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.
September is one of our three dry months, averaging about an inch of rainfall, barely more than July or August. With this summer’s drought, alder trees began dropping leaves in August. Daylength is 3-1/2 minutes less each day. Just a few more minutes of this decrease guide migratory songbirds; many will be in Central America by month’s end. Some salmon begin swimming upstream. Sea lions are arriving from California; snowberries are in abundance (but don’t eat them!); blackberries ripen (eat them!); frosts on clear nights in the high Olympics are highlighted by meadows of huckleberry bushes turning red; dragonflies enjoy their back-and-forth sprints in defense of territories; spiders and their webs become especially visible when dew drops sparkle on calm mornings. And look for the nearly all-dark Bald Eagles, hatched this spring, and still learning to hunt; the fortunate ones will survive into a second year. Sorry, but virtually no mushrooms for a month or longer!
It’s a beautiful summer! Although the Natural History Society still isn’t leading outings, we do have some recommendations for places to go that might be new to you. We welcome suggestions for September from our readers!
Rather than focusing on just one book, this month we ask our readers to select any text by acclaimed naturalist Bernd Heinrich. Two books, Mind of the Raven and Life Everlasting: the Animal Way of Death, have been on our suggested reading list for several years. He has written twenty others, including The Homing Instinct about animal migration, and even one about ultra-running called Why We Run. We’ll discuss what it takes to be a serious naturalist, and what you learned from the book you chose to read by this author. You can find a list of his books on Wikipedia.
If the stars align, we may meet at Illahee Preserve where we can practice social distancing and enjoy being outdoors together. The back-up plan will be to have a Zoom meeting sponsored by PT Library. Either way, we’ll meet upon May 25th at 3:30-5:00 p.m. to discuss the book .
November 28. Spineless, the science of jellyfish and the art of growing a backbone by Juli Berwald. “Berwald’s engaging book is part memoir, part pop science, weaving together stories of her own twisting academic path along with fascinating, vivid details about the delicate creatures.” NY Times. Discussion led by Nan Evans.
December 12. Walking in the Beauty of the World by Joe Arnett. Joe has been a professional botanist and teacher in the Northwest for over twenty years. This collection of 24 essays describes wild – and not so wild – places, personal knowledge of the plants, and wider topics of a human relationship with nature. Discussion led by Kathy Darrow. Note: this book is not available in local libraries. Kathy is organizing a bulk order. Cost is $8 which includes tax and Kathy will pick up the books in Seattle to avoid shipping costs. All net proceeds are donated by Joe to the Native Plant Society. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
January 23, 2023. The Treeline: the last forest and the future of life on Earth by Ben Rawlence. Rawlence visits various locations in the North to report on the state of forests, the predicament of the indigenous locals in the face of climate change, and much more. His grasp of the science relevant to his tale is amazingly strong and broad. He spends extended time with visionary bio scientist Diana Beresford-Kroeger. Discussion led by Noreen Parks.
February 27, 2023. The End of Ice: bearing witness and finding meaning in the path of climate disruption by Dahr Jamail. Finalist for the 2020 PEN / E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. “Filled with vivid evocations of the natural world, Jamail’s deep love of nature blazes through his crisp, elegant prose, and he ably illuminates less-discussed aspects of climate disruption.” Kirkus Reviews. Discussion led by Linda Rhines.