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!