Thursday, March 31, 2011

Another Home Run for the Land Trust

Whidbey Camano Land Trust has just published its 2010 Annual Report and, once again, it is a beauty. Using a handful of extraordinary images, the report conveys the inspiration we islanders draw from our natural environment. It illustrates why we live here and feel such a strong connection to the land.

 Chestnut-backed Chickadee, by Craig Johnson. Click on images to enlarge.
By any measure 2010's blockbuster achievement was saving one square mile of Whidbey Island from development -- the Trillium Community Forest. That was far from the only work the Land Trust did. The  report tells the Trillium story and also highlights several other land protection successes on Whidbey and Camano islands.

If you did not receive the annual report in the mail, click here to visit the Land Trust's website, where you may download and view a PDF of it.

Hummingbirds in the nest in Freeland, ready to fledge. Craig Johnson photo.
If the name "Land Trust" sounds a bit intimidating, the organization is not. Its members and staff are just everyday people who love our island lifestyle and want to help keep some land in forests, farms and wetlands to sustain wildlife and provide places for the public to find peace and rejuvenation. Anyone may become a member simply by making a contribution. Those who contribute year-after-year soon find themselves part of an extended family with some very lovely people who share their great passion for these beautiful islands.

It's no surprise many Land Trust members are bird-lovers, because birds really bring home the importance of healthy habitat in sustaining diverse, highly specialized creatures. Besides, birds just make us happy. Virtually everything the Land Trust does in protecting forests, agricultural lands, shorelines and wetlands supports wild birds, many of whom travel immense distances every year in their continental or worldwide migrations.

For the second year running, Craig and Joy Johnson of Freeland donated wild bird images that make the report so visually stunning. "I just love birds," Craig says. "If my images can inspire someone to do something good for the birds, then I've been successful."

The annual report's graphic designer, Jen Pennington, chose Craig's image of a juvenile, Chestnut-backed Chickadee for the front cover. As a would-be photographer myself, I marvel at the exquisite detail of every feather in that image. Craig photographed the bird as it was being fed by a parent. "I had no way to conceal myself, so the birds knew I was there," he said. "The parent would call the young bird into the vegetation before feeding and I had only a brief window to snap the photo before the bird went deeper."

The report also prominently features Craig's gorgeous image of two newborn Rufous hummingbirds in their nest near Freeland. Craig found the nest when it contained two eggs. He carefully and respectfully documented the birds' development every day from birth until they fledged and flew away, always maintaining a safe distance so he did not interfere with the mother or juveniles in any way.

Northern Harrier (left). Western Tanager (right), by Craig Johnson.
Craig's phenomenal series of daily photographs of the nesting hummingbirds may be found on his website. After you go to the website, click on the link identified as "Rufous Hummingbird Nesting Show.

Craig and Joy Johnson published a children's book inspired by their experiences in photographing the baby hummingbirds in Freeland. The Amazing Hummingbird Story of Red Rufous is on sale in bookshops, gift shops and wild bird stores all over Whidbey Island, and may also be ordered by mail directly from the Johnsons. Click here for a preview of the book. To order, e-mail Joy Johnson at

Friday, March 25, 2011

Nature Has It Figured Out

Forest ecologist Elliott Menashe of Greenbank Consulting.
In a half-wild, half-civilized place like Whidbey Island, water always seems to be getting in the way. We saw this recently when rain pounded relentlessly day-after-day, triggering many mudslides on South Whidbey and the appearance of swampy "seasonal wetlands" in people's yards including, I confess, my own hard-packed driveway.

I live in the woods and don't see this problem on my forest walks -- only near the house where I have "improved" my yard with poorly-draining lawns and gravel.

On a rainy day, the woods simply are lovelier and softer than ever, but our impervious, hard-surfaced yards often don't fare so well. Water "ponds" in low spots and, depending on the terrain, flows downslope, weakening bluffs and carrying pollutants and particles of soil toward Puget Sound.

This beautiful, absorbent wetland is in South Whidbey State Park.
This is exactly what my friend Elliott Menashe has been trying to illustrate for years to homeowners, developers and contractors. "Improve" with care. Minimize disturbance. Benefit from the forest's phenomenal, natural ability to absorb and purify water.  Think before you scrape and screw up something that's already working beautifully.

One of Elliott's favorite articles on this subject is a highly-readable, two-page piece by Tami Pokorny of Jefferson County Natural Resources, "Drip and Splat." He's especially proud of this one because Tami brilliantly translated one of his emotional speeches into readable English.

For a printable PDF, visit
If the article seems insultingly simple-minded, please don't be fooled, because most people still don't get it.

To download a printable PDF of the two-page article, please visit Elliott's website and look for "A Stormwater Story: Drip and Splat" toward the bottom of the list.

If you've bought land and are planning to build, or even if you are just looking at land to buy, consider hiring Elliott or someone like him (good luck with that) to walk the land with you and share their insights. It will be an education and could save  many heartaches and expensive fixes in the future.