Starting today, a string of low tides in Puget Sound and along the Pacific Coast bring opportunities to discover an ecosystem usually inaccessible to those who like to keep their feet on solid ground. It's a great way to get outside and explore nature in springtime, whether you choose a city beach or a hiking trail along the coast.
I lived near some of the best tide pooling beaches for a dozen years and never explored them. Then one day at Lincoln Park in West Seattle my young son and I stumbled upon volunteer beach naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium during a low tide. Since then, I take my kids tide pooling a few times each year. We usually go to the same beach, but every time we go there are different creatures to find.
Keep sea creatures, marine environments and your family safe
Plan your trip by consulting NOAA's Tide Predictor online or by carrying a tide table (especially when exploring the Pacific Coast where you could become trapped by a returning tide). For maximum viewing, time your visit for an hour before low tide.
The beach naturalists showed us some cool things -- my son was hooked! They also introduced us to good beach etiquette. Here are my take-aways for you:
- Always step carefully during low tide, avoiding sea creatures like anemones that lie at or just below the surface of the sand. For this reason, I highly recommend leaving kids and toddlers at home until they can understand the impact their actions have on the marine environment.
- Do not collect. While beachcombing and collecting may have been one of your treasured childhood memories, the culture has changed as biologists have witnessed the effect of these actions on the intertidal marine environment. Please do not take home shells or animals; they are all integral components of the ecosystem.
- Touch gently, or simply look. Low tides can be stressful for the sea animals.
- Know your tides. Watch for the incoming tide and for rogue waves, especially on the coast. You can find a tide table for dozens of different locations from NOAA.
Your guide to tide pools and easy-to-get-to beaches
If you want to get started, but don't know where to go, I have put together a guide to three excellent tide pool hikes. I've also listed 13 city beaches, from Olympia to Whidbey Island, that are known for the tide pooling. Have fun!
Want a cool way to visit Olympic National Park while also helping the park's flora and fauna? Consider volunteering in the native nursery that is growing plants for the Elwha River restoration project or on a citizen science project monitoring marmots in the high country of the Olympics.
Transplant seedlings to restore the Elwha River valley
With only 60 feet of Glines Canyon dam all that remains of dam removal on the Elwha River, the river valley restoration is now underway. Sign up to spend two days in the Olympic National Park native plant nursery propagating seedlings that will be used to revegetate the newly exposed reservoirs.
- What: A tour of the Olympic National Park native plant nursery, orientation to the Elwha Revegetation Project, and transplanting work. We will work from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, with a lunch break during that time. Remember to bring your lunch, water, and gardening gloves.
- When: Friday, June 7 and 14; Work from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, with a lunch break during that time.
- Where: Matt Albright Native Plant Center, Sequim, WA
- Post-gardening hike: At the end of the day, visit the Elwha Dam Overlook trail that leads to a viewing platform above the former site of the Elwha Dam and Lake Aldwell reservoir. The trail is just past Port Angeles heading west, about a 45 minute drive from Sequim. This 0.25 mile trail is very easy and accessible for all levels. The first 200 yard section of the trail is even wheelchair accessible!
- To sign up: Contact Jill Zarzeczny (Jill_Zarzeczny@nps.gov Tel: 360.565.3047) Elwha Revegetation Project, Olympic National Park.
Hike the Olympics and monitor marmots in action
Olympic National Park is now accepting volunteer applications for the fourth season of Marmot Monitoring. Each year small groups of volunteers visit designated survey areas to gather timely and vital information about population presence and distribution. Tracking and monitoring these changes allow wildlife managers to evaluate the population’s status on an ongoing basis.
Volunteers must be capable of hiking to and camping in remote areas, be comfortable navigating off-trail and be able to work on steep slopes. Most survey trips involve a 5-20 mile hike with a significant elevation gain to the survey area. Volunteers then camp out in or near the survey areas and search for marmots two to four days.
A limited number of day hike assignments are also available for the Hurricane Hill, Klahhane Ridge and Obstruction Point survey area trips. To ensure safety, volunteers must travel and monitor with a partner. Up to six individuals may travel in the same group, breaking into smaller groups to visit individual survey areas. Volunteers ages 13-17 must be accompanied by a responsible adult.
Training for volunteers will consist of one training day, featuring both classroom and field training. Volunteers are responsible for their own transportation. Camping fees will be waived at Heart O’ the Hills and other front-country sites for the evening before training. Park entrance and backcountry fees will also be waived for volunteers.
How to apply by the May 1 deadline:
- Watch the video (below) and learn more about the program.
- Decide when you and your group are available. Volunteers will likely be in the field for up to a week beginning on August 7, August 14, August 21 or September 5.
- Fill out the application by May 1. (The 2013 application deadline is May 1, but may close earlier if enough eligible volunteers have been accepted, or last longer if some trips remain unfilled.)
- Still have questions? Learn more about Olympic Marmot Monitoring program at the park's website.
by Tami Asars
Northwest forests are teeming with life—much of which may go overlooked or unseen. On your next hike, look out for the little things and discover something new on your favorite trails.
Bird: Cliff swallows make a trip to Dry Falls Lake worth a visit
You’ve likely heard of the swallows’ annual return to Capistrano. Well, we have our own return of the cliff swallows right here in the Northwest! The high basalt cliffs of central Washington come alive with them after they make their way back to their breeding grounds in early April.
As the temperatures warm, the graceful flyers dip and swirl through the air, eating a variety of insects. Observers with good binoculars might see little heads popping out of feather-lined mud-ball nests, built by rolling tiny balls of mud piece by piece in their beaks, then securing them onto sheltered cliff walls.
There are many good places to see cliff swallows; Dry Falls Lake in Sun Lakes State Park offers excellent viewing opportunities.
Beast: Find black-tailed deer on trail or in your backyard
If you live on the west side of the Cascade crest and deer wander through your yard, it’s likely your four-legged friends are black-tailed deer. These casual grazers feed on just about anything they can find, including native grasses, salal, salmonberry, pearly everlasting, huckleberry and, yes, your prized petunias.
Look for newborn fawns from late May into June after a gestation period of six to seven months from the fall rut. Fawns have no scent for approximately the first week or so, giving the mother an opportunity to leave the youngster hidden as she hunts for nourishment to recover from its birth.
Look for black-tailed deer during dawn and dusk in wooded areas or grassy meadows.
Bloom: The sword fern saves you from stinging nettle
Most of us know the sword fern from the moist coniferous forest floors of the rainy Northwest. The rain provides a perfect climate of consistent moisture for these plants, which serve as natural ground cover happily growing in the acidic soils at the feet of evergreens.
Look for fiddleheads unrolling in mid- to late spring, looking at times like seahorses as they uncurl. Not only do sword ferns make for nice landscaping, these tough plants are fire resistant and even somewhat drought tolerant in hot summers.
Also, they have one other interesting use.The next time you get stung by a stinging nettle, grab a sword fern leaf and rub its underside against the affected area. It helps alleviate the burning sensation!
This article originally appeared in the Mar+Apr issue of Washington Trails magazine.
The Olympic Forest Service and Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), a non-profit organization that partners hikers with scientific projects, are looking for 16 volunteers to help monitor pine martens in Olympic National Forest this winter.
Martens are small carnivores who have historically been found throughout the mountains of Pacific coastal states. Though they are related to otters, mink, and skunks, the elusive martens are most at home in trees. Martens maintain their dark coats year-round, so winter is a great time to spot them.
Forest Service biologists will use data collected by volunteers to better understand marten activity in the forest and to develop management policy.
Remote camera stations (and you) help monitor martens
The project will be setting up 12 remote wildlife cameras in high elevation areas of the forest to monitor marten activity. ASC and the Forest Service needs help checking and maintaining the camera stations.
“If martens still exist in greater numbers on the Olympic Peninsula, then they may be doing so in higher, isolated pockets of habitat," says Betsy Howell, a U.S. Forest Service biologist with the Olympic National Forest. "Getting to these areas can be challenging, particularly during the winter months, which are the most ideal for carnivore surveys.”
Connect with nature
How to get involved
If you're interested in learning winter wildlife tracking techniques or just want to combine your outdoor adventures with a wildlife conservation project, then the pine martin project needs you.
Participants will attend two mandatory training weekends on Jan. 11-13 and Feb. 1-3, 2013. (Forest Service housing is reserved for these two training weekends, so volunteers will have a warm place to bunk down.) During these trainings, volunteers will learn how to track wildlife and maintain the cameras.
Volunteers will then be asked to visit two of the cameras two more times with a partner in late February and March.
Volunteers should have the ability to ski, snowshoe, or hike in the backcountry during the winter. They will also need to commit to visiting the cameras in the eastern Olympic Peninsula four times this winter.
More citizen science opportunities:
From butterflies to birds, several other organizations also have citizen science programs for hikers:
Spring is here! And while the weather hasn't yet satiated our desire and need for Vitamin D, there are sure signs that spring is in bloom. To get us in the mood, all week we'll be featuring a new sign of spring in this space. Yesterday, we blogged about the first Volunteer Vacation in the Hoh Rainforest. Today special guest Kim Brown takes on a true harbinger of spring: skunk cabbage.
How to stay safe when encountering a bear.
Foraging will be a theme of the next Washington Trails magazine.
Most hikes in the Cascades and Olympics have some flowers to enjoy, but where