Posts Tagged ‘port townsend’

If You Were a Superhero

January 18, 2010

If you were a superhero- what would your powers be ?  I have always been impressed by echinoderms as they harness the powers of water to leap over small boulders,  pry apart shells and stick to vertical or inverted surfaces.  Ok, maybe leap is not the right word- crawl.

Touch tank 3, Marine Exhibit, Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Ft. Worden State Park, Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

I am regular a volunteer for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.  I am on the “home crew”.  I do maintenance every Tuesday morning with a small crew of other volunteers.  We range in age from 20’s to 70’s.  That means I go in the morning and help keep the aquariums health and the critters taken care of.  That involves scrubbing, siphoning detritus and feeding the critters.  We usually do it to the sound of some soundtrack or discussion about current events.  The best part is watching nature unfold in front of us.  This includes births and deaths.  We watched an octopus lay 2000 eggs- Ruby the East Pacific Red octopus.  She died just last week- that is what they do naturally after laying eggs.   We have watched the Giant Pacific octopus come out of her brick-shelter and eat a Squat lobster with much enthusiasm.

Sometimes it is the little details that I find amazing.  Every marine creature has its own specialized adaptations that allow its species to compete and thrive in the marine environment- by the way, which makes up 99 percent of earth’s habit.  It such a foreign environment to most of us that is hard to understand our marine critters.  We also don’t spend much energy on learning about them.  The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cite that we only know about 275,000 marine species and that we have only explored 5% of our Earth’s oceans.  I find the adaptation of the taxonomic group (phylum) Echinodermata- absolutely fascinating.

What is the difference between adaptation and acclimation?  If it is hot during the summer where I live, my body will have to acclimate to the difference.  When I hike tall mountains in low oxygen, my body will have to acclimate and my blood will be thicker. All creatures have a range they can live in and the ability to acclimate a little depending on the species.  If Earth’s conditions changed dramatically, our species will likely adapt over time.  That will only happen if our species has the right stuff- combination of DNA and the resulting attributes that help people survive.  We could also get lucky and new DNA will arise as a result of random mutation.  They key is how quick your generations can turn over as to how quick those mutations show-up in large enough numbers to compete.  That’s right, smaller life forms have it easy- bacteria, fruit flies, etc.  Yep- that is right we are lucky to be here.

I chose to start my feeding rounds with the Red urchins last Tuesday.  Urchins can be found in the San Juan Islands- as well as other places.  They eat Bull kelp as well as other algae.  You can think of them as the undersea equivalent of a lumberjack in a kelp forest.  Their natural predators are Sea otters.  We feed them little squares of kelp as well.

I lower the kelp into the water and hold it next to the urchin.  Almost immediately I see little red tentacles waving in the water toward the kelp.  I put it closer and they have a hold of the kelp and begin pulling it tighter.  I do this for the other dozen or so urchins- greens too.  I look back to where I started and see the kelp has nearly disappeared underneath the urchin’s body.   They look slow but they are steady and certainly persistent!

Urchins are members of the phylum Echinodermata.  As an echinoderm they pull in water to fill a specialized system.  You can think of them as the caterpillar tractors with all their hydraulic hoses that move the bucket arms around.  The specialized system is series of tubes with pumps called the water vascular system.  These tentacles I am witnessing are actually tube-feet that extend out from within the skeleton and through the skin.  With more pressure they extend and retract.  There are still conventional muscles that do the pumping and guiding.  These tube feet are handy in keeping the place tidy as others try to make a home among the spines and also for feeding apparently.  Everything found is headed to the mouth- yum, yum.

I can’t help but wonder how the urchin is even aware the kelp is there.  If you know urchins it is likely they don’t know you because they have no eyes.  That must mean that they are chemically sensing the “taste” of the nearby algae.  Where are the receptors?  On their tube-feet?  In the main body?   I don’t recall them having a tongue.  How does the tiny molecular signature of the kelp can travel through the water and alert the urchin?  How close does it need to be for them to sense it?  Wow what a superpower!  I will to have answers those questions another day.

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We Must Weather the Weather

January 5, 2010

As I continue choosing my bicycle as my main form of transportation, I sometimes ask myself the question, “is it ever going to stop raining!”  Then I stop and remind myself that despite growing-up in the desert Southwest, I now live in the Pacific Northwest.

Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

Living in the Pacific Northwest can come with a certain amount of joy and hardship.  The hardship can quickly be turned into joy too if you look at the right way.  I moved to western Washington because I was attracted by the promises of the Emerald State.  If you know anything about plants, than you know that they need a certain amount of water to grow (along with other things).  In the desert the plants have evolved to survive the arid conditions and are sparse.  Vice versa, in a temperate rainforest, the plants have adapted to survive rain.  They do and they thrive and are dense.

I therefore have to acclimate and prepare for a climate that receives lots of rain if I am going to survive and thrive.  These days, it can be easy to ignore the climate if you spend most of your day indoors or in a vehicle- popping out only occasionally in transition from one to another.  Only when you are stuck out that one might be reminded how poorly prepared you might be.

I have had the opportunity to live in Seattle, Bellingham, Port Angeles and Port Townsend so far.  I can see the difference in all of these place- but they are still wetter than where I grew up in New Mexico.  Why?  When you study the water cycle in 4th grade you are told that water moves in and out of various states (gas, liquid, solid) and locations (ocean, air, surfaces, streams, plants, animals, ground water, aquifers, etc).  When you look at weather maps and notice where weather (air) is coming from here in Washington, you notice it comes mostly from the west.  It isn’t much of stretch to guess that most of our moisture is picked up in the air as it evaporates from the Pacific Ocean.

What a ride it must be as a water molecule; being bombarded by UV waves from the sun until you have enough energy to break free from the liquid ocean.  As you are carried upward and eventually condense with other molecules into clouds, you are being whipped along by the winds toward looming mountain ranges of the Olympic coast of Washington (or Vancouver Island in Canada).  The more condensation of other water molecules, the heavier you “feel”.  I would be pretty worried at this point if I was trying to get over the mountains.  Sure enough, much of the rain falls as precipitation (rain or snow) as it tries to get up and over the Olympics.  Forks, WA on the coast, receives just over 121 inches of precipitation annually- nearly 17 inches of that arrives in January.  The top of the range (Mt. Olympus at 7,965 ft/2,427 m) sees 130 inches each year.

maps.com

An interesting effect is what most people refer to as the “rain shadow” effect.  Just like a mountain creates a shadow from the sun, so it does with the rain.  Here I am in Port Townsend, roughly 50 miles west-northwest of Mt. Olympus and I only experience just over 19 inches annually (2.17 inches in January)- What a difference!  And here I am complaining.  I could move to nearby Sequim, where the annual rainfall is just over 16 inches.

As the clouds are thinned of precipitation they have one more opportunity to pick-up evaporated water as they pass over the Puget Sound and the Straits of Georgia. Seattle receives 34.1 inches, Bellingham gets 36.3 inches and Vancouver, BC has 44 inches.  Of course, they then have to cross the North Cascade Range and by the time they reach Eastern Washington they are pretty dry (Yakima, WA= 8.3 inches).

The jet stream plays a very important role in where air is coming from and subsequently the moisture too.  I have noticed in the winter that our weather patterns flip from northwesterly to southeasterly.  Why is this?  Does this have to do with the position of the planet in relation to the sun?  Does if have to do with the temperature differences in different parts of the world?  As the average global temperature increase, how is this going to effect climate patterns here in the Pacific Northwest?  Should we expect warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers?  Now I am curious (and concerned).

What I do know is that, “Whether the weather be fine, whether the weather be not, whether the weather be cold, whether the weather be hot, we must weather the weather, whatever the whether, whether we like it or not”  (I learned that at outdoor school).  I just have to remind myself that I like the emerald environment, salmon streams in the summer and nice snowpack in the winter and to dress better.

Sedges Have Edges

December 8, 2009

What isn’t there to get excited about sedges?

Quimper Wildlife Corridor, trailhead off Cook Ave/Elmira St, west of Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, E. Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

On a recent walk with docents from the Jefferson Land Trust, I discovered some great wetlands of the North Quimper Peninsula within a 20 minute bike ride or easily accessed from the #14 Jefferson Transit bus.  I was among at least a dozen others that came to explore the “Interconnections of the Forest”.

The Quimper Wildlife Corridor is a stretch of mostly undeveloped land stretching all across the North Quimper Peninsula. The 3.5-miles of native vegetation include a series of wetlands that make up a natural drainage corridor leading to Chinese Gardens near Fort Worden State Park.

The Jefferson Land Trust views the Quimper Wildlife Corridor as a great community asset, one that permanently preserves places for humans and wildlife.  There is more information about the project at their website.

We walk into the forest and our guide points out that it is likely that natives of the area maintained open fields of grasses with burning.  We did find a rather large Douglas fir that has been aged to near 500 years (though its height would have one guess younger).  It is obvious by the diameter of the surrounding Doug firs that the rest of the forest is much younger.

Our first stop is a small pocket wetland.  It isn’t what you might think- open expanse of water surrounded by a variety of native plants.  This wetland doesn’t have water at the moment but likely has at other times of the year or in recent years.  Wetlands were once known by other names such as bogs, swamps, marshes, estuaries and other river or lake shorelines.

When you look at the different kinds of vegetation, this area is markedly different.  Our tall conifers that shade the forest in the winter have given way to primarily deciduous “leafy” trees including willows and alders.  The undergrowth that was just recently salal bushes have transitioned to grass-like plants.  The first that come to my hands have long blades and runs nearly to my mid-thigh (about 3 ft from the ground).  Ok, I know that not all plants with long green blades without obvious flowers are grasses.

I think back to what my botany and naturalist friends would say: “Sedges have edges/Rushes are round/Grasses have nodes from the top to the ground”.  What a neat naturalist trick.

I reach down and feel the blade- sure enough it has very sharp edges and the docent confirms that it is a sedge. What is really meant by edges is that the stem is triangular.  I look at the blade closer and notice the underside is also very rough and likely has a high proportion of glass-like particles within the cell walls.  Sedges have been traditionally used as weaving materials for mats and chair seats.  The pith from one species was actually used as paper; “paprus”.  There are over 100 types of sedge and I am not looking close enough within the constrains of the walk-and-talk offered by the docent to note significant characteristics of this one for proper ID.

We walk through the trails that will eventually connect to ones that are part of Cappy’s Trails woods.  We stop a couple more times to see a couple more wetlands including Winona wetland off Bell and Emerald Streets.

I scan the trees for raptors and look for other signs of wildlife.  I don’t immediately find anything from my quick survey.

What is exciting is there are so many different kinds of vegetation and habitats.  Where you have transitions from one habitat to another, you tend to have the highest concentration of biodiversity.  More different habitat types mean more potential for different types of plants and critters; different soil chemistry and water saturation. There are more places to take shelter, find your food and the type of space you prefer.  This sudden arrival of sedges and new types of tree promises to attract critters to what they need as well- water.  The fact that these wetlands are not to far from one another and the forest is not overly developed, yet provides for a nice pathway or corridor for wildlife to move from one place to another.

I am happy to have discovered this section of the peninsula.

My question that grabs me now is how often to do these wetlands see standing water?  When was the last time there was water?  If the climate continues to change, how will these wetlands change?  What effect would that have one the movement of wildlife through this area?  I am accumulating more questions than I have time to answer- yet again for another time (rainy day)…

The Forest’s Own Stimulus Package

November 21, 2009

Burnt shells of long-gone giants dot the forest.  Some trunks have blackened “fingers” that reach up from the ground toward the sky.  Forest fire, in Cappy’s Trails, must have changed this landscape at one point.

Trailhead off Holcombe and Hill Street, Cappy’s Trails, Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, E. Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

From where I live, nearly in the middle of the city, I am still constantly reminded that there are still some semi-wild places in the backyard.  At night I can hear the coyotes yipping from within the acreages of undeveloped woods known as Cappy’s Trails.  These woods are bisected with numerous unmarked trails.  To the newcomer, they might seem daunting.  I usually carry a compass just in case.  There are several places to find maps of the place if you just search the internet.  I prefer to just walk and trust that Port Townsend isn’t so big that I won’t be able to find my way back home from where ever I pop out.

Today takes me hiking into the forest, walking in the tradition of the “naturalist approach”.  I haven’t been walking long when I start to recognize a pattern of burned trees among the dominant Douglas fir, Western Red cedar, Grand fir and Red Alder.  Some of the burned trees appear to have been cut prior to burning, while others were clearly still standing when the burned.  One still reaches to the sky.  The rest of the tree has been changed into the carbons and other elements that once made up the tree.  This fire must have been quite a while back for the moss covering the ground in thick blankets among the Salal and Oregon grape bushes hides any remaining evidence.

More and more, as I hike, I encounter groves of Red alder.  I have been told that Red alder are one of the first trees to come back after a disturbance.  The trees stand up to 110’ or 25 meters.  There light grey, smooth bark is encrusted with patches of whitish lichens.  The leaves that are still on the tree, have turned a pale yellow.  Most have fallen.  They are broadly elliptical with wavy “toothed” margins.  Here and there on the forest floor or on ferns fronds are the clusters of cones that make up the male parts.  Each is about 2 cm long.  Alus rubra (Red alder) have been known to have bacterial associates among their roots.  The bacteria, along with the tree, make small nodules for the bacteria to live in and then begin capturing nitrogen from the air (nitrogen fixation) and fixing it into organic compounds.  In these forests nitrogen is rare and will limit the growth of a forest- especially one that has been disturbed by fires, logging, floods, development, etc.  That would make the alder much like the Red Cross volunteers of the forest.  That was how I always remembered this interesting fact.

This forest has likely been cleared before as much of the peninsula has and might face the same fate in the future.  The land is platted for development and daily the sounds of construction encroach at the margins.  Yet, there are still some folks out there such as the Jefferson Land Trust that hope to purchase and protect parts of those woods.

I am still curious about this strange living situation that the Actinomycete bacteria have with the alder.  How does the bacteria know that it has encountered an alder and how does it stimulate the tree to grow?  Does it have to be just an alder or can it be done with other trees?  Do the alders have this associate when they are seedlings or is it later?  What process allows these bacteria to fix nitrogen, if this is such a rare process?  The small but important mysteries have captured me for the moment…

Winter Birds at Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park

November 11, 2009

DSC02537Kah Tail Lagoon Nature Park, off Sims Way and Jefferson Transit Park and Ride, Port Townsend, E. Jefferson County, Washington state

Sunny days are hard to come by in the winter and so when the opportunity presents itself, I must oblige and get out!  Where can I go fast and explore as a naturalist: Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park of course.

I pack up my naturalist’s journal, camera and binocs and walk the trail from the parking lot of the Food Co-op and walk along the water.  Immediately I begin spotting birds out on the lake.  Most are out in the middle of the lake.  I can see some of them diving.  There is an occasional flock or two along the shore, though most don’t seem interested in me.  I am not carrying anything that looks like food.

Peering out over the water, I notice that the majority of the ducks are Mallards and Ruddy Ducks.  The Ruddy Ducks are in their winter plumage.  The males are easy to spot with their conspicuous white cheeks and their long tail, held up like a ski jump.

The male Mallards always strike me with their metallic green head and neck in contrast to the yellow bill.  They sure are “screaming” for the most particular female. 

Also found were an occasional Buffelhead.  They are actively foraging for food- diving and resurfacing within the minute in a new location. I think back to a recent beach hike, when nearly all I saw were Bufflehead.  They are in their winter range now.

I walk over to the smaller pond that feeds the main lagoon with salt water from a buried pipe.  Apparently this is where it is at.  Not sure what it is but I hope to find out.  The pond is pretty busy with Mallards and American Wigeons.  The wigeons are new to me so I can post-field ID them with my sketches I made in my journal.  The short bluish-white bill with a dark underside and tip are a ringer.  The individuals with the dark, iridescent green eye-patch are apparently breeding males.  According to my field guide books, they are in their winter range.  That is great news, so I hope to see them on my next walk through Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park!

After learning a little more about my neighbors in the lagoon, I can’t help but wonder when they started showing up in our area if they spend their time in other places.  Where are they when they are breeding?  How long does it take to fly here?  How often do the birds take breaks?  Do they eat along the way?  Questions for another time…

Carl Linnaeus

October 7, 2009

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)Some would call Carl Linnaeus the father of what is refered to as Natural History.  Some would point to the early indigenous peoples with their approach to knowing their world as the first “natural historians”.  I don’t care to argue the point but rather spend my time and energy to get outside and celebrate the world around me and get to know it better.  By doing so, I hope to be able understand it better and how I can live my life in more of an equilibrium.  I don’t have kids, so my motivation is for those of you who do.

Sunrise: 7:19 am, low tide of -1.28 ft at 12:12 am and again at 12:26 pm with 5.77 ft.  Sunset: 6:37 pm. 

At 3:05 pm:  57.1 F with light winds from my point of view off San Juan Ave and F St in Port Townsend, WA, Quimper Peninsula, E. Jefferson County, USA.  The sky is showing bright with less than 10 % cloud cover (high wispy clouds).

Fall is approaching and the colors are beginning to show in the Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum).  If the wind stays light the leaves will hopefully linger on the trees longer.

The mornings are becoming more crisp and the clothes layers have come out of bins once more.

The apple trees in the yard are really drooping with the energy they have accumulated to help spread their seeds. I am happy to help.  I tug and two come off (one an eager volunteer).  I leave one on the ground for the deer.  What variety is this?  How many varieties are grown in WA state?  What shall I do with this apple and others like it?

The skin is smooth and glossy and free of blemishes.  I am secure in the thought that my neighbors have not applied any artificial chemicals.  The color is mostly pale green, yet red is present in patches spreading from the top, around the equator and below as well.  The taste bursts with the first bite of mostly sweet with a hint of sour.  It is crispy and holds shape nicely.   Maybe I will bake crisp.