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.
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!
Enjoy a scenic and historic hike or bike ride along the shores of Lake Crescent. The Spruce Railroad Trail is a good choice regardless of the weather, and dogs on a leash are welcome. See https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/spruce-railroad for directions to the trailhead off Hwy. 101 and East Beach Road.
There is very little elevation change on this trail, and you can easily travel five miles in each direction, if you’d like. Watch for the sign indicating the trail to Devil’s Punchbowl to hug the shore if you prefer the dirt trail instead of the paved trail. Bring your lunch and find a nice spot by the water to enjoy the views that seem more like a fjord than a lake! The trail is open year round.
Here are two hikes recommended by readers:
Clara Mason: Red Flowering Currant on trail to Mt Zion today. Elevation 3740 ft. The only one we saw, it was growing in an open area close to the trail, unshaded by trees. Saw several trilliums, mostly white, one yellow, one purple. Several wild rhodies blooming near trailhead at 2950 ft elev. As we gained altitude there were fewer blooming rhodies, then some had large buds, buds decreasing in size as altitude increased until near the top, 4360 ft rhody buds were very small. Maybe a hike in July/August will have rhody blossoms near the top of Mt Zion.
Sym Sebastian: Elbo Creek Trail #892.1 is a steep and shady 6 mile hike with rhododendron forest and numerous saprophytic plants. With long switch backs the elevation gain is 2,000 ft ascending Buck Mountain. It’s located 5 miles south of Quilcene on U.S. 101. I believe the photo is early growth of Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys).