Thursday, February 7, 2013

Recent Day Hike

Between holiday madness and family health issues, my planned winter foraging did not pan out. Yesterday's day hike to Tolt McDonald Park (Carnation, WA) was my first time in the woods since I was at Lake Quinault last summer.  Here's to hoping I can get back sooner...

I used to wander and explore this place on a weekly basis but about 9 years ago, Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) began to aggressively take over sections of the mountain choking out the native plant life. I suspect that an attempt to eradicate it with pesticides was used but failed proving fatal to the Ames Lake frog population. A local paper then featured the park as a hot spot for mountain biking. Over the next few months a horde of too-often careless bikers descended upon the place leaving trash and carving new trails everywhere. As the frogs disappeared, the rest of the wildlife vanished soon thereafter and the forest became a silent overgrown jungle, even largely bereft of common bird life. Very depressing. I stopped visiting.

Since it had been almost a decade, I decided to give the place another shot, besides it's one of the few forests within an hour's drive of my home in Seattle. Only a few yards up the main entrance trail, I found very fresh Black-tail Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) prints. During the hike, bird activity was common at a baseline level and volume, I even saw three yearling Bald Eagles. Further up the mountain I found fresh Bobcat sign (photo below). Part of the mountain had been clear-cut, but the loggers had left a lot of the Oregon Maple (Acer macrophyllum) and Alder (Alnus rubra) alone, and replanted an unusually good variety of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) at healthy intervals from each other. 

I was absolutely delighted to find the knotweed completely gone -without a trace.

This was really, really encouraging. The place had become such a ruin, it was wonderful seeing it coming back to life. I'll definitely be going back.

Immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  over Tolt River, WA

Eastward view of Cascade Mtns from Ames Lake Plateau

With an overcast day and my cheap camera you can barely discern the Bobcat (Lynx rufus) print just minutes old in the center of this shot

Monday, November 26, 2012

Winter Gathering

Late autumn and winter shouldn't mean the end to gathering wild edibles here in the wet side of the Pacific Northwest. Here's my list (by no means exhaustive) of a few that can be found and used even during this time of year:

Nipplewort Lapsana communis
Oregon Maple Acer macrophylllum (seeds)
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Hairy Cat's Ear Hypochaeris radicata
Plantain Plantago major
Blackberry Rubus discolor, R. procerus, and R. laciniatus (leaves for tea)
Miner's Lettuce Claytonia perfoliata and C. sibirica
Chickweed Stellaria media
Wood Sorrel Oxalis oregana
Sheep Sorrel Rumex acetosella
Strawberry Fragaria vesca(leaves for tea)
Cattail Typha latifolia (roots)
Wild Onion Allium cernuum (roots)
Curly Dock Rumex crispus (seeds)
Western Hemlock Tsuga heterophylla (cambium)
Pine Pinus family(cambium)

I'll be giving these plants (and trees) more attention and explanation in posts to come. Identify and use at your own risk. Many edible plants have a poisonous look alike counterpart; wild onion and death camas for an example.

If in doubt, leave it out.

For further reading, a good book on wild edible plants that is organized by season is Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Weather Changes

I've been working swing shift hours lately; this morning when I emerged from bed at 11 am, I peeked out the window to check on who might be visiting our backyard bird feeder. The weather was calm, mostly overcast with a few sun breaks. Two squirrels (we only have one that lives in our yard) were hanging on upside down from the feeder which was spinning on it's 550 cord. The ground was covered in birds frantically tearing up the autumn leaf litter, Northern Flickers, Robins, Rufus Towhees, Varied Thrushes, Juncos, and others were busily creating a kaleidoscope of activity against the ground foliage. Whenever the squirrels would vacate the feeder to bury their finds, the birds would alternately attack the feeder, keeping it in a constant state of spinning and swaying.

Usually wildlife, including birds, will conduct most of their business at dawn and dusk. To get such an explosion of frenetic activity during the midday means we are about to get hit with a sudden shift in the weather, such as a severe rainstorm, some hail or even snow. When I've been out in the forest, I've been able to take advantage of this to find cover and enjoy the ensuing squall in relative comfort.

I watched the circus continue for almost half an hour, before the birds scattered in the "ditching" pattern, indicating that a raptor had entered the neighborhood. The "ditching" pattern is literally that: birds will abandon their baseline behavior to throw themselves into the bushes or other available cover to avoid an intruder. I've seen them run smack into windows doing this in their panic. Once "under cover" they will remain motionless for at least fifteen minutes before activity begins to return to normal.

It's fairly common to get bursts of activity in the backyard like this from time to time, but to have so many birds (and the squirrels) to carry on as long as they did means we should be in for a pretty good storm.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Colonel Bob Trail, Olympic National Forest

This trail had just opened up when I was at Lake Quinault for an overnight stay; not having any kids in tow I decided to take the opportunity to check it out and see how many miles I could cover in this rugged country.
View of Quinault Valley from the trail, just up from the trail head

Starting at an elevation of 200 and ending up at just under 4500, the grades weren't exactly easy, but the views proved to be worth it. The trail passes through virgin Olympic Rain Forest, behemoths like the ones below weren't uncommon: 
An ancient trail side White Fir Abies concolor

Closed since 2007 due to a massive amount of windstorm/blowdown damage, the trail was still pretty rough in spots. In a couple of places I had to crawl on all fours to get through some of the wreckage.
Trail damage
More trail damage, I can't even tell where the trail went through here from the photo
Trail side view, morning mists burning off in the sun
Huckleberries were still found in abundance despite the lateness of the season. Called comb-berries by the Indians, they were harvested by raking the bushes with large wooden comb-like implements while holding a wet cedar plank beneath. The loosened leaves would stick to the wet wood, while the berries would roll down the board into baskets. The berries are delicious, and the leaves are reputedly good for tea.

Red Huckleberry Vaccinium parvifolium
An empty river bed: even the rainforest hasn't been immune to the effects of our  record dry summer.
Trail side view

Beginning fall colors in the Olympics
Because I only had seven hours to work with, I gave myself four hours to hike in, then three to get out. I wasn't able to finish at the top because I ran out of time. From what I could tell that night from the topo map, I turned around with less than a mile left to go. While that was a little disappointing, on the other hand, my legs were killing me by that point; the grades on this trail are no joke.

Trail side view: subalpine meadow

View from turn around point, a great place for lunch. The silence was incredible!!!

View of Col Bob's Peak from my turn around point. So close!

Here's the link to the trail review I wrote for the Washington Trails Association. Despite my goal to cover a lot of ground with this hike, I was still privileged to witness a lot of bird activity (Song Sparrows, Robins, Winter Wrens, Spotted Towhees, etc) and find the occasional Elk, Cougar, and Black Bear sign. Capping out the hike, while on the last mile back to the car,  a Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) began circling overhead doing his trademark cinematic screams.

Washington State's Lake Quinault

View facing the south shore towards the Quinault Indian Reservation

I had the good fortune to stay overnight at Lake Quinault in the Olympic peninsula's rain forest. In my opinion, it's one of the most beautiful places here in Washington State. This gem of a lake was considered so sacred by the Quinault Indians that they never built any permanent residences there, visiting the lake only for the salmon runs or to conduct religious ceremonies.

Situated in a glacial carved valley, this area receives over 130 inches of rain a year. It's home to the world's largest Sitka Spruce tree on the south shore, and home to Washington State's largest tree on the north shore.

Washington State's largest tree: Western Red Cedar Thuja plicata

Sunset over Lake Quinault

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Red Clover

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Introduced from Europe, Red Clover is found across North America along roadsides and in open or cultivated areas. It's a perennial herb with creeping stems, stalked leaves in groups of three (four if you're lucky), and pink to purple toothy flowered heads. It blooms approximately (depending on elevation) March through September.

The entire plant is edible, with the young leaves and stems being the best. However the flower heads can be steeped to make a naturally sweet (and surprisingly good) tea that can be used to effectively help with chest congestion and sore throats. Steep three to five flower heads in one cup of near boiling water up to ten minutes.

Substantiating vs. Conclusive Sign

In the excellent book The SAS Guide to Tracking by Bob Carss, the author defines the distinctions between conclusive and substantiating sign. He defines conclusive sign as "... sign which is directly linked to the quarry, such as a boot print in soft ground." Substantiating sign is more uncertain, you know someone or something has passed through, leaving a disturbance but, "these... may or may not have been caused by the quarry."

Below we see a good example of substantiating sign. Here vegetation has been bruised, crushed, or twisted aside during someone/thing's passage off the side of a paved road. The change in the vegetation's color really stands out making it easy to notice with a casual look, but we're not left with a strong idea of who or what came through here. It may be possible to sift through the ground litter; by carefully lifting up the leaves from the forest loam we might find a definitive print, maybe some sort of shoe, toe, or claw mark underneath the leaves that could give us a reasonable idea of who or what came through here. Otherwise, judging from the approximate width of the gait, we can only rule out very small mammals or ground feeding birds.
Substantiating sign: bruised Common Ivy (Hedera Helix) and twisted Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) mark the passage of an unknown creature here.

This is shaping up to be one of the driest summers on record here in the Puget Sound. Our normally damp forest loam is currently talcum powder like in consistency. Even in areas of open or newly  disturbed soil fresh prints are maddenly vague, and with little to no moisture in our ground the track walls collapse immediately after the making, leaving impressions like the one below:  

Another example of substantiating sign: a fresh print with collapsed features from soil aridity

Roughly 2.5" in width with possible toe pad marks and the fact this print was along side a road commonly used by locals for jogging would give one the reasonable guess that this was made by a domestic dog. However, the powdery condition of the loam doesn't rule out the possibility of coyote, bobcat, skunk, or even fox; all of which are known to be in the area.