September – Nature Journal

Nature Journal #1                 


67 degrees
Breezy, with gusts, 5 mph
Waxing Gibbous (74%)


Description of Setting: Positioned slightly off trail on the Marsh Loop trail, directly west of the bird blind next to the only pedestrian trail bench. 100 degree canopy cover with a eye level opening of the marsh and water.  Primarily hemlock trees, with some western red cedar, salal, dead trees still-standing like poles, and a large thicket of low-lying poison hemlock.

     The wind is blowing from the east and it brings with it the sound of an emergency vehicle, no doubt from Blakely Avenue.  I chose this spot for the view of course. I wanted to be near the water while also having a view of the sky—two things that interest me the most.  Also we learned that the edge of an ecotone is often full of biodiversity and interactions.  I can tell that I’ve picked a good spot when I notice how dynamic the marsh becomes when the wind blows, and how dynamic the tall skinny (electric-pole sized) hemlocks are when they creak each time there is a gust of wind.

     I see a dragonfly hovering as precisely as I’ve seen helicopters fly during training practices. This time the range is 2 feet above a thick muddy bed of low-lying poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) that skirts the marsh’s edge.  This species of plant apparently thrives on damp ground and is, of course, poisonous. Above this thick bed of poisonous hemlock there is a western hemlock tree  (Tsuga heterophylla) with its boughs of branches draping almost touching the bed.  Apparently when the hemlock pine is crushed it smells similar to the crushed smell of poison hemlock.

     There are so many birds chirping now, I don’t know where to start! I am facing towards the marsh and I can see only a few birds flitting in and out of the tall grasses and cattails. Most of the calls are coming from covered areas around me. Their calls sound strange to me.  What are they discussing? They sound as if they aren’t alarmed but are perhaps chatting back and forth, maybe occasionally marking boundaries within the marsh. At this point it is hard to tease apart the individuals from the tittering that fills the air above the tall grasses. The ones I do hear: a decrescendo of what sounds like a laugh, a short chip chip chip, a trill, heh heh heh heh heh (high pitched) and now the sound of a plane.   Do birds respond to the sound of planes overhead? I would think that out of all the human-related noise pollution, air planes, overhead, would be the most alarming to a bird.

     There are hemlock leaves littering the forest floor below me, rust orange.  How many? Perhaps there are less than the number of grains of sand on a beach, more than the number of rocks on a shore.  How deep does the liter continue downward? These hemlock trees must shed quite a few needles every year, or else the needles decompose very slowly.

      The bird calls are getting more numerous. A fresh hemlock cone fell, thwump, behind me. It looks so fresh and new, much lighter in its brown pine cone color. Hefty and young.  A plane flies overhead and I have the image of Atreyu, the dog dragon off of the “Never Ending Story,” flying in its place. If I imagine each plane to be Atreyu I think I’ll stop associating plane noises with negative disturbances.  The ferry blows its horn and I try to also associate that noise with something fantastic from a Ray Bradbury story I once read.  Like when an ancient sea creature swims from the depths of the ocean to visit the light house when the fog horns are blown in search of another of its kind.

Immediate Point of View

     My sit spot looks out over a marsh.  The reason why I know this is because it has already been classified for me.  If I was to describe it myself in rather unsatisfying terms– I’d say it was a grassy wet meadow.  According to the 4th edition of the textbook ‘Wetlands,’ however, this could very well be a proper classification of this marsh.  A marsh is defined as an herbaceous plant wetland.  That said, there are two distinct types of marshes: deepwater marshes and wet meadows.  As I haven’t tromped around this marsh I can only assume that it doesn’t have >30cm of standing water throughout much of the year.  What I do notice about this “wet meadow,” as I will call it, is that there are very tall grasses that remind me of the grasses found in a prairie.  From my immediate point of view I cannot tell whether there are shrubs. What I can see is mucky water and poisonous hemlock at the water’s edge, and tall (6 feet perhaps) grasses.

     The season is summer, but I am noticing that there are colors appearing in this wet meadow. The time of day, 3:30-4:15pm, could be ripe for foraging for many birds.  I don’t know too much about foraging, but I’d imagine birds would fill up around this time before the evening settles in. I don’t hear too many birds of prey, maybe just once I heard an osprey, but it seems as though it is a safe time to be out and about as an animal.  

I’m not sure what the input is to this particular marsh as far as groundwater or runoff is concerned.  It does seem to be at a depressed elevation, so I would assume there is some groundwater influence.  How uniform is the water saturation at this particular marsh?  Is the elevation uniform? How would one be able to measure these parameters without tromping through? This area must have a great deal of energy output, as I have heard that wetlands are energy banks that birds can draw from (both domestic and migratory).  The soil must be fairly saturated and mineral rich here, giving invertebrates lots of energy to expend.


Nature Journal #2                 


72 degrees
Breezy, 2mph
Waning Crescent(28%)

     The forest feels perfectly still and quiet. How long will it take for the marsh to regain its usual chatter? I hear a ‘cheep cheep cheep’ somewhere behind me, the sound of a silver-sided gas hawk in the sky (har har, that joke is all thanks to Connor).  A small brown-grey bird quickly flitted out of the poison hemlock thicket below where I sit– clearly agitated, perhaps scared. The breeze is very gentle today– the tall grasses in the marsh sway in every which way. Now I know that sound! What sounds like an osprey cries out from across the marsh.  Maybe it’s somewhere close to the bird blind on top of the tallest Douglas Fir. The sky is 99% perfectly clear with only one cloud– cirrus within my line of vision.

Turning around now.

      The breeze is to my back now (blowing East to West) as I look up the sloping forest.  There are mostly immature hemlock trees. There are at least two trees that stand dead, their trunks the size of light posts. How much force would it take to break one down? I am noticing quite a few snag-like branches lying on the forest floor– hemlock ones.  I lean my back against a tree nearby to make myself more comfortable. There is a chipmunk who is very unhappy about my presence now.  Maybe I am not allowing it to come down down as it wants to.  It sounds a lot like a car alarm.  I timed it, 3 minutes of incessant chirping. I see it now! It’s skirting down a WRC about 20 feet away.  Guess I’m not that big of a threat.

      What caused the hemlock branches to fall? Maybe the wind took them down?  I am noticing how hummocky the forest slope is now– giant clumps of dirt, wrapped with tree roots, mixed with fallen snags, and filled in with hemlock hummus. The birds are coming back now. Cackles, croaks, a couple of gunshots, and a cooing chipmunk chirp. They sound so funny! I’m clearly in its territory.  I see it now on a hemlock branch, its tail flicks every time it chirps staccato.

Do these hemlock trees grow like weeds? I could wrap my arms around them, yet they stand 60 feet or so high.  There are many salal branches and saplings (baby bushes?) as well as an evergreen huckleberry grove (for lack of a better word) up along the slope of the forest.  It’s quite surprising for me to see such a lack of diversity in the undergrowth vegetation. Part of it is probably disturbance– wind, logging but I’ve noticed that the undergrowth here is moderated greatly by the needles making the soil acidic as well as the partial sunlight factor.

I hear a frog croaking! It’s somewhere off behind me in the marsh, and again, I hear one in the forest.  Are they talking– call and response?
     I pull a small root up and smell it. I couldn’t help it, I was tracing patterns in the ground and felt a tip of a root poking up.  The smell was slightly disappointed, as it mostly smelled of dirt.