Watching Birds in Fall

Here are recommendations from our Guiding Committee for watching birds this fall:

Dave Rugh:
As the sun dips lower with autumn’s arrival, many birds look south, flying to warmer, brighter lands. You can catch glimpses of these travelers from many strategic viewpoints, such as headlands, beaches, lakes, or ponds. Within short distances around Port Townsend, you could try Point Wilson, the beaches on either side of Point Wilson, Point Hudson, Kah Tai Lagoon, North Beach, and Fort Worden.

Ken Wilson:
It’s a nice break in the day to take in a bit of nature when you’re doing a few errands. Here are some specific suggestions.

If you’ll be near Safeway, Henery Hardware, or the Food Co-op, walk across the street, and saunter your way along Kah Tai Lagoon. Bird life changes during migration even from one day to the next. Keep your binoculars in the car, so you’re equipped for these spur of the moment walks. And it’s always relaxing to sit on the bench for a few minutes, frustrating the mallards who want to be fed. Do this venture BEFORE you have frozen food defrosting in your car.

Alternatively, on the other side of Sims Way, walk a short stretch of Larry Scott Trail from the Boat Haven parking lot. Always a few birds on the shore or on the water, or songbirds in the brush.

At the other end of town, when you’re on Water Street, walk out one of the docks. Especially as we get later into October and November our wintering waterbirds are arriving. Surely you have time to walk to the end of a dock!

Even more fun for a plethora of various gulls, sandpipers, and often oystercatchers, is to enjoy the spit at Point Hudson. You’ll see the unique Heermann’s Gulls, often a hundred or more — they fly here  from their breeding grounds in Baja. Definitely worth 15 minutes to be blissfully enjoying the water and the views as well as the birds.

Lots of possibilities wherever you are. I didn’t even mention —till now— Fort Worden, Anderson Lake, and absolutely the bird bonanza of Oak Bay.

Wendy Feltham:
For the past six years, I’ve volunteered with a team of birders for the Seattle Audubon Seabird Survey at Ft. Flagler, one of the best places to see birds in our county. When you drive into Ft. Flagler, turn left at the stop sign, and park near the campground. Walk out along the spit to the left, looking towards Port Townsend, and on the water you’ll see our resident Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots, as well as many birds returning from the north for the winter months. Look for black and white Surf Scoters with their colorful bills, gray and white Horned Grebes with their red eyes, and Common Loons still in their beautiful breeding plumage in September. If you are lucky, you might see Marbled Murrelets and Red-necked Phalaropes. Sometimes a couple dozen Harlequin Ducks line up and paddle parallel to shore. There are always lots of cormorants, sometimes all three species, and frequently a Bald Eagle in this area. Also look on the inside of the spit, facing the dock, for seabirds on the water. All along the spit you may see scores of shorebirds. (Careful not to scare them!) Check the grassy area near the playground to the left of the parking area, and you will often see dozens of Black-bellied Plovers (but this time of year, without their breeding plumage, they should probably be called by their other common name, Gray Plovers). Sometimes other shorebirds, like Dunlin, mix in with them on the grass.

Exploring Tide Pools

We hope you are all healthy and able to enjoy the beauty of summer on the Olympic Peninsula. Once again this month, our Natural History Society won’t be able to lead an outdoor outing. That’s why several members of our Guiding Committee are sharing alternatives with you. You’ll find a fun scavenger hunt in the May newsletter, and here are a few more suggestions:

To identify what you find, this online guide for local species can be helpful: https://soundwaterstewards.org/ezidweb/

We will enjoy minus tides on these dates: July 1-9; July 17-24; July 29-August 6; August 15-21; and August 26-31. There are huge variations in times of low tide in Puget Sound, so be sure to check a tide table for the beach you plan to visit. This tide table provides 14 days of information. Scroll down to Admiralty Inlet (or elsewhere), choose your location, then scroll down to the bottom to enter the dates.

https://www.saltwatertides.com/dynamic.dir/washingtonsites.html#puget

When exploring tide pools, please follow proper beach etiquette, as explained by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center: Tidepooling Guide

Here are the suggestions from our Guiding Committee:

Hemigrapsus nudus (Purple Shore Crab)

Marcia Schwendiman: Shine Tidelands State Park

Shine Tidelands is located at the west end of the Hood Canal Bridge on Highway 104. Turn north at the junction with Paradise Bay RD then immediately east at the park. This is a fine place to beachcomb, dig clams and oysters (with a permit), launch a kayak, and look for migratory birds. The park entrance is signed and parking is plentiful at the park’s entrance on the shore of Bywater Bay. Two beaches can be explored. To the north, a two-mile round-trip leads to views of a backwater lagoon and ends with a feature called a tombolo which connects the mainland to Hood Head. If the tide is a minus 2 or lower, one can hike south, passing under the Hood Canal Bridge and then stroll along a usually deserted beach littered with glacial erratics, fine habitat for intertidal creatures. Be sure to return to the park before the tide starts coming in or you will not be able to cross back under the Bridge!

 

Oma Landstra: East Beach on Marrowstone

My low tide recommendation is to go to East Beach on Marrowstone and walk as long as you like along the shore. Opportunities to see seals, shells, sea stars and many interesting sights will unfold for you. This walk allows plenty of room for safe distancing and a relaxed walk. Observe what you see, the identifying characteristics that you see, the descriptions of the animals and their colors. Listen to the sounds.

 

Henricia (Blood Star)

Michele Olsen: Salt Creek Recreation Area

My location suggestion is Salt Creek Recreation Area. Tongue Point is great fun to explore at low tide and the park itself is free to access with great spots for picnicking as well as trails to explore. It is a one hour and twenty minute drive from PT. This Clallam County park was recently closed, so check to see if it’s open. If not, you can go early, drive past the park entrance, and down the hill you can park on the right-hand side in a small parking lot (with an outhouse) by Crescent Bay, or just above that in one of two overflow parking lots, then take the trail down to the public beach, on the right side of the creek. You can explore the island in front of the beach, and you might want to scramble over rocks to access Tongue Point. http://www.clallam.net/Parks/SaltCreek.html Happy Trails!!

 

Cucumaria miniata (Red Sea Cucumber)

Lee Merrill: Kinzie Beach at Fort Worden State Park

Kinzie Beach is one of my favorite places for tidal explorations. Things you might find are sponges, anemones and jellies, worms, mollusks, sea slugs, bivalves, crustaceans including crabs, echinoderms, cephalopods, seaweeds, and seagrasses. And there’s more sea-related animals and plants to be found surrounding tide pools, such as marine mammals, shore plants, and shore birds. If you don’t already have a PNW marine life field guide, an excellent resource is available for purchase here: https://shop.orcanetwork.org/product/ez-guide-to-common-intertidal-invertebrates-of-the-salish-sea/

 

Marcia Schwendiman: Miller Peninsula State Park and Thompson Spit

The state’s newest park has a trail leading to a deserted beach on a shoreline facing Protection Island. Traveling north from PT, the park is located off highway 101. Turn right at Diamond Point Road and travel 1.2 miles then turn left to the parking area. Print a map in advance, or take a photo of the map in the parking lot. Follow the fairly well signed trail to the beach, then turn right on the beach to Thompson Spit, known for birding and flowers. The best description of this 7.7 mile round-trip hike is found in Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano.

 

Dirona albolineata (Frosted Nudibranch)

Wendy Feltham: Indian Island

Whenever there’s a minus tide, I head for Indian Island. You have two choices of County Parks. The first is immediately on your right when you cross the bridge to Indian Island. I like to walk down to the water and turn right, walk under the bridge and along the water’s edge to the old wooden tower. Be careful not to step on the thousands of Aggregating Anemones living on the boulders on the beach! Watch for Ochre Stars, Mottled Stars, Plumose Anemones hanging from the tower, and spectacular seaweed. The second County Park is about a quarter mile down the road, toward Marrowstone, on the right. Drive down to the beach and walk out to the end of “the cut,” a pile of rip rap filled with marine critters.Look for Red Rock Crabs, chitons, the large round egg cases of Lewis’s Moon Snail, and unusual marine worms.

 

Chris Jones: An alternative to looking in tide pools

On a warm summer evening, just after sunset, step outside wherever you are and look for bats doing their amazing sonar-directed chase for their food, flying insects.  We have a lot of bats in our area and they are an important part of our natural environment. Darrell Smith’s presentation on mammals in Nature in Your Neighborhood class inspired this.

May 2020 Book Selection

Natural History writings by Bernd Heinrich

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 up on May 25th at 3:30-5:00 p.m. to discuss the book .

A Hike the Length of the Quimper Wildlife Corridor

Cancelled

A four mile walk from North Beach to Middlepoint through the Quimper Wildlife Corridor (QWC). The QWC is a conservation partnership led by Jefferson Land Trust. Lands within the corridor are owned and protected by the Land Trust, the state, county, city, and private landowners. 


According to Sarah Spaeth, Director of Conservation and Strategic Partnerships for Jefferson Land Trust,  “The corridor is important for managing storm water and keeping our local water clean. It also creates an urban wildlife refuge that provides natural habitat and safe passage for mammals, birds, and amphibians. For Port Townsend’s growing population, it provides open space and recreational trails.”   

 

October 2020 – April 2021 Book Club Selections

26th October 2020: Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare: How Evolution Shapes Our Loves and Fears by Gordon Orians (2014) In this ambitious and unusual work, evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians explores the role of evolution in human responses to the environment, beginning with why we have emotions and ending with evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. Orians reveals how our emotional lives today are shaped by decisions our ancestors made centuries ago on African savannas as they selected places to live, sought food and safety, and socialized in small hunter-gatherer groups.  Discussion leader: Nan Evans

16th November 2020: Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild by Craig Childs (2009)
The Animal Dialogues tells of Craig Childs’ own chilling experiences among the grizzlies of the Arctic, sharks off the coast of British Columbia and in the turquoise waters of Central America, jaguars in the bush of northern Mexico, mountain lions, elk, Bighorn Sheep, and others. More than chilling, however, these stories are lyrical, enchanting, and reach beyond what one commonly assumes an “animal story” is or should be. The Animal Dialogues is a book about another world that exists alongside our own, an entire realm of languages and interactions that humans rarely get the chance to witness. Discussion leader: Jean Mann

14th December 2020: The Restless Northwest: A Geological Story by Hill Williams (2002)                   An overview of the geological history of the Pacific Northwest, written by a former science writer for the Seattle Tims, in a manner that explains scientific facts to the lay person. Includes explanations of the subduction phenomenon, plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanos.

25th January 2021: The Overstory by Richard Powers (2019)                                                                  From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe. Discussion leader: Dave Rugh

22nd February 2021: Nature Obscura: A City’s Hidden Natural World by Kelly Brenner (2020) Through explorations of a rich and varied landscape, Brenner reveals the complex micro-habitats and surprising nature found in the middle of a city. In her hometown of Seattle, which has plowed down hills, cut through the land to connect fresh- and saltwater, and paved over much of the rest, she exposes a diverse range of strange and unknown creatures, many of which can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest. From shore to wetland, forest to neighborhood park, and graveyard to backyard, Brenner uncovers how our alterations of the land have affected nature, for good and bad, through the often unseen wildlife and plants that live alongside us. These stories meld together, forming an eloquent tapestry, in the same way that ecosystems, species, and humans are interconnected across the urban environment. Discussion leader: Oma Landstra

22nd March 2021:  Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction                               by David Quammen (1997)
Interweaving personal observation, scientific theory, and history, The Song of the Dodo, examines the mysteries of evolution and extinction as they have been illuminated by the study of islands. An unforgettable scientific adventure, a fascinating account of an eight-year journey of discovery, and a wake up call for out time, this is a beautifully written book that takes the reader on a globe-circling tour of wild places and extraordinary ideas. “A masterpiece, maybe the masterpiece of science journalism.” -Bill McKibben, Audubon Magazine

26th April 2021 (In honor of International Poetry Month): Passings by Holly Hughes (2019)  Passenger pigeon. Carolina parakeet. Eskimo curlew. In this timely collection of elegies, award-winning poet Holly J. Hughes gives voice to these and other bird species that no longer fill our skies. If their names sound a litany of the hundreds of species we’ve lost, these fifteen poems serve as a reminder that their stories are still with us, offering a cautionary tale for the many species whose habitats face threats from climate change. In her afterword, Hughes reminds us that it’s not too late to learn from these birds’ extinction and take action to protect the species that remain. “Take note,” she writes. “These birds are still singing to us. We must listen.” Discussion leader: Holly Hughes

All meetings will be via Zoom from 3:30-5:00 pm until the public health protocols change. Please contact Kathy Darrow at katherine.darrow@outlook.com for details if you would like to join in. 

We hope to meet in person again at Illahee Preserve as soon as it is deemed safe to practice social distancing and enjoy being outdoors together. During colder winter months, we’ll meet at the Pink House next to PT Library, or schedule a Zoom meeting, depending on the public health situation.