Did you miss out on hearing Nature Notes on KMUN, or would you like to revisit some of the previous installations? We’re pleased to share the transcripts of some of our shows here. You can scroll through them all at your leisure, or click on a topic below to jump to that section.
Crows by Rebecca Lexa
Sunrise and sunset can be surprisingly noisy times as flocks of crows begin and end their days. You may have heard their raucous calls as they fly overhead or gather in the branches of shore pine and Sitka spruce trees.
These omnivorous birds will eat all sorts of local foods, from shellfish and crabs to bugs and berries. They’ve been known to open mussels by carrying them into the sky and dropping them on rocks. Similarly to gulls, they’re not above getting into garbage, but can be bit more cautious about it.
Crows are social, and larger flocks may include several dozen individuals. This helps them to look for more opportunities for food, and to have more eyes looking out for predators like marsh hawks, ravens and coyotes. If a predator is sighted the crows may mob it and chase it away, and are especially aggressive during nesting season.
Crows are highly intelligent and enjoy play as much as work, and can be found using sticks, crab legs and other objects as toys. They will also play games with each other like tag, and seem to enjoy rejoining their flock in the evening when it’s time to roost, sometimes circling around together in the air and cawing loudly before heading for the trees. They’re very good parents, and next spring you may see this year’s young helping to care for the new brood. Crows may be everyday occurrences in the area, but spend a little time watching them and you’ll see just how remarkable they are!
Baby Animals by Rebecca Lexa
Spring is upon us, and that means the woods and fields are full of baby animals! Some animals leave their young for periods of time, and then return to feed and care for them. Rabbits and deer hide their young in tall grass or under bushes. The young animals instinctively know to stay still if danger approaches.
Every year many young rabbits and deer are taken away from their hiding spots and turned in to wildlife rehabilitation centers. This can be so stressful that even with the best of care they often die, and those that survive cannot always be released back into the wild. If you find baby deer or rabbits, leave them where they are. Either their mothers will be back for them, or they will provide a much-needed meal for other baby animals like young foxes and bobcats.
If you find a baby bird out of its nest and it does not yet have all of its feathers, you can put it back in the nest and the parents will continue to care for it. If you can’t reach the nest, nail a butter container to the tree as close to the nest as you can, put soft grass in it and set the baby in there. The parents may begin to care for both nests of babies. A larger baby bird that has all of its feathers is likely a fledgling learning to fly. Leave it where it is, as its parents are still caring for it, and you don’t want to scare them away.
Oregon Silverspot Butterfly by Rebecca Lexa
One of the rarest butterflies in the Pacific Northwest is the Oregon silverspot butterfly. It once ranged along the coastline from California all the way into southwestern Washington, with the Long Beach Peninsula as its northernmost reach. Fire suppression and the spread of invasive beach grass led to the loss of most of the butterfly’s habitat. Now it only exists in the wild in a few isolated pockets of Oregon and California. Recovery efforts have been underway for several years, and breeding programs at the Oregon zoo and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, and the Woodland Park zoo in Seattle.
The only flower the Oregon silverspot’s caterpillars can feed on is the early blue violet, also known as the hookedspur violet. It needs open spaces to grow, preferably without being crowded out by beach grass. This violet is actively cultivated at sites where captive-bred silverspot caterpillars are released into the wild. Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is currently undergoing habitat restoration, both to benefit current wildlife species, and to hopefully facilitate the return of silverspots.
If you would like to help the Oregon silverspot and other native butterflies, consider planting native flowers in your yard, to include early blue violets, which can be bought from some native plant nurseries. Pesticides are also very dangerous for butterflies and other pollinators, especially those with chemicals known as neonicotinoids; by reducing or stopping your use of these poisons you can help both the butterflies and other beneficial insects.
Coyotes by Rebecca Lexa
Many of us have heard the eerie howl of a coyote, but did you know that this is a relatively new phenomenon in this area? Historically limited to the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and part of the desert Southwest, these adaptable canids spread up into Washington over the past hundred and fifty years as their main competition, gray wolves, were driven to local extinction. In fact the coyote is one of the very few animals whose range has expanded as humans have changed the landscape.
Coyotes feed primarily on small prey like rodents, reptiles and birds. They are very beneficial as they help control rat and mouse populations. Coyotes primarily eat meat, but will also consume small amounts of plant matter like berries, and they are not above scavenging roadkill! They live in small family groups consisting of a female and a male, and pups of various ages. Pups from previous years help to care for their younger siblings, giving Mom and Dad a much-needed break.
If you’re worried about coyote attacks, fear not. Coyote attacks on humans are exceptionally rare, and mostly occur in larger urban areas where coyotes and humans are in much closer contact. It’s still a good idea to keep cats, small dogs and other pets indoors, or outside only when supervised, especially at night. Make sure chickens and other livestock are in secure pens. Most importantly, do not leave food out for coyotes, whether that’s pet food or a garbage can put out too early in the week.
Don’t Feed the Wildlife! by Rebecca Lexa
As the weather cools, local wildlife prepare for the winter ahead. This includes foraging for as much food as they can. Some, like Douglas squirrels, hoard food away in larders that they can visit later; others, such as black bears, put on as much fat as possible before hibernating for several months. But there are many animals, from dark-eyed juncos to elk, which need to find food year-round.
It is normal to feel empathy for their struggle. It may be tempting to leave food out for wildlife to help them through the winter. Unfortunately our good intentions may actually do serious harm to these animals. Sometimes the food we offer isn’t good for them; bread, for example, can cause ducks and geese to develop diseases associated with malnutrition. Wild mammals like deer and raccoons can quickly lose their fear of humans once they figure out that we offer them food, which can make them more likely to be hit by cars or otherwise be in conflict with us. Adding too much food to your ecosystem can cause wildlife to overpopulate, which leads to more starvation and disease.
The best thing you can do for wildlife is to encourage the protection of their natural habitat and food sources. If possible, add native plants to your yard that are their natural food, like wavy thistle, evergreen huckleberry, and deer fern. It is okay to feed songbirds from feeders, but be aware these can attract other wildlife, especially if you have a suet feeder.
Harbor Porpoise by Rebecca Lexa
In recent weeks harbor porpoises have been more evident along the coast and in Willapa Bay. In fact, those who went on the oyster barge trip on the Sunday of Wings Over Willapa in late September were treated to a small pod of porpoises crossing the Bay! It is one of our smallest marine mammals, rarely growing much larger than six feet long. Its coloration is dark gray on its back, with a lighter, silvery gray on the sides. Unlike dolphins it does not have a pronounced beak, and so has a smoother curve from the top of its head to its mouth. If you think you see a harbor porpoise break the surface of the water, look for a small triangular dorsal fin on its back.
While harbor porpoises are often solitary, they do form small groups to hunt fish. They tend to target schooling fish like herring, and usually hunt close to the sea floor. They do not venture far from their home territory and are not generally migratory.
Harbor porpoises generally live ten to fifteen years in the wild, though individuals may reach ages of twenty or more. If you find a stranded or dead porpoise or other marine mammal, please inform the Seaside Aquarium of stranded or dead individuals as soon as possible as they are part of the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network. It is illegal to collect the remains of any marine mammal, so leave them on the beach for gulls and other scavengers.
Garter Snakes by Rebecca Lexa
If you see a snake around Willapa Bay, it’s almost certainly going to be a garter snake. The two species you’re likely to find are the common garter snake, which prefers wetlands and other soggy spots, and the northwestern garter snake, found in drier areas of forests and meadows. The common garter snake is also often larger than its northwestern cousin, and has patches of red on its sides which the other species lacks.
Garter snakes are nonvenomous, in that they cannot inject venom into prey, though their saliva does have mild toxins that may be irritating if you get bitten. However, these gentle snakes would much prefer to be left alone, and should be considered completely harmless. They are highly valuable additions to their ecosystems, and feed on small animals like earthworms and minnows. They also provide food to herons, foxes and other larger predators, though any animal wishing to eat a garter snake must contend with its smelly musk glands!
Common garter snakes have a secret super power: they are immune to the toxins found in rough-skinned newts! If a human being were to eat a newt they could die, yet these small snakes usually only experience a bit of sluggishness as their bodies process the chemical. They also have the ability to gauge how much of the toxin the newt they’ve caught has, and will spit out one that is too toxic.
So the next time you see a garter snake out on the trail or sunning itself on a log, give it some respect!
American White Pelican by Rebecca Lexa
What are those big, white birds way up in the sky? Not snow geese! They’re American white pelicans! Many people are familiar with brown pelicans out over the ocean, but white pelicans often travel inland as far as the Midwest, and can be seen on waterways locally this time of year. As their name suggests they are white with black feathers on their wings, and have a bright orange bill. Unlike brown pelicans, they catch their food while swimming, and do not dive underwater.
White pelicans breed in spring, and chicks are born by early summer. Usually only one chick survives to leave the nest at one month of age. All the youngsters in a breeding colony will stay together in a crèche, where they grow flight feathers and learn to fly while still being fed by their parents. By September the young birds will be ready for the big migration south, and all the pelicans in the area prepare to group together for this move.
While white pelican numbers are flourishing today, in the mid-20th century the population took a serious dive due to DDT and various agricultural chemicals. Stricter laws regulating or banning these substances led directly to the rebound of this bird, as well as other threatened species. Today, the biggest threats to white pelicans are habitat loss, entanglement in fishing gear, being hit by boats, and poaching. Willapa National Wildlife Refuge offers a safe haven for these magnificent soaring birds.
Helping Wildlife Survive Winter by Rebecca Lexa
As the days grow shorter and the weather cools, many wild animals are getting ready for the winter months ahead. Here are some great tips if you’d like to help them out:
One of the most important things you can do is leave your yard a little messy. Many small animals spend the winter staying warm under a blanket of leaves and other debris, and raking or mowing over your leaves can be disastrous for them. If you have to move them out of the way, create a pile in the corner of the yard instead of throwing them in the landfill or burning them. Compost heaps are great places for frogs, salamanders and garter snakes to spend the winter, too.
On those rare occasions where it gets cold enough for water to freeze, put a bucket of water outside and keep breaking the ice on top. If you have a pond or other water feature, keep its surface clear of ice, too. That way animals still have access to fresh water to drink.
Keep your bird feeders filled. Suet is a great treat in cold weather and gives many birds the calories they need to get through winter. Black bears in this area don’t hibernate deeply and will often wake up periodically, which means you’ll still need to bear-proof your feeders.
When it comes time to plan your gardening and yard work for next year, consider planting some native plants. Berry bushes like huckleberry and salmonberry provide food for both birds and the insects they love to eat, and many native perennials also provide necessary shelter throughout the year.
The Olympia Oyster by Rebecca Lexa
Willapa Bay is well known for its oyster industry. But did you know that the oysters being harvested each year are introduced Pacific oysters originally from Asia? They replaced the native Olympia oyster after its populations collapsed from over-harvesting, and because Pacific oysters are bigger and easier to cultivate.
The Olympia oyster, the only oyster native to the Pacific Northwest, isn’t gone though. Once widespread from California all the way north to Alaska, it still hangs on in smaller populations along the coast, including in Willapa Bay. It generally doesn’t get much bigger than three inches long, and often grows in eelgrass beds. While it usually sticks to salt water, it can tolerate the variable salinity of estuary habitats near streams and rivers. It spawns from May to August, and one oyster can produce up to 300,000 eggs in one brood!
There are efforts to preserve and return the Olympia oyster to its historic range. Both conservation groups and specialty commercial oyster companies have reintroduced these shellfish to suitable intertidal areas. Threats to these populations include pollution from industries and boat motors, a buildup of silt from erosion, a lack of shells for young oysters to grow on, and invasive species like the Japanee oyster drill, a mollusk that bores through the oyster’s shell to eat it.
Hopefully with time and continued effort, the native Olympia oyster will once again be a common sight on the tidelands along the Pacific Coast!
Chestnut-backed Chickadees by Rebecca Lexa
Winter has sent many of our areas’s songbirds south to escape the chill. However, one of our most cheerful year-round residents is the chestnut-backed chickadee. These active, multi-colored birds are a frequent sight at feeders and in yards, as well as in more remote areas. They often may be found near juncos and other small songbirds, twittering and flitting through tree branches and underbrush in search of food.
The chestnut-backed chickadee is easy to identify. A small, round bird only a few inches long, it has the characteristic black cap and throat patch of the chickadees in general, and a soft grayish-brown chest. Look for the bright rust-colored back and sides that give it its name! The small, conical beak also helps to make this bird stand out compared to those with more robust beaks. During warmer months these chickadees eat many insects, but during winter they rely more heavily on seeds and berries, as well as seeds and suet in feeders.
If you’d like to help chestnut-backed chickadees year-round, start by making your yard more bird-friendly! While feeders help, planting native plants in the spring promotes more insects than non-native plants, which offers these birds and their young more crucial food. Chestnut-backed chickadees are cavity nesters, so if you can leave standing dead trees on your property woodpeckers and other animals will open up the sorts of cavities these little birds need. Consider hanging nest boxes, especially if you don’t have any other suitable nesting habitat.
Invasive Insects by Matthew Shirley
As part of the National Tree Check month, the Washington State’s Invasive Species Council is asking Washingtonians to check their yards and pool filters for invasive insects.
70 new insect species have been detected since 1990, and 36 percent of those were found by the public. The threat has been calculated at $1.3 billion dollars a year, in addition to the risks to human health. Pool filters and skimmers are often the first place invasive insects are discovered, though any sudden death among trees that were healthy should be investigated.
One example is the Citrus Long-horned beetle, which was detected and eradicated in Tukwila in 2001. It could return by way of contaminated fire wood, commercial shipping, moving, as well as hitchhiking on planes and trucks.
It is a large, shiny, black beetle with white spots. It leaves 5/8ths diameter bore holes as it feeds and kills hardwoods, like apple, maples, oaks, willows, and poplars. Some native beetles look similar, so it is a good idea to check with the Invasive Species Council.
If you think you’ve seen an invasive species, please photograph it, and report the findings at Invasivespecies.wa.gov, or the “WA Invasives” mobile app.
Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus by Matthew Shirley
The endangered “Octopus paxarbolis” of the Olympic National Forest is a hoax. Though the moist boughs of northwestern trees serves as the primary habitat of this non-existent cephalopod, it is said to spawn in the local rivers. Its primary predator is the high climbing Sasquatch. However, unlike our beloved local cryptid, the fictitious octopus’s ability to simulate bark and leaf patterns has left no evidence of their existence behind.
Invented in 1998 as an internet hoax, the tree octopus has taken on a life of its own as a sample website for internet literacy classes. The studies have used the imagined threat to the octopi as means of assessing people’s ability to judge the reliability of websites, especially when emotions are pulled into play. A 2007 study found that about half of the sampled school children found the site reliable, and only 11% saw it as unreliable.
This was seen as an indication that greater effort was required to help children wade through the often misleading information on the internet. Perhaps, however, the results were influenced by wishful thinking. The idea of a shapeshifting, tree-climbing, amphibious creature certainly stirs the imagination.
Brown Pelicans are a regular visitor to the Pacific Northwest. When standing on the shore with their large bodies and oversized bill, these cumbersome looking birds have an ungainly appearance that belies their grace and power in flight. A squadron of pelicans flying low over the ocean is one of the most awe-inspiring exhibitions in the flying world.
How these mighty flyers catch fish is a testament to the efficiency of their build and a lesson grace and power. Brown Pelicans have perfected the art of plunge diving for food. Their massive bodies are built for a marine environment and the large bill is integral for catching fish. Brown Pelicans can see the fish below the surface and can correct for the refraction of light through the water, which seemingly shifts the location of their prey. While diving, they pull their head back, push their feet forward, bend their wings while achieving speeds of over 40 mph. Specialized, nictitating membranes protect their eyes as they dive into the water.
When they hit the water, they thrust their wings and legs backward, which shoots their bill towards the fish even faster. At this point the giant throat pouch rapidly fills with up to 2.5 gallons of water. The fish gets trapped inside as the pelican closes its mouth. It then raises its head while pressing the pouch against its breast to drain the water. The whole process takes less than 20 seconds. Talk about fast food!
Dogs and Cats by Rebecca Lexa
Many of us at the Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge have dogs in our lives. These beloved pets are our companions, but as much as we love them we need to leave them at home when we visit the Refuge.
As its name suggests, a wildlife refuge is set aside primarily for wildlife to thrive on. As habitats shrink and are fragmented, this land is increasingly important for species’ survival. Many are easily frightened by the presence of dogs, even those on leash, and this disturbance can disrupt wildlife feeding and raising young. Running or flying away from dogs also costs these animals precious energy that they need for migration or surviving throughout the year. Additionally, dog waste can carry pathogens that are dangerous to coyotes and other wild animals.
Our feline friends can also be detrimental to wildlife both on and off the Refuge when allowed to roam freely outside. Cats also carry potentially lethal diseases like toxoplasmosis, and even well-fed outdoor cats hunt birds and other wildlife. Often these are eaten or discarded away from home, so you may not know how many animals your kitty is catching.
To help wildlife, keep dogs on leashes when out walking and don’t let them chase birds and other wildlife. Leave them at home if you’re visiting Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Indoor cats who are only allowed outside on leashes or in large outdoor enclosures not only don’t kill wildlife, but will live longer lives on average, which is better for everyone!
Northwest Salamander by Matthew Shirley
The Northwestern Salamander is one of the eight species of salamander that can be commonly found in and around the Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Willapa bay is home to the largest variety of amphibians in Washington, with fourteen out of twenty-four native species of amphibian calling it home.
They eat a variety of prey, particularly small invertebrates, caught underwater or underground, as well as insect and frog eggs. They avoid predation themselves through stealth, and a mild poison that manifests as larvae. When threatened, they raise their tails and butt heads to spread a sticky white poison from glands behinds its eyes. Even introduced species, like the bullfrog, have learned to leave it alone. In medieval lore, it was feared a salamander’s breath was so potent that it could poison all the fruit on a tree merely by walking on the bark.
The salamander requires a dark and moist environment, and fallen logs near freshwater streams are a favorite. This habit sparked the myth that salamanders and newts were either immune to flame, or in fact born from it, as they would “miraculously” appear from logs thrown on to the fire.
Its perceived connection to elemental fire tied them to many magical recipes and ideas. “Eye of Newt,” for example, is an old term for the fiery mustard seed. Legendary, fireproof garments woven from “salamander wool” adorned Pope Alexander III, among other historic figures, and were likely made from asbestos.
The Northwest Salamander is a common sight after spring rains in the refuge, and along Washington’s coast line.
Liverworts by Rebecca Lexa
If you take a walk around the Cutthroat Climb at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, you may notice strange flat green plants on the ground. These are liverworts, and they are among the most primitive types of plant in the world. They were once classified as bryophytes along with the more familiar mosses. Some liverworts are even mistaken for moss, but certain small structural differences make the liverworts truly unique, and they are now grouped separately.
Liverworts got their name because people used to think that they could be used to treat liver ailments, perhaps because of their liver-like shape. We know now that this isn’t true. But these little plants are ecologically important, as they help reduce erosion along stream banks and trails, and they offer shelter to insects and other tiny animals. Certain species are even adapted to live in deserts and polar regions, where they are important additions to sensitive habitats known as soil crusts.
You can most easily find a distinctive type of liverwort known as a thallose [pronounced THAL-ohs, rhymes with “gross”] liverwort near the stream that the trail crosses around the eastern bend of the trail. They look a little like tiny spinach leaves scattered on the ground, and on a wet day their bright green color shows up vividly against the darker soil. Living near water helps keep them from drying out, and also helps them in fertilization.
As with all plants, you are not allowed to pick liverworts on the Refuge. But we encourage you to take photos of these unusual ancient plants!
Phytoplankton by Rebecca Lexa
Did you ever wonder what that dark line of stuff along the waterline at the beach is? No, it’s not pollution or dirt. It’s phytoplankton! Phytoplankton are tiny microscopic plants that live in the ocean. They are a very important part of the ocean ecosystem, as many small creatures feed on them. Those small creatures are then eaten by larger animals, which are eaten by even bigger ones, all the way up the food web. There are even huge animals like some whales that eat the phytoplankton themselves.
Everyone needs phytoplankton even if these tiny plants aren’t on the menu. They actually produce more of the world’s oxygen than rain forests; estimates range from fifty to eighty-five percent of oxygen coming from phytoplankton. While there are many, many trillions of individual phytoplankton in the ocean, their numbers can be severely decreased by pollution, ocean acidification, and other ecological disasters.
One group of phytoplankton, Pseudo-nitzschia (pronounced soo-doo-nit-she-ah) produce domoic acid. Buildup of this toxin in shellfish makes them poisonous to eat, though the only recorded illnesses were from a single incident in Canada in 1987. Coastal areas are monitored for domoic acid levels, and if they get too high shellfish seasons are closed. As ocean temperatures warm due to climate change, we’re likely to see more phytoplankton blooms leading to higher domoic acid levels, which will negatively impact shellfish harvesting.
So whether it’s for the air we breathe or the food we eat, it’s a good idea for us to take care of the oceans that the phytoplankton live in!
Invasive Plant Species by Rebecca Lexa
As the weather improves, many of us head out into our yards and gardens. Many of these are a mix of native and non-native plants, sometimes on purpose, but often by accident. Some non-native plants are relatively benign, more of a mildly obnoxious weed to be pulled than a serious threat. But some are much more aggressive and can cause serious problems, and are known as invasive plants.
Scotch broom is a prime example. This shrub is made of bundles of long green stems with small round leaves; its spring flowers are yellow, sometimes with a bit of red. Another plant with yellow flowers is gorse; it’s covered in sharp, thorny leaves which are very unpleasant to touch! Both of these can take over large areas of land in just a few short years. So can Himalayan blackberry; unlike our native trailing blackberry, which has slender vines that creep along the ground, this invasive grows thick canes with sharp thorns that can grow taller than a person.
Not only do invasive plants crowd out natives, but they don’t offer as much to local wildlife. Native plants, on the other hand, provide flowers for pollinators, and more crucially they provide leaves and other greenery eaten by animals ranging from caterpillars to deer. If you want to increase the amount of wildlife in your yard or garden, take out as many of the non-native species as you can, and replace them with a variety of native plants. You may not see every single creature that benefits from your ecological upgrade, but you will do them a world of good!
Western Red Cedar by Rebecca Lexa
Of all the evergreen trees on the Refuge, perhaps none stands out as much as the western red cedar. This
stately tree has stringy, reddish bark that peels off the trunk easily. Its needles are flat and scaly in appearance, unlike the pointier needle clusters of other conifers. Its cones are quite small, hard to miss if you don’t look closely. Western red cedar isn’t actually a true cedar at all; instead, it is a member of the cypress family. (As an aside, the eastern red cedar is also misnamed, being a juniper in fact.)
The land around Willapa Bay was once covered in ancient cedar forests. Logging reduced these to just a few old growth remnants. The easiest one to visit on the Refuge is at Teal Slough; the quarter mile long trail was one a logging road, and the short slope is graded for easier ascent. If you have a spare hour, or even twenty minutes, it’s worth it to pull off highway 101 and visit the surviving giant trees that rival redwoods in girth. For those with a boating penchant, Long Island has a larger stand of old growth cedar, but you’ll need to navigate the tides to get out to it.
Cedar is very important to Chinook and other northwest Native traditions, providing everything from wood for traditional houses to bark for baskets, and much more. It’s also a crucial part of habitat for old growth forest wildlife like the marbled murrelet. With care and a few centuries, perhaps the hills will one day be covered in great ancient cedar forests again.
The Evergreen Northwest by Rebecca Lexa
During the cold months, many plants lose their leaves while they hibernate through winter. Yet we do have some notable exceptions that help keep the land green year-round. Most people know about evergreen conifer trees, of which we have several. Shore pine, which is a variation of lodgepole pine, grows at the edge of the dunes. Inland, it soon gives way to Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar.
Beneath the canopy of the trees, the understory is full of green as well! The leathery leaves of salal persist throughout the winter, as do those of evergreen huckleberry. These two shrubs may grow higher than you are tall, and create a splash of color in forests and along roads. You might also see Pacific wax myrtle, which looks a little like a narrow-leaved rhododendron.
Closer to the ground you’ll find a wide variety of ferns; western sword fern is by far the largest and most impressive, but keep your eyes open for others like deer fern and licorice fern. The ground will also be covered with the green of mosses soaking up the winter rains, and you might even find a liverwort or two near streams and other waterways.
Against this green backdrop, look for the white spheres of snowberries on bushes whose leaves have shed, and the red of western lily of the valley berries at your feet. You may even get to see small birds flitting through the underbrush, like chickadees, juncos and kinglets. Even in winter the land is alive!
Exploding Seed Pods: Impatiens and Wild Cucumber by Kathleen Sayce
Plants that move quickly in response to touch are fascinating, as most only move in the wind, or shift slowly in response to the direction of sunlight.
Fast-moving plants seem almost like animals. Fly-traps can snap leaves shut on insects, and then digest them. Some tropical legumes quickly curl up their leaves in response to touch.
Many plants have exploding seed pods. Here’s more about two of them:
Plants in the genus Impatiens have seed pods that open to a tap on the end when ripe. Children like to tap them and watch the small dark seeds jet outward, shooting several feet away, hence the name Touch-me-not. Local, and mostly native species of Impatiens all have bright orange to yellow flowers, and grow in wetland soils. The bright flowers give them a second common name, Jewelweed.
Another plant with exploding pods is wild cucumber, a large perennial vine with a huge body-sized tuber. Wild cucumber dies down to the ground each fall, and every spring and summer puts out long vines, looking like edible cucumbers, only more than 40 feet long, with long tendrils and tiny white flowers, followed by spiny small cucumber-shaped fruit.
When wild cucumber fruits ripen on hot days, in late summer to fall, the sections peel back quickly and eject the large seeds a few yards with a unique liquid farting sound. For a plant, that’s pretty impressive!
Coastal Mugwort by Kathleen Sayce
Coastal Mugwort is a daisy, though you see this only by looking closely at the flowers, which are tiny, greenish white clusters along a long stem, without petals, lacking ray flowers, in the language of botany.
This particular species grows in the salt spray zone along the coast, in riprap walls, rocky clfifs, coarse gravels around estuaries, and on seacliffs along the ocean. It has jagged-toothed, bicolored leaves, green on one side, silver on the other, and is a herbaceous perennial, which is a precise way to say it dies down to a woody crown each fall, and sprouts each spring.
The tiny seeds ripen in small capsules, and when ripe, blow around on the wind. Seedlings germinate almost immediately afterwards, in late summer to early fall, and put down deep roots. I grew coastal mugwort one fall, and found that within weeks some seedlings had roots that were more than 12 inches deep. If you live on a rocky, windy salty cliff, this behavior is just the thing to make sure you anchor yourself quickly, and deeply, to your rocky home.
Coastal mugwort is in the genus Artemisia, members of which are also called sagebrush and wormwood. Yes, it has been used to deworm human sufferers. There are more than a dozen species in North America. Leaves, flowers and stems are used by many tribes for a wide variety of medical needs, including tinctures for colds, fevers, pain reduction, and others. The most famous member of this genus is absinthe, Artemisia absinthium, used to flavor a distilled drink of the same name.
Jewelweed by Kathleen Sayce
Jewelweeds are lively plants: when seed pods are ripe, they open explosively, tossing out the seeds as the pod sections curl away. The species that live here are a mix of native and introduced species. The local species are annuals, sprouting in mid to late spring, flowering in mid summer to late summer, and ripening seed from late summer to first frost.
Crosses between species are fertile, so in addition to the easy-to-identify species, there are crosses, or hybrids. Native orange jewelweed has flared orange petals with darker spots, a saccate, plump chamber like a snapdragon, and a spur on the back. Introduced yellow jewelweed has yellow flowers, no spur, and no spots. You can guess what’s coming with crosses—yes, every combination of color (yellow to orange), spots or not, spur or not, can be seen in local populations.
A close relative, policeman’s helmet, is a tall annual with pink, red-spotted flowers. One of my earliest flower memories is tapping cousins and siblings with pods, scattering seeds all over my grandmother’s garden. This species can be so prolific that it shades and crowds out other herbaceous species, which for an annual plant is quite an accomplishment. It’s a noxious weed, easily controlled each summer by pulling up plants before they flower.
The seeds float around in fresh to salt water, and can turn up expectedly in habitats quite unlike floodplains forests, where it is most common. I once found a jewelweed population at Leadbetter Point, on the bayside, among beachgrasses in a dense rolled mat of vegetation. The seedlings did not survive to flowering, but to get to that site, they crossed miles of salt water.
Bittercresses by Kathleen Sayce
Several decades ago, a tiny rosette of a plant appeared in nursery pots, and then in local gardens, where it initially went by the name ‘Shot-in-the-eye”, for its ability to toss its seeds up and out, and yes, right into a gardener’s unwary eye. I’ve never been so glad that I wear glasses, than when this little annual plant arrived in my garden.
These were eventually identified as several species of bittercress. I will not burden you with the details of each species. Telling them apart requires flowers, to count the stamens, seed pods, to check the angle at which pods are held away from the stem, and a hand lens, to look for rows of tiny hairs on stems. Sparing you this.
These are winter annuals, where seeds germinate in fall and grow into winter, often flowering mid winter in mild years, definitely flowering by early spring.
When moisture is readily available, bittercresses can go through two or three generations in one year, discouraging news for a gardener! They have delicate white flowers, can grow from seedlings to leafy rosettes to flowering to ripe seeds in less than two months in summer, or take four to five months in winter. These tiny seed tossers have spread around the world in temperate zones, one exploding pod at a time.
The leaves are edible before the plants begin to flower, with a bitter flavor that lends them to sautés, though they also do well mixed with milder greens in fresh salads. The next time you are weeding bittercresses from your garden, weed well ahead of flowering and save the rosettes for eating.
Common Eelgrass by Kathleen Sayce
Two eelgrasses grow in local estuaries, common eelgrass and little or Japanese eelgrass. Today, I’ll talk about common eelgrass. It is native to Northern Hemisphere temperate estuaries, where it grows in sandy to muddy
sediments, usually from mean sea level to below low tide in the sub-tidal zone.
Eelgrasses have extensive rhizomes or roots from which narrow leaves grow; the growing point is at the base of the leaf on the rhizome, so the youngest portion of each leaf is just above the roots. Leaves naturally break away when seeds ripen on the leaves, so that the seeds float off and are dispersed by water. They also break off in
fall, and wash up in large masses along beaches.
Older leaves are coated with diatoms, giving them a fuzzy appearance. Red algae live on them, forming ruffly red edges. A small green nudibranch (sea slug) grazes the leaves, eating diatoms and other epiphytes.
Brant eat eelgrass; oystermen often see Brant following oyster dredges as they pull up oysters, shedding eelgrass on the surface. Mallards, American Widgeon and Northern Pintail eat the decaying leaves with associated invertebrates in mid to late winter. Eelgrass compost is good for vegetable gardens. It brings numerous trace and micro- minerals to gardens, just as large kelps do. If you have access to some, compost it over winter, let the winter rain wash off the salt, and decompose it in place; add it to the growing area in spring. Your veggies will thank you!
What to Do When Spruces Die by Kathleen Sayce
Hotter and drier summers are hard on Sitka spruce trees. 2018 was particularly dry, and the result is that many spruces are dying. What should a concerned land owner do?
If the dying tree endangers buildings or infrastructure, take it down. Otherwise, leave it to become a snag, providing habitat for numerous insects, fungi, animals and birds.
If all your spruces die, what should you plant in their place? There are several conifers to chose from, all native to the West: Western Red Cedar, Douglas-fir, and Coast Redwood are all long-lived conifers that are more drought tolerant than Sitka spruce.
If you plant Douglas-fir, look for coastal trees, not the fast-growing clones used by the timber industry. Coastal Douglas-fir is more resistant to Swiss needle cast. These trees take up about as much room as spruce when mature (60-100 years). Give these trees a minimum of 30 feet spacing, 50 is better.
If you have 50 to 100 feet in all directions for one large tree, think about planting a Monterey Cypress or Giant Sequoia. Both can grow very large. We have a number of large Monterey Cypress in our communities, planted almost a century ago when spruces last died en masse.
Sitka spruces are not gone. There are more seedlings this year than usual; many trees also have heavy cone sets ripening. There will be more spruce seedlings next year.
Vine Maple by Kathleen Sayce
Vine maple is a tiny cousin to Big-leaf Maple. These are much smaller trees—in a coastal rainforest they are understory trees, growing in light gaps underneath the huge conifers that dominate the canopy. Local tribes used small stems for basket weaving, fish weirs, tools, salmon tongs, and had many other uses its supple stems.
Vine Maple starts life as a single stemmed tree, but as it grows, it easily puts up additional stems, taking on a shrubby, multi-stemmed appearance by the time it is a century old. It grows from lowland river banks and damp soils to steep slopes in the Coast Range, and often forms dense thickets of small trunks. If burned or cut down, it re-sprouts from the base.
Spring flowers are bright red, a showy contrast to the fresh light green leaves as they emerge. In late summer to early fall, Vine Maple’s glory appears—brilliant red fall leaves. Drought can bring this color change on early, sometimes as early as August.
Maples do well along the coast with a half day of shade, ample soil carbon-—think mulches, humus and compost—-and regular summer water until they are well established. Do keep them from salt spray along the ocean; no maple likes salt on its leaves.
Evergreen Huckleberry by Kathleen Sayce
Each spring when evergreen huckleberry grows new shoots, there is a lovely progression of golden to bronzy-red new growth, contrasting nicely with the dark green of its leathery leaves. The colorful spring foliage is almost more enjoyable than the berries.
As new shoots emerge, so do rows of small light pink flowers on flowering shoots, which are very attractive to bumblebees and other pollinators. These will be followed in a few months by tart, flavorful dark blue berries. It’s one of four common huckleberries in our area, and the only one with evergreen foliage. Beat the birds to them if you can! Birds eat the berries, and poop the seeds out all over the landscape. These are easy to transplant to places where you want them; just wait until fall or early winter to move them.
A cousin to cranberries (both are in the genus Vaccinium), evergreen huckleberry tolerates sun, shade, summer drought and winter sogginess. It makes a lovely clipped hedge, or an equally lovely loose, informal one.
Plant evergreen huckleberries for pollinator support, for slow growing, easy to maintain hedges in either style (clipped or informal and loose), for colorful spring foliage, and for the flavorful fruit each fall.
Grass Turf Tyranny by Kathleen Sayce
Ever wonder why we have grass turf for lawns, and spend hours weeding, mowing, and irrigating that turf? It’s a cultural habit that was carried across the Atlantic from Europe to the East Coast. In both regions, rain falls pretty evenly all year, including through summer. The habit of closely mown grass turf came west across North America from Europe and the East Coast into a climate that is quite unsuited to it.
Here in the west, our summers are largely dry—and here the green turf paradigm breaks down. Without regular rainfall, and with close mowing, grass plants grow short roots, so short those roots can’t reach water deep in the soil. Just as close grazing stresses plants and shortens roots, so does regular close mowing. Either you let the plants die, a strategy I have practiced for years, or you water. And keep on mowing.
Some years ago I took a close look at one part of the lawn that was greener than the rest in mid summer, and realized it was composed of a sedge, not a grass. This green area was carpeted with Sand-dune sedge, a drought tolerant grass relative that grows less than ten inches tall, so needs little mowing, and thrives on no summer water.
These days, my lawn ‘turf’ includes thrift, low growing daisies, salvia, moss, bulbs, and my goal is a low growing patchwork of grasses, sedges and flowers that I mow, at most, about three times a year. It’s wonderfully liberating to set aside the notion that lawns must be composed of grass, and see what thrives here instead.
English Ivy by Matthew Shirley
A non-native invasive species, English Ivy, is listed as a noxious weed in Washington and can be found throughout the Refuge, as well as forests across the United States and Europe. It has been a popular introduction in the past, as it is evergreen, grows throughout the winter, and is remarkably robust.
The Ivy creates a dense monoculture groundcover, a habitat suitable only for rodents, at best. The ivy dominates an area by climbing any structure (including itself, given time), and spreading to gather all available light.
The vines are not parasitic, as only the roots attached to the ground absorb nutrients.
The aerial roots only support the plant. The lack of light and the additional weight of the vines makes many plants more susceptible to disease and heavy winds, though most trees survive with a “broccoli head” of foliage breaking through the top. The vines will climb nearly anything, and once they’ve reached a few feet of height, they will enter reproductive mode, producing clusters of black berries that are spread by birds.
Ivy’s ability to bind plants together was symbolic in many tales from medieval folklore, and was used to represented Dionysus, the Greek god of wine (among other things.) Though the vines produce fruit the same color as some grapes, the berries of the English Ivy are poisonous.
If you’re looking to remove the ivy, it can be pulled up by hand, and if the trunk of a large vine is cut, the remainder of the plant will wither making removal less strenuous.
Chanterelles by Rebecca Lexa
Autumn will be upon us soon, good news for mushroom hunters! One of the most prized edible fungi of this region is the Pacific golden chanterelle. The fruiting body, or mushroom, of chanterelles are a bright golden yellow in color, easy to see against the dark green and brown forest floors they like best. They’re shaped like trumpets, with a narrow base spreading out into a slightly concave flat cap, and they may grow alone or in clusters. They grow directly out of the ground, unlike their toxic look-alikes the jack o’lantern mushrooms, which grow on live or dead trees. Chanterelles do not have true gills on their undersides, but waxy ridges that seem to flow together near the base; these false gills may be golden to a pale pink in color. Their spore print is a pale yellow to white in color.
Look for chanterelles under conifer trees, especially Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and Western hemlock. You may have to look closely as they can be easily camouflaged by conifer needles and dirt. If you are 100% sure that you have a Pacific golden chanterelle, you can gently pick it by hand at the base. Take the largest ones you find and leave smaller ones to grow a little longer. Remember that you cannot take mushrooms or other natural things from Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. If you are going to go mushroom hunting on private property you need to get permission from the landowner first. If your hunt is successful, you can eat the mushrooms now or dry sauté and freeze them for later.
Fly Agaric by Rebecca Lexa
As you enjoy the fall weather, keep your eyes open for a bright red mushroom with white spots. This is fly agaric, a member of the infamous Amanita genus. You may have seen fly agaric in fairy tale illustrations as the classic “toadstool”, but it also makes appearances in pop culture ranging from the Smurfs to Super Mario Brothers.
If you look on the underside of the flat red cap, you’ll see closely spaced white gills. The stape, or stem, of the mushroom often has a ring of tissue around it, the remnant of its protective veil. Fly agaric is always found near trees, with which it has a symbiotic relationship; most Amanita species lost their ability to break down cellulose in rotting wood, so they need living trees to share nutrients with them. In this area it is partial to pines, cedars and spruces.
Toxins in its flesh give fly agaric its name, as traditionally they were used in remedies to kill flies. Farmers in Slovenia would soak one of the mushroom caps in milk or water, which allowed the fungus to release its toxic compounds into the fluid; heat was sometimes used to speed up the process. Flies that then drank the resulting fluid would die.
Like other Amanita mushrooms, fly agaric is very toxic to humans. While it is not as deadly as its cousin the Destroying Angel mushroom, ingestion can still cause significant gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, and in severe cases seizures and comas; headaches and amnesia may persist even after the initial poisoning.
So appreciate this beautiful red mushroom with your eyes and cameras only!
Old Man’s Beard Lichen by Rebecca Lexa
Much of the greenery from summer has died back by now, but there are still little patches of color to be found. One of the easiest to find is old man’s beard. This common group of lichens is found worldwide, and it grows in abundance around the Refuge. Look for pale green strands hanging down like hair from the branches and trunks of trees, and you’ll see how this lichen got its name.
Like other lichens, it is a combination of a fungus and an algae. The fungus provides the structure of the lichen, while the algae provides food through photosynthesis. This helps to make it one of the hardiest things in the woods! It grows slowly, so a particularly large specimen may be decades old. It’s in no danger of going extinct, and one of the ways in which it reproduces is through breaking off fragments which can then grow into new lichens. In fact, one of the ways you can tell old man’s beard from closely related lichens is by carefully pulling a strand in two; it should stretch out a bit before breaking.
Contrary to popular belief, old man’s beard does not kill trees. It does like to grow on sick trees because they have fewer leaves and so more sunlight is available to the lichen. It’s also a good indicator of air quality, as it is sensitive to air pollution. Think of this valuable marker of ecological health as you enjoy this colorful year-round resident.
Red-banded Polypore by Rebecca Lexa
Most mushrooms come and go within a few days, their network of root-like hyphae tucked away safely in the ground or decaying wood for the rest of the year. But a few fungi keep their reproductive structures out in the open for years at a time. If you look up the trunk of a decaying tree, you just might see one of these “conks” for yourself!
Look for a round, dish-like structure sticking out of the side of the tree. The underside will be white or cream, while the upper layer is colored with semicircular rings of reddish brown. The conk starts out as a small white blob on the tree, but over the years it can reach a foot or more in diameter. It only actively produces spores for a short time each year, and grows a new layer of pores on its underside to release them each time.
Red-banded polypores and other shelf fungi play an important role in their forest ecosystems. They are detritivores, meaning that they feed on decaying matter, specifically dead wood. They help to break down dead trees, and release their nutrients into the soil where plants and other living beings can access them. They only consume the cellulose in the wood, leaving lignin behind; this restructuring makes the tree a better place for woodpeckers and other animals to carve out a home. While red-banded polypores are more frequently found on dead trees, they can grow on live ones that have been damaged, and most of the time this only causes cosmetic damage, rather than affecting the tree’s health.
Junior Duck Stamp Program by Rebecca Lexa
Winter is a great time for indoor nature activities, and one for the kids is the Junior Duck Stamp Conservation Program. It was started in 1989 as an extension of the popular Federal Duck Stamp Program, which is used to raise money to acquire land for wildlife refuges. Sales of Junior Duck Stamps are put toward conservation education focusing on waterfowl and their habitats.
The Junior Duck Stamp Conservation Program combines science and art; students ages kindergarten through twelfth grade learn about the importance of ducks, geese and swans, and the Refuges they rely on. They also draw waterfowl as a way to creatively express some of what they learned. And it encourages them to enter the Junior Duck Stamp Contest.
Students from all over Washington have until March 15th to submit artwork portraying one of our native waterfowl species. All the entries will be judged, and the winner will then be entered in the national contest along with the winners from all the other states. This contest determines the artwork that will be used on the next Junior Duck Stamp.
The Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is putting together resources to help local kids get involved in the Junior Duck Stamp Conservation Program and enter the contest if they wish. This includes a presentation by a Friends volunteer that can be given in classrooms, at scout troop meetings, and more. Interested parents, teachers and other adults should contact email@example.com and put “Junior Duck Stamp Program” in the subject line.
Old Growth Forest by Rebecca Lexa
What is an old growth forest? It’s a forest that’s at least 150 years old, that has many old trees both live and dead, with a very diverse selection of animals, plants, fungi and other living beings. And there aren’t very many old growth forests left today.
Old growth forests support wildlife and plants that may not be found in younger forests. Because these forests have trees of many ages and species, they’re able to provide more shelter and food to more wildlife. Some of the animals that prefer old growth forests include marbled murrelets, northern spotted owls, red tree voles, martens and fishers.
One place where you can see an old growth cedar forest is on Long Island at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. The Don Bonker Cedar Grove is the jewel of the island, made of 274 acres of ancient cedars that may be a thousand years old. Getting to Long Island can sometime be a challenge because it can only be reached by boat. If you want an easier trip, head to the Teal Slough trail just up 101 from the Refuge headquarters. This trail isn’t very long, but it features a small remnant of old growth cedar forest. Both of these special places are great ways to see what this part of the Pacific Northwest looked like just a couple of hundred years ago.
When you visit our local old growth forests, take the time to really appreciate the majesty of the immense old trees. Look up into their branches and think of how long it took them to grow that tall.
Biodiversity by Rebecca Lexa
You may have heard a term, “biodiversity”. It means the number of individual species that you can find in a particular ecosystem. This includes animals, plants, fungi, and even microscopic life forms like bacteria. A place that only has a few species has low biodiversity, while a place with many species has high biodiversity.
When it comes to biodiversity, more is better. That’s because the more types of living being you can find in a place, the healthier it is. For instance, let’s say you have a forest with just one kind of tree. A disease that only affects that species gets into the forest, and kills all of the trees. If that disease then spreads to a forest that has six kinds of tree, it may kill all the trees of one species, but the other five will still be there giving shelter and food to local animals.
Because each species is connected to many other species in an ecosystem, even the removal of one type of animal or plant can have devastating effects on everything else there. Part of why Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and other protected areas are so important is because they provide a safe haven for everything found there. And if an ecosystem nearby gets damaged by fire, flooding or other disasters, the protected areas provide a sort of “savings account” of living beings that can repopulate that place as it recovers.
Next time you find yourself at the Refuge, a park or other wild place, see how many different animals, plants and mushrooms you can count!
Coastal Weather Patterns by Rebecca Lexa
The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is very close to the ocean, with coastline bordering the western side of Leadbetter Point. Even the units that are further inland are still heavily affected by coastal weather patterns. While the worst of winter’s weather is behind us, spring and summer can still show a great variety in temperature and precipitation.
One of the causes of this variety is a marine push. During warmer months, the barometric pressure offshore is high, which cools the air there. Meanwhile on land, warm air moving in from the eastern part of Washington, and the sun’s heat, mean that the pressure is lower and the temperatures are higher. Clouds may form over the ocean, and as the warm air on land rises, the cooler ocean air moves in, bringing the clouds and fog with it. While the temperature can change by over twenty degrees in a few hours, a marine push generally won’t cause as great a shift as its cousin, the alongshore surge.
This occurs when a larger mass of cool air moves up the Pacific coast from the south. Warm temperatures suddenly drop, and winds shift quickly from northeast to southwest, sometime within minutes. Heavier wind gusts may occur, and a formerly sunny sky becomes completely overcast.
This means that even if you visit the Refuge on a nice, sunny day it’s a good idea to have a rain coat in your car, especially if the forecast calls for possible rain. If you see large stratus clouds in the southwest, you may wish to head indoors to avoid messier weather!
Spring Equinox by Rebecca Lexa
Next Tuesday is the Spring Equinox, one of two times in the year when day and night are equal lengths. As our days are getting longer, this is a great time to start planning more outdoor activities!
The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge has many ways for you to make the most of the extra daylight. The spring migration is underway, which means waterfowl and other birds are on the move. Many of them use the wetlands and other habitats at the Refuge as a waystation. Birds who nest here for the summer are beginning to arrive. The Refuge offers many opportunities for birding, including at our bird blind at the Tarlatt Unit.
Over the next several weeks plants and spring mushrooms will be popping up all over. If you take time to enjoy one of the many Refuge trails you may start seeing fresh green shoots and even flowers appear. As the weather warms, amphibians, reptiles, insects and other cold-blooded animals will come out of their winter hiding places. Keep your eyes open for spring salmon in our waterways, too.
The Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge are gearing up for another busy volunteer season, with many great events planned over the next few months. Whether you want to help us repair trails damaged by winter weather, run information tables at events on the Long Beach Peninsula, or make a financial contribution to help fund our efforts, you can get involved at our website at friendsofwillaparefuge.org.
Earth Day by Rebecca Lexa
Sunday, April 22 is the 48th annual Earth Day! This international event was started in 1970 as a way to raise awareness for environmental and conservation issues and efforts. It was first proposed in response to a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, which killed over ten thousand wild animals and polluted the shoreline. Organizers wanted people to be aware that this disaster was just one of many harming nature worldwide, and to motivate people to work together to make the world a better, cleaner place.
At first Earth Day was celebrated every ten years. Then in 1990, efforts were made to turn it into an annual event. Since then, millions of people worldwide have gathered every year to discuss ecological threats and promote solutions, and to celebrate the care we have for our one and only planet.
This year’s Earth Day theme is “End Plastic Pollution.” If you’ve ever been walking down the beach you’ve probably seen plastic bottles, food containers and other litter left by people or washed up by the waves. This plastic can be very harmful to wildlife large and small. You can help celebrate Earth Day on by picking up plastic litter and other trash during the official Long Beach beach cleanup starting at 9:30 on April 21, and by finding ways to reduce the amount of single-use, disposable plastic that you use in your everyday life. Don’t forget to have some fun in your newly-cleaned habitat, by spending time hiking, birdwatching or even having a picnic with friends and family!
Rainy Day Outdoor Activities by Rebecca Lexa
We’ve entered into the time of year where we become the Pacific NorthWET! With frequent rain throughout fall, winter and spring, any lover of the outdoors has to get used to being out in all sorts of weather, not just the rare sunny day. Thankfully there are lots of things that you can do outside even if the weather isn’t ideal!
Hiking can be more enjoyable since the trails are usually less crowded, and the rain often brings out colors in the landscape, especially the vivid greens of conifers and other evergreen plants. Try kayaking, canoeing, or simply sitting by the water’s edge as raindrops create countless ripples on freshwater lakes and ponds. It may be a little tougher to see birds when the weather is wet, but some, like waterfowl, are perfectly happy out in the rain. And nothing beats finding a safe place to watch storms roll in off the ocean!
It is important to keep safety in mind when the weather is wet and cold. Be sure to dress in warm layers with a waterproof outer layer to help avoid hypothermia or just discomfort. Be mindful that wet trails can be slick and treacherous, and water can contribute to erosion on cliffs and hillsides. If you are going to go kayaking or canoeing, consider wearing a drysuit, as falling into cold water can be fatal within minutes. And keep a safe distance from the waves if you’re walking along the beach. All these will help you to enjoy the great outdoors year-round!
Cutthroat Climb by Rebecca Lexa
One of the benefits of living in the Northwest is our relatively mild winters. While we may occasionally get a dusting of snow or early morning frost, for the most part we stay above freezing. This means that, with the right rain gear for those wet days, it’s possible to enjoy the outdoors year-round.
One of the best trails for fall and winter hiking is the Cutthroat Climb. Located at the Refuge headquarters on Highway 101, this trail is named for the cutthroat trout which spawn in nearby streams. It is three quarters of a mile long and is a circle which begins and ends at the end of the Art Trail boardwalk.
While insects, flowers and some other life forms have disappeared for the year, this trail is still rich with conifers, including old-growth hemlocks, and lush ferns. Juncos and other small birds flit through the underbrush, and you may find the tracks of Columbian black-tailed deer. The rain brings out the vibrant greens in the evergreen plant life, and the red tones in the soil, giving this trail deeper hues not often seen in summer. At the north end of the loop is a labyrinth made of paving stones, open for anyone to stop and contemplate.
The Cutthroat Climb does have a few steep parts and there are no hand rails, and can be a bit muddy during heavy rains, so it is considered a moderately challenging hike. Be sure to wear hiking boots with good treads, and consider bringing a hiking pole or walking stick.
Lengthening Days by Rebecca Lexa
Many of us enjoy the longer days as the sun travels northward in the spring sky. Increased sunlight is good for us, providing us with much-needed vitamin D, and often a boost in our mood as well! But it signals changes for many other species as well.
One of the best-known examples is migration. Birds and other animals travel to and from this area throughout the year. In winter it’s an important place for them to find food during harsh weather and to avoid colder temperatures further north, and in summer it’s a great location to raise young. Overwintering birds know it’s time to leave as the increase in daylight triggers hormones that tell them migration is nigh. They’re replaced by more migrants who arrive here after similar internal signals.
Longer days also provoke physical changes in birds and other animals. Some species only grow their special mating plumage after the day length reaches a certain point. They also sing territorial or perform other mating displays once the day is long enough.
It’s not just animals that are affected by the longer days, though. Plants that have lain dormant all winter are producing new growth. Deciduous trees grow leaves to replace those shed last fall, while conifers show paler green needles growing at the ends of their branches. Flowering plants begin to bring forth their lovely colors and provide nectar and pollen for their pollinators. Some plants, known as long-day plants, wait until the day is a particular length before producing flowers. Others, called short-day plants, don’t flower until after the summer solstice when the days begin to shorten again.
Wings Over Willapa 2019 by Rebecca Lexa
It’ll be the end of September before you know it, and that means the Wings Over Willapa birding and nature festival is right around the corner! Now in its second year, it will be happening the last weekend of September at various locations around the Long Beach Peninsula and Willapa Bay. This event celebrates Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and the many important ecosystems it protects. There will be tours both on and off the Refuge itself, art workshops, presentations on nature-based topics, and more. Our keynote speaker this year is John Marzluff of the University of Washington; his talk, “Welcome to Subirdia”, explores the world of urban birds and their ecosystems, the challenges they face, and how we can help our wildlife neighbors. The keynote will be accompanied by our silent auction, featuring a wide variety of artwork, books, and other items of interest to birders and other nature lovers. Proceeds from the silent auction benefit the Natural Resource Center being built at the new Refuge headquarters. Attendees of the keynote and silent auction can also look forward to a delicious array of heavy hors d’oeurves, beer, and wine.
To register for Wings Over Willapa, please go to WingsOverWillapa.org. Hover your mouse over “program” in the upper right corner and a dropdown menu will help you navigate the events this year. Make sure you include a general registration in your cart; while there is no general registration fee this year, all attendees of Wings Over Willapa events must be registered.
King Tides by Rebecca Lexa
In the beginning of 2020, the Washington and Oregon coasts saw some of their biggest waves in years. Some of this was due to winter storms, which often create turbulence in the ocean. But the timing was also right for king tides, which also draw the water further upshore.
A king tide is caused when the sun, moon and earth are so aligned as to magnify the gravitational pull on the ocean. Despite the weather being colder due to axial tilt, the earth is the closest to the sun in January compared to the rest of the year, which means the sun has a greater effect on the earth. Add in a full or new moon, and the tides are amplified even more.
All these factors combined to create impressive but dangerous conditions along the coast. However, these tides are also harbingers of a potentially devastating future. As climate change continues to raise the average temperature of the planet, it is causing ice in the polar regions to melt. More melting ice means more liquid water, which leads to the level of the ocean rising. Moreover, climate change also wreaks havoc on weather systems, causing more severe storms and disruptions in ocean currents. These currents normally help regulate climate and weather patterns, but imbalances lead to greater climate chaos.
So these enormous waves running further inland may become the norm in years to come. Next week we’ll explore how climate change may affect Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and other local ecosystems.
Climate Change’s Effects – Locally by Rebecca Lexa
Last week we talked about how king tides forecast the effects of climate change. Today let’s look at how this may affect nature in our area.
We don’t see sea level rise because the tectonic plate we’re on is being pushed up faster than the ocean is rising. As polar ice melts the water will rise more quickly and catch up to us. An influx of salt water will upset the delicate balance of Willapa Bay; too much salt will kill animals, plants and other life forms that can’t tolerate it. Warming water also kills cold-tolerant species, and increases ocean acidification, a big threat to the oyster industry.
Last summer’s drought was caused by less rain due to disrupted climate and weather patterns. It sickened and killed many Sitka spruce trees. Aphids that prey on spruce trees were able to do more damage because the trees were weakened by a lack of water. Moreover, it was often the older trees that were affected more, and when these old trees die they take away crucial sources of habitat and food for many other species.
Higher temperatures and drought may also cause more animals to migrate north, which upsets the balance of ecosystems established over thousands of years. Those that can’t migrate quickly enough, especially small animals like salamanders, may die out. This also removes food sources for other animals.
These are just a few examples of why it is absolutely urgent that our communities join the fight against climate change.
South Bay Overlook by Rebecca Lexa
The Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge are pleased to announce that the South Bay Overlook is complete! Located at the end of the South Bay Trail at the Tarlatt Unit of the Refuge, this overlook provides a magnificent view of hundreds of acres of restored tidal wetland at the south end of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.
Along with a host of native plants, to include those planted around the overlook itself, a wide variety of animals may be seen here throughout the year. Year-round residents include river otters that swim through Tarlatt slough, and great blue herons seeking food in the shallows. Look up, and you may see red-tailed hawks, northern harrier hawks, bald eagles, and a variety of gulls. Nearby you may see the Columbian black-tailed deer, Roosevelt elk, and black bears, along with their tracks in the wetland soil. Winter often brings waterfowl to the area, like pintails, green-winged teals, and mallards, among many others. Summer visitors include Caspian terns fishing in the slough, turkey vultures, and flocks of white pelicans circling above. The warmer weather also encourages common and northwestern garter snakes out into the open, along with rough-skinned newts and Pacific tree frogs, and you may see these smaller creatures on your walk to and from the overlook.
These are just some of the wildlife that benefit from the restored habitats at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Plan your visit to the South Bay Overlook today!
Trails and Accessibility by Rebecca Lexa
As the weather improves and more people head outdoors, it’s important to keep accessibility in mind for those who may be using wheelchairs or other tools to get around, or those who have health conditions that may prevent a long, rugged hike. Willapa National Wildlife Refuge offers trails of varying difficulties.
The most accessible trail is the Art Trail at the Refuge Headquarters on Highway 101. This quarter mile round trip is on a nice, wheelchair-friendly boardwalk. Not only does it feature sculptures celebrating Refuge wildlife, but it’s a great place to observe birds and other animals in a wetland habitat.
Teal Slough is a little over a quarter mile long and goes up an old graded road. The first couple hundred feet are up a moderately sloped hill, but after that it’s flat. This is good for someone who wants a short hike and can handle a brief climb to see the old-growth cedars.
The South Bay Trail is also primarily flat, especially if you walk out to the bird blind near 85th Street. There is one hill between the trailhead and the new dike, but the trail is wide and graded, and there are logs to sit on partway up one side.
At Leadbetter Point the trails are all relatively flat on the Refuge side (the state side does have some hilly parts.) Some of the trails are longer, and the terrain is more rugged. Look out for driftwood on the bay beach, and be mindful of seasonal flooding and other hazards once you get into the trees.
Congratulations Jackie! by Bob Duke
Jackie Ferrier, Project Leader for the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Washington and Oregon, has been named the 2019 Paul Kroegel National Wildlife Refuge System, Refuge Manager of the Year. The award recognizes outstanding accomplishment by a refuge manager in the protection and management of our national wildlife refuges. This marks the first time in the award’s 25 year history that a female Refuge Manager has been selected for the prestigious award.
Geoffrey Haskett, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, had this to say, “Ms. Ferrier’s extraordinary work taking on the complex issues makes her most deserving of this award,” “Her efforts on Spartina eradication, dune restoration, protections for listed species including plovers, larks, and endangered Columbian White-tailed Deer are only a few examples of the remarkable work she is doing on behalf of species and refuges.” The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex consists of three refuges: Willapa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for Columbian White-tailed Deer, and Lewis and Clark NWR. She models the way for a multi-disciplinary staff that she refers to as “Team Willapa.”
Kathy Freitas, President, Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge speaks for all of the Friends, “Being a Project Leader involves complex interactions with all levels of government, private parties, staff, and volunteers on a daily basis. Jackie’s ability to manage all those entities with her expertise, experience, and enthusiasm is nothing short of inspiring. Her passion for the work of Willapa NWR continues to inspire the Friends’ mission to support and bring recognition to the Refuge.”
Congratulations from us all Jackie, on behalf of the listeners worldwide of Coast Community Radio
Experience the National Wildlife Refuge System by Bob Duke
Wildlife conservation is community driven. Local communities poses individual and unique conservation issues, and the National Wildlife Refuge system works to understand these issues so that the needs of fish, wildlife and people may be addressed on a local level. This is where the non-profit Friends groups fit in as liaisons between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife program and the local communities.
The Friends of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge support the local community by hosting public events, coordinating volunteers and even leading hikes, trail maintenance and invasive plant eradication. In cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, programs like our annual Wings Over Willapa event in September, promote nature based tourism, spurring the local economy and adding jobs.
In addition to building relationships between refuges and communities nation wide, friends groups contribute millions of dollars for conservation and recreation projects, and donate tens of thousands of volunteer hours, with 1.3 million annual volunteer hours valued at $24.69 per hour; $33 million in total volunteer value per year, and $15 million raised for conservation by friends.
The Friends of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge group is fortunate to be surrounded by a devoted volunteer corps that includes parents who want to model stewardship, retirees who wish to pass on knowledge, outdoor enthusiasts sharing their passion for wildlife refuges, and young people interested in serving a worthy cause while learning job skills.
Willapa Nature Notes is a production of the Friends of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.