Category Archives: Plants

Amusing Monday: Nature photographers reach beyond ordinary

Attracting more than 48,000 photo entries from 100 countries, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition remains one of the most prestigious photo contests in the world.

“Night Glow,” contest entry by Cruz Erdmann, named Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Click on images to enlarge photos

The competition reflects a diversity of “wildlife” in its various entry categories, focusing on the “behavior” of various groups of animals while making room for stunning landscapes and photos of plants and fungi.

The first photo on this page, “Night Glow” provides a rare image of a bigfin reef squid showing off a variety of iridescent colors. Contest judges, impressed with the quality and clarity of the image, honored photographer Cruz Erdmann of New Zealand with the Young Photographer of the Year Award. The photo also was declared the best in the category for young photographers in the 11-to-14 age group.

The photo was taken during an organized night dive off North Sulawesi, Indonesia, where Cruz noticed a pair of squid engaged in a mating ritual. One of the squid jetted away, but the other — probably a male — stayed just long enough for the young photographer to capture this image of the creature in its colorful sexual display. Cruz understood the rarity of the moment as well as the technical challenge he faced.

“Land of the Eagle,” winner in the Bird Behavior category, by Audun Rikardsen/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

“You have to be careful not to stir up the silt when you dive or you’ll get a lot of backscatter from the strobe light,” he told BBC News. “I wasn’t kicking with my legs so that’s why the photo seems very clear.”

Theo Bosboom, a nature photographer who served on this year’s judging panel, commented: “To dive in the pitch dark, find this beautiful squid and be able to photograph it so elegantly, to reveal its wonderful shapes and colors, takes so much skill. What a resounding achievement for such a young photographer.” (Check out the story by Josh Davis on the Natural History Museum website.)

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. Images are selected by a panel of professionals for their originality, artistry and technical complexity.

“The Garden of Eels,” winner in the Under Water category, by David Doubilet/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Judges included chairwoman Rosamund ‘Roz’ Kidman Cox, writer and editor from Great Britain; Shekar Dattatri, wildlife and conservation filmmaker from India; Jamie Rojo, naturalist conservation photographer from Mexico; and Tim Littlewood, director of science for the Natural History Museum.

“There has never been a more crucial time to move hearts and minds with beautiful, truthful and impactful nature photography, so judging the competition is both a privilege and a huge responsibility,” Littlewood said in a news release. “We hope the images we select will inspire not only the next generation of photographers, but the next generation of scientists, conservationists and advocates for the natural world.”

“Touching Trust,” Highly Commended by judges in the Wildlife Photojournalism category. By Thomas P. Peschak/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The second photo on this page by Audun Rikardsen of Norway was the winner in the Birds Behavior category. Titled “Land of the Eagle,” the picture was the result of a three-year effort to attract eagles to a tree branch where Audun had mounted a camera. Over time, with occasional treats of road kill for the birds, this golden eagle became accustomed to the camera, allowing its picture to be taken with a flash via motion sensor. Audun watched from a blind he had built nearby on the Norwegian coast.

The third photo, by David Doubilet of the United States, shows a colony of garden eels on a steep slope off Dauin, The Philippines. The slope, at least two-thirds the size of a football field, was home to the largest such colony he had ever encountered, David said. It was the winner in the Under Water category.

“The Huddle,” part of the best “portfolio” of wildlife images by Stefan Christmann/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The fourth photo, by Thomas P Peschak of Germany and South Africa, captures a young gray whale approaching a pair of human hands that are reaching down into the water. The photo was taken in San Ignacio Lagoon, a gray whale nursery and sanctuary off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California. Since the 1970s, trust of humans has developed to the point that gray whale mothers sometimes allow their young to get close to the limited number of whale-watching boats.

The picture of the two penguins by Stefan Christmann of Germany is part of a collection of photos deemed to be the best “portfolio” of wildlife photography in the contest. Other photos show up to 5,000 emperor penguins huddling on the sea ice of Antarctica’s Atka Bay. Females entrust their eggs to their closely bonded mates, who incubate a single egg while the females head to sea to feed for up to three months before returning to take over care of the chicks. For more of his work from this portfolio, visit Stefan’s website Nature in Focus.

Not shown on this page is an image by Yongqing Bao of China, named the overall Wildlife Photographer of the Year and winner in the Mammals Behavior category. The photo is a freeze-frame image of a startled marmot in its final moments of life as a Tibetan fox prepares to pounce. This image, along with other winners and “Highly Commended” photos in 17 categories can be viewed on the following pages of the Natural History Museum website:

In addition, The Guardian newspaper and The Atlantic magazine are showing the winning photos in nice presentations on their websites.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest was started in 1965 by “BBC Wildlife Magazine,” called “Animals” at the time. The Natural History Museum came on board in 1984 and later took over the full contest operations.

London’s Natural History Museum is a place to explore the natural world and confront the most important issues facing humanity and the planet, according to museum officials. The museum welcomes about 5 million visitors each year, and the website receives more than 850,000 unique visitors each month.

Environmental volunteers needed in Kitsap County

I thought I would offer a quick note on some volunteer opportunities in Kitsap County, based on an email from WSU Kitsap County Extension. By the way, Kitsap and King county governments are among the best in connecting people with opportunities where they can spent quality time together while helping their community. Check out Kitsap County Volunteer Services and King County volunteer calendar and opportunities.

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Amusing Monday: Ten new species, each with unique stories to tell

An international team of taxonomists has chosen the “Top 10 New Species of 2018” from among some 18,000 new species named last year.

They range from the large — a majestic tree that is critically endangered — to the small — a microscopic single-celled organism discovered in an aquarium with no obvious connection to any known species.

They include a fish that has survived in the deepest, darkest part of the Pacific Ocean — at record depth — with credit for its discovery going to a team of scientists led by a University of Washington researcher.

The list of new species also includes a rare great ape — an orangutan that has been identified as a separate species — as well as a prehistoric marsupial lion identified from fossils found in Australia.

The 11th annual list is compiled by the International Institute for Species Exploration at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York.

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World ocean researcher traces his interests back to Puget Sound

Marine geologist Peter Harris, a 1976 graduate of North Kitsap High School, has been awarded the prestigious Francis P. Shepard Medal for Sustained Excellence in Marine Geology.

Peter Harris

The annual award, from the Society for Sedimentary Geology, recognizes Peter’s 30 years of research accomplishments — “from the polar to the tropical,” as the judges described it — including his discovery of new coral reefs off Australia.

Also noteworthy is his work documenting the margins of the Antarctic continent; describing the prehistoric formation of the Fly River Delta in Papua New Guinea; and explaining changes in the “Antarctic bottom water,” a dense water mass surrounding Antarctica. Peter has published more than 100 research papers in scientific journals.

After an awards ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah, Peter returned last week to Kitsap County, where he spoke to me about his current efforts on upcoming state-of-the-environment report for the United Nations. He is working on an oceans chapter for the “Sixth Global Environmental Outlook,” known as GEO-6, which will be used to advance environmental policies around the world.

“There are so many environmental issues in the ocean,” he told me, “but we were asked to identify three things that are the most urgent.”

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New bridges provide improved habitat in two Kitsap County creeks

Contractors are putting the final touches on two new bridges in Kitsap County, both of which are expected to improve the local environment.

A new bridge over the Carpenter Creek Estuary near Kingston helps to restore the upper salt marsh.
Photo; Stillwaters Environmental Center

One is a 150-foot bridge that crosses the Carpenter Creek Estuary on West Kingston Road near Kingston. The other is a 50-foot bridge that crosses Big Anderson Creek on Seabeck-Holly Road near Holly.

Among local residents, the Carpenter Creek bridge may best be known as the bridge that blocked traffic and forced a detour near Kingston for more than a year — much longer than originally planned. (Recall reporter Nathan Pilling’s story in the Kitsap Sun.) While contract issues remain in dispute, the environmental benefits are clear, according to Joleen Palmer of the nearby Stillwaters Environmental Center.

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Getting little respect, kelp could be the key to survival for some fish

It is all too easy for us to forget about Puget Sound’s productive kelp forests, which have been slowly vanishing from numerous places where masses of vegetation once proliferated.

I never fully appreciated the value of kelp until I began writing about the complexity of the Puget Sound ecosystem. While scuba diving years ago, I came to understand that kelp harbored a vast variety of fish, crabs and other creatures. I still like to go scuba driving and use globo surf scuba diving gear. Still, mostly out of fear of becoming entangled in kelp, I never ventured into the middle of a kelp forest. The stories I heard about divers becoming entangled are real, but they may have been overblown. (Read the story by diver/writer Eric Douglas.)

I will never know what I might have seen as a diver in the middle of a dense kelp forest, but I have always understood that kelp was generally a good thing. As a boater, however, I tended to think of the floating kelp balls and blades as a nuisance to get around or through.

Now I realize that our vanishing bull kelp has been vastly undervalued. Knowing that kelp continues to disappear leaves me with a nagging feeling of despair. I cannot conceive of the ecological loss of a single kelp bed, let alone the dozens of kelp forests that have vanished from Puget Sound.

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You can join the search for beetles that threaten Washington trees

Washington state property owners and people with swimming pools are being urged to become part of a defensive initiative to protect trees from invasive beetles.

August is National Tree Check Month, and at least four state agencies are asking tree owners this month to take a 10-minute walk around their property to look for insects that don’t belong in our region.

Nationwide, more than a third of all insect invasions are first detected by average people, according to Justin Bush, executive coordinator of the Washington Invasive Species Council. Heading off an invasion before it gets started could save untold millions of dollars worth of trees, as well as the costs of battling a spreading insect invasion.

Citrus longhorned beetle
Photo: USDA Plant Protection Service, Bugwood.org

This is the second year that Washington state agencies are bringing the message home from other states where many longtime tree populations have been decimated by insects, including the citrus longhorned beetle and the emerald ash borer.

“While we don’t have these two invasive insects right now, we could get them at any moment,” Justin told me. “We want people to help us look for them.”

This year, state officials also are asking people who own swimming pools and ponds to join in the defensive effort, as some of invasive insects end up in the water and die. A swimming pool owner or maintenance person should take note of any unusual insects found in pool filters or among debris skimmed off the surface of the water, he said. On the East Coast, swimming pool owners are often able to spot invasive beetles even before they show up in traps designed to attract them.

According to experts at Responsive Pest Control, it would be helpful if people would look for invasive insects all year long, but if that is not a feasible task, August is a good time to place a special emphasis on the effort, because this is the time that most wood-boring insects emerge as adults.

Emerald ash borer
Photo: Debbie Miller, U.S. Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Identifying specific species of beetles is often difficult, Justin acknowledged. The best advice is to take pictures of the insect from several angles and send the photos to the Invasive Species Council, InvasiveSpecies@rco.wa.gov, which will find an expert to identify the bug.

People shouldn’t hesitate to send photos, Justin said. “If it comes to us, we can figure it out.”

Another reporting method is to download the “WA Invasives” app to send photos and location data straight from your smart phone. See WISC download page. The app also includes photos and information for identifying invasive species.

When emailing, one should include contact information, including a phone number, along with the location of the insect sighting. (An address or cross-street description would be helpful.) Details about the tree species should be included as well.

If you obtain one of the beetles, you should keep it in case an expert wants to inspect the specimen. Another option is to take the beetle to a local office of WSU Extension, which can forward it to appropriate experts.

The citrus longhorned beetle, a close relative of the disastrous Asian longhorned beetle, is a major concern on the West Coast. The beetle can feed on a variety of hardwood trees, including apple, maple, oak, willow, alder and popular. When they emerge, they leave an exit hole about 5/8-inch in diameter in the tree.

In 2001, the citrus longhorned beetle was found in Tukwila, where it arrived in a shipment of bonsai trees. Three beetles were recovered from the bonsai trees but five others were seen flying away. Nearly 1,000 trees were cut and chipped within one-eighth mile from the location site, and another 1,500 trees farther away were treated with insecticide. The last beetle was seen in the fall of 2002, and a quarantine remained in effect until 2006. See U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

Because of heavy shipping from Asian ports, concerns remain high that damaging beetles will be imported to the West Coast, Justin said. Insects could also arrive from infested areas back East, which is the primary route for European gypsy moths brought into Washington state in moving vans. This state’s gypsy moth eradication program — including nearly 100 local battles since 1979 (PDF 307 kb) — has kept the damaging moths from establishing a permanent foothold in this state.

Besides the citrus longhorned beetle, officials are concerned that the emerald ash borer could devastate ash trees in this state. The exit holes in ash trees are about a quarter-inch in diameter and have a distinctive “D” shape. Ash trees are common in urban areas, and the beetles apparently have been moving westward as campers bring firewood from eastern areas. The beetle was recently discovered in Boulder, Colo.

State agencies involved in the effort to track down the invasive beetles are the Invasive Species Council, Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and Washington State University Extension.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers information on these and other invasive insects:

Amusing Monday: Odd and colorful species make top-10 list for ’17

A newly named stingray that lives in freshwater has joined an omnivorous rat and a couple of leggy wormlike creatures as part of the Top-10 New Species for 2017.

Sulawesi root rat
Photo: Kevin Rowe, Museums Victoria

The top-ten list, compiled by the College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) at the State University of New York, also includes a tiny spider found in India, a katydid discovered in Malaysia and a spiny ant from Papua New Guinea. Two interesting plants also made the list.

It’s often amusing to learn how various critters are first discovered and ultimately how they are named — sometimes for fictional characters with similar characteristics.

ESF President Quentin Wheeler, who founded the International Institute for Species Exploration, said nearly 200,000 new species have been discovered since the top-10 list was started a decade ago.

“This would be nothing but good news were it not for the biodiversity crisis and the fact that we’re losing species faster than we’re discovering them,” he said. “The rate of extinction is 1,000 times faster than in prehistory. Unless we accelerate species exploration, we risk never knowing millions of species or learning the amazing and useful things they can teach us.”

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Learning to create small habitats in Kitsap, Thurston, Pierce counties

Marianne Jackson, a personal trainer and yoga teacher, lives in a fairly typical residential neighborhood in Des Moines, about halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. Marianne has been interested in gardening for years. Recently, however, she decided to up her game by creating a backyard wildlife habitat.

A flowering currant in Marianne Jackson’s garden is a native plant that is good for birds. She says hummingbirds love it.
Photo: Marianne Jackson

That’s when Sarah Bruemmer, a habitat steward coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, entered Marianne’s life. Sarah knows how to turn small outdoor spaces — or large ones, if available — into functioning habitats. She coordinates a training program that addresses issues from soils, gardening and invasive plants to birds, butterflies and water quality.

Sarah’s month-long program, which includes weekly classes with two Saturday field trips, is scheduled for April in Kitsap and Thurston counties and May in Pierce County. Only a few seats remain for the Kitsap training to be held in Silverdale.

Marianne, 56, took the course last year and came away with a much deeper knowledge of the ecosystem. She had already ripped out her grassy lawn years ago to create what became a series of connected gardens, but the classes taught her how native plant species and water features can help native birds and butterflies.

“I already had the interest,” she said. “Now I have a lot more knowledge that I can put to use. I’m planning to get my yard certified.”

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Amusing Monday: Science is music when data becomes sound

Nearly everyone who deals in scientific information learns to read simple charts and graphs to help visualize the data. As a reporter, I’m often looking for the right graph to bring greater meaning to a story. In a similar way, some people have been experimenting with rendering data into sound, and some of the more musically inclined folks have been creating songs with notes and musical scales.

As with graphs, one must understand the conceptual framework before the meaning becomes clear. On the other hand, anyone can simply enjoy the music — or at least be amused that the notes themselves are somehow transformed from observations of the real world.

The first video on this page, titled “Bloom,” contains a “song” derived from microorganisms found in the English Channel. The melody depicts the relative abundance of eight different types of organisms found in the water as conditions change over time. Peter Larsen, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, explains how he created the composition to Steve Curwood, host of the radio program “Living on Earth.”

      1. Living on Earth

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