Winter Science Adventures

The weather is getting frightful, but citizen science remains delightful! Vashon Nature Center volunteers are contributing to some amazing projects. See below for a short photo summary of winter activities so far:

VNC Salmonwatchers: November brought the first photo documented record of Chum salmon using Fisher Creek! Thanks to Salmonwatcher Mary Shackleford for spotting the fish and Salmonwatch coordinator Kelly Keenan for obtaining the video footage to confirm. Jill Andrews also helped document more chum coming up after the initial sighting! Our photo documented data will be used to update King County records of fish use in Vashon streams and will increase the known spawning habitats in these creeks considerably.

First photo documented Chum Salmon in Fisher Creek, Vashon Island from Vashon Nature Center on Vimeo.

VNC Puget Sound Mussel Monitoring: VNC is participating in a program that has just deployed 94 mussel cages throughout Puget Sound to monitor for a variety of pollutants including heavy metals and some pesticides. This program made the news!  Thanks to Hooper Havekotte for ferrying the mussels across to Vashon and helping deploy the mussel cage late at night in the pouring rain a few weeks ago! 2015/2016 results

Thanks Hooper for your dedicated mussel cage deployment help! photo: Bianca Perla

These mussels (in the blue bags) will sit in Quartermaster harbor until February when VNC volunteers will retrieve them and send them to a lab to test for a variety of heavy metals and pesticides.

VNC BeachNET: our BeachNET team just got back from a lovely night combing the beach for forage fish eggs, finding Pacific herring, and stopping to gaze periodically at the Geminid meteor shower and learn some astrology. Thanks to Kat, Adria and Alex for a wonderful survey night! Here Kat holds a herring she found and Alex, Adria, and Kat string out the survey line.

BeachNET volunteer Kat holds a Pacific herring she found on our last beach survey beneath the Geminid meteor shower. Keep an eye out for herring spawning on eel grass around Vashon starting in February and let us know if you see any eggs! photo by: Bianca Perla

BeachNET volunteers Alex, Kat, and Adria play out the sample line for forage fish surveys. photo by: Bianca Perla

Thank you to all 33 BeachNET volunteers who are helping us monitor island beaches for forage fish spawning and monitor changes to the beach ecosystem as a result of bulkhead removal. This research is in partnership with King County, Washington Department of Natural Resources, University of Washington and graduate student Kirsten Miller of Evergreen college. Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust is our fiscal sponsor for this project and Vashon High School students in the AP Environmental Science class are helping us with surveys as well!

Nature Lounge: We had a nice turn out for our most recent Nature Lounge at Snapdragon where islander and Pt. Defiance Senior aquarist, Chad Widmer, spun fascinating stories about his research subject– jellyfish! The discussion was lively and entertaining and touched on jellyfish life cycles, jellyfish and climate change, and even whether jellyfish can learn. Thank you Chad for a really great night.  We can’t wait to visit Pt. Defiance when the new exhibits open this summer! Stay tuned.


Jellyfish expert and Senior Aquarist for Pt. Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Chad Widmer delights VNCers with his glass blown replicas of all stages of the jellyfish life cycle. Thanks Chad!

Don’t miss the upcoming events: Full moon beachwalk, VNC Naturalist workshop on Nature Observation, and the March Nature Lounge on Green crabs with  Jeff Adams from UW Seagrant! More info on our Events page.

Contact us to get involved in any of these citizen science activities.

Happy Winter everyone!

A BioBlitz Retrospective: Why Everyone Counts

A young naturalist gets a lift up to view surf smelt eggs under the microscope. Photo: Kelly Keenan

Six years ago, I met Vashon Nature Center’s director Bianca Perla at Vashon Tea Shop. I had read about the center in an article in The Beachcomber and I wanted to learn more. I was looking for a new volunteer venture and as a longtime naturalist, the organization’s goals spoke to me. After we introduced ourselves, Bianca dove right into the task at hand: She wanted to hold a BioBlitz the following June—just a few months away. I had heard about these 24-hour species counts, and loved the idea of helping to launch one close to home. I scribbled notes as we sipped our tea, and I left that day with a to-do list. We were going to make this happen!

That first Vashon Nature Center BioBlitz in 2012, held at Neill Point on the south-end of Vashon, was more fun that I ever expected. From finding the first (and only butterfly) species

VNC Director Bianca Perla greets guests at the BioBlitz retrospective show on Nov. 17. Photo: Kelly Keenan

of the day with my 13-year-old—a Western Tiger Swallowtail— to viewing for the first time the transparent sci-fi-esque body of a skeleton shrimp. Though our ages ranged from 2 to 82, we were all like kids that day—playing in the woods and on the beach, discovering pond bugs that breathe by holding little bubble packets to their faces and that chipmunks thrive in certain island forests.

Attendees peruse field guides–important BioBlitz tools! Photo: Kelly Keenan

It seemed ridiculous that we were having so much fun and still doing the work of real science—witnessing and recording the diverse wildness that shares this island with us. Even Homo sapiens was counted—not above, but right alongside the finger-nail sized pond snail and the Bald Eagle. Our slogan of “Everyone counts” perfectly held the event’s delightful double entendre—at a BioBlitz, everyone counts and every one is counted.

For four more years we repeated the fun, growing our team of volunteers and supporters—and recording a total of 1,134 (and counting!) species at five different island locations.

This month we celebrated and shared the accomplishments of this community-driven citizen-science effort at an open house held in the Land Trust’s Heron Room. The “show” will be up for another few weeks, and we invite you to come view hundreds of photos of our island neighbors—web-footed, winged and shelled. Take time to read the posters to learn about the BioBlitz mysteries solved and not. Perhaps you hold one of the answers?

We will begin another BioBlitz series in 2018, and invite you to join us as we continue our quest to record—and in this way honor—as many island species as possible. At this time on Earth—on the edge of what is being called the sixth extinction—it feels more urgent than ever to recognize the brilliant, vital existence of every single being and blade of grass. Every one counts!

Attendees enjoy learning tidbits about each VNC BioBlitz on posters featuring photos of species found during each event. Photo: Kelly Keenan



Thank you Stream Team 2017!

Over the last few days we had an intrepid team of 10 volunteers join our stream team, rearrange their schedules to beat the oncoming rains, and conduct our 5th annual stream invertebrate survey of Vashon creeks. We finished exactly 1/2 an hour before the fall rains started!

Bianca holds a golden stonefly. Stoneflies are predators eating other invertebrates. They need cold, clean water and are one of the most important foods for salmon and trout. Some fishermen call these salmon flies. photo by: Laurel Saville

 Invertebrates in the creeks are like canaries in the coal mine for detecting the health of streams. They are food for salmon, trout, sculpin, and crayfish among others and different invertebrates are tolerant or intolerant to different stressors (for example temperature, pollution, desiccation). Knowing what animals are living in our creeks helps us know how to better take care of our watersheds. These surveys are long and involved and we absolutely couldn’t do them on the scale that we do without our community pitching in. Thank you!!!
Data for all past years is stored on:
We had many interesting finds this time and the stream teams were super fun to work with at all the creeks.
Here are some highlights:

–In Ellis, despite what looked like a good water level, a cursory look at the samples seemed to indicate very low levels of life. This was puzzling. We will see if this is true as we go through the samples more closely.

Pull! Pull! It’s all fun and games until someone gets their boots sucked off in the knee deep mud…well it’s still all fun and games really. This team was a hoot. photo by: Diane Emerson

–In Gorsuch, we were pleasantly surprised to find a healthy population of small trout. Rusty and Adria were able to catch one. Initially I labeled it a cutthroat as it had the distinctive slash on the throat. However, after turning a photo into the county fish biologist it appears there’s a chance it might be a cutbow which is a hybrid between a cutthroat and a rainbow. This would indicate that at some point this creek may have supported rainbows/steelhead or maybe still does.

It was THIS BIG! Say Adria and Rusty about the cutthroat trout they caught. While it is a little fish it is a super cool find. Last official record of trout in Gorsuch creek was 2001 so it’s great to know they are still around. Also, this might be a cutthroat/steelhead/rainbow trout hybrid as it has characteristics of both. This is significant because while there are stories from old-timers of steelhead in our creeks, there has never been a confirmed record. photo by: Bianca Perla

Small trout in Gorsuch creek. The slight orange chin slash identifies this as cutthroat. However the dorsal parr marks, the white tip of the dorsal that spans more than 3 fin rays, and the solid black outline on the adipose fin all identify this as rainbow/steelhead. Could we have a hybrid “cutbow”? This is a very small fish so it is really hard to tell but it is a possibility.

–In Judd, we found a lot of life! Many caddisflies and stoneflies. This was balanced out with a heavy load of black flies (probably due to the higher temps in the water this year). However, overall the creek looked pretty good. It has consistently improved in quality since King County put logs in this stretch. We also found sculpin, small salmonids (we couldn’t catch them so don’t know whether they were salmon or trout), and a native signal crayfish in a deep pool!
–Plants: we found a small knotweed infestation on Gorsuch (this is highly invasive). In our other stream surveys we found significant patches of morning glory and holly. We will notify the proper management agencies to see if we can get these removed. We might be calling on the community for help if agencies are too booked or under-funded to get it done.
The samples from Ellis and Judd will make their way to the 6th grade science classrooms this fall where Vashon Nature Center scientists will work with students to sort and classify the samples. After this the samples classification is verified by a professional lab and data is uploaded onto the Puget Sound Stream Benthos database (link in text above).  This stream survey work and the classroom unit is supported by Schools Foundation, PIE, King County Groundwater Protection Committee, and the Rose Foundation.
Here is a photo album with more from our time on the creeks. Enjoy!
Thanks again to everyone for a great and productive trip to the streams. We could absolutely not do this on the scale that we do without the help of our community. Thank you for helping take care of our streams. 
We do this every year. If you’d like to be involved please email: