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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Amusing Monday: Flipping for the bird

Monday, February 17th, 2014

In case you missed this letter to the editor from Richard C. Yerk of Suquamish, I will repeat it here:

Print by Phil Jones. Click on image to purchase.

Print by Phil Jones // Click image to purchase

“I would like to suggest a common-sense approach to protect the endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin (‘Terns to be driven from islands,’ Feb. 9).

“The Caspian terns that nest on the man made islands apparently have a voracious appetite for juvenile steelhead salmon. The Army Corps of Engineers plans a test planting of willows to the open ground the terns favor for nesting.

“A more viable and cost-effective solution would be for the federal officials to plant marijuana, not that it’s legal. Those of us who remember the 1960s warnings from the National Institutes of Health of the personality changes associated with pot would surely endorse such a plan. The terns would nest among the plants, develop an insatiable appetite for the buds, and perhaps eventually wean themselves off salmon.

“I believe, to ensure future runs of endangered salmon, that it is incumbent that federal officials leave no tern unstoned.”

I have heard the phrase “no tern unstoned” before but never with such a strong connection to current events, including efforts to save endangered salmon and marijuana legalization. That was a nice touch.

Here are some more bird jokes:

Vultures on a plane: Two turkey vultures were preparing to migrate north for the summer but, after talking about it, they decided they were too old to fly all that way, so they decided to take a plane. When they were about to board the aircraft, the flight attendant, noticing that both buzzards were carrying a dead armadillo, asked, “Would you like to check those armadillos through as luggage?” “No thanks,” the buzzards replied, “they’re carrion.” WildBirds.com

Penguins on the loose: This guy in a station wagon is riding down the road with the back full of penguins. A cop sees him and pulls him over and says, “I want you to take those penguins to the zoo right now!” The guy says, “O.K.” Next day the cop sees this same guy going down the road with the penguins in the back. This time the penguins are wearing sunglasses. He pulls the guy over again and says,”I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo.” The guy answers, “Yeah, that’s right, we went and had a helluva time. We’re going to the beach today!” WildBirds.com

Crow or raven: I understand that a crow has one less pinion feather than a raven. Therefore, how can you tell a crow from a raven? It’s a matter of a pinion. WildBirds.com

Watch parrot: A postal carrier is working on a new beat. He comes to a garden gate marked BEWARE OF THE PARROT! He looks down the garden and, sure enough, there’s a parrot sitting on its perch. He has a little chuckle to himself at the sign and the parrot there on its perch. The mailman opens the gate and walks into the garden. He gets as far as the parrot’s perch, when suddenly, it calls out: “REX, ATTACK!” Planned Parrothood

Three riddles from Funology:

Q: When should you buy a bird?
A: When it’s going cheep!

Q: Why does a stork stand on one leg?
A: Because it would fall over if it lifted the other one.

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road, roll in mud, then cross the road again?
A: He was a dirty double crosser!


Kitsap County acquires prime forest, shoreline

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

It’s official. Kitsap County has become the proud owner of 535 acres of prime lowland forest, including 1.5 miles of shoreline on Port Gamble Bay. See the story I prepared for tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun (subscription).

Port Gamble Bay shoreline // Photo by Don Willott

Port Gamble Bay shoreline // Photo by Don Willott

This is prime property, both from an ecological and recreational viewpoint. It is extremely rare to find a place where so much shoreline belongs to the public, especially in a populated area like Kitsap County. With restoration work and time for nature to respond, this property could return to a near-pristine condition.

This is the first property sale completed by the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project. More than two years ago, I attended a kick-off meeting to launch the fund-raising effort. It all began with an option agreement to buy up to 7,000 acres of forestland from Pope Resources. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 19, 2012.

The effort followed a disbanded plan by the county to trade the land for increased housing density near Port Gamble. (See Kitsap Sun, Jan. 19, 2010.)

The new effort was spearheaded by Cascade Land Conservancy, now called Forterra. CLC President Gene Duvernoy spelled out the task ahead as he announced that Michelle Connor, a vice president of CLC, would be put in charge. Duvernoy declared:

“This is probably the most important project we can accomplish to save Puget Sound… Anytime we have a real thorny project, we hand it to Michelle to make it happen… This option agreement is a reason to celebrate, but now we need to get serious. Now, we can look at all the financing and funding possibilities. Until today, we were unable to do that.”

Other acquisitions are expected to be completed soon, but it remains unclear how much of the 7,000 acres can be acquired from Pope.

In celebration of the completed sale, I would like to share the statements made in a news release by a variety of people involved in the project:

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder:

“This acquisition has been years in the making and the beginning of a series of great things to come in 2014. We are lining up funding to protect additional lands from Kingston to Port Gamble as part of this preservation effort.”

Michelle Connor, Forterra’s executive vice president:

“Conservation of these lands will help sustain the cultural heritage and health of our communities, the functioning of our environment and diversity of our economy. Moving the whole effort forward is a testament to the leadership of local residents, Kitsap County, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, and the state of Washington.”

Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman:

“The public purchase of the shoreline block at Port Gamble Bay is an accomplishment worth celebrating. The Suquamish Tribe is grateful that this critical marine habitat will be protected for time immemorial and help in efforts to protect the water quality of Port Gamble Bay.”

Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe:

“One of my tribe’s ongoing priorities is to ensure that Port Gamble Bay remains productive and healthy for future generations. The conservation of this property furthers that goal by protecting water quality, preventing development and limiting stormwater runoff and other associated impacts.”

Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope Resources’ real estate subsidiary:

“We are proud to be working with the community to protect these forests, beaches and trails for future generations. This purchase is a prize that has been earned through nearly a decade of dedicated efforts by the local community.”

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of Great Peninsula Conservancy, a key player in the acquisition:

“The many community partners involved in the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition have dedicated countless hours to help achieve this historic land purchase, handing out trail maps, speaking to community groups and marching in parades. And when it came down to the wire, the coalition raised over $10,000 in three days to fill the final funding gap.”

Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology:

“Restoring and sustaining the ecological systems that support Port Gamble Bay is critical for Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and all of us who call Washington home.”


Amusing Monday: Animal antics and football feats

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

I’m sharing a silly animal video with you today in honor of Eli, the orangutan who successfully predicted the Seattle Seahawks’ win in yesterday’s Super Bowl.

The video at right is a compilation from the BBC’s TV series “Walk on the Wild Side,” which first aired in 2009. If you would like to see more, there’s a second compilation, “Animal Crackers 2,” as well as a collection of short segments in “The Inspiration Room.”

As for the Super Bowl prediction, it can be seen in the second video. As you may observe, Eli, who lives in the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, ran over and decisively knocked down a blue paper-mache helmet bearing a Seahawks logo. He ignored the orange helmet representing the Denver Broncos.

Eli has now correctly predicted the Super Bowl winner seven times in a row without missing yet. That’s a record that the harbor seals in Connecticut’s Maritime Aquarium can only hope to match. They have now picked the wrong team three times in a row.

Orange, the name of one harbor seal who participated in the selection, may have chosen the Broncos’ colors to match his name. But anyone who has spent any time around harbor seals knows how unreliable they can be. Check out the video of the seals trying to predict a winner with a couple footballs and associated team colors.

For more animal predictions, review the piece by Time magazine, which gives you an idea how little puppies, pandas and manatees know about football.


‘Pulse of Puget Sound’ series halfway done

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Sunday marked the halfway point in my ongoing series “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound,” which examines the health of our waterway and asks the question, “With all the money being spent on restoration, are we making any progress?”

food web

For me, the series so far has been an adventure and a learning experience, thanks to abundant help from the many great scientists and smart policy makers we have in this region.

The first half of the project has focused largely on species, including humans; herring and organisms at the base of the food web; salmon and marine fish; marine mammals; and Sunday’s piece on birds (subscription).

Still to come are stories about marine water quality, freshwater quality, upland habitat, water quantity and the future.

As a reporter, I regret that everyone can’t read all these stories immediately without a subscription to the Kitsap Sun, but I have to trust that these kinds of business decisions will allow me to keep doing my work. Still, many of the stories, photos and graphics in this series are available now with or without subscription, starting with the lead page, “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound,” and moving through the series:

Some of the larger points from the latest seabird story:

  • Puget Sound has about 70 common species of marine birds. Many populations are in decline but some appear to be stable and a few are increasing.
  • The winter population is about four times as large as the summer population, reaching a peak of roughly half a million birds.
  • Because birds can fly from one place to another, their choices of location can tell us something about the health of one place compared to another in Puget Sound.
  • If the population of a wintering bird species is in decline, you need to know something about its migration route and nesting area before you can conclude that conditions in Puget Sound are to blame.
  • The marbled murrelet, a “threatened” species, is an odd bird, first identified by early explorers in the late 1700s but whose nesting habits weren’t discovered until 1974.
  • Researchers are trying to learn why two similar birds — tufted puffins and rhinoceros auklets — are faring differently in Puget Sound. Steep declines are seen for tufted puffins, which may be headed for an endangered species listing, while rhinoceros auklets are on the increase. Their varying behaviors are at the center of discussion.
  • Ecosystem indicators for birds, as chosen by the Puget Sound Partnership, are more involved than most other indicators. They focus on the densities of four bird species and also consider food supply and reproductive success.

Amusing Monday: Amazing wildlife photos

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Paul Souders of Seattle won the Grand Prize in the latest National Wildlife Federation photo contest. His entry was an amazing shot of a polar bear peering up at him from beneath the water in Hudson Bay.

Paul Souders' winning photo.

Paul Souders’ winning photo.

During the summer of 2012, Souders gathered together 500 pounds of gear, including a Zodiac boat and outboard motor, as he explains in his blog. He hauled the equipment 1,800 miles from his home in Seattle to the end of the road in Thompson, Manitoba, Canada. Then he continued on by train another 600 miles to Churchill, Manitoba, all so he could take his time on the water, aiming to get the best possible photos.

Souders spent days in the Zodiac, waiting and watching before this female bear presented herself — and then he continued to wait to make her comfortable with him.

“Maybe that’s why this image feels so much like a gift,” Souders writes. “Having come so far and worked so hard to find this one special bear, tolerant of my presence, curious but not aggressive.”

He first thought his best shot was the moment the bear raised her head out of the water. Later, when he looked at his images, he realized he had an even better one. The bear had been watching him from underwater as he waited, and that was winning shot.

For Paul’s full description and a better image of the water bear, visit his blog on the website Paul Souders, WorldFoto. His expanded portfolio is well worth a bit of browsing as well.

Souders and his bear photo also won a top prize in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, co-sponsored by the Natural History Museum of London and BBC Worldwide. The category was “Animals in their Environment.” See all the winning photos on the website of the Natural History Museum. Details of that competition, which will take new entries for 2014 starting today, can be found on the “enter page.”

As for the National Wildlife Federation contest, that competition is now in its 43rd year. Associated with “National Wildlife” magazine, the contest received some 43,000 entries during 2013. The slide show below shows the top winners. You may also wish to read the stories behind the photos.


New platform offers views of ducks and other wildlife

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

A new viewing platform within Newberry Hill Heritage Park provides a clear view of an open-water wetland, where lots of water birds can be seen at this time of year.

Platformfinished

That’s the word from Frank Stricklin, a member of the park’s stewardship group who helped build the platform. Frank told me that he has seen a variety of colorful ducks on the water, including bufflehead, hooded merganser and ring-necked ducks.

In the summer, the platform will provide a good place to watch swallows and bats flying low over the water at dusk.

Visible from the viewing platform, but somewhat shrouded in vegetation, is a large beaver dam that keeps the water backed up. Once, while Frank was working on the platform before dark, he spotted a pair of beavers swimming around.

Frank is president of the nonprofit Friends of Newberry Hill Heritage Park, which provides funding and volunteers to work on the trails and maintain the beautiful 1,100-acre forested park.

In addition to the volunteers, credit for the viewing platform should go to Silverdale Rotary Club and Kitsap County, which provided funding for materials, along with MTV Home Repair and Asbury Fuel, which offered materials and construction expertise, according to Frank.

The viewing platform is located at a popular vista along Wildlife Trail where the vegetation had been trampled by people trying to get a better view, Frank told me. The platform allows people to view the water without causing damage to the shoreline.

The easiest access to the site is from the Holly Gate along Seabeck Highway near Holly Road. Walk along the service road until it comes to a junction, then turn north. It’s about a mile of level walking from the gate to the viewing platform. A map is posted on the website of Friends of Newberry Hill Heritage Park.

Two other platforms are being planned for the wetland, one near the north end and one near the south end. The northernmost platform will be located on a small ridge, with views of Green and Gold mountains. The southernmost platform will be near the 135-foot-long beaver dam.

Frank, who was recently appointed to a full term on the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, said volunteers are always needed to help improve this amazing parkland. For information, visit the Friends of NHHP website.


Amusing Monday: Animal pirates stealing food

Monday, November 4th, 2013

If you’ve been fishing very long in Puget Sound or other places along the West Coast, you may have a story about a pesky seal or sea lion taking a bite out of your fish — or, worse, taking the whole thing. Check out this video:

Who would expect a thieving sea lion to attack after you’ve landed your trophy fish, taken it back to the dock and hauled it out for a video shoot?

The video, which has gone viral over the past three weeks, has a story behind it. The two characters on the dock are in the midst of filming a new reality show called “Chef on the Water,” a program set to run on The Travel Channel. The program involves an accomplished chef who is asked to catch his food before preparing it.

(more…)


Amusing Monday: Blobfish earns uncommon respect

Monday, October 21st, 2013

We know about beauty contests and cute baby contests, but the competition really worth celebrating is the Ugliest Animal Contest, sponsored by the British-based Ugly Animal Preservation Society.

Blobfish / Kerryn Parkinson, NORFANZ Founding Parties

Blobfish / Kerryn Parkinson, NORFANZ Founding Parties

There were plenty of candidates, from the proboscis monkey, with its large nose, to the Dromedary jumping slug, a slug with a hump on its back known for jumping to escape from predators.

But when more than 3,000 votes were counted last month, the winner, with 795 votes, was the blobfish, a gelatinous fish that lives at great depths off the coast of Australia.

As far as I can tell, nobody asked the blobfish what he thought of this honor. But there was an important theme to the contest. With an estimated 200 species going extinct each day, the ugly animals need special attention, according to Simon Watt, president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, who told The Guardian newspaper:

“We’ve needed an ugly face for endangered animals for a long time, and I’ve been amazed by the public’s reaction. For too long the cute and fluffy animals have taken the limelight, but now the blobfish will be a voice for the mingers who always get forgotten.”

I love that British term “minger,” defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a male or female who fell out of the ugly tree at birth and hit every branch on the way down.”

Simon Watt explains the origins of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society and how the contest came about on a video posted on YouTube.

Adam Gabriel of “Epic Wildlife” took note of the contest and posted his own video on YouTube, which helps us understand the blobfish and his motivations.

When you have time, listen to the comedians who nominated other species for the Ugly Animal Contest. I think you’ll find the following videos educational as well as amusing:

Finally, I have to reflect on the photo of the blobfish, a face that launched a thousand YouTube video players. There are pictures of blobfish and then there is THE PICTURE of a blobfish. This picture has been repeated again and again, apparently without permission, and many of the photo credits are simply wrong.

How THE PICTURE came to be taken during a research expedition is described by Mark McGrouther, collection manager for ichthyology at the Australian Museum. By the time of the Ugliest Animal Contest, the blobfish, known as Mr. Blobby, was already quite famous and beloved in Australia, where he had his own Facebook page and Twitter account. For more about Mr. Blobby, check out this blog on the website of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

If you haven’t gotten your fill of blobfish by now, check out “The Blobfish Song” by Friday Morning Freak House.


Amusing Monday: See baby ospreys in the nest

Monday, June 17th, 2013

UPDATE, June 17, 6 p.m.

I forgot that I had written about ospreys and their hunting techniques in this blog in August of 2011.
—–

In an osprey nest monitored with live video by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, it appears that all three eggs have hatched into baby osprey.

The video at right was recorded from the live WDFW Ospreycam and posted on YouTube Saturday by someone called AccSpec, who says the nest is located near Gig Harbor.

View the live Ospreycam here. A 10-second update of the webcam is available for slow computers and seems to work better at night. To read the story about how the webcam was installed, click here.

Opreys eat fish almost exclusively, which is why they nest near water. Adults typically hover over the water before they drop like a rock and dive feet first, grabbing fish with their sharp talons. The young will begin exercising their wings before they take their first flights and learn to fish.

OTHER LIVE OSPREYCAMS

Hog Island ospreycam is managed by Audubon on Hog Island near Bremen, Maine. These ospreys laid their eggs about the end of April.

Cape Cod ospreycam monitors a nest at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, Mass.

Hellgate Canyon ospreycam is located at Riverside Health Care Center in Missoula, Mont.

OTHER WILDLIFE CAMS

Pintail duck wildlife cam in the Prairie Pothole Region near Egeland, N.D. The eggs were laid May 16 and should hatch at any time, but long-term prospects for the ducklings are not good. Previous research in the area has shown that the likelihood of surviving predators and other threats is about 5 percent.

Atlantic Puffin cam at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

Elephant seal cam located between San Simeon and the Piedras Blancas Light Station on the Pacific Coast of California. The webcam is a joint project of Friends of the Elephant Seal and California State Parks.

Salmoncam shows salmon returning to Issaquah Hatchery, operated by WDFW. The camera in the holding pool shows a still photo that refreshes every 10 seconds.


Amusing Monday: encounters with polar ice

Monday, May 13th, 2013

When I hear about research taking place in Earth’s polar regions, I often wonder how our amazing ice-breaker ships make it through the ice. Do they just plow forward without hesitation, or do they worry about getting stuck?

Cassandra Brooks, a doctoral student at Stanford University, recently compiled an intriguing video showing time-lapse scenes of the Nathaniel B. Palmer on a cruise just completed in the Ross Sea of the Antarctic.

Cassandra’s narration provides a clear explanation of all kinds of ice encountered by the ice breaker, and she touches on the research itself.

“It was so beautiful,” Brooks told NBC News’ LiveScience. “And it was such a neat experience to be on this crazy boat that was just screaming through the ice.”

The video was part of a blogging project she undertook for National Geographic. The blog includes just seven entries, but each is an enjoyable science lesson for the reader. Take the entries in chronological order (bottom first) to get the full story of the adventure.

Before entering the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Brooks worked in both basic research and environmental education, according to the bio she wrote for her own website.

She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has published articles for both scientific and general audiences.

Casandra informs me that she hopes to write a final closing blog related to the recent cruise and will probably continue blogging about other projects.


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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