Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Just missed!

. . . and other glitches.

The walk under the trees was peaceful; out on the wetlands, the sun was warm. The weather was glorious, with a clear blue sky and pillows of white clouds on the mountain tops. Sparrows and robins sang in the weeds, thousands of bees buzzed in the lupins waving blue and pink flags on every hill. Cottonwood fluff drifted in the wind and speckled the pools and river. Just simply delightful!

There had to be a fly in that ointment. There was.

On the first leg of the path, grasshoppers popped up from under our feet, waved butterfly wings at us for a second or two, then settled to become invisible again. We stalked them with the cameras. They were too quick for us. The best I got was one shot, where I didn't even give the camera time to focus.

I've sent this to BugGuide for an ID. I'm stumped. Update: It's a Mourning Cloak butterfly, badly frayed. Thanks, Bug Guide people!

Oh, well; grasshoppers are like that. (Update: So are butterflies.) On! Between the trees we could see the boats moored on the Nicomekl river, and the mud flats adjoining, where once we saw flocks of sandpipers sleeping in the grass at the edge. We walked down a little trail to get a good look. No sandpipers. Not even a hint of one. No ducks, either.

But there were oysters. Piles of them, exposed at low tide.

Big guys with frilled edges

They cling to any anchor point in that sloppy mud.

I took it for granted that these were the native oysters that have been living in the Nicomekl for centuries, but didn't risk the mud to go and get a good look. But they're far too big; the natives are barely a couple of inches long, and these are as big as my hand. And they mound up on top of each other, rather than hiding under rocks.

As far as I can tell from the photos, they're the imported and invasive Japanese oysters.
Crassostrea gigas is an estuarine species, but can also be found in intertidal and subtidal zones. They prefer to attach to hard or rocky surfaces in shallow or sheltered waters up to 40 m deep, but have been known to attach to muddy or sandy areas when the preferred habitat is scarce. The Pacific oyster can also be found on the shells of other animals. Larvae often settle on the shell of adults, and great masses of oysters can grow together to form oyster reefs. (Wikipedia)
In some places in the world, though, it is considered by some to be an invasive species, where it is outcompeting native species, such as the Olympia oyster in Puget Sound, Washington . . .
... and here just across the border.

Around the corner, we stopped to take photos of the bees in the thimbleberry bushes, then looked over the pool on the inland side of the trail. Nothing in the grass, nothing on the water. We went on, and a minute or two later, stepped aside to let another walker pass.

"I just saw a fox in the grass back there!" she said, pointing at the fence we had just been leaning on. "It was so shiny!"

I kept looking for the fox the rest of the time. It never showed.

But we saw ducklings; 7 of them:

Way over there against the bank. See them? (I darkened them a bit to make them visible.)

We turned inland at the bridge, to walk back across the wetlands. On the bridge rail, a chipping sparrow was sitting, chipping away merrily. At least we saw him; all the photos show is a vaguely bird-shaped grey-brown splotch.

On the bridge, I was looking over the rail at the mud under the roots of the cattails. Laurie was a way back, trying unsuccessfully to take photos of the redwing blackbirds. Down in the muck, I heard a bird call, one I didn't remember hearing before. And there was a bird down there, a dark brown bird-shaped thing scooting away into the vegetation. I could hear his call, then, as he wandered around in the reeds, but I never saw him again. Nor did Laurie, when he came to help me look.

Looking through the books, I think -- I think -- that it's possibly a Wilson's snipe. A life bird! If you can count a one-second sighting.

On the trail through the grassy field, we passed the barn owl house. I had no hopes of seeing one; they would be sleeping, but still, I did entertain the thought that one might have thought of a mid-afternoon snack. Of course not!

And we passed the tree where, a few years back, a huge wasp nest had hung from an upper branch, like some kind of weird grey strawberry. I looked, but there were none in the tree now. On the home stretch, though, we walked under a broken red alder. In the gap where the wood had torn, there was an abandoned wasp nest, very tiny. I found a long stick and poked it out.

Looking almost straight up.

Very small. Lots of space inside; you can see the inner wall through the gap.

Another view, showing the cells. I can count 6; there are probably a couple of dozen in all. Their entry hole is at the right.

Thinking it over: missed shots, missed sightings and all; it was all wonderful.

And there were still the lupins. And their cloud of bees! (Photos of these, anon.)

(Someone thought I should make the photos larger. I'm trying that, to see how it looks.)


  1. your grasshopper looks like a Mourning Cloak Butterfly but paler

    Snipe is a good sighting. I see them ( rare) in eastern Washington, where they will sit on fence posts. I have heard them winnow in flight, but never heard them on the ground.

  2. I used to hear snipe over the marsh, but not in recent years...

  3. The Nicomekl used to be an oyster farm. So it's possible the ones you see are a remnant of that:

  4. Thanks, Tim.

    From that pdf:
    "Oysters that have accumulated in the Nicomekl system are a result of a historic oyster farming industry originally located near the mouth of the River. The oysters used in the farming industry were not native to the area. It is thought that these oysters have now colonized in the local reaches of the river system and are contributing to some extent to the siltation problem. The removal of the oysters would significantly impact other native aquatic species and, as such, their removal as part of any dredging operation would have to be authorized by FREMP."

    Things get complicated!


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