We hope you’re enjoying all the daily transformations.
In this season of beauty and wonder, sometimes we come upon intriguing, even mysterious, natural phenomena. Last week, I (Wendy) was looking under plywood boards as part of the Land Trust’s “Amphibian Project,” and although no amphibians appeared yet this year, several tiny Red Alder cones had rolled under the soggy boards, many covered in minuscule, powder blue cup fungus. What species was this? Why only on these cones? I couldn’t find the answer in my field guide. Then to my surprise, mycologists on iNaturalist quickly identified it as Lachnum virgineum (Stalked Hairy Fairy Cup). One mystery solved.
I asked Dave what mysteries he ponders. He replied, “Wildlife tracks can be clear – as on a sandy beach or in the snow – or just a hint – as on forest litter. It’s often a real challenge to figure out who walked on that trail ahead of you. Taking a course on tracking is an excellent introduction to understanding what’s out there and sorting out marks, scratches, scat, and other wildlife signs.”
The April newsletter tells the story of another mystery, and how it was solved. There’s so much to observe and ponder on the Olympic Peninsula. Please let us know if you want to share any photos of any unsolved mysteries.
The earliest breeders are long-toed salamanders, northwestern salamanders, and northern red-legged frogs. It’s easy to miss these winter events because the secretive salamanders go about their activities in silence, and red-legged frogs call softly, often while completely submerged. You may discover the clumps of jelly-enclosed embryos of these amphibians in the water right now.
Rough-skinned newts can be seen plodding along in any month, especially during and after rainy weather. Watch out for them as they migrate across roads when temperatures are at least in the mid-40s F. Newts scatter single eggs in the water mostly in March and April.
Western toads generally wait for the warmer days of April or May before depositing their long strings of eggs in pond or lake shallows. Their unobtrusive vocalizations consist of soft chirps given by the males as they bump into one another at breeding sites. In summer, you may see countless thousands of tiny toadlets emerging from Anderson Lake.
Pacific treefrogs are our loudest amphibian. Boisterous choruses of vibrant “crek-ek” calls come and go over a relatively long season in late winter and spring. With a headlamp at night, you can spot males as they inflate their balloonlike vocal sac while calling. In the midst of a treefrog chorus, you might wish for earplugs to dampen the acoustic barrage!
Among our local amphibians, the most unique is the ensatina. These little forest-dwelling salamanders have no lungs, and they deposit their eggs on land (often in or under rotting logs), never in the water. The female stays with her eggs/embryos for a few months, until they hatch out into gill-less offspring that look like tiny adults, all set for a completely land-locked lifestyle. Fort Townsend State Park hosts an ample population of ensatinas.
Best of luck in your springtime searches for these intriguing “hidden jewels” of the forest!
Welcome everyone to “Sapsucker-Days”. From places unknown, during our very coldest bursts of winter, the sapsuckers arrive. The beautiful and idiosyncratic Red-breasted Sapsucker drills rows of pencil-diameter holes through the outer bark of tree trunks, and into the sap layer. Shortly thereafter, the bird revisits these holes to lick up the oozing sap.
Typically, you can walk for hours or days through our winter woods, and not find a single sapsucker. However, when temperatures drop into the 20s or lower for a stretch, these are the “Sapsucker-days.” You might even see two or three on a single trunk, even if you live in town. Milder temperatures eventually return, and the birds disappear. “Sapsucker-days” are history. Where they go, we do not know.
November is our best ‘Blue Hole’ month on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, when oftentimes overhead is a rainshadow enclave of blue surrounded by cloud. November is also our windiest month. November rainfall elsewhere on the Peninsula is generally two to four times greater than here. How frequent the weather forecast says rain, and all we see is blue! This month averages only four or five degrees warmer than December and January, so combine a moderate wind and cooler air temp, and the windchill makes for a wintery day.
Indifferent to the storms, seabirds are in abundance and a variety fly a thousand and more miles from the Arctic and subarctic to spend the winter here. Meanwhile, bird and mammal species prepare for winter: some of our summer birds fly south; eagles concentrate at salmon spawning streams; squirrels store food in clever hiding places; other species build up fat reserves; many insects survive as dormant eggs and larvae; miniscule shrews eat a lot every single day – even every single hour – sort of like we do. Evergreen trees are still photosynthesizing but more slowly. Deer antlers scar tree trunks. Mammals leave their tracks on muddy trails.
Autumn mushrooms arise with a great diversity in size, shape, and color. Though unpredictable from year to year, there’s a mushroom plenitude sandwiched between heavy rains and killing frosts. Look for Chlorociboria aeruginosa (Turquoise Elf Cup) growing on rotting, barkless wood on the forest floor. There’s a photo in the attached newsletter.
When strong tidal currents and strong wind oppose each other, don’t plan a ferry ride to Whidbey unless you have a motel room reserved over there. But it’s a great time to watch the turmoil from the beach at the Point Wilson lighthouse. And finally, despite short days, plan outside time for the serene days (and nights) that do commonly intervene between November’s storms.
The most iconic natural history event in the Pacific Northwest is the return of the salmon. In spite of all the cultural and demographic changes that have occurred in the last century, many salmon still return to their natal rivers and streams after two, three, four, or even five years in the Pacific Ocean. At its essence, this is a natural event that connects our region across cultural lines, a spiritual link inspired by the remarkable life cycle of our salmon.
So, get out there and be a witness to this almost miraculous event that peaks in September through November every year. A web search for “Salmon viewing locations in Jefferson County” should bring you to a Jefferson Land Trust map with lots of information on salmon. Look for Chum (dog) salmon spawning in the lower reaches of streams, and expect to see Coho (silvers) moving to the upper watershed. Kings (chinooks) and Steelhead are sighted less frequently but do occur in larger rivers. Pink salmon spawn in abundance in many of our streams in odd numbered years, 2021 included. Look for them just upstream from where the river meets salt water.
Other viewing options are the Dungeness River Center and Railroad Bridge Park in Sequim; the Big Quilcene River bridge on Linger Longer Road in Quilcene; and, if you want to travel a bit, the “Sol Duc River Salmon Cascades,” a popular spot to view athletic Coho salmon leaping up a waterfall in their existential quest to return to their home waters. The viewing site is located on Sol Duc Hotsprings Road about 7.1 miles from the turnoff from Highway 101. It’s about a two hour drive from Port Townsend.