Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Heart of the Valley

The weather was warm and sunny, perfect for a road trip, so I headed over to the Corvallis area for a little exploring. My first stop was the Jackson-Frazier Wetland. As I strolled the boardwalk I encountered a stalk of gorgeous, vibrant purple flowers. I wasn’t familiar with this plant so I was relieved when the handy interpretive sign provided me the name: Camas (Camassia quamash).

I knew Camas was important as an edible bulb (one that helped save the Lewis and Clark expedition from starvation in 1805) but I had no idea it was that beautiful, too! A preening Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay and a Common Yellowthroat kept me company at the wetland.

My next stop was the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. In all my travels this is my favorite NWR – it is very accessible with lots of trails that meander through a wide variety of habitats. Massive Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana), Fuller’s Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), Wild Oregon Iris (‎Iris tenax), and Elegant Star Tulip (Calochortus elegans) were standouts!

While it wasn’t the birdiest time of day I still enjoyed my afternoon. A brief bobcat sighting was exciting. I will definitely be back for another visit soon!

Oh, My Aching Neck!

First, is the crick in my neck from staring up into the tree tops looking for small, flitting birds. Warbler Neck:

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Then comes the strain from peering down at the beach, looking for treasures in the sand. We call it Agate Neck (which doesn’t tell the entire story but sea glass-shell-driftwood-petrified wood-fossil-zeolite-jasper-agate neck doesn’t have quite the same ring to it).

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Thank goodness for the neutrally balanced pose called Whale Neck! (Yes, I know, not the best photo but the best one I’ve snapped thus far).

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Just Beachy

As the days lengthened and warmed, activity picked up at the beach. The tide pools are hopping and one low tide I witnessed a feeding frenzy at the mouth of Siletz Bay. Northern Anchovy appeared to be the main draw. Gulls, terns, Harbor Seals, and even a Bald Eagle got in on the action. I never know what I’m going to discover out there!

 

Spring Lake Outings

Nearby Spring Lake is a lovely little stroll. There is something interesting every time I visit. Here are some photos from the past few weeks: (L to R, Top to Bottom) Fairy Lanterns, Frondescing Fern, Goose Family (5 photos), Pacific Rhododendron bloom and bud, Song Sparrow with meal for baby, Bark Mushroom, Rain Ripples (2 photos).

Really, Really Old Driftwood

My pleasant evening stroll on the beach yesterday was filled with little surprises. I found not one, not two, but eight chunks of petrified driftwood by the time I was done. The specimens that wash up here are from the Paleocene, about 65 million years ago. Pretty amazing when you think about all the steps involved: the trees had to grow, die, wash down a river, get ground into smooth, small pieces, and then (through heat and/or pressure) be inundated with minerals to become “petrified,” erode out of a rock formation, and wash up on this beach for me to discover.

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Petrified Driftwood, Lincoln City, Oregon May 2018

Southern Exploring

Last Friday was perfect weather for a short road trip, so I drove south on Highway 101 for a bit of exploring. No planned route or schedule to confine me, I took pleasure in wandering by whimsy.

A pullout south of the tiny town of Yachats (pronounced YAH-hots, from the Siletz language, “dark water at the foot of the mountain”) provided a stunning view of the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Constructed in 1894, this short (but mighty) lighthouse, sends a beam 21 nautical miles out to sea, making it the strongest of Oregon’s eleven lighthouses.

While I was trying to photograph the flash of light from its first order Fresnel lens, an American Crow and a White-crowned Sparrow fluttered in. The White-crowned Sparrows have only recently returned from their wintering grounds down south. Numbers of them spend time in Southern Arizona. Wish I could’ve asked him if he’d been in Tucson recently!

I knew it would be an interesting viewpoint from the smell. Without a breeze to freshen the air, a strong stench wafted up from below. Though the surfing and sunbathing California Sea Lions were the largest animals around, they weren’t the culprits. Nope, the miasma emanating from the white feces cooking in the hot sun on the black basalt cliffs below was created by pelagic birds. Though they were too far away for me to photograph I did identify some Brandt’s Cormorants and Pigeon Guillemots. From the smell of things, I am certain they were joined by multitudes of other birds at night.

Further south I was enticed by a sign for the Darlingtonia State Natural Site. What a pleasant little surprise that turned out to be! The 18-acre site was set aside to protect the only carnivorous plant species in Oregon, Darlingtonia californica. This member of the pitcher plant family lives in sphagnum fen habitat found in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Nicknamed Cobra Lily for the shape of its leaves, it seemed appropriate that I would also see a small snake sunning in the middle of the moss.

Even though it was a long day of adventuring, it was still light out when I returned home after 8pm. The Oregon coast is receiving close to fourteen and a half hours of daylight right now. Let me rephrase that, the Oregon coast could receive that many hours of sunlight (if the rain gods allow). I suppose it makes one appreciate really the sunny days!

Spring at Spring Lake

A few treasures from the Spring Lake Trail near my house. The forest provides a pleasant reprieve from the windy beach.

Return of the Sea Stars

The population of sea stars along the west coast of North America has dropped precipitously in the last five years. The die-off was first noted in the late summer of 2013 near Vancouver, B.C. By the end of the year multiple species of sea stars were also dying in large numbers in Washington, Oregon, and California. Researchers dubbed it Sea Star Wasting Syndrome and though the underlying cause is still poorly understood, one clear link is warmer water temperatures.

Sea stars may not be very charismatic but they are considered a keystone species for the tidepool/intertidal zone. Ochre Sea Stars (Pisaster ochraceus) control the California Mussel population, while Sunflower Sea Stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) feed on sea urchins – without them, mussels and sea urchins would quickly take over to the detriment of other species. Having had the “pleasure” of stepping on a sea urchin, you can guess why I love Sunflower Sea Stars!

In my (admittedly limited) recent tidepool surveys I felt fortunate to see one or two Ochre Seas Stars. But earlier this week, low tide was especially low, finally allowing access to some large rocks. These rocks were absolutely covered in lifeforms: California Mussels, Acorn and Gooseneck Barnacles, anemones, turban snails, chitons, Sea Lettuce, Coralline Algae, Rockweed, and yes, even Ochre Sea Stars!

I was immediately drawn to the large orange ones but as I got closer the mauve ones started to reveal themselves. When I really leaned in, I discovered the dark areas that looked like sections of bare rock were actually covered in tiny Sea Stars! What a wonderful surprise!