Pinnipeds, literally webbed feet, are our neighbors that spend much of their lives in marine waters. Most have been increasing in abundance since 1972, thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, concerns about salmon declines – linked to declines in southern resident orca – have sparked debate about culling seals and sea lions because they eat so many salmon.
Steller sea lions, also known as northern sea lions, range across the North Pacific. There are more than 60,000 on the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean. The photo here shows a couple dozen crowding Craven Rock east of Marrowstone Island. More than 250,000 California sea lions are found along most of the western coast of North America. Adult males are notable for their protruding crest, giving their heads a high, domed appearance. Wendy’s photo shows a sea lion breaking apart a salmon.
Harbor seals in the Salish Sea are one of the most concentrated populations in the world, and this is the most common of marine mammal species, with over 10,000 locally. This photo shows a haulout on Protection Island.
Northern Elephant Seals almost went extinct by 1910 due to over-hunting, but they’ve made an amazing comeback and are now doing well from Alaska to Baja California, with an estimated 150,000 individuals. Recently, local birthings have been noted on Race Rocks, Whidbey Island, and Protection Island. The photo shown here is of a young elephant seal lacking the long proboscis so characteristic of the adults and for which these seals got their name. These are the largest seals in North America.
Spring has burst into full abundance, and the native plants are gorgeous. Trillium ovatum, a NW native that blooms usually from March through June is showing off along the trails in Jefferson County. They can be seen at Anderson Lake, Gibbs Lake, Ft. Flagler, and other wooded environments around us here.
Trillium ovatum’s common names are “Western Trillium” and “Wake Robin.” The flowers awaken simultaneously to the Robins beginning to sing and becoming active in the woodlands. Trillium are the “Harbinger of Spring.” They are perennials and grow from rhizomes. The flowers have six stamens and three stigmas. They are very long-lived in the dense, wet woodlands. As the pure white flowers age and after pollination, they alter in color from white to burgundy or pink. Known as “spring ephemeral,” after blooming Trillium become dormant. Indigenous tribes used the juice of the Trillium plant as a remedy for boils, as a poultice, and for sore eyes.
I advise you to consult a local trail map and to go out and explore the many beautiful spring flowers of this wonderful home place that we all share.
Nearly all living things— trees, moles, humans— contain clocks attuned to daylength. This length of day is one substantial cue stimulating migration in birds. Yet at our latitude, today is only a few minutes longer than yesterday, implying a very fine-tuned clock. And while multitudes of songbirds are now departing northward from the tropics, at their departure latitude the change in daylength is even less –only 30 seconds a day. Clearly, other cues must also be programmed into their biological clocks.
One species pictured here is a Western Tanager at my backyard suet feeder. He is a one-year old. (Next year he’ll have sharper colors). As summer days shorten, his clock combined with his fantastic navigational systems, guide him to southern Mexico or Central America.The bird knew when and where to stop his southerly flightpath, even though this is his first migratory flight. The Tanager’s clock somehow dictated when to initiate his flight north to the Olympic Peninsula to breed, despite the near-constant daylength in southern latitudes. This individual has now flown a round trip distance of 3,000 miles. He hasn’t starved or flown into a window or been caught by a cat or a hawk. If he makes it another year, that would be another 3,000 miles. Like clockwork, at the end of April you will see the arrival of our Tanagers. And much more…
And when shall you look and listen for the arrival of these ‘neotropical’ birds, which make up more than half of our summer birdlife? Their arrival peaks towards the end of April through the first week or two of May. Birdsong will be everywhere. So, people – set your alarms for dawn!
Here are some of the photos submitted by our readers and us, of animals in our backyards.
Top row: Pacific Tree Frog in the garden, and Barred Owl by Darby Smith; Western Tiger Swallowtail by Peggy & Tom Stanlick Middle row: Raccoon under the bird feeder, and doe and fawns by Ellie Cote Bottom row: Barred owlets by Oma Landstra; Northern Flicker in snow by Wendy Feltham
Have you noticed how birds become so round on cold days? During our latest snowstorm, I saw spherical birds sitting in the vine maple tree outside our window, taking turns at the sunflower seed and suet feeders. I posted a photo of a Varied Thrush on iNaturalist and noted that she was puffed up to keep warm. Someone commented, “What a borb!” I asked if he meant completely round, like an orb? He replied, “Exactly!” and sent a link to a long piece in Audubon magazine: www.audubon.org/news/whats-difference-between-borb-and-floof
If you’re like me, you aren’t following memes on social media and don’t have an account on Twitter or Reddit. That means I never knew that “birb” has been “affectionate internet speak for birds,” especially round ones, for years. It turns out that “borb” refers to the roundest birds.
If you use a down jacket on winter days, you experience first hand the superb insulation feathers provide. On the Smithsonian website, Peter Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo, explains, “Feathers are incredibly specialized structures that serve many purposes including, for many species, keeping them warm.” He says birds fluff up to trap air in their feathers, since the more air they trap, the better insulated they are. You may have seen birds standing on one leg in winter while tucking the other leg into their feathers to keep it warm. What I’ve never seen is something else Marra mentions— small birds, like our Black-capped Chickadees, “gather in large groups at night and crowd together in a small, tight space to share body heat.”