dangerous imported Asian Long-horned Beetle, which devastated mature trees in several Eastern US cities during 1999 and 2000. This caused thousands of trees to be destroyed in Chicago and New York in particular! Harmful boring beetles will attack forest trees including maple, poplar, and alder. They kill the trees by boring large holes through the heartwood of the tree. This in turn causes serious damage to the live tree. Most of these long-horned beetle species which are harmful to trees have the long antennae and long bodies which are characteristic of this family. However, we are fortunate to have a native beetle to our area in this family which actually is beneficial to nature! Introducing: the Banded Alder Borer.
The Banded Alder Borer is very striking as it is 1-1.5 inches long with large black and white striped ("banded") antennae and black and white markings on the body. The antennae are longer than the body! It feeds on alder, ash and other hardwood trees. However, it feeds on the dead or decaying wood of these trees. This in turn is helping with the promotion of the decay of the dead wood in the ecosystem. They lay their eggs on the surface of the tree bark. As the larvae develop they then tunnel inward and later prepare pupal chambers which will be home until the beetle is "born" to life.
Typically you will only see single individuals of them during the summer. Occasionally, however, they are strangely attracted in groups to fresh paint on the sides of buildings during warm/hot weather! Speculation is that a volatile chemical in paint can mimic a certain attracting scent ("pheromone") which draws the beetles to each other. Some painters have returned from a lunch break only to find a number of them unfortunately dead in their open cans of paint. The Banded Alder Borer is the only known beetle that seems to display this potential attraction to freshly painted areas.
Don't expect to come across these lovely beetles very often as they actually are quite uncommon to see. But if you should be lucky enough to see one take a moment to get close and watch it. They do not bite and are not a pest in any way---there is no need for taking any actions to control them!

Monday, May 3, 2010

There's moss in that there forest...and waterfalls...and good friends

What a joy it was recently the past few days to escape for a much needed mental break from stressful recent times and not only get outdoors, but have it turn out to be a new trail for me which was one of the best new additions for me in some time, all while shared with great friends. Karen Sykes, Bob, and myself headed SE down SR-410 from Enumclaw into the White River Valley and thoroughly enjoyed hours of hiking up the Palisades Trail. Moss covering every rock, maple tree branch, even cliffs covered with moss alongside of waterfalls. Huge old growth trees, calypso orchids growing out of the forest floor moss, western trilliums, yellow violets, spooky views from atop the palisade cliffs,

even getting into a dusting of snow still on the ground once above 4000' elevation.

This area is such prime early season hiking as it never has as much snow as the areas in the Central Cascades, and the southern exposure always melts the snowpack off sooner. Karen, Bob, and myself shared hours of stories and ideas all while we strolled the 9 miles of hiking we did and dozens of photos we took. What a great day! A sure thing bet this trail is in the next edition of the Day Hiking books as well as other projects I'm working on.

Thanks for a great day in the mountains, Karen & Bob!

Let's talk hiking and photography this Saturday!

A quick note that the lovely new (well, it was new 10 years ago or so but still is a beautiful building) library in Sammamish will host me this coming Saturday afternoon, May 8 @ 2:00pm to present a talk and show sharing my adventures and stories working on the Day Hiking book series, published by The Mountaineers Books. Get a great start to your Mother's Day weekend and get excited for a great 2010 hiking summer ahead! See you there I hope.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Artist Reception at Marianwood Art Gallery tomorrow

Hello friends-Just a quick note to invite anyone who might be interested in coming by to see the “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” photography exhibition being shown at the Marrianwood Art Gallery up on the Sammamish Plateau. The show runs until May 31st but tomorrow night happens to be the artists reception to have a little bit of fun. I’ll also have a table set up with extra unframed matted prints, some cards, and even my guidebook series of books for people to browse over if they are bored. Ha.
This is a continuation of the artEAST winter gallery show that was in Issaquah for the month of February at the UpFront Gallery – I haven’t even seen the gallery yet so I’ll be curious how it is set up there actually. For an interesting side note….turns out the quartet music that is lined up for this is a quartet made up of four members of the Evergreen Philharmonic Orchestra in Issaquah, of which the viola player will be my own daughter. We didn’t even realize that until just a week or two ago – funny! Pretty cool….
Thanks for your time and maybe I’ll see a few of you there tomorrow evening!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What a beak...the Evening Grosbeak

Here we have a rather uncommon bird that many of you may not have experienced yet. But one thing is almost for certain: if you see one, you will see many more! Moving around often in large flocks, the evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus) can fill your surrounding trees with a loud chorus and also drain your large birdfeeders of sunflower seeds in a hurry.
About 140 years ago, English-speaking settlers in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains came across a beautiful big-beaked bird that appeared mysteriously from somewhere in the distant west. They named it evening grosbeak in the mistaken belief that it came out of the woods to sing only after sundown. The species today has expanded its range---prior to 1890, they were unknown east of the Great Lakes, whereas today they continue to expand their breeding range throughout the East. Thus not until recent times (historically speaking) have they even been known to exist to white settlers. The modern day abundance of sunflower seeds at feeding stations is one of the keys to its range expansion as the seeds available have extended the chances of them being able to survive the winters in areas their native wintering seeds (primarily seeds from the cones of spruce, balsam fir, and pine trees) never existed!

The evening grosbeak is considered a very common bird…if you are lucky enough to have them around. However, they are very spotty in their distribution and while one area might be overwhelmed with dozens of them the next areas will not have a single specimen. They are an erratic migrant in winter as the occurrence of their flocks is unpredictable. They are large, gregarious, nomadic finches that travel in raucous flocks. During the winter, evening grosbeaks are irregularly common, sometimes appearing in large flocks at feeders where they can devour huge amounts of sunflower seeds. I can’t describe the amazing sense you experience when getting the opportunity to stand outside and listen to a flock of 30 or 40 of them all chirping! The chorus of chatter they create is absolutely lovely!
A fascinating feature about this bird is of course its beak. The evening grosbeak's bill is bone color during winter, but it undergoes a dramatic change in pigmentation in early spring. Its new color matches precisely the green of fresh deciduous buds and leaves and also the new needles that will tip the spruce boughs around the site where the bird's nest will be built a few weeks thereafter. The evening grosbeak conceals its body in the trees and in order to see lifts only its head and bill, which looks like a young green spruce or balsam cone. This is a terrific example of protection through appropriate coloration!

Certainly no farmer will wish to take away from them the weed seeds they devour. A grosbeak getting all its daily energy from budworm larvae would eat 1000 a day. These birds crowd into budworm infested areas to breed and raise young, then move elsewhere when the infestation declines. Because of its appetite for this destructive pest, the evening grosbeak is one of our most beneficial birds! So while they are not as common as our summer visitors, the black-headed grosbeaks, they certainly are a joy to experience if you are so lucky to have them at your feeders during their times passing here in the area!