Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Creepy Crawlies

I'm not a spider guy and try to avoid them, but this one caught my eye yesterday as I was passing with my 400mm telephoto lens.  It had just ripped the head off a dead yellowjacket that looked like it had been snagged in the web for several days.  Then it dragged the skull several feet to a different area of the web to enjoy its meal.

Yellowjacket season is ending and the nests are being shut down for the winter. The workers are irritated and hostile because they're being starved to death by the queens, so the victim in this crime did not have long to live either way.

In return for my curiosity about spiders, and some time on the Internet, I learned a bit. This particular spider appears to be a Garden-Orb Weaver, a relatively common, large arachnid in the Pacific Northwest that builds spiral, wheel-shaped webs in gardens, fields and forests.  The Garden Orb-Weaver is an engineer, often floating a line on the breeze to reach another surface as it starts to build a new web, which it does daily.

And get this: it has eight eyes!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Constant Cycle of Birds

The Keystone Spit / Crockett Lake area of Central Whidbey Island is such a rich place to photograph wild birds, I check there almost every time I drive north. Saturday's weather was a gift -- lovely, warm sunshine and blue sky -- but the wind was whipping and I was not finding much.

In fact, I was just leaving when my eye caught the flash of wings, a small group of tiny birds flying in formation over the dark blue water of one of the spit's gravel ponds.

After a patient, slow approach on foot to the edge of the pond, I found the birds huddled against the wind atop a drift log.  Several were foraging in the shallows for insects and other small creatures.

The birds I had noticed were Western Sandpipers and they had stopped at Keystone Spit for a few hours or a day to eat and rest before resuming their annual migration south.

It was a good reminder for me that places such as Keystone support a constantly changing population. Where is that flock of Sandpipers today? Nisqually Delta?  Oregon Coast? What will I find at Keystone tomorrow?  It could be anything.  I can count on being surprised.

For the many birds making their annual, hemispheric migrations, Keystone is a key place to recharge, relatively free of human interference. The wildlife value seems obvious.

But what of the  human value of preserving natural areas such as Keystone, when we could, instead, develop these beautiful settings for upscale homes?

For me, it is pretty much the same as for the birds. I would not go to Keystone if it were filled with  houses. I would not experience the delights and surprises nature delivers at this wild place every day of the year.

An hour or so at Keystone, watching nature and reflecting on the beauty and diversity of life, recharges me so I can continue on my own journey.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Orcas - A Separate Nation

Animals are not (our) brethren and are not underlings. They are separate nations, caught with us in the net of life and time.  -- Henry Beston, The Outermost House

I cannot help but agree strongly with Beston whenever I observe orcas, the highly intelligent, sophisticated and social neighbors who live alongside us in the marine waters of Puget Sound and Whidbey Island.

The 90-some individual orcas that make up the Southern Resident Population belong to a tight-knit extended family that has resided mostly in our local waters since the glaciers retreated some 10,000 years ago. They remain together for life and eat a separate diet (salmon) from the Transient orca groups that periodically visit here to hunt seals and other mammals.

The Southern Residents communicate in their own unique dialogue. The particular photo accompanying this post happens to be of Transients passing through our area.  It is one I took last week.

Like almost anyone who has seen orcas, I am awed and humbled by them. 

For the wonderful Harry Beston quote I should thank my friend Sarah Schmidt, with whom I coauthored Getting to the Water's Edge in 2006 for WSU Extension - Island County.  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wildlife - The Whole Point

Fir cones rained down on me this morning as I walked our gravel road in the woods. I don't know what goes on in the mind of a squirrel, but fall is in the air. I guess one of my tree-hugging friends woke up inspired today.

This squirrel is working frantically to cache a winter food supply. Within a few hours it will strip hundreds of cones from nearby trees. Then in a few days it will come back and gather them one-at-a-time and stash them in a bunch of safe places, remembering each cache so it can chew on those cones for nourishment during the lean winter months.

On my forest walks I think a lot about what makes Whidbey Island special. Some might say it's the views of the water, forests and farmland, but I believe it's the wildlife. We live among everything from Gray Whales to Great-horned Owls to Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies.

From time to time, we all yearn to be close to nature, to walk in the cool forest and observe wildlife in their natural setting, and marvel at their adaptive ingenuity. On Whidbey, it is our great blessing to live among those creatures every day of our lives.

To live on the island without being curious about wildlife is to miss the whole point. The more we notice and understand what the wildlife are doing, the more richly rewarding and meaningful our own lives become.