Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Rocks at the End of the Beach

Words later.

The Beach at Hole-in-the-Wall, Rialto Beach, December 26, 2009 (Click for larger images.)

To be home before dark, I have to leave Right Now, 3:15 PM December 26, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ferry Clock

I think I'm going back to the beach. A minute ago it was still early and wasn't even light yet. Now it's time for the ferry to blast its horn and let me know, as it does every day, that I need to have already gotten my day underway. (Not to mention the subloop where I am subliminally waiting for the frost to remove itself from the windshield...)

Lord I am past ready for the days to be longer.

The Coho's about to set forth, I just heard it. I should get going too.

Higher Low Tide, Lower High Tide

The whole tidal range yesterday afternoon was only about three feet. It didn't go down very far, and then started coming back in. Almost no wrack, certainly no heaps of kelp. As the tide returned it began to leave a scatter of small smooth wood in some places, then wash over it and move it up the beach. In most places, the beach still clean-swept.

Cake Rock on the Horizon, Rialto Beach, 12-25-2009 (Click for larger image.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Seven Kingdoms

Much of Thursday I spent on the phone. Lo-o-o-ong talks with old friends displaced the planned expedition to the coast. So late in the afternoon I went out to the Hook again, just as I had gone on Tuesday. It's the right time of year for ducks and shorebirds. Again there were surf scoters around, and buffleheads. Black turnstones; a black oystercatcher working the log boom by the pilot station.

Oystercatcher near the Pilot Station (Click for larger image.)

A little flock of sanderlings were out there by the boat docks both Tuesday and Thursday afternoons; however unlikely it seems that they are treating the boatramp like a beach and running back and forth there with their little windup legs, yes they were. A sea lion hurried past on the outside; it was large, it was porpoising along moving eastward, I got barely a glimpse of head, flippers, head...

Victoria was very clear on the other side of the Strait, the buildings along the waterfront standing out crisply from 20-odd miles away. At sunset Tuesday, the near fringe of the Olympics peeked out through the clouds.

Blue Mountain seen from Port Angeles harbor, December 22, 2009 (Click for larger image.)

At sunset Thursday, Mt. Baker a hundred miles away to the northeast suddenly lit up with a pink glow. I need better binoculars, and a better camera.

Sitting out there in the car, listening to the waves on the outside of the rock jetty, or hopping out with binocs and bird book to try again to persuade myself that really the sanderlings are sanderlings, I was reading Sylvia Earle. In explaining the extraordinary biodiversity in the oceans, she describes the seven kingdoms. Wait! What? Seven? Seven. Um... When I was little, there were two: Plants, Animals. More recently, five: Monera, Protista, Fungi, Plants, Animals. Now we have separated out Archaeobacteria and Chromista. Chromista include the brown algae.

Trying not to tear my hair here, or scream; no bolding, no italics, no caps lock: Kelp is not in the plant kingdom.

This is worse than when they decided Pluto was not a planet, or when I first had to overlay the modern particle zoo on the formerly simple protons-neutrons-and-electrons. You'd think that as a librarian I'd just cheerfully embrace changes in how we describe what we know. Things are still exactly what they are, but the names make a difference in what we see.

Perhaps I better go right out to the ocean and take pictures of a lot of Chromista not-plants washed up on the beach, don't you think?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

WebCam Tour

Today's forecast was for 'Mostly Sunny'. Well no, not here in Port Angeles. But the webcams offer elsewhere:

Hurricane Ridge WebCam (Click for larger image.)
The east face of the Olympics, from Silverdale (Click for larger image.)
First Beach at La Push (Click for larger image.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Comparatively Blue

Out the window it's comparatively blue. Absolutely blue, even. Oh my. Perhaps I need to go down to the harbor and out onto Ediz Hook (map) like immediately.

December 22, 2009. Looking toward the Strait. (Click for much wider view. The visible island is San Juan Island.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wet Weather, Seabird Survey (III)

Sunday. One last time, up and out of the house before daylight. A surprising lot of people on the beach at first.

A lot of the time you couldn't see anything except rain, clouds, floating greys. The waves came in. There were no birds to record on the data sheet. A lot more miscellaneous drift, pieces and jumbles of wood in all sizes. Mostly no wrack, though here and there a line of conifer tips and seaweed bits, extremely delicate.

It rained and rained. Heavy, light, heavy again. There were fewer and fewer people. After the two official walks— to Ellen Creek and back, to the end of Rialto Jetty and back— I sat on a log and watched and listened a long time as the tide rose. Time passed. I was very contented.

Two views of Ellen Creek

Though I'm glad the 'wreck' is over and Rialto is back to rarely having beached birds, I found myself wishing for just one, to assure myself that I was being observant enough to find them if they had been there— despite all the rain on my glasses, intermittent head down against wind, and so on. Speaking of wrecks, EW's article came out in the December 7th High Country News: The Wreck. Since I had not been able to find him any distressed or damaged birds the day we went to Kalaloch, instead of framing the article with a bird identification process, he framed it with the only handy bit of human interest, me. Yikes. My name is the first two words of the story.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wet Weather, Seabird Survey (II)

Saturday. Friday evening my gear was all over the apartment, drying. The REALLY sandy stuff on the porch, second level of banishment the stair rail, everything else on chairs...

To be sure I'd have preferred to stay home doing nothing, just lie about listening to sand drift down onto the floor from the sleeves of jackets. But Saturday looked to be a lull between storms, the only dryish day for a while. I had my own December survey to do at Rialto Beach, which I try to do in the middle of the month and it was already the 19th. So off I went, early Saturday morning.

But Highway 101 along the lake was closed by a landslide. It must have happened just before I got out there, there were no warning or detour signs, just a park ranger turning all the traffic back. To backtrack and take alternate route would have brought me out there at the top of the tide (plus uncertainty about whether I'd also have to go long-way-home in the dark), so I postponed. The 'landslide turned out to be one big rock. I mean, one REALLY big rock.

Wet Weather, Seabird Survey (I)

Friday. Up and out of the house before daylight, to get to Makah Bay with my COASST mentors M-S and JL while the tide was in our favor (and anyway the days are very short.)

On our way out of town we stopped at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary's warehouse for sample bottles and freezer packs. The bloom of the algae Akashiwo sanguinea is still happening out there in the ocean, though not in quantities sufficient to distress birds. MS planned to get water samples both at Hobuck and in the marina at Neah Bay to send to the Northwest Fisheries Science Center for testing. One of their boats is in there, a Hurricane Zodiac looking like it was ready to drive its own trailer out the doors; and all their dive gear; and endless shelves and tubs and stacks of science tools. Coming along on this survey is a great opportunity, both because M-S is the boss and knows every bird, and everything about them, and is happy to talk science All Day Long; and because her beach, Hobuck Beach (maps, 1 & 2, and a nice video from youtube), is a deposition beach. There are ALWAYS beached birds there, so it's a good place for training new volunteers, as well as no-longer-new volunteers like me who still mostly can't identify a bird carcass when she's alone with one. :-(

MS & JL at the beginning of the survey, still south of Hobuck Creek. (Click for larger image.)

Rain on and off all day, and many beached birds, something like 27 (JL has the data sheets, and beyond a certain point I was not keeping a separate list in my notebook). All but three were 'refinds', birds tagged on previous surveys. They don't wash away again from Hobuck, (the way they do from my beaches, in fact presumably washing away before I ever see them). The most frequent finds were northern fulmars, both light and dark forms; several red-throated loons; a couple of common murres, a large immature gull, a white-winged scoter, a perfectly enormous common loon. There were also several marine mammals (dead ones, that is), and a whole lot of sand dollars.

We crossed Hobuck Creek, and began heading north towards the Waatch River. Since there were three of us spread out across the wide beach, we could cover it pretty well, though most of the finds were far at the back of the beach, close to the bank and nearly up in the grasses. Bird after bird, sometimes two or three or five at a time.

Got absolutely coated with sand from head to toe, because when there's birds to identify and record you gotta get down in the sand and measure things and handle things, and crawl around variously, dragging your rain poncho through the sand in such a way that it's as wet and sandy underneath as it is on the outside.

When we reached our turnaround point at the Waatch River, there was some of what appeared to be Akashiwo foam, though up to that point we hadn't seen any. MS took water samples, and a sample of the foam. As we headed back there was now foam coming in on the high tide where it hadn't been earlier.

Sampling foam on the beach near Waatch River. (Click for larger image.)

By the end of the day JL and I were pervasively damp, sandy, and chilled. MS, the pro, was still going strong: we stopped in Neah Bay at the harbor for a water sample, and at the Museum shop, for Christmas shopping ;-)

Monday, December 14, 2009


I have to confess that someone with my eyesight can't really read any of the ships' markings from out on my deck without binoculars. A Yang Ming container ship went by out on the Strait on Sunday morning, the lettering on the side is about as big as it gets (1) yet all I could read without help was that there weren't enough letters to be saying Hapag-Lloyd, and too many to be HanJin.

YangMing Fountain passing the bottom of the street on a snowy morning. (Click for larger image.)

It got me to hop in the car, though, and go see what there was to see.

Spent a long time trying to observe snow actually falling into the water of the harbor; but even in a heavy shower, by the time it touches the harbor surface it seems just to be a drop of water. I'd have had to get out of the car and down on my elbows in the wet mud with my eyes at water level to perceive it. Nah.

Of ducks, there were lots of bufflehead again and harlequin ducks and goldeneye and some little shorebirds I didn't get a look at; a great blue heron on a piling.

Bufflehead in the harbor (Click for larger image.)

On the Strait side, there were grebes and a surf scoter. And a lot of ship traffic. HanJin Berlin loomed out of the weather on the Strait, loaded tall and wide with containers; it dropped off its pilot, and headed west. (It's down by Portland now.)Thetis was already very close, eastbound, but the pilot boat came back in, dropped off one man (Berlin's pilot?) and picked up another, then went right back out to rendezvous with Thetis (who's in Tacoma now).

HanJin Berlin westbound and Thetis eastbound, passing Ediz Hook. (Click for larger image.)

Apparently ubiquitous, we shipspotters. has pictures of Thetis taken later in the same day, after she'd passed on east into Puget Sound.

Great Blue Heron, with Polar Enterprise, Port Angeles harbor (Click for larger image.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gray Out There

Out on Ediz Hook (map). Low tide, and it was really Very Quiet. There were two tankers at anchor, Polar Enterprise and Alaskan Legend. Legend's engines were running though she wasn't going anywhere, seeming very noisy. A number of pilot guys going in and out their gate. Of ducks, buffleheads and wigeons.

The Polars were more fun when they all had "Polar" painted on the sides in big white letters (1)(2) you could read from far away, even from up on my deck (with binoculars; the Han Jins you can read without binocs). But as they got fresh paint over the last year or so the 'Polar' on the sides disappeared.

Granted it was very late in the day, nearing sunset if there had been any sun— but it looked like this more or less all day. No rain, no snow, just gray.

Pilot station, Alaskan Legend in background (Click for larger image.)
Alaskan Legend ; Polar Enterprise (Click for larger image.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reading News

After the last time I so nearly desperately had Nothing to Read, I made some changes. Resolved to no longer hoard books for later (when I might be even more desperate), but to pick up whatever I want to read next regardless. And I started using a LibraryThing widget in the sidebar to track the To-Be-Read Pile, no longer editing the list manually and mentioning only a handful out of the title flux; no longer not bothering to mention the books that aren't worth mentioning (or which are too embarrassing to admit to).

The widget being live, even when the widget enhanced with cover images appears in a post from some months ago, it shows what I'm reading NOW. That I hadn't anticipated. Here it is again:

Overcast Out the Window

Overcast down here in Port Angeles, but somewhat glorious up on top. The mountain camera had been down for a couple of weeks, and all that was visible was the parking lot; but it's working now.

WebCam on Hurricane Ridge, noonish, December 11, 2009 (Click for larger image.)

The Silverdale Cam, looking towards the Olympics from the Kitsap Peninsula, is likewise showing clear weather.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sea Star / Starfish

It turns out the sea star fossil that was found near Kalaloch was right in plain sight in the rocks at the bottom of the Beach 4 access trail, on June 22, 2009, a week after PH and SA and I were there. This was the place we went tidepooling on the morning after our first night in the cabin at Kalaloch. It was to the left (south) of the footbridge, and we had gone right (north) to get to the tidepool rocks. So we didn't quite just not see it and step right over it.

At the program the whole audience murmured to itself when they showed a photo of the rock where the fossil appeared. Footbridge plainly in view right behind it. We'd all been there, often, yes indeed.

They are thinking that the rock is so soft and the spot so exposed to erosion, it must have only just appeared when a park visitor spotted it. Likewise they decided that they had to interfere with natural processes and remove it, not an easy decision in a National Park, because sea star fossils are so very rare and it would erode away immediately...

Picture of footbridge found on the web. Thanks to *CA* for putting it out there. (None of the three of us took a pic of it.)

You are supposed to say 'sea star', not 'starfish'. The Park guy who did the extraction was careful to say 'sea star' and write that on his slides. But even Elizabeth Nesbitt, the invertebrate paleontologist who gave the second part of the talk, said 'starfish'. Or Latin, 'asteroid'. Oh Liz Nesbitt was wonderful. Distinctly thought of this bit of stone as an animal, a creature. Talked at length about how it might have happened to be preserved intact, a really really rare event for asteroids, indeed for all echinoderms. There simply are no other fossils like it. The last slide was of the prepared and restored critter, all five rays plainly visible, in his block of stone in a glass display case in the Burke Museum in Seattle. There was a present-day (dead) sea star also in the case. She said that the fossil had looked lonely in the display, so they had given him some company. :-)

Precipitation Levels Off

Fooey. Sunny, cold and dry. The river has dropped back to normal. Last year after a fast start we had no precipitation for two months and ended up with a dry year. Let's hope that's not what's happening now.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Erstwhile Sentient Being

Going to a program at Park headquarters this evening. They have natural history programs once a month in the winter. This one is about a sea star fossil that was found this summer in the cliffs north of Kalaloch. I completely love the idea of an entire presentation on the subject of one small former sentient being who died and turned to stone a bunch of million years ago. And then had the good fortune to be preserved in the geological record, so it could live again in science.

Story here. Odds are I won't learn much more than the story tells. But maybe there will be more pictures.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Days Are Very Short

This morning, here, barely a dusting of snow, and no hard frost on the car. Seems to be clear sky, though the wind is strong. Maybe I have to go back to the ocean again today... which I gotta admit is bad for the planet. Drive less, everyone agrees, and one of the discussion panelists said on Friday night. But, um, please may I think about ocean acidification tomorrow instead of today, please?

Clear weather Saturday, so to the ocean I went. These days I always drive to Rialto Beach via Quileute Prairie, in case the elk are there, but yesterday they were back on Beaver Prairie, (map showing Beaver & Quillayute in relation to ocean; Rialto is to the north of the river mouth at La Push) behind the field next to the highway where the llamas usually are. I almost didn't notice them, thought they were cows :-) It seems to my simple mind that there can't be TWO herds of elk wandering the west end, it must be the same group, maybe going up and down the Sol Duc River corridor. Someone at the Park probably knows. Looking out from up on Quileute Prairie, the Olympics stood out like crazy.

The Olympic Mountains core, from Quileute Prairie... (Click for larger image.)

There were eagles, over the lake and at the beach; and the surf was Very Quiet, just low white waves on a flat blue ocean even at high tide. No people for the first couple of hours, then a few.

Rialto Beach, quiet surf, December 5, 2009 (Click for larger image.)

Fresh red alder drift, easy to see it's new because of the color. In one spot an Old Giant Log sitting on top of a new red alder log, more evidence that things move around out there when the waves are wild.

Drift: old log on new Red Alder trunk (Click for larger image.)

On the way home was in wander mode, stopped to figure out where the mysterious lookout must be so I could look it up (turns out to be Kloshe Nanitch), and for the first of what will plainly be many efforts to make a portrait of the Emily Carr tree.

Lone snag. (Click for larger image.)

The days are very short. It remains cold. Friday night's heavy frost stayed in the hollows and shady places all through the day Saturday.

Almost home. Sky performance from Laird's Corner, 12/5/09 (Click for larger image.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Blame It On The Daylight (Absence of)

We are within two minutes of the sunset being as early as it gets. Yesterday and today, it set at 4:22 PM. From December 7th to 15th it will set at 4:20 PM. And then will begin the creep to longer afternoons. Thank the heavens.

I have a whole flock of blog posts lined up in my mind: about my week luxuriating in connection at Crestone; geographic meditations about the journey home; about the astonishing clear weather this week and how far you could see from up on the hill in the college library... but all I want to do at any given moment is lie around blasting through piles of library books one after the other, and at every given moment all phone calls, errands, blog compositions and floor moppings are postponed until tomorrow and tomorrow.