Category Archives: Recreation

Amusing Monday: After 83 years, duck stamps are still impressive

Canada geese are the centerpiece of this year’s federal “duck stamp,” which went on sale Friday to raise millions of dollars to conserve wildlife habitat.

James Hautman of Chaska, Minn., won first place in the annual duck stamp contest with his acrylic painting of Canada geese.
Images courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

James Hautman of Chaska, Minn., painted the artwork that became this year’s stamp following a contest last fall that attracted 152 entries. The stamp shows three Canada geese flying in formation over a wheat field.

This year’s winning entry is Hautman’s fifth win in the duck stamp competition. Only two other artists have won first place five times — and one of those is Hautman’s brother Joseph.

Since 1934, sales of the stamp — formally called the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp — have reached $950 million, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is in charge of the stamp. The money has been used to conserve nearly 6 million acres of wetland habitat as part of the national wildlife refuge system around the country. Some 98 percent of the funds from sales of the $25 duck stamp go into the Migratory Bird Conservation fund.

If you have time, check out all of the duck stamps starting with some interesting ones you will find in the 1930s and ’40s in the Federal Duck Stamp Gallery.

“The stamp’s impact goes beyond waterfowl,” said Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke in a news release. “it also helps provide habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife and clean water for our communities. The lands set aside using duck stamp dollars provide opportunities for the American people to enjoy the great outdoors through hunting, fishing and birdwatching, and help ensure this piece of American heritage will endure for generations.”

The stamp is legally required for waterfowl hunters age 16 and older, but the program has grown over the years thanks to stamp collectors and supporters of wildlife conservation. The current duck stamp also provides free admission to any national wildlife refuge.

Rebecca Knight of Appleton City, Mo., took second place with her acrylic painting of a brant.

The duck painting that took second place in last fall’s contest was the creation of Rebekah Knight of Appleton City, Mo., who previously won the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest. Her entry last year was an acrylic painting of a single brant.

The third-place winner was Robert Hautman of Delano, Minn., with his acrylic painting of a pair of Canada geese. Hautman, brother of James and Joseph, previously won the contest in 1996 and 2000.

Robert Hautman of Delano, Minn., was the third-place winner with his acrylic painting of Canada geese.

Judges for this year’s duck stamp were Jan Martin McGuire, an internationally known wildlife artist; Keith Russell, program manager for urban conservation with Audubon Pennsylvania; Dr. Nathan H. Rice, ornithology collection manager at the Academy of Natural Sciences; John P. Booth, executive director of the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art; and Sue deLearie Adair, an artist, birder and avid naturalist.

A gallery of all the contest entries can be viewed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Flickr page.

Isaac Schreiber 12, of Duffield, Va, was named the winner of the Junior Duck Stamp competition with his acrylic painting of trumpeter swans.

A Junior Duck Stamp is chosen each year from entries made by students from across the United States and Puerto Rico. This year’s winner is Isaac Schreiber, 12, of Duffield, Va., who painted a pair of trumpeter swans.

Second place went to Daniel Billings, 16, of Gallatin, Mont., for his oil painting of a wood duck. Rene Christensen, 17, of Nekoosa, Wis., took third place with her graphite rendition of a pair of Canada geese.

The junior contest is part of an educational program about wetlands, waterfowl and conservation efforts. Proceeds from sales of the $5 Junior Duck Stamps are used to support youth education.

A gallery of the “best of show” winners can be seen on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Flickr page.

Both the regular and junior stamps can be purchased at many national wildlife refuges, sporting goods stores and related retailers and through the U.S. Postal Service. For information, check out the “Buy Duck Stamps” website.

Amusing Monday: Underwater mysteries of the national parks

Mysterious underwater areas can be found in numerous national parks and national monuments throughout the United States. The National Park Service operates a special division, the Submerged Resources Center, to explore some of the mysteries.

To share its underwater exploration and preservation efforts, the Park Service has created seven films in partnership with CuriosityStream, a documentary production and distribution company. Though longer than most videos featured in “Amusing Monday,” I believe the science and history revealed in these fascinating films are well worth the time.

The Submerged Resources Center, which has been in existence more than 30 years, has been recognized as a leader in documenting, interpreting and preserving underwater resources. As you will see in the films, the research teams use some of the most advanced underwater technologies. Their mission is to support the National Park Service’s preservation mandate and to enhance public appreciation, access and protection of these resources. Areas of focus include archeology, marine survey, underwater imaging and diving.

I have embedded three videos on this page, but I’m providing the full list here, with links, also accessible on the National Park Service’s website called “Underwater Wonders of the National Parks.”

Devil’s Hole: This unique underwater cave can be found in Death Valley National Park on the border between California and Nevada northwest of Las Vegas. The film features a unique species of fish called the pupfish, which are among the most endangered species in the world. Assessing and protecting these fish is a major responsibility of the Park Service. Another good story with photos and video was featured in The Desert Sun newspaper of Palm Springs, Calif.

Montezuma Well: Swirling sands at the bottom of this lake create spooky conditions for divers who cannot find the bottom and often find themselves sucked into a kind of quicksand. The “well” can be found within Montezuma Castle National Monument south of Flagstaff, Ariz. Few creatures can survive in the waters rich in carbon dioxide and arsenic and fed by pressurized water vents. But divers are monitoring the populations and interactions among four species found there: diatoms, amphipods, snails, non-blood-sucking leaches and water scorpions.

USS Arizona, Part 1: The USS Arizona, which sank during the attack on Pearl Harbor, is a national memorial to the 1,177 sailors who went down with the ship. The National Park Service is responsible for monitoring conditions — including sea life — in and around the Arizona.

USS Arizona, Part 2: The second video on the Arizona Memorial features more about the history of the ship and artifacts still being discovered. Divers are serious about their solemn roles. For example, World War II survivors of the attack may choose to be reunited with their shipmates, so urns with their remains are moved into a special place aboard the sunken battleship.

Yellowstone Lake: Thermal vents and impressive geothermal spires are unique to the freshwater habitat of Yellowstone Lake, which lies in the center of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. A major concern is the survival of the lake’s native cutthroat trout, which are being consumed by the voracious lake trout, an invasive species. Mapping the lake’s bottom to locate the lake trout’s spawning grounds is one idea to help contain the problem.

Lake Mead: The first national recreation area in the United States, Lake Mead, which is east of Las Vegas, was formed by the construction of Hoover Dam in an area known for its military secrets, including Area 51. In 1948, a B-29 bomber crashed and sank in the lake while conducting research into a new navigational concept, which eventually became incorporated into guidance missile systems. The aluminum aircraft is well preserved on the bottom of the lake, although it is now encrusted with invasive quagga mussels, which spread too fast for divers to keep track of them.

Buck Island: An amazingly productive ecosystem can be found within Buck Island Reef National Monument in the U.S. Virgin Islands of the Caribbean. Experts monitoring the reef’s conditions must experience mixed emotions, as they document the amazing sea life as well as “bleaching” of the coral reef, portions of which are dying from disease. Divers have been able to save some of the corals by chiseling away the infected areas. The National Park Service also documents the history of the slave trade as it explores for artifacts from more than 100 slave ships that sank in the Virgin Islands — including at least two near Buck Island.

Curiosity and openness distinguish new video on captive killer whales

British broadcaster Jonny Meah assumes an attitude of natural curiosity as he takes a close look at the question of whether killer whales should be kept in tanks for public display.

In a video he produced and edited, Meah visits Marineland of Antibes in the French Riviera, where he lays out the best case possible for each side of the argument. “Inside the Tanks” is Meah’s first-ever documentary production, and he is not afraid to put himself in the middle of the debate, expressing his own feelings as he weighs each side.

“I was inspired to make this documentary and tackle this debate, despite it’s enormity, because I believe one way or another something needs to be done,” Meah told the Bellingham-based Lemonade magazine. “I truly believe that, in many cases, the issue has become less about animals and more about personal hatred, whether that’s towards an organization or a particular person; that goes for both sides, too…

“I think previous pieces on the topic have been really, really interesting, but I personally felt that there was a gap, and a need in one of these pieces for a view from someone in support of captivity as well. So that is where ‘Inside The Tanks’ comes in.”

In an opinion piece written for HuffPost, Matthew Spiegl, an advocate for whales and dolphins, admires Meah’s approach at revealing his personal transformation as he goes about discovering some common ground between “activist” and “keeper.”

Spiegl also credits Jon Kershaw, zoological director at Marineland Antibes. for his openness when commenting about the realities of running a marine park.

“When Meah asks Mr. Kershaw a question about an unusual crease in the dolphins’ necks (as pointed out by biologist Ingred Visser), he acknowledges he had never thought about it being due to the dolphins always looking up at the trainers and agrees that it is the dolphin’s posture which likely causes the crease and that such a posture is not something that would be seen in the wild.”

In March 2016, SeaWorld announced that it would no longer perform captive breeding of killer whales, following an agreement with the Humane Society of the U.S. (See Water Ways, March 17, 2016). Six months later, California outlawed the captive breeding of orcas. Last month, shortly after “Inside the Tanks” was completed, the French government followed suit by banning captive breeding. (The documentary makes a footnote at the end, including a further comment from Kershaw.)

Meah says he looks forward to his first encounter with killer whales in the wild, though he is not sure when that will happen, and he hopes to continue his journalistic endeavors on the subject.

Taking your kids on an easy adventure to find and explore nature

June is National Great Outdoors Month, and this Saturday is National Get Outdoors Day. It’s a great time for people — especially parents and children — to make a commitment to spend a portion of the summer learning about nature and enjoying the sights and sounds of the wild areas that still exist.

National Get Outdoors Day is recognized with free admission to Washington state’s parks as well as national forests where day-use fees are charged. A national list of sites can be found on the GO Day website.

In addition, the National Park Service offers a free yearlong pass for fourth graders and their families to visit national parks, monuments and historical sites. See the Every Kid in a Park website.

June is also Orca Awareness Month with a considerable lineup of activities planned, including the Orcas in Our Midst Workshop on Saturday. See Water Ways, May 19, or check out the Orca Awareness Month website for a full list of activities.

The value that children get from exploring the outdoors has been known for many years. But I was intrigued to learn recently that the city of Austin has adopted a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights as part of a program of greening up the cities.

“We are excited to announce that on January 26, 2017, Austin City Council voted unanimously to approve the Austin Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights!” says a statement on the city’s website. “Every child in Austin should be able to connect with the incredible nature that Austin has to offer, and we are excited to have our city leadership’s support! Thank you to Austin’s Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative and all of our partners for helping create and pass this resolution.”

So what are the outdoor rights of every child, as seen by the Austin City Council? They are the rights to:

  • Climb a tree
  • Catch a fish
  • Picnic in a park
  • Hike a trail
  • Ride a bike
  • Splash in a creek or river
  • Discover plants and wildlife
  • Play in the sand and mud
  • Gaze at the night sky
  • Chase a firefly
  • Plant a seed and watch it grow
  • Harvest and eat a fruit or vegetable

That sounds like a great list for a child of Austin. Maybe for children in Western Washington we would outline slightly different rights, perhaps a right to quietly observe a salmon spawning. Maybe the right to watch salmon could substitute for chasing fireflies, which is somewhat difficult in our region of the country.

Austin is one of seven cities involved in the Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative, a pilot program designed to ensure that all children have the opportunity to play, learn and grow in nature. City officials recognize that it may take extra effort to involve children from low-income neighborhoods.

An article by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and parks director Sara Hensley in “The New Nature Movement” describes the city’s program and provides links to a dozen other stories and websites. Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” founded The New Nature Movement, which he describes as “not going back to nature but forward to a nature-rich civilization.”

If you don’t read Louv’s book, you may find that he reveals quite a bit about his views in an interview with Jill Suttle of “Greater Good,” an online magazine at the University of California at Berkeley.

“There will always be conservationists and environmentalists,” Louv says, “but if we don’t turn this trend around, they’ll increasingly carry nature in their briefcases, not in their hearts. And that’s a very different relationship.”

Last year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced nearly $1 million in grants under the No Child Left Inside movement. The grants focus on outdoor environmental, agricultural and natural-resource education and recreation for 8,000 kids who don’t normally get a chance to interact with nature, according to a news release that lists all 19 projects.

As an aside, I can vouch for the fact that our governor is no slouch when it comes to the outdoors. In 2002, while Jay was a U.S. representative, we went on a hike along the South Fork of the Skokomish River. We talked about the need to protect roadless areas, and I had trouble keeping up and taking notes at the same time, as he maintained a fast pace along the rolling trail. Read the story in the Kitsap Sun, May 19, 2002.

As for exploring the outdoors with your children, these freebies and programs are one thing. But what kinds of things can we, as parents, bring to the experience?

Lauren Knight, who writes about motherhood in her blog Crumb Bums, provides some good advice in a column she wrote for the Washington Post titled “Ten Ways to get your kids out in nature, and why it matters.”

Her first suggestion is to “inspire curiosity by being curious yourself.” She writes: “A parent’s excitement is contagious to her children, and when we show awe in nature, our children follow suit. Take the position of a learner …”

Her fourth suggestion is to “seek out natural, untouched spaces and return often to them.” She writes: “Returning to the same spot throughout the seasons will allow for observations of change and cycles of life.”

Other information:

  • Several books and websites feature advice and locations to take children. Search for “hikes kids Western Washington” as a start.
  • Many visitor centers offer information about hikes and outdoor activities. Search by region on Find Visitor Centers website.
  • Washington Trails Association has a section on “Hiking with Kids.”
  • An organization called Hike It Baby offers advice on easy trails by region. (Registration required)
  • Sometimes the best advice comes from asking friends and coworkers where they like to go with children.

Feel free to offer comments about other good sources of information or even suggest some of the best places to go with kids in Western Washington.

Amusing Monday: Swimming horses and other water creatures

Horses that are accustomed to swimming with riders seem to truly enjoy the cool water on a hot day, according to Katie Dillon, a travel writer who experienced the thrill of swimming horses on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean.

Katie’s video, which features her daughter, is the first on this page. A Southern California resident, Katie describes the actions of the horses, which are owned by a company called Pampered Ponies.

“They walked rather slowly into the water until they couldn’t touch the bottom, she wrote in a blog post. “I couldn’t distinguish when the actual swimming started as it felt more or less the same as a slow walk.

“At some point, I looked down to see their legs moving in more of a circular motion. The guide confirmed that, yes, they’re swimming and stuck my GoPro underwater to capture it.

“What cracked me up is that all of the horses grinned from ear to ear,” she added. “They started to hum, too. Hilarious.”

After I watched the video, I did some reading to find out if this kind of swimming is OK for horses. I learned that this activity is much more common than I thought.

“There are few things that equal the exhilaration of taking a horse swimming on a hot summer day. They like it, too!” writes Dr. Rebecca Gimenez, a veterinarian who has dedicated her life to abused and neglected animals.

“The power that you experience as they surge forward, paddling strongly through the water is fun, but it can be dangerous, she writes in a safety guide to the activity.

Some of the perils of riding a horse in water is spelled out by Rebecca in Part 1 of a two-part series called “Don’t Drown Your Horse.” Part 2 involves suggestions and safety tips. The series was published in the online magazine “The Horse.”

The second video, posted by Alison Zook, shows horses swimming with riders in the waters of Costa Rica.

I was able to locate numerous other amusing videos showing animals that swim, although most do not have riders. Here are my favorites so far:

Orca celebrations and environmental learning are filling our calendar

From killer whales to native plants, it’s a potpourri of activities and events I would like to share with you. June is Orca Month. But first, on Saturday, we can celebrate the 15th anniversary of the remarkable rescue of a young killer whale named Springer.

Also coming in June are gatherings small and large, including a water-based festival in Silverdale later in the month.

Celebrate Springer!

This Saturday, May 20, folks will come together to celebrate Springer — the lost baby orca who was rescued and returned to her home in British Columbia. The 15th anniversary of the rescue will be commemorated on Vashon Island, at the Vashon Theatre, 17723 Vashon Highway SW.

Springer and her calf, named Spirit, who was born in 2013. // Photo: Christie MacMillan

The celebration will include stories recounting the event, starting when Springer was found alone near the Seattle-Vashon Island ferry lanes and continuing through her return to the north end of Vancouver Island after being restored to good health. The celebration will include dancing by the Le-La-La Dance Group. These are the First Nations dancers who welcomed Springer back to her home waters 15 years ago.

For details, check out the web site of The Whale Trail, which is sponsoring the celebration, which I wrote about in Water Ways on the 10th anniversary of the rescue.

Orca Month

The kickoff of Orca Month will include a tribute to Granny, the elderly matriarch who led J pod for decades until her death this past year. The opening event, sponsored by Orca Salmon Alliance, will be Sunday, June 4, at Golden Gardens Bathhouse in Seattle. RSVP on the Orca Month Facebook page.

If you would like to immerse yourself in information about the Southern Resident killer whales, you may enjoy the annual “Orcas in Our Midst” workshop on Whidbey Island on Saturday, June 10. Speakers will include Howard Garrett of Orca Network discussing the status of the Southern Residents, Mike Ford of NOAA talking about killer whale genetics, and Jacques White of Long Live the Kings addressing the critical Salish Sea Salmon. For details and reservations, visit the Orca Network website.

Other events during Orca Month include a screening of the film “The Unknown Sea” in Burien on June 1, naturalists in the parks on June 3, “Day of the Orca” in Port Townsend on June 3, beach cleanups on June 13, Orca Sing on San Juan Island on June 24, and Orca Awareness Weekend at Seattle Aquarium on June 24 and 25. All events, including those in Oregon and British Columbia are featured on the Orca Awareness Month webpage.

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Amusing Monday: Underwater photos show mysteries of the deep

Underwater photographers are a unique breed of picture-takers. They venture into the mysterious depths of the ocean to discover interesting and unusual things and then capture an image for the rest of us to see.

Each year, thanks to the international Underwater Photographer of the Year contest, we can all share in many adventures by viewing more than 100 artful images of watery environments. All of the amazing winners and acclaimed finalists, along with comments from the photographers and judges, can be seen in the annual yearbook (PDF 27 mb). In this blog post, I’ll show you four of my favorite pictures. (You can click to enlarge.)

“Your Home and My Home” // Photo: ©Qing Lin/UPY 2017

This stunning photo of clownfish, taken by Canadian Qing Lin while diving in Indonesia, is titled “Your Home and My Home.” It shows three clownfish, each with a parasitic isopod in its mouth. Meanwhile, as many people know, clownfish themselves live in a symbiotic relationship with the sea anemone. The fish protect the anemone from small fish that would eat them, while the anemone’s stinging tentacles protect the clownfish from larger predators.

“One of my favorite fish to photograph is the clown,” wrote Martin Edge, one of the judges in the competition. “Now, I’ve seen many individual clowns with this parasite, but never have I seen a parasite in each of three. Add to this behavior a colorful anemone lined up across the image. Six eyes all in pin-sharp focus, looking into the lens of the author. Talk about ‘Peak of the Action’ This was one of my favorite shots from the entire competition.”

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Social advice for the environmentally conscious among us

Grist, the sassy Seattle-based webzine focused on environmental news and commentary, has been running a series of advice columns called “The 21-day apathy detox.”

The title says much about the series, which is written for environmentally minded folks who have given up late-night Facebook fights and fancy salads and now find themselves parked in front of the television doing nothing but wondering if there is a future for our species.

Umbra Fisk // Image: Grist

“Can I learn to hope again?” comes the question from such a person begging for help from Umbra Fisk, Grist’s advice columnist who writes on the environmental and climate-change front.

“Well, you’ve found the right advice columnist,” Umbra replies. “I’m here to quietly change your Facebook password and not-so-quietly offer the best tools, tricks, and advice to help you fight for a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck. You’ll build civic muscles, find support buddies, and better your community!”

Umbra’s 21 tips, coming to a conclusion tomorrow, focus on personal, social and political habits. The ideas are crafted so thoughtfully that one might be tempted to try them all — from “meet your neighbors” to “green your power sources” to “fight city hall.” But even if you do none of the specific actions, the series may convince you that personal actions really do count.

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New game lets you travel with wacky steelhead as they try to survive

In a new game open to everyone, 48 colorful cartoon fish will soon follow the wandering paths of real-life steelhead that have been tracked during their migration through Puget Sound.

Just like their counterparts in the real world, some of the young steelhead in the game will survive the trip from South Puget Sound or southern Hood Canal — but many will not. The game’s basic tenet is to choose a fish that you feel will be lucky or cunning enough to make it through a gauntlet of hazards from predators to disease. You then watch and learn about the needs and threats to salmon and steelhead as the game progresses over 12 days, beginning May 8.

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Amusing Monday: All sorts of animals can be viewed live online

Millions of people watched and waited online for April the giraffe to give birth at Animal Adventure Park near Harpursville, N.Y. — although I am not sure how many were viewing live at the moment of birth. Of course, it is now recorded on YouTube for anyone to see.

As of yesterday, zoo officials announced on Facebook that a new camera will be installed to allow occasional viewing at times to be announced. For a $5 subscription, you can sign up for text alerts about the baby. This has become a real money-maker for the zoo. Frankly, I’m amazed at the level of interest, but it will probably decline now that the baby has arrived.

Each spring, I post an Amusing Monday piece showing where to find some of the best critter cams around the world. I’m pleased to report an ever-expanding number of cameras, not only those in zoos and aquariums but also those in outdoor locations where wildlife experts can study animals without disturbing them. Because of the Internet, we are able to essentially look over the shoulders of researchers and even watch the animals when official observers are not around.

Explore.org, a division of the Annenberg Foundation, is becoming the go-to website for connecting people live with animals via webcams. As I write this, the number of live video feeds listed on the website totals 65, although the number changes frequently as a result of shifts in animal activity as well as technical issues. Scroll down below the video player for text messaging related to each camera for interactions between video operators and online observers.

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