Saturday, November 21, 2009

Heading for Crestone

Travelling remote to remote. Crestone Mountain Zen Center takes longer to get to from Denver airport (or Albuquerque either) than Port Angeles from SeaTac. With worse winter-weather worries. Mountain driving. But I haven't seen Roshi for a long time.

Happy to report however that wireless is finally free at SeaTac. Google paid for it 'for the holidays' and SeaTac surrendered to the logic of the situation by announcing it will continue 'free forever'.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


An agitated email arrived yesterday from the COASST people, again again there is "a lot of Akashiwo sanguinea foam on the coastal beaches." Northwest Public Radio had a story about it on Tuesday. So far no distressed birds reported. Apparently the beautiful cleanswept beach I saw Saturday was only a lull in the ongoing event. The Kalebergs saw the same beach aspects the day before, on Second Beach: swathes of clear beach, and a lot of long-familiar wood moved or removed. They have comparison photos.

Now the beaches are slimed again. Come on algae, go to sleep, it's winter.

Regarding the elk on Quillayute Prairie, a big "Aha." According to Erna Gunther, in Ethnobotany of western Washington : the knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by native Americans, "the Indians, meaning the Quileute, burned over Forks and Quillayute prairie in order to lure elk and deer to feed on the young fern shoots." Other sources say the same(1). The big field in Beaver, where I saw the elk last winter, is also a prairie that predates current uses, and is thought to have been maintained with fire by the Quileute before the time of European settlement.

I'm reading a terrific small book about a trip to find surviving, even thriving, Olympic oysters on the far Vancouver Island coast. The Living Shore : Rediscovering a Lost World is the perfect mind-rinse to follow Margaret Atwood's grim The Year of the Flood, which I just finished. ('Dystopia' is the most frequent label the LibraryThing taggers give that one. I'll say.)

Haven't gotten a good representative photo of my new workplace yet. Peninsula College has a handsome campus with great views of the harbor and the Strait, and a gorgeous new (opened September 2008) library. Big windows. I can stand at the circulation desk and see Victoria across the Strait (weather permitting), or watch the pilot boat chug out around the end of Ediz Hook, rendezvousing with the big ships. Being in an academic library is something new for me, and I don't yet have a clue how to write about it. I watch the student traffic flow in and out of the library, young ones and older ones, busy working on transforming their lives. Haven't been tweeting, and I miss it; but at Elwha we were busy moving bookshelves, and the college is not yet mine to write about either.

Students at bus stop; harbor; Ediz Hook; Strait; Victoria beyond (Click for larger image.)

The Hurricane Ridge camera has been broken for a few days. The Port Angeles Inn harbor cam was pointing up at the mountains until a couple of minutes ago, but I messed up and didn't save the image in time. The south-facing cam at the airport gives us this:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Right Now

The Elwha Gauge as of 4 PM, November 16... (Click for larger image.)

There's not really anything to worry about: even the record flood in December, 2007, did not cause an evacuation at Elwha, though because of power outage some elders and some families with small children went to a motel in town. But we do have a flood warning.

J.R. was down on Elwha's beach at lunch time today. Really high tide, high waves.

A landslide has closed Highway 112 just short of Neah Bay, at milepost 2.

Wings Of

I went to do my regular survey for COASST on Saturday. The weekend before, during the big swell, there had been improbable amounts of foam in some places but on 11/14 almost all of it had been washed away or, if blown above the tides, reduced away to a grainy pale brownish residue. On Rialto Jetty there was some notably new drift (those bright red-alder trunks really stand out), the gulls were very active both over the river and over the ocean, the foam coming in was mostly the clean white stuff that sinks right in with a fizzy noise like bubble water shaken up and opened too fast--

Fresh drift, Rialto Jetty, 11.14.2009... (Click for larger image.)

and I had one beached bird. The wings of. (Well, yeah, with a bit of breastbone and some connecting stuff, but basically if it's not a measurable and identifiable part, it doesn't count.) With only wings, all there was to measure and write down was the wing chord, and all I had to go on for identification in the field guide was the wing table. That part— unshipping the pack, laying out the tools, measuring, writing down— doesn't take very long. Flipping through the book, looking up each bird whose wings were the right size, changing my mind, measuring the one measure over and over (absolutely definitely 31 centimeters every time), thinking some more, sitting on a log and mumbling to myself ("No! This mantle is definitely not dark!") is what takes all the time :-) I decided it was a northern fulmar.

Northern fulmar, wings of. (Click for larger image.)

For COASST, the formal ID photos: 769b, 769c, 769d, 769e.

When I got home, illustrations in Sibley of the light form of northern fulmar, and photos on the web, gave me a little confidence. OK, then. Northern fulmar. A bird that lives on the open ocean. OK.

On the Ellen Creek beach segment, the shore was mostly swept clean; plainly the waves in some places washed right over the berm, sometimes all the smaller wood and even the pebbles pushed up past the really big logs, and nothing at all on the sand. Some small accumulations left here and there. In one place there was (part of) a skate carcass. No dead or distressed birds. At Ellen Creek itself there was some smaller wood, but most of it had been carried away.

Ellen Creek, Rialto Beach, 11/14/2009 (Click for larger image.)

On the way home I took the side road that loops up onto Quillayute Prairie, and there were elk in the field to the east of the Quillayute airport. I was driving along thinking about the eagles I saw apparently squabbling over Lake Crescent the previous weekend, and the seal I saw off Ediz Hook, and how we respond to wildlife, and about the phrases 'charismatic megafauna' and 'marquee animals'; and there by golly right out the window were the Olympics' marquee animals, munching peaceably in a field, miles and miles from the contiguous protected lands of the Park...

Elk near the Quillayute airport (Click for larger image.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More About Surf and Foam and the Big Swell

On Saturday I did go back out with the morning's low tide, to see how things were at Rialto Beach. The high tide at the height of the swell had swept right over the berm and down to the picnic tables where they lay the disability access pathway in summer. Some wood carried across from the beach side had piled up around one of the tables, and battered it somewhat. A really big log had shifted right in front of the beach access path.

Big wood on the move (Click for larger image.)

In fact, it looked like all the logs were moved and shifted. I couldn't recognize which was the one I sat on the day back in August I watched the white foam wash around below me and thought, "This log doesn't move." It does, it did. Not sure how often there's high tide and heavy surf the way there was on November 6-7, but clearly Rialto Beach would not have been a safe place to be at 2 PM Friday or 3 AM Saturday, and clearly in winter storms the big drift is continually remade.

As to foam, alas, it was not the clean white stuff that sinks right away into the sand. The whole ocean surface in the surf zone carried the unpleasing foamy trace of the algal bloom, persistent ecru-colored evidence on the beach that offshore the waters are still not well.

After a while I headed home. The snow level had come down with the pouring rain Friday night. Lake Crescent was looking splendid.

Lake Crescent, 11/7/09 (Click for larger image.)

A Good Start (Again)

The Waterhole Snotel up on Hurricane Ridge (which is really about 4 miles out along the Obstruction Point Road) shows that the infant water year is starting out with a nice bump, though actually last year this time precipitation was also a bit above normal, we had a big storm in December, and it nevertheless ended up sure enough a dry year.

Note the cheerful red precipitation line... (Click for larger image.)

Meanwhile, the rivers continue to go up and down, rainstorm to rainstorm...

Flow on the Elwha River (Click for larger image.)

Happy to have learned how to see an extended display like that. Can spend the winter noticing the effect of how much precipitation in a storm stops as snow in the high country, and thinking about what it will mean to flow levels as we have more warm storms, higher snow levels...

I had a page showing rainfall here at the airport, day by day for the current water year, but I've lost it. Will put in a link when I find it again. At least we can stop thinking about the Drought Monitor.

Later: Our precipitation averages via Western Regional Climate Center. Can only find the Weather Underground numbers for September (1.54 inches) and current water year to date (8.35 in. so far). I suppose we can assume WU is getting the numbers from the National Weather Service, and they do put 'em together pretty...

Friday, November 06, 2009

Something Special After All

It rained all night. The rivers went up and started down again. My mother called at 5:30 AM to wish me happy birthday and ask what I was doing to celebrate. Nothing, said I. I was abrupt. It was 5:30 AM for god sake, I thought somebody had died or something. My sister called at 7:40 AM. Asked the same question. At sunrise there was a rainbow.

Sunrise Rainbow 11/06/09 (Click for larger image.)

Later it rained a lot more, and there was sun, and rain and so on. Through the morning I was working at the tribe, putting together our 'new' bookcases (hand-me-downs from a remodeled branch library in Sequim). Turned out to be complicated, we didn't get as far as actually moving things into them by the time I left. Shouldn'ta left.

But the weather service was promising us GIANT WAVES, no joke, that's what the NOAA warning said. So I came out to La Push this afternoon to see what a 25-foot swell looks like. High tide, lots of surf, big splashes, really big splashes out on some of the islands, I think I saw a wave splash up and right over Dahdayla Island. Not looking too much like 25-foot walls of water by the time they get to the beach, however, at least not from up above on the point at the north end of the beach. But wow gorgeous. A lot of people were out looking.

Now I'm tucked up in the Pacific Inn Motel in Forks tonight. It will be low tide in the morning and maybe safe to get out onto Rialto. Only maybe. I'll be cautious. The NOAA warnings are quite ferocious about people keeping off the beaches until the swell diminishes.

(I decided why not, it's my birthday. So I got to stay until dusk, didn't have to drive the hour and a half home in the dark, can be out on the beach again early in the morning.

(Truth, it's pouring rain outside at the moment. I kind of wish I were home and didn't have to stir out in the morning and go watch GIANT WAVES in the rain. I keep checking the weather forecast to assure myself it isn't going to snow or anything like that, either here or back in Port Angeles.)

(Happy birthday, me.)


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Another Storm Coming

Another storm coming, rain through the weekend, they are saying back in the staff workroom. Unfair to beachbunnies, say I. But so far the storms have been warm. We've had all this rain, and rivers going up and down, but up on Hurricane Ridge there is still no snow by the visitor center.

Hurricane Ridge Webcam, 1PM, November 4 (Click for larger image.)

Later: Wow. They certainly think it's going to rain. The gauge on the Elwha expects the river to really jump up.

Expected flow on the Elwha River (Click for larger image.)

Later still: read Cliff Mass Weather Blog, and admire this fabulous animation from the U. of Washington meteorology department. Waves. There's gonna be waves. Thanks to CS for pointing this out.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Somewhere To the South of Us

Late in October, COASST reported algal bloom resurgent, distressed birds and dead birds and lingering brown foam on the beaches to the south on the Long Beach Peninsula; and to the north, MS's email said, "Birds on the north beaches alive on 20-22 October but by 23-25 October only a few alive on the beaches. The counts are between 50 to 60 dead on each of the 3 major beaches in the north (Hobuck, Sooes and Shi Shi). Species about 50:50 red-throated loons and common murres on Hobuck and then almost entirely common murres on Sooes and Shi Shi."

So I was sent on October 31 to Kalaloch North to survey with a writer preparing an article for High Country News. The idea was he would see actual handling of dead birds by amateur citizen scientist (me).

Last Tuesday when I was out with Rocco at Rialto there had been quite a lot of foam, calf-deep at one spot; but no birds. It seemed likely that further to the south we'd have birds to work. It rained all Friday night, the Sol Duc River as we drove over its bridges en route west and south was really fluffed up, high and muddy. We thought, 'Working in the rain, storm surf, dunes of foam, more birds than we can handle...' But instead we had sunshine, a beach swept by high tide, very little foam (1)(2), and no distressed or dead birds. (I was glad, but not so good for EW's article about COASST.)

Near the mouth of Kalaloch Creek we were chased up into the drift by a tide that didn't seem to know it was supposed to be going out and instead was getting higher. We retreated up one of the beach access trails, and came down again at our start point. We looked fairly thoroughly, and picked up a lot of trash on our return from the north end of the beach. No birds. By then the tide really was going out. There was the wide flat Kalaloch Beach to examine, but the retreating tide left us no beached bird offerings in the surf line.

EW spotted a peregrine falcon. There was a group of happy live scoters out in the surf. It began to cloud up. Gulls stood around. We headed home.

Kalaloch North, October 21, 2009 (Click for larger image.)