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BioBlitz 2015: Maury Island Preserve Network

Mount Rainier from Maury Natural Area. photo by: Kathy Bosler

A few days before the BioBlitz I sat on driftwood logs at Maury Island Marine Park beach and took a moment to meditate on the upcoming weekend.  This has become a tradition for me before every BioBlitz survey. I’m not sure how it started or exactly why I am compelled to do it but it feels necessary to me to make sure that I am in the right mindset before diving into the weekend. During this time of reflection I also like to send out a silent message to the animals and plants of these protected parks letting them know that we are coming to gently record their presence, to celebrate and enjoy them, and to get to know our home on a deeper level. I have no idea if anything besides me senses my thoughts or the shift in my energy out there but it benefits me regardless.

This time as I sat pondering, a big fat sea lion irreverently broke into my silent mood with his snorting and spraying. Diving under and resurfacing, he peered at me crazily with his glassy eye, snorting out water again. He made me laugh at the seriousness of my focus and I waved and called out to him, “Come back Friday so we can count you!”

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Male California sea lion. Stock photo, I’m not that good with my iphone!

Friday late afternoon at Maury Island Marine Park, the shoreline team had come and gone, the reptile survey had turned up western fence lizards, a northwestern garter snake, and a possible alligator lizard sighting. The heat of the afternoon sun was starting to diminish and the tide was coming back in. During this lull in activity, as we switched from one survey to the next, I took a moment to walk to the beach. Sure enough, along came guess who? Ever so non-subtly, snorting and rippling through the water. He was mammal species number one on our BioBlitz 2015 list, and a perfect start to a wonderful weekend.

Below is a synopsis of other things that happened that weekend (classified into semi-orderly taxonomic groups…we are naturalists after all). Our preliminary field count came in at 408 species, the highest ever for us! In these subsequent weeks, as more identifications come in, it continues to rise. There is a lot of life out there.

Fungi

Mycologist Danny Miller shows Bianca Perla some fungi specimens. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

Thanks to Danny Miller from the Puget Sound Mycological Society we had a strong fungi team this year for one of the first times ever.  In a very dry spring, and on the driest part of the island, Danny and his team were still able to find 16 species of fungi to add to our count.

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One of 16 species of fungi that the fungi team found. Don’t eat this one! photo by: Bianca Perla

Spend five minutes with Danny and you will not only know a few new species, but you will also learn about the different evolutionary pathways of fungi and realize just how amazing mushrooms (and the people that love them) can be. We are hoping to convince Danny to come back in the fall to give an educational tour in some of our wetter island areas to teach us more! Stay tuned.

Lichen

Phoebe Goit , with the help of Marcy Summers as trail guide, walked the Douglas Fir and Pacific Madrone forests of Dockton Forest and came up with 3 liverwort species, 21 moss species and 24 lichen species, as well as this slime mold (passed along by the fungi team) that we believe is Stemonitopsis typhina  (still awaiting confirmation).

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A slime mold photographed by Phoebe Goit under the microscope.

Phoebe has come to all 4 of our BioBlitz events and we now have 88 species of lichens, mosses, and liverworts and one rare fungi documented on Vashon and Maury Islands because of her work—thanks Phoebe!

Plants

Jim Evans led 2 crews of volunteers to cover an amazing range of ground for the plant team.  They catalogued the highest diversity of plants we’ve ever had in a BioBlitz on Vashon at 185 species. The plant team covered forests of Pacific Madrone, second growth Douglas Fir, the disturbed seaside bluffs of both Maury Marine Park and Maury Natural Area (former Glacier site), and the seaside forests and restored marsh area of Dockton Park.  In addition, Jim took note of an interesting micro-habitat with an eastside correlate. Jim says,

“In the highly disturbed environment of the upper Glacier gravel pit, there exists a curious habitat probably found nowhere else on Vashon-Maury.  With winter pooling (over compacted substrate) followed by summer desiccation, the habitat is similar, in a seasonal sense, to the vernal pools of Eastern Washington & elsewhere in the Pacific states, but lacks the highly specialized & unique flora of those areas. Still, this habitat hosts species that are surprising to find in that area, including: Salix scouleri, Eleocharis palustris, Juncus tenuis, Juncus effusus, and several annuals — Gnaphalium uliginosum, Filago arvensis, and most abundant of all, a small annual I have, unfortunately, yet to identify. “

Pacific madrone forest Maury Island. photo by: Diane Emerson

Pacific madrone forest Maury Island. photo by: Diane Emerson

Unlike the Pacific Madrone forests that had few non-natives, much of the diversity in the seaside bluff areas was composed of non-native species as these bluffs have been highly disturbed from former gravel mining operations. Non-native plants made up 45% of all plants in the survey with a total of 10 species considered noxious weeds. No surprise that there is a lot of restoration opportunity in these areas.  Many of the habitats and micro-habitats in this complex of protected areas exist nowhere else on our islands.

Terrestrial arthropods

Harsi Parker, Alan Warneke, and Michelle Ramsden took on the formidable task of terrestrial arthropods again this year coming up with close to 100 different taxa, many of which remain to be identified. Harsi Parker’s incredible macro-photography skills have come in handy for us in getting identifications nailed down.  To give an idea of the arduous and lengthy process of identifying insects, just days before the start of BioBlitz 2015 we received word about an exciting species identification on a psyllid (Trioza albifrons) that Harsi photographed in our very first BioBlitz at Neil Point Natural Area in 2012!

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Possibly the first native katydid to be observed on Vashon-Maury Islands (Scudderia furcata). We are awaiting confirmation. photo by: Harsi Parker

This year Harsi was particularly excited about having found what she tentatively believes is the first native katydid she has seen on the islands–Fork-tailed Bush Katydid nymph (Scudderia furcata). We are awaiting confirmation. In addition, Harsi observed that the cross section of insects in these dry areas was somewhat different than the wetter Bioblitz locations we have surveyed in the past which brought in some new creatures for our island lists including possibly two new fly families (Bee Flies (Family Bombyliidae) and Thick-headed Flies (Family Conopidae)) and a few biological control agents (a Leaf Beetle (Family Chrysomelidae) often brought in to control St. John’s-wort and a Seed Weevil (Family Brentidae) that can control Scotch Broom.

David Giuon photographs night insects at the Dockton Park black light. Together our two black light efforts brought in an estimated 40 unique night taxa. photo by: Kelly Keenan

Alan Warneke and Michelle Ramsden had good success with their black light trap at Maury Marine Park, pulling in about 30 night time taxa of moths, wasps, beetles, craneflies and others. Bianca Perla, Kelly Keenan, Natalya Bender, and Cazimir and Bohdin Mozeleski set up a black light at Dockton Park, which after some finagling to avoid parking lot lighting, pulled in upwards of 14 different taxa.

A moth trying to charge itself on our blacklight battery at Dockton Park. photo by: Kelly Keenan

Shoreline

What a shoreline team we had this year, and we needed them!!! We covered 3 very different looking beaches over two low tide periods during the BioBlitz and the initial count estimate hovered around 100 different species!

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Beach naturalist teams survey Maury Natural Area beach, one of three beaches covered in Bioblitz 2015. photo by: Bianca Perla

Our shoreline teams were led by: Rayna Holtz (head team leader, Vashon Beach Naturalists), Shannon Hennessey and Jeff Adams (UW), Jamie Kilgore (Washington DNR), Gina Piazza and Doris Smalls (WDFW).

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Shannon and Joanne Hennessey identifying an amphipod at Maury Natural Area. photo by: Bianca Perla

Chad Widmer from Pt. Defiance Zoo and Aquarium magically appeared Friday afternoon to give us a detailed species list of jelly fish. Maria Metler, Kelly Keenan, Amy Bogaard, Adria Magrath, and Leslie Enzian ran snorkel surveys for organisms at Dockton and manned our touch tank at base camp this year much to the delight of base camp visitors and staff alike.

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Maria Metler, brave member of the snorkely survey team. photo by: Kathryn True

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Karlista Rickerson teaches basecamp crowds about marine plankton. photo by: Bianca Perla

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Harbor school 5th graders joined the Bioblitz count on Friday afternoon helping both beach naturalists and reptile teams gather data at Maury Marine Park. photo by: Kelly Keenan

Reptiles and amphibians

Harbor School 5th graders helped with both the shoreline survey at Maury Marine Park Friday afternoon and the reptile survey. Eager eyes and great exploratory instincts resulted in us finding western fence lizards within minutes of the start of the count. As mentioned in the plant section, the south facing, dry and exposed slopes of Maury Island create a unique habitat. Consequently, these areas are some of the only areas where certain reptiles, like western fence lizard and rubber boa, are found on the islands.  We had the highest number of reptile species counted in a BioBlitz on Vashon so far which, incidentally, is only 3: Western Fence Lizard, Alligator lizard, and Northwestern garter snake.

Northern alligator lizard (Elgaria coerulea). As most observations of this lizard over the weekend were fleeting this photo taken by Bella Ormseth was critical in confirming identification.

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A western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) sunning at Maury Marine Park. Some sources say that these lizards can appear dark, almost black like this one, before they have warmed in the sun. Otherwise they are gray and tan in color with chevrons and stripe. The males have blue throat patches. photo by: Kelly Keenan

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Zea Day Tharp holding her notable find, an ensatina and the only amphibian in the count this year, before returning it to its home. Ensatinas can be very site specific using the same location (under their favorite sword fern for example) for multiple years. photo by: Kathryn True

Try as we might the elusive rubber boa snakes never made an appearance, even with our pit trap efforts and night walks, but they have been seen in these seaside bluff habitats in the past and boy could we feel their presence in some of those suspicious looking holes we found.

Seven year old Zea Day Tharp made a pivotal discovery at base camp on Saturday morning. Her cries of, “Bianca, Bianca, Bianca!! …..I FOUND AN AMPHIBIAN!!!!” were music that is still echoing in my ears. Her discovery gave us the only amphibian of the count despite our dropboard lines and rotten log searches, way to go Zea! And thanks to the ensatina for showing up to be counted.

Birds

Ezra Parker, Kathryn True, Karen Fevold, Sue Trevathan, Steve Caldwell, and Sherry Lee Bottoms rounded out our bird team bringing in 60 different bird species. Steve took on the owling shift and was able to record a barred owl ironically only on his way to meet the survey team that night. Still it counts! Some other exciting finds include a barrow’s golden eye that was sticking around Dockton slightly late in the season, and drum roll please, 3 Marbled Murrelets foraging offshore at Maury Marine Park! This is nesting season for the federally threatened Marbled Murrelet and so this finding is a significant one. These birds need old growth trees (preferably 200 years old or more) for nesting and can forage far from their nesting sites (nests can be up to 15 miles inland from marine waters). Unless they have found some nice large trees on Vashon that we don’t know about, these Marbled Murrelets could be nesting somewhere in the old-growth forests of the Olympic Peninsula, and flying to our shores to forage on small fish and crustaceans. Just one more reason to keep our shorelines healthy, protected, and thriving for these hard working parents!

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Sue Trevathan looking through her scope to find the surprise in the next photo! photo by: Sherry Lee Bottoms

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Federally threatened Marbled Murrelets were found by the birding team foraging off shore of Maury Island Marine Park. photo by: Sherry Lee Bottoms

Mammals

Thirty people turned out to help Ellen Kritzman and I set 50 live traps for voles and mice and 8 pit traps for reptiles and shrews in Maury Marine Park this year.

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Participants help Bianca Perla unfold, load, and set live traps for small mammals to be checked early the next morning. We captured Townsend’s voles for the first time this year. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

Participants helped us find signs of voles including tunnels, runways, and droppings. All this effort paid off because in addition to the ubiquitous deer mice, we got Townsends voles in our live traps for the first time.

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A vole tunnel, just one of many signs of small rodent activity that we look for when surveying for mammals. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

We also measured the tail lengths of our deer mice. Deer mice that are more arboreal tend to have longer tails and hind feet to help them negotiate tree habitat. We found one candidate with a slightly longer tail than others (72 mm tail length) who coincidentally was trapped in the forest rather than the meadow. The tail length was on the high end but still falls within the described tail range for the species of 45-105mm.

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Quinn Williams, surprisingly chipper on 4 hours of sleep, helps mammal experts collect the mammal traps. photo by: Bianca Perla

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Temporarily holding a Townsend’s vole for measurements before releasing it. Photo by: Orion Knowler

Just as we were putting away the last live trap on the Maury Marine Park shoreline one of our mammal crew, Will Grace shouted, “Look!”  We all turned towards the marine world and were treated to 5 Dall’s porpoises swimming by!

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Part of the mammal team, Jason and River WIlliams and Isa Knowler, were drawn to the beach after Dall’s porpoises were seen. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

Wilderness trackers Ted Packard and Annika Fae observed both a Townsend’s chipmunk and mink tracks (the actual mink was glimpsed by Orion and Isa Knowler and Quinn Williams who were not 100% sure of what they saw, so Ted and Annika’s track identification was crucial to the confirmation).  Kathryn True found coyote scat and many beach goers reported harbor seal sightings. Our wildlife cameras brought in photos of raccoons, Canada geese, and black-tailed deer. A dead shrew found on the trail rounded out the count at 14 species.

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A young buck passes by wildlife camera 5 in the early morning. One of our wildlife cameras on the shoreline had 3000 photos on it. We got very excited until we realized it had been tripped with each wave! Cameras also captured raccoons, birds, dogs, and humans.

Base camp

What a base camp crew we had this year! One of our participants who had been to the first BioBlitz in 2012 and who had not been able to return until this year gave us some good perspective on how our efforts have grown. In 2012 Yvonne Kuperburg held down a base camp of 1 under a small canopy with a tiny card table and a cardboard sign. This year we had 16 base camp volunteers, including a stellar nightguard and set up take down crew (thanks to Cazimir and Bohdin Mozeleski and the Land Trust intern crew)!

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Yvonne Kuperburg holding down basecamp as the ONLY basecamp volunteer in our first BioBlitz. Yvonne, gets the BioBlitz best volunteer award as she has been at basecamp every single year since. Thank you Yvonne!! photo by: Bianca Perla

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Finally we got Yvonne some help. Thank you basecamp crew 2015! Look how we’ve grown. photo by: Jane Neubauer

Besides signing everyone in, keeping a base camp species list, and keeping all efforts organized and coordinated our base camp crew got to oversee interpretive booths from the Vashon Beach Naturalists, Washington Department of Natural Resources and others.

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A biological illustration table at basecamp generated beautiful sketches of some of the scenes from the weekend. Thank you to our artists, biological illustrators and members of the general public who tried their hands at this table!

We also had a drawing table where anyone could try their hands at biological illustration under the guidance of professional illustrators and artists: Gay Roselle, Bella Ormseth, and Sandra Noel. Susie Fitzhugh and Alex Koriath created some lovely and engaging activities for a junior ranger program and the Audubon button making machine was put to good use making buttons for many new junior naturalists.

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Adria Magrath teaches new BioBlitzers the ropes at the base camp touch tank. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

Karlista Rickerson, Adria Magrath, and Hazel Wilding manned our microscope tables throughout the event along with scientists from the field who used these scopes to help them identify marine, insect, and fungi species.

Our sponsors

The Mountaineers Foundation, Vashon Maury Island Land Trust, Washington Department of Natural Resources, King County, and Vashon Watersports have been instrumental in our ability to improve this event and provide more depth, capacity, and fun for everyone involved. Thank you!!!!

Thanks to all

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Building community. Each year BioBlitz events bring together more naturalists of all experience levels to learn from each other and enjoy exploring nature together. All of these folks are walking treasures. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

We had over 175 people participate in the BioBlitz event this year. THANK YOU everyone!!! This work that we do together is not only fun, it is important. The natural history information that we generate and the growing and deepening naturalist community are rich community assets.

Today, in all aspects of society, from research and education to politics and popular culture, focused attention on the natural world is slim. Yet the fundamental knowledge generated by careful observation (where species live, what other species they are associated with, what their needs and habits are, how they are changing through time) is critical to many important decisions we make concerning the function of natural systems—the same systems that support our own species physically and spiritually. All of you who have participated in the BioBlitz events help to turn the tide just by using your senses to observe the reality of the larger world around you.

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Through the eyes of a naturalist even the small things in nature can take your breath away. Sea urchin photo by: Kelly Keenan

When participating in careful observation of nature alongside others for a full 24 hours, I cannot help but increase my sense of respect and gratitude for the earth in which I live. Each time I participate I become more rooted in the reasons I do this work: I love the wilds of these islands strongly; I love the authentic, humble, and joyful curiosity that emanates from our local community of naturalists and from the new people drawn to this event each year; and I love the renewed perspective I get from seeing such detail in life and from witnessing how beautifully people of all ages can connect with the non-human elements of our world and with each other.

Renowned naturalist and educator Thomas Fleischner speaks of what happens inside us when we focus our attention on the natural world: “It prods us out of our own melodramas, connects us with larger forces and mysteries, and maybe even offers ideas for new human habits. The Earth doesn’t so much ask as invite us—to live fully awake and alert to each new moment. Seeing what is really there, imagining what lies beyond our sight.”—from Fleischner’s essay, What does Earth ask of us?

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Part of the new generation of naturalists building their connection with nature and with each other. photo by: Susie Fitzhugh

Although this year’s BioBlitz has ended, let’s all make a commitment to keep growing our healthy sense of curiosity. This curiosity invites us to notice, imagine, and connect so that our relationship with nature and with each other continues to deepen. It’s good for us and for the planet.  See you at BioBlitz 2016!!!

Featured photo–Mt.Rainier from Maury Natural Area by: Kathy Bosler

Further reading/listening

More photos of the blitz

Naturalist JOSH TEWKSBURY on why this is the best time to be a naturalist and why you don’t need a PhD for it.

Natural history network

Thomas Fleischner’s Natural History and the Spiral of Offering essay

If Sherlock Holmes Were a Naturalist……

This fungi was found at the 2014 Bioblitz on Vashon Island. It may be the first record for Washington State. It is now stored at the UW Burke herbarium. photo and discovery by: Phoebe Goit

When Phoebe Goit returned home from the 2014 island Bioblitz in July, she found a surprise as she peered at a tiny twig under her microscope. A Kitsap Peninsula resident who has volunteered her lichen expertise at the last two Bioblitzes, Phoebe was stumped by an unintended find she’d collected earlier that day in the bottom of Christensen Creek valley—the specimen’s “egg in cup” appearance didn’t synch with any lichen she’d seen before.

 

The email trail below provides a “behind the scenes” look at how naturalists, scientists, and the internet can work together, sometimes over great distances, to solve such mysteries—and, in this case, add one more specimen to our 2014 Bioblitz count—plus a new sample for the University of Washington Herbarium!

Hi again Bianca,

 

The photos show the mystery.  The twig, as you can see in the first picture, is only 4 mm in diameter.  The entity is a little less than a mm.  The pictures were taken through the microscope. The twig, I’m pretty sure, was from a Doug fir.

 

I am not an expert, but I didn’t know of any lichens with this kind of fruiting body.  I checked some that I thought were possibles, but didn’t find anything that matched characteristics.

 

My first thought was that it was a fungi, and the morphology had me checking bird’s nest fungi, and the earthstar group.  I checked my books and the web and didn’t find a match.  The inner ball made me think of the slime mold, Lycogala epidendron, so again I checked my books and the web and found no slime molds with the cupped structure.  I find slime molds fascinating, but my knowledge of them is very limited, so I could easily miss something.

 

My inexpert conclusion is that it is probably a fungi.  I hope you recognize it or have someone you can consult.  It would add a species to the count, and I am really curious to know what it is.

 

Phoebe

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Hi Brian,

 

We missed you at the Bioblitz this year! Hope you are having a great summer. I am wondering if you could help me solve this? It was found in a remnant of old growth forest in a creek valley at our Bioblitz last weekend.

 

Any idea what this could be and if it is a fungi even? Thanks! Bianca

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Bianca–

 

Glad that you had a good BioBlitz this year, sorry I had to beg off, but I had a ton of conflicts last weekend.

I’m stumped. I have no idea what this is! None at all. It doesn’t look like anything I recognise.

My own thoughts on this tend *away* from it being fungal. I suspect some sort of insect eggs. Brian

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Okay insect people. Can you help us solve this mystery? Phoebe the lichen and moss expert found this as she was looking at lichen from Christensen Creek. I forwarded it on to Brian McNett who joined us last year as I thought maybe fungi. He says he’s never seen anything like this before and does not think it is fungi.

 

Is it some sort of insect egg??? What you you think? Heidi we missed you and are looking forward to have the HPetersen’s 3 around next year! Hope everything is going well and good luck these last few weeks.

 

Talk soon, Bianca

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My first thought is scale insect…they have really interesting life cycles and very diverse morphology.  The “white cup

Iike structure” appears slightly waxy close-up

… Do you still have the sample Bianca? Heidi

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I’m in the fungus camp, but that’s one of the great things about Nature… Could be a plant, animal, fungi, bacterium, alga or otherwise. Hard telling. :) I’ll forward it a bit as well. Cheers! Jeff

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Hi Phoebe, Do you still have the sample twig and if so do you think it is possible to mail to us? Bianca

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Hmmm… I did some poking around in my various reference sources, but It’s not instantly ringing any bells for me. I forwarded this e-mail to the best man I can think of for a job like this — Charley Eiseman. He’s the author of this amazing book that I highly recommend you purchase if you don’t already own it.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Tracks-Sign-Insects-Other-Invertebrates/dp/0811736245

 

He’s pretty much dedicated himself to solving just these sorts of mysteries. I know he’s a busy guy, but perhaps he’ll remember me from our time working together on stuff for BugGuide and find a few moments to put his brain to the conundrum. I’ll let you know if I hear anything! Harsi

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Hi Bianca, Jeff & Heidi.

 

I mentioned that I had forwarded these images along to my friend Charley Eiseman who is quite the expert on arthropod signs of all kind. He was kind enough to send me this response:

 

This does not look insect-related to me, and I think it would have to be either slime mold or fungus.  I’ll forward the photos to a couple of mycologist friends and see if they have any thoughts.”

 

~ Harsi

 

P.S. Heidi, I missed seeing you at the BioBlitz. Hope you are doing well and that I run into you around town sometime soon.

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Hi Harsi,

Here you go! (see below)

Cheers,

Charley

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Hi Charley,  isn’t it an adorable little thing?   Of course it’s a fungus.  Around here (upstate NY) Larry and I found it on fallen hemlock twiglets, in June or July. Here is a paper for you.

 

I think the latest name for it is Corticium minnsiae, or you could call it Aleurodiscus minnsiae, but the odds are good that it really needs a new name.  The little ball has been called a sclerotium, and can serve to disperse the fungus.  The sexual state is a crusty thing — the kind of thing Larry likes– but I haven’t found it.  I suspect the sexual fruiting body would be found on bigger wood than the asexual one.

 

Somewhere I have a photo of mine (sigh).  Adolf Ceska once posted an image of a western collection of it on the web (Botany Photo of the Day?)***  I have to run, but I bet you could find it easily with help from google.

 

warm wishes,

Kathie

 

***Author’s note: VNC inserted the above link to Dr. Ceska’s image and description. This description does not list Washington State as a locale for the fungi which prompted us to wonder if this was a first record for Washington State. So we contacted the herbarium….

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Bianca,

Thanks for contacting me about this.  We’d gladly accept the specimen.  We would just need specimen information such as location, date of collection, name of collector, and ideally GPS coordinates.  This would allow us to database and create a label for the specimen.  You can send the specimen to by mail at the address in the my electronic signature below.  Thanks, and let me know if you need any additional information or have questions.

David

David Giblin, Ph.D.

Burke Herbarium

Box 355325
University of Washington

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David Giblin,

 

Bianca Perla asked you if you were interested in a specimen of Corticium minnisae that I found on Vashon Island in July, during the annual Vashon bioblitz.

The specimen is in the mail with the information you requested.

I do have some photographs taken through the microscope if you are interested.

 

Phoebe Goit

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Bianca,

I don’t think that I hit “Reply all” when I replied to Phoebe.  Thanks for coordinating this – I did receive the specimen and we will add it to the collections here.  Thanks again.

David

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David Giblin, Ph.D.
Herbarium
Box 355325
University of Washington
Seattle, WA  98195-5325

What a trail! VNC thanks all involved for their help in solving this mystery. Interested in hearing more stories?

Join Vashon Nature Center Director Bianca Perla and a panel of scientists and naturalists to hear more tales from the July Bioblitz during the Vashon-Maury Island Audubon Society program on Thursday, Oct. 9 at 7 pm at the Land Trust Building (10014 SW Bank Rd.)

 

Important coyote follow up

This is a follow up to our previous blog post about coyotes at the Sheep Dog trials. Since last Friday, we have learned more. Because Vashon Nature Center’s focus is to provide information about local wildlife and ecosystems, we would like to share resources on living with coyotes, new information about recent events, and results from our local research on Vashon coyotes since 2011.

 

While we believe in both the intrinsic and ecological value of coyotes in the landscape, we are committed to remaining open to the question of whether coyotes and humans can be successful living together on Vashon-Maury. Our purpose is to provide the best information about wildlife so that we can work intelligently towards living together.

 

Please ask us if anything in this post is unclear, or if you need more information. We will work hard to connect you with someone who can answer your questions.

 

Resources

For information on living with coyotes:

Project Coyote Hazing Guide and Fact Sheet

Washington Fish and Wildlife Fact Sheet

Shivik 2004.  Non-lethal alternatives for predation management. Sheep and Goat Research Journal. 19:64-71. Download

 

For information on ecological benefits of coyotes:

Ripple et al. 2014. Status and Ecological Effects of the World’s Largest Carnivores. Science 343 (6167).

Predator defense

 

For case studies of other communities that have had success in living with coyotes:

Proceedings of the 22nd Vertebrate Pest Conference: Fox- C.H.2006.Coyotes – Humans – Can We Coexist VPC Proceedings

 

If you want to talk with an actual person:

Both USDA and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife representatives are willing to talk with Vashon-Maury residents. Both of these agencies can employ lethal control but emphasize it as a last resort and agree on the importance of using non-lethal and preventative techniques for success in the long-run. USDA contact: Andy Cleland 253-329-6234. WDFW contact: Mike Smith 425-775-1311.

 

New information and its implications

USDA provided us with the demographics of the two coyotes that were shot: one juvenile male and one yearling female that had never bred. There were adult coyotes present in the remaining group. The fact that adults were not killed is potentially good news as it suggests that the social structure of the pack remains intact. Research shows that maintaining the social structure of coyote packs is very important as it prevents a “Lord of the Flies” situation where young coyotes are left to fend for themselves, which often leads to an increase in bold behavior towards humans and domestic animals. Keeping the leading adults with the pack also prevents population booms because breeding is suppressed in all but the alpha pair. If the alpha pair is eliminated, then all coyotes can disperse and breed (Humane Society, Moehlman et al. 1997).

We now have a window of opportunity to successfully live with coyotes if our community employs the various non-lethal techniques available to encourage the remaining coyotes to be wary of humans and domestic animals. As coyotes learn more desirable (for humans) behaviors, these behaviors are more likely to persist in the long run as they are passed from older to younger animals in the pack.

 

Insights to date from our local island sightings database

Since 2011, Vashon Nature Center has been keeping a coyote sighting database to track coyote ranges, behaviors, and habits (we record sightings, human or domestic animal interactions with coyotes, and howls heard).  Please keep telling us what you experience so we can all work together to better understand our island coyotes and minimize conflicts.  We’d like to share the insights from this database so far.

 

  • Our best estimate of coyote numbers on Vashon-Maury based on reports of sightings and howls and inference from home range sizes is 6-10 total.
  • 74% of the coyote activity reported to us since 2011 occurs before 6 am and after 6 pm. This is good news for dog and cat owners because it means islanders can minimize pet contact with coyotes by keeping pets in at night.
  • There seem to be two major activity areas for coyotes on Vashon—one north and one south, but we do not know if these are two packs or just the one (now four-member) pack with a wide range. We have never had reports from both places at the same time, which would indicate two packs.
  • We have had few reports of howls or sightings on Maury Island, but this may be due to holes in our network rather than a real absence of coyotes. We just received belated reports of coyotes and coyote-livestock interactions on Maury, and are working to verify these and see if they are the same or different coyotes than those on Vashon. If you live on Maury, please report any sightings to us so we can fill this information gap.
  • Coyotes may be taking deer and possibly raccoons. We have preliminary evidence based on reports and examination of carcasses. We are now starting a study of coyote droppings to get a more rigorous idea of what composes a coyote diet here in an effort to understand their role in island ecology. Think you found some coyote scat? Contact us.
  • There seems to be a slight rise in coyote reports in the following three time periods each year: May-June, August, and December-January. This may be an artifact of our reporting network. However, it does roughly correspond to phases in the coyote life cycle conducive to boldness: May-June is when pups are raised, August-September is when juveniles disperse, and December-January is when mating occurs.

 

What’s next?

Other communities have found that the key to minimizing conflicts is keeping coyotes acting wild and wary of humans.

  • Research: Vashon Nature Center hopes to continue to build our research program on coyote populations so that we understand them better—both their habits and behaviors, and how they are affecting island ecology as a whole. One way islanders can contribute to this is through adding to our local sightings database: Let us know when you see or hear coyotes.
  • Education: Recent events have shown us our coyotes are beginning to act more boldly.  This is a good time for all island residents to learn about best techniques for living with coyotes. The links above provide a start. Please read them and share them with friends.  We all need to work together to encourage coyotes to stay wary of us.
  • Working together: Momentum is gaining for an authentic and representative working group of island residents that will explore, examine, and test best strategies for living with coyotes on Vashon-Maury, and hear from experts. Vashon Nature Center supports the creation of this working group and will be glad to be a member as it gets off the ground. We recognize the importance of treating our relationship with coyotes here as a learning experience that will evolve over time. A working group will help us learn and adapt as a community to find what works best for the island.

We will continue to do our best to provide updates on anything coyote moving forward. Don’t hesitate to contact us with questions.  AAAAAOOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!