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Vashon Nature Center Wildlife Update

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by: Bianca Perla

As Thanksgiving approaches I am thankful for my time with the wildlife and natural areas on this island which constantly remind me that there is so much more to this existence than our human world.  It’s been quite an exciting few weeks.

After a series of cougar sightings in the northend ferry neighborhoods we had a 6 day break in sightings for the cougar. Perhaps, we thought, he’d gone to the north end of Vashon to take advantage of the full moon, nighttime low tides, and the shortest distance to the mainland to go for a swim. But, nope, he is still with us. On the 17th he was sighted in the Reddings Beach neighborhood at 7 pm gracefully ambling towards Christensen Ravine.  More info

Our wildlife camera network also gave us both a chuckle and a surprise recently….

Who’s this?  Here’s a better view

Yep! This guy is still with us too. We capture him regularly on our wildlife cameras. Otherwise, he is extremely good at keeping below the radar. This is a really well behaved bear.  We have had only one sighting of him reported in the last 2 months (but frequent camera captures)! And despite our still slightly sloppy garbage practices on this island he hasn’t cued in (YET).  Please secure your garbage just in case and if you have garbage pick-up try to put the cans out in the early morning if you can rather than letting them sit out all night. It would be a shame if this bear figured out free garbage was at his disposal.  More info

Salmonwatchers continue to count salmon coming up Judd and Shinglemill Creeks. So far this year we have counted 133 salmon and most of these are coho. The chum runs don’t seem to have ramped up quite yet. We call chum salmon our thanksgiving fish as they usually peak around that time so the best may be yet to come for them. Some salmon were spotted in Ellis Creek as well (coho and unidentified). To keep tabs on Vashon salmon visit our Salmonwatching page and let us know if you see a salmon even if you aren’t part of our salmonwatching program.

Watch this great video from Salmonwatch coordinator Kelly Keenan of salmon spawning in Judd Creek.

Another unexpected value of having Salmonwatchers on our creeks is that they see other wildlife too, sometimes wildlife we never knew occurred here. Salmonwatchers were responsible for finding the American dipper bird that we now know inhabits Judd Creek and has for the past 3 years.

Our new resident beaver building a dam. He is as industrious as the stereotype! Please help out and keep dogs on leash as you walk the creeks so that they don’t wander and disturb the beaver or the spawning salmon. photo by: Kelly Keenan

This year, Salmonwatcher Kimi Healy has found something really exciting!!! A beaver taking up residence! Beavers are fairly rare on Vashon.  They occasionally swim over but can get saltwater toxicity during the swim and some don’t survive. We’ve had 2 reports of beavers swimming over just this year. One ended at KVI and perished soon after. The other was reported from the westside of Vashon and might be this very one who is now happily building a home in an out of the way place on Shinglemill. Let’s please respect his/her privacy. You can help us by keeping dogs from wandering off leash both for the spawning salmon and our new beaver neighbor.

I am so happy about this news! Beavers are considered keystone species (having a larger influence on the ecosystem than one would expect from their numbers) through their ecosystem engineering.  The dams beavers make create pools that are used by fish and waterfowl, increase certain types of aquatic and riparian vegetation, and provide habitat for many different invertebrates.  Learn more

This PBS documentary on beavers is fascinating!!

Beavers eat plant material and are dependent on young shoots of various deciduous streamside trees and other plants. In Yellowstone the return of wolves decreased elk grazing in riparian areas, leading to more forage for beavers. This increased beaver populations and their structures which, in turn, greatly benefited river ecosystems. With all the changes in predator activity we’ve had over the last ten years, it makes me curious, are we starting to see some of these changes on a smaller scale on Vashon? Time will tell.  There are many factors that could be responsible for all these new visitors including land-use change on the peninsula, older and bigger forest areas on Vashon, and just random chance. Big thanks for the conservation efforts of the Land Trust in partner with King County and private landowners who protect and restore lands here. Protecting and restoring our forest, streams and greenbelts just might be working.  That’s a lot to be thankful for.

featured photo: Kelly Keenan

Champions for Biodiversity: Judd Creek BioBlitz 2016

photo by: Bella Ormseth

Thank you to all who turned out for BioBlitz 2016! What a wonderful 24 hours it was. Below you will find the preliminary highlights along with some photos.

But first, we’d like to share some fitting reflections on the BioBlitz experience from VNC Outreach and Program Coordinator, Kathryn True:

“Driving home from the 5th annual Island BioBlitz, I was sweaty and tired but at the same time, glowing and elated. I had just spent 24 hours on a free-for-all nature scavenger hunt with a bunch of kindred spirits—nature lovers who ooh and aww over a gargantuan newt, have fun interpreting the facial expression on a macro photo of a gorgeous but shy white moth and exclaim over the climbing feats of a plethora of banana slugs out in slug-style jubilation over the recent rains. “What’s at the heart of it all?” I wondered to myself as I turned up my driveway, head still spinning with the natural wonders we’d uncovered.

When people ask what is the point of a BioBlitz, I now have an answer for them. Humans, with our language and communication networks, are essential to the survival of those without internets and cell phones. We are the, possibly unwitting, champions for plants and critters who can’t speak our language. As we find them, ID them, and catalog their names, it’s akin to hearing the Who’s in Dr. Suess’ Whoville. “We are here, we are here, we are here!!” they are trying to tell us by simply being. And as naturalists, we acknowledge them and record their presence to share with those who may not hear them, but could benefit from listening.

What we learn goes way beyond the actual count—which is currently at 516 species for the 2016 BioBlitz, with many more photos still to decipher, ID, and add to the list—it is forging relationships with beings other than humans. By entering into this knowing, we commit to a contract of sorts: I see you and I will not ignore or harm you—and I will do my best to protect you.

The benefits go both ways. Over and over again during our BioBlitz I saw adults laughing like children, their eyes sparkling with pure joy. Perhaps because of its ability to continually amaze us, we become childlike when we explore nature. In this way, it is a conduit to return to youth. By sparking the open-hearted curiosity and creativity of children, perhaps it is the long-sought fountain of youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mother Earth hid that legendary “fountain” where it would benefit all life on earth. So, go ahead, sip freely of natural wonder and discovery—the animals and plants will love you for it, and you may feel years younger.”

Thank you Kathryn!!

Judd Creek BioBlitz is the 5th in a series of annual BioBlitzes that started in 2012. Together we have covered a varied array of island parks and preserves throughout the last 5 years.

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BioBlitz locations for the past 5 years cover a representative variety of island habitats and locations. map by: Bianca Perla

Vashon Nature Center is dedicating this next year to interpreting the vast amount of data we have collected these past 5 years and telling the stories of the life we have found. As Kathryn so aptly put it above, we seek to share with others that fountain of youth that springs open when we let our curiosity for nature run free:

2016 Statistics

Number of human participants: 142

Total number of species counted at close of BioBlitz 2016: 516 (largest preliminary count of all BioBlitz events!)

Judd Creek  is looking like a biodiversity hotspot on Vashon with higher counts in almost every category compared to other BioBlitz locales:

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This graph shows the number of different taxa or species in each major group surveyed for all 5 BioBlitz events. Judd Creek is higher than previous years in almost every category. Beach (shoreline species) counts were lower this year as the estuary beach has more limited habitat than previous beaches studied.

The theme of the day for plants in Judd Creek was WOW! WETLANDS! Judd Creek has many wet areas from the estuary saltmarsh at the mouth of Judd Creek to many small pocket freshwater wetlands throughout the watershed, some of which harbor unique individuals and communities not seen in other BioBlitz events. Team lead Jim Evans and his plant crew did an incredible job surveying and documenting these areas. They had a lot of ground to cover.

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Veronica scutellata, a wetland plant and first record for Vashon as far as we know. photo by: Mark Musick

Despite the overcast weather terrestrial arthropod team leads Harsi Parker, Rayna Holtz, Alan Warneke, Michelle Ramsden, and Heidi Hans Petersen found a great many insects and other arthropods for us this count, it will likely be the highest diversity of all BioBlitz events when the final count comes in.

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Terrestrial arthropod and plant crews converge and converse just before Judd Creek bridge on the Judd Creek loop trail. photo by: Jim Evans

Many insects revealed their unique personalities to us this year:

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“Move along, nothing to see here”, this moth (Spilosoma spp.) seemed to say to photographer Bella Ormseth.

Our favorite nighttime critter was… a tiny monkey? No it’s a ten-lined June beetle closer than you’ve ever seen it before! Thanks to Alden Hinden-Stevenson for this amazing up close shot.

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Ten-lined June beetle (Polyphylla decemlineata). Photo copyright: Alden Hinden-Stevenson

Rusty Knowler captured this serious looking damselfly that seemed to be watching our survey techniques with a critical eye during the pond surveys.

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Pacific forktail Damselfly photo by: Rusty Knowler

Thanks to Alan Warneke, Michelle Ramsden, and photographers Alden Hinden-Stevenson, Kieran Enzian, and Julian White-Davis for cataloging the nighttime flyers at our black-lighting stations.

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Bianca Perla (right) cataloging night flying insects with a UV light and sheet. photo by: Rusty Knowler

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Alden Hinden-Stevenson, Kieran Enzian and Rusty Knowler photo documenting night insects. photo by: Bella Ormseth

 

A nice complement of mammals were seen between our wildcams, tracking teams (led by Mallory Clarke and co), and small mammal live trap forays from plentiful Townsend’s voles, coast moles and deer mice, to black-tailed deer, eastern gray squirrel, native douglas squirrel, raccoon, river otter, coyote, and harbor seal.Our 6 Wildlife cameras picked up a coyote as well as quite a few deer, raccoons, wandering cats and this flock of strange and boisterous critters.

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Quinn Williams helps unload a small mammal live trap with the aid of small mammal team lead Bianca Perla. This trap revealed a deer mouse (Peromyscus spp.) with a tail several cm longer than other deer mice we caught making us wonder if it was actually the arboreal species of deer mouse. Looking up the tail dimensions later revealed this mouse was right on the border between the two so we conservatively classified it as the more common P. maniculatus. photo by: Rusty Knowler

This BioBlitz was a pond explorers dream with 4 ponds to survey. We found large non-native bullfrogs alongside native red-legged frogs and rough-skinned newts.

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Amphibian Team lead Gary Shugart and Alex Koriath return amphibian traps to the shore crew. photo by: Bella Ormseth

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Amphibian team lead Bianca Perla holds up second year bullfrog tadpoles. Photo by: Bella Ormseth

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Native Rough-skinned newts were plentiful in our ponds, likely their poisonous nature allows them to survive among non-native bullfrog populations. photo by: Rusty Knowler

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These native voracious invertebrate predators called water scorpions were very common sights in our pond explorations this year. photo by: Bianca Perla

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Bianca Perla takes amphibian traps out of Singer Pond. Thanks to Vashon Watersports for loaning paddleboards and kayaks for pond and beach surveys. photo by: Bella Ormseth

Matsuda Farm pond surprised us with a complete absence of amphibians in our traps. Five minutes before the end of the count a quick fish revealed the possible culprits—hungry large-mouth bass.  It’s probable that these fish plus the steep sides of the pond prevent much colonization by amphibians.

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Large-mouthed bass reign supreme in Matsuda Pond. Thanks to Rusty Knowler for employing his catch and release fishing skills to help us with identifying these fish.

Bird diversity was the highest of all previous BioBlitz events coming in at a total of 65 species with Ezra Parker and Kathryn True as team leads. Matsuda meadows have become known as a rare bird vortex over the past few years with many never before sighted birds some of which are quite rare in King County as a whole (i.e. western bluebird, white-tailed kite). None of the extremely rare birds were counted in our count probably due to the fact that most are picked up as they travel through on migration earlier in the spring. However, the base level of summer songbird biodiversity is quite impressive in these areas.

The owling crew led by Kelly Keenan and Sherry Lee Bottoms were treated to calls by young barred owls as well as young barn owls in the meadows around Paradise Valley.

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Cedar waxwing. Just one of the many birds that call Judd Creek streams, forests, and ponds home. photo by: Rusty Knowler

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Red-winged blackbirds abounded with Cedar waxwings at all Judd creek watershed ponds. photo by: Rusty Knowler

Our fungi team led by Wren Hudgins pulled in the most species ever for a summer BioBlitz at around 29 species. And our lichen, liverwort and moss team led by Phoebe Goit did the same with the highest count ever along with a mysterious unidentifiable specimen that is now making the rounds at the Puget Sound Mycolocgical Society. Last time Phoebe Goit found a mystery it ended up at the Burke herbarium as the first record in the state. We will keep you updated.

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How many moss, lichen, liverworts, and fungi can you see on this branch? photo by: Bella Ormseth

Fish revealed themselves quite easily as well from the large-mouthed bass in Matsuda Pond to juvenile salmonids and sculpin in Judd Creek to young coho and perch schools found by our snorkel team as they swam in the estuary. The beach crew was led by Maria Metler and Rayna Holtz.

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Beach team leads Maria Metler (left) and Rayna Holtz (right) go over their shoreline lists for Judd creek estuary. Maria also led a high tide snorkel crew that added many fish to our count. And Vashon Watersports generously loaned us kayak and paddleboard transportation! Photo by: Jay Holtz

With the 5th BioBlitz drawing to a close we’ve realized just how amazing this community is that has been formed around these events. We had every age represented in abundance and working together, learning together and enjoying each other’s company. And all of us bonded together by our love for the wild.

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The night crew holding down basecamp with a good card game. photo by: Bianca Perla

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People and kids of any age can participate and be helpful. This is one of the beauties of BioBlitz events. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

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Yvonne Kuperburg (left) and Karen Perla (right) are our BioBlitz basecamp stars having volunteered in all 5 BioBlitz events! photo by: Jane Neubauer

We now have children in the community who have lived more than half their lives going through our annual BioBlitz events.

Bioblitz 2015, Maury Island, Vashon

All of these junior naturalists have made the BioBlitz the kick off to their summer vacation for years now. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

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Cisco Adams-Tres age 2 knocked out after his first island BioBlitz at Neill Point in 2012. photo by: Jeff Adams

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The same Cisco Adams-Tres at age 7 working the BioBlitz micrscope station with Jeff Adams at BioBlitz 2016. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

More than anything else participating in a BioBlitz shows us how amazing life is on this planet and how connected we are to those around us–fellow nature lovers, plants, animals, landscapes and all life. We look forward to taking this next year to share the story of the BioBlitz, it’s people, and all the living beings that share this island with us and deserve our kinship and respect:

“When I myself look at other animals, I almost never see an otherness. I see the overwhelming similarities; they fill me with a sense of deep relation. Nothing makes me feel more at home in the world than the company of wild relatives. Nothing else except the deepest human love feels as right, as connected, or puts me at such peace.”

—Carl Safina, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

A heartfelt thank you to all who participated and to our sponsors:  Vashon Maury Island Land Trust, Vashon Watersports,  King County, Mountaineers Foundation, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and to all the individuals who shared their time volunteering at base camp, on crews, and as lead scientists (what a team!), who baked home cooked food , and who donated their hard earned cash to help us with expenses like food, porta potty rental and other supplies, every bit helped.

Thanks to all who keep this feeling of curiosity and love for nature alive in the world.

Nature at the Door

With apologies for anthropomorphism.

Recently my friend, Kate, told me about being awakened in the middle of the night by her yowling cats. She walked into the kitchen and looked out her glass door, expecting to see a raccoon on the other side. Instead she found a young river otter, paws pressed to the glass as he (or she) looked questioningly at her pets. At first the otter didn’t see Kate, so she watched as he seemed to implore her kitties to quiet down already and come out and play. “What IS all the ruckus about?” his brown eyes seemed to ask. But the minute the otter caught sight of the human observing him, he was off in a flash. The image has stuck with me: the sleek river otter on his hind legs, toe-pads flattened against the door, nose to the glass. It makes me smile to think of wild beings peering in on our lives, possibly as curious about us as we are about them.

As I write this, a two-point buck with lovely gnarled, bumpy antlers chews its rumen mbuckseditatively in the grass a few yards behind my house. I imagine him pitying me this boxed-in life, a captive of a glowing screen. He sits impervious to the steady rain as an Anna’s hummer shoots around his head.

 

This bird regularly visits a feeder outside my office window. Aha! He just dive-bombed a competitor a few feet from my face. I marvel at these birds’ accuracy at such speed—how can they calculate their trajectory without hitting things like my window, a tree or that buck’s regal nose? I’m surprised I’ve never found one pinned beak-first into the soil beneath the feeder. When the sugar water runs low, they hover near my window and seem to accuse me, or perhaps their chittering buzz is a friendly reminder? As I watch each day—near enough to observe their silvery forked tongues flicking the improvised nectar into their mouths, close enough to see them swallow—how much are they watching me back?pileated

Yesterday, a Pileated Woodpecker yelled repeatedly from the pine tree just off our deck. I watched him swoop gracefully down to a felled, rotten willow and begin to tear it apart—his beak a food-seeking missile. How does he not get splinters, I wondered, as I tried to capture a photo of him at work. When I took one step too close, his red moustache gave an annoyed flick and the bird was off to a neighboring alder, where he seemed to “peek-a-boo” me around the tree trunk, watching cautiously, but attentively, as I unloaded my car. “What burdens these people have!” his laugh scolded as he swooped away.

When I think of all the critters I have been lucky enough to encounter in this little North-end spot I call home—Barred Owl, rough-skinned newt, coyote, banded alder-borer, Pacific chorus frog, raccoon, cardinal meadowhawk and American Snipe to name a few—I wonder how much the feeling is mutual. They usually hurry away when they catch me watching them, but at other times, are they secretly observing my daily activities? Do I make them curious or frustrated? Do I make them laugh?pac c frog

This frog’s not telling.