We’re moving to our new website to better consolidate with Wild Whatcom, the local non-profit organization we partner with.
Check out what Wild Whatcom does for our community!
Sunday, August 14th
10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Tennant Lake Interpertive Center, Ferndale
Birds, bones and bugs, oh my! Come explore with us and unlock secrets of wildlife watching. Experience hands-on discovery of the wild animals who inhabit Tennant Lake. Bird the boardwalk loop with Paul Woodcock from the Audubon Society, check out wild animal skulls and pelts with Richard Kessler of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Dept, and go on an aquatic invertebrate safari with Holly, Naturalist for Wild Whatcom Walks.
Note: dogs are not allowed on the Tennant Lake boardwalk. They scare the beavers!
This program is in cooperation with the Friends of Tennant Lake & Hovander Park and is offered free to the public. No registration required. Program runs rain or shine.
Whatcom County Parks website.
Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife website.
Downloadable list of the Birds of Tennant Lake.
Directions: The Tennant Lake Interpretive Center is in Ferndale, adjacent to Hovander Homestead Park. Take Ferndale Exit 262 off I-5. Go west on Main Street ½ mile, turn left onto Hovander Road at railroad underpass then right on Nielsen Ave (if you go over the Nooksack River on the bridge, you’ve gone too far). Follow signs to Tennant Lake Interpretive Center (end of Nielsen Ave.).
Did March come in like a lion and go out like a lamb? It seems like we see-sawed between chilly to mostly soggy to very windy! I saw a tree snap in half one windy day at Whatcom Falls Park! I wondered if plants were just chillin’ in neutral, waiting for a warm day or two (which is about all we got) to burst forth their glory. The Indian Plum and Skunk Cabbage is now blooming everywhere I look, and the domestic cherries and plums are getting their prettiest pink and white spring frocks on too. Now, where are all the bugs? Those flowers need their pollinators to help them bear fruit, so we will be on the lookout for insects flying by. March means the Red Alders are pollinating. Soon the Willows, Cottonwoods and Maples will gear up too. Oh dear. Bless you.
March is a month of swift change and underground swells. And rain. According to Weather Underground’s website, our precipitation total for the month of March was 3.02 inches. Our average is 2.87 inches. So the city of subdued excitement excelled in getting soaking wet this month!
Spring brings us the message of renewal, focused energy and hope. Life returns, every year. So much of spring is about birds and flowers, isn’t it? We wait in anticipation for the American Robins to return, or the first skunk cabbage to wave it’s stinky head. Beautiful blooms from a bed of composting events from moments past. Sap is rising, birds return and the earth is awakening. There are new discoveries around every corner. Just don’t forget your umbrella!
We love this park! So many entrances, so much diversity of wild life. We started at Scudder Pond searching for the new spring Robins. But what we really encountered were the Red-Winged Blackbirds! Singing from the many stalks of last year’s cattails, they bragged about their yard size, sang prettily for the ladies and showed off their brightly colored epaulets on their shoulders. We waited for the Bald Eagles to perch on their nest and spotted some Towhees, there in the brush. Robin look-a-likes, until they ta-wheeeet.
We found some very interesting Witch’s Butter (the yellowish-orange jelly fungus) and lots of lovely lichen as well.
Fred Rhoades identified six different species of lichens in this picture. How many can you find?
Then we went from St Clair Park, to figure out the difference between Cottonwoods and Big-Leaf Maples while they are still hiding their leaves. From structure and shape alone, this proved tricky! Close attention revealed the opposite arrangement of Maple branches and the Cottonwoods inclination to grow with a single trunk style. We discovered that licorice fern doesn’t just grow on Maples, adding to the confusion. We found it on a very old Red Alder and a couple of Cottonwoods too. We do know that licorice fern is best friends with moss.
Indian Plum flowers were smelled and Licorice fern was tasted all around by the newbies, amusing the already initiated. We found many trees to explore fully. From the ground up. We discussed tree sex, tried to figure out whether we were looking at a black birch or a bitter cherry tree. Since we could hear winter wrens constantly (and beautifully) reminding us of spring through the canopy above us, we had a hilarious conversation about why birds sing, inspired in part by this article on BirdNote, and by the fact that we had a lot of daddies join us this week. We identified huckleberry and salmonberry bushes just by their twig color and shape for future foraging and a yew tree, all lovely with green wavy branches.
We found many trees to explore fully. From the ground up, and one we could crawl right through!
We do like to learn from each other, don’t we? Especially about nurse logs and huge roots.
Child development experts say that children learn through imitation and exploration.
Rain pants and mud boots?
And of course, snack was shared with great enthusiasm.
Thank you for showing us your wonder-full places, Whatcom Falls Park.
One of my favorite things about my “job” as Queen Bee of the Nature Nerds is working with other folks. Branching out. Creating new programs I wouldn’t have done on my own. Accessing the talents and knowledge of others. I love that. Special guest arborist, Joanna Lynam from Arborea Consultants, guided this fun, activity filled Winter twig i.d. program. She is a multi-talented lady with a wealth of botanical wisdom, and an amazing artist to boot! You can find her beautiful hand-painted silk scarves at the Farmer’s Market. Joanna spent a lot of time building a tree key and re-working Jenny’s identification guide for our use, helping us solve the mystery of sleeping twigs. Thanks also to my friend Jenny Lee Rae for inspiring this lesson and providing her identification guide.
A chilly morning brought us botanical fruits aplenty. We assembled our own twig tracking tree key, learned parts of a tree by building a tree out of people and chose a mystery branch to match to a tree or shrub in the park. We then used the key to figure out what the botanical name was of our mystery branch. Sometimes there were big clues like wisened rose hips, thorns, cones or catkins, but often it was up to us to discern whether our branch had alternate or opposite bud arrangement or branching pattern, bud scars, lenticles or what! We listened to sap rising in the Red Alder trees with real stethoscopes. It was tricky business to find a tree “heartbeat”, but we had fun trying.
Build-a-Tree is a favorite environmental education game, a really fun way to learn the parts of a tree. Thanks to John Wesselink for being the heartwood of our lovely People tree. Next is the Xylem, or sapwood, sucking up water like a straw. Then comes Cambium, making new cells and the Phloem, delivering food down from the leaves. The last layer had Paul and Maizie the dog representing the bark, arf arf! Each layer is represented by a different sound, or action. Can you see the taproot (Michael) and the lateral root (Wyatt) doing their jobs?
Walk When the Moon is Full
Moon of the Beaver
This Moon Walk was in honor of Wild Whatcom Walks co-founder, Rachel Castor as it is her birthday month and her last name means beaver (The American Beaver’s scientific name is Castor Canadensis). Happy birthday Rachel! She is in Nelson B.C. with her adorable family and enjoying huge amounts of snow and bears in her backyard. Her beautiful blog is titled Naturephilia. Past participants may fondly remember Rachel’s gift for verse and her writing skills continue to serve her well.
I had my doubts that anyone would come to this Full Moon Walk, on account of the weather. The sky threatened to rain all day, gradually turning darker and darker until half an hour before the program started, it pelted down. But only in Bellingham! Squire’s Lake is just on the other side of a ridge of the Chuckanut Mountains, so it remained dry nearly until the end. Thanks to Geneva Graham for her help registering everyone!
First, we turned brave volunteer Jeff into a beaver to illustrate the many adaptations he would need to be a successful aquatic rodent. We decided he needed webbed feet, a tail like a rudder, teeth that never stop growing, protective third eyelids (nictitating membranes), a nice thick layer of fat to stay warm, and waterproof fur. We also gave him a fancy nail on his hind foot for grooming and the ability to hold his breath for 15 minutes. He turned out nicely, gracious fella that he was to volunteer. Too bad you can’t see the flippers on his feet!
A “creek” ran through our group which annoyed the beavers to no end and they had to build a dam to stop it. Which they did, thanks to their instinct. Beavers are architects for habitat design! In building their dams, they then create wetlands which are very productive ecosystems. Which means that they support a great diversity and number of species. Wetlands provide ample food, shelter, water and places to build homes. In killing a few trees due to the water level rising, the beavers create dead snags which foster broods of insects, inviting restaurants for woodpeckers. The woodpeckers bore holes in their enthusiastic hunt for dinner, which then provide perfect homes for cavity nesting birds like wood ducks, mergansers, flycatchers, owls, swallows, chickadees, wrens and even kestrels. Here’s a website dedicated to cavity nesting birds. Our participants illustrated this concept by becoming plants and animals in a wetland (the blue tarp you see in the pictures).
After a sudden storm washed out the beaver dam (a big clear cut was just upstream which didn’t slow the water down one bit!), we packed up and hiked up the hill to Squire’s Lake.This is the last picture we took, so we wouldn’t ruin our night vision. We identified a couple native plants that beavers like for lunch, but mostly hiked straight up the hill so we could take advantage of what sunlight that was left, which wasn’t much! We watched and listened for wildlife, straining to see in the darkening as we journeyed along the eastern shore of the lake. There are multiple places to watch the beavers as they navigate. Is that a beaver? We could see a small furry head zigzagging across the surface. SPLASH! Went one tail slapping the water, and then there were several more during our silent solo time. Our walk back revealed Big Brown Bats out for the night! We attracted the bugs, which then attracted the bats. They’re so fast!
Side Note: Here’s a great geology blog from Dave Tucker, research associate at Western Washington University Geology Dept. This is his March post on the geology of Squire’s Lake and the Alger Alp. How timely is that?
See you on the trail!
February in the Pacific Northwest means it’s time to awaken. Get out of that dark cozy nest you’ve been hibernating in and stretch your wings just a bit. The sap is rising, daylight’s increasing, trees are pollinating and sleepy critters are stirring in the chilly wind. Spring starts now, you just have to look for it. Sometimes you have to look extra carefully, but there are signs. Me, I’m from Michigan. Spring starts in Michigan around, oh, late April if I remember rightly. So, I’m always amused and enlightened by how early spring starts here. We’ve had an incredible month of wild weather, haven’t we? And I don’t think the craziness will end just yet. I regularly check Cliff Mass’s blogspot for forecasts and an often entertaining interpretation of what’s happening, weatherwise. Not only was it freezing in February, but there was stormy weather on the home front this month. A special thanks to Paul Woodcock from the North Cascades Audubon Society for his help when I had to cancel the Wild Moon program on very short notice due to illness in my family. Paul is a wonderful and knowledgeable person to learn about birds from. I highly recommend birding the beach with Paul the first Saturday of every month at Semiahmoo Beach in Blaine. Beginners are welcome.
Nature Babies searched the Interurban trail high and low for spring this month and found some blooming! We found rare and beautiful frost flowers and then, real flowers! Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) is nearly always the first native plant to bloom in these parts, a sure sign of the season to come. Here’s the photographic evidence to prove it! The cascade of delicate white flowers are not big or showy, yet emit a distinctive scent. Some say the aroma is reminiscent of a strange mix of cucumbers and cat urine, others find it interesting and even pleasant. You decide. The shrub is common trailside in many local parks. Regardless of the way it smells, it makes me happy to see it blooming every February, even in a hailstorm!
Golly, was it cold this month! How animals keep warm was a frequently discussed topic this month. Here’s what the Nature Babies group came up with: Feathers, layers of blubber, thick fur, snuggling together in a nest (like snakes and squirrels), hibernating/torpor, flapping your wings, stamping your feet, eating a lot, wiggling your toes and moving quickly. We counted squirrel homes, spied on their dining room and watched them bravely chase each other through a forest obstacle course. We looked at lichens with our home-made like-a-scopes (everything you see through them, you like). We encountered a truly wild Nature Baby (looking a little scared of our attention)! And on our last day, we explored in a legitimate hail storm. It was fun, really! You could hear it coming with a sharp tinkling sound, starting right at the tops of the trees until it reached us just moments later in a rush of hailstones that looked like snowballs for fairies. It was an awe inspiring and magical moment. Then the hailstones went down the back of our necks. Brrr!
New Moon Morning: Swan Watch at Tennant Lake
This program was co-sponsored by the Friends of Tennant Lake and Hovander Park, Brad Otto and Wild Whatcom Walks. Brad Otto is a Science Technician for the Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife. We gathered like early birds waiting to Trumpeter Swans take flight by first light. At 7 am we assembled in the top of the viewing tower of the Tennant Lake Interpretive Center to watch several groups of Trumpeter Swans slowly swimming on the lake. They spend the night there to roost in safety, surrounded by water to keep clear of predators. Seems like a good idea to me! Even though they are North America’s largest waterfowl and have a wingspan of 80 inches, they look like lunch to Bald Eagles and Coyotes. It was a lovely, partly cloudy morning and we were delighted to witness the swans fly off trumpeting after nearly an hour, just after the break of day. Truly lovely.
Among Brad’s many tasks are banding and collecting data from Trumpeter Swans affected by lead poisoning due to old bird shot. That lawn ornament in the photo with Brad was called in by someone who saw a big white “swan” lying on it’s side, assumed it was dead, and called WDFW. Which is what you’re supposed to do! A dead swan that’s been poisoned by lead will be consumed by critters looking for an easy lunch like Bald Eagles, crows or coyotes and the lead poisoning will move on down the food chain, harming many animals on the way. Well, it was a legitimate sighting but not a real bird! The originally orange beak of this pretend Mute Swan was colored black marker on the beak by Brad to be more Trumpeter Swan-like, and is now used to show how neck bands are um, incorrectly positioned. Brad shared a ton of information with us about the biology, distribution and work he does with Trumpeters. He showed us all the bands he uses to tag birds, every thing from tiny bands for passerines (perching songbirds) to the bands for Trumpeter Swans that would fit around your big toe.
We had the opportunity to examine and touch a swan that died from suspected lead poisoning. Check out those enormous webbed feet, aren’t they amazing? Future biologist, Heidi, helped with data collection as Brad dissected a small section of this swan’s liver for testing. This particular swan’s wings spanned over 90 inches from tip to tip! What an incredibly big beautiful bird. Thanks for the opportunity to see one of these incredible animals close up and personal, Brad!
After the Swan Watch, Stephen Frank from the Friends and I waded our way around the Tennant Lake’s wonderful boardwalk (this is the last picture from my camera before I accidently dropped it in the water). Those beavers have been very busy this winter. Go check out their work, but wear your wellies!
Will I see you on this trail? It’s one of my favorite places in Whatcom County for birding and wildlife watching. Go slow and stop often for good viewing.
No Full Moon Walks about Bald Eagles and Salmon because of seriously high water at our Eagle viewing location: Mosquito Lake Road over the north branch of the Nooksack River. Flooding is a force of Nature that I don’t monkey with. At all. The essence of water reminds us to move, bend, flex, branch, go with the flow and move mountains. Water works patiently, wearing down an obstacle in it’s path drop by drop and in huge surges. A river whispers that a change in direction might be a way of reaching your goal. Water can soothe your soul with it’s gentle rhythm rolling on rocks or annoy you all night with just a few drops falling from a faucet. Look out! It may carry you away at a moment’s notice. Rain nourishes and rinses clean. It washes away the snow and grime from your car leaving it shiny once more. But take care, the gunk from your car flows directly into storm drains and out into Bellingham Bay. The power of water can transport tons of rocks downhill, reducing one massive mountain boulder to billions of tiny multi-colored grains of sand. Changing creation. Approximately 60% of our bodies is water (babies, nearly 75%). Water provides balance to individual cells, absorbing nutrients and eliminating the stuff we can’t use. Water works through connections. From raging river to the smallest rivulet, it flows through a system that branches like trees and the veins in our bodies. Water connects us with our body and directly links us to our physical environment. Recognize this force of Nature within.
We explored liquid and frozen forms of water! It was great to see so many brave folks out in the snow. Good for you! We had such fun finding the first buds of spring while making snow angels. Crazy. We watched ducks diving and the mallards were wearing their finest feathers for up and coming spring nuptials, I mean mating. We saw lots coots and their interesting lobed feet pretending to be ducks and listened to them, um, cooting? You can watch and listen here. Trail Map of Lake Padden.
We explored the properties of snow! We discovered it’s cold, wet and fun, all at the same time. It’s rare for Lake Padden to freeze, even partially. We discovered that throwing ice chunks across the ice made a very interesting sound. A little weirdly Star Wars-ian, actually.
It didn’t snow the whole month of January. But we still bundled up in lots of layers. Icy puddles are very fun to crunch. We played Pooh Sticks from a bridge, discovered that Mallard ducks like apple chunks and searched for signs of spring. We found a few full-to-bursting buds of Indian Plum, so we know that spring will soon be here. We hope.
The Snack Spot was a nice bench overlooking the lake and near the fishing pier. Great location, good for sharing our booty. Not quite long enough, though!
When I was an Environmental Studies student at Western, one of my favorite natural areas to hang out in and reflect on my life was Connelly Creek. It felt like a wild oasis right there, smack in the middle of the neighborhood. It’s a transportation corridor for treading commuters, students on wheels and the silent wings of barred owls. There’s a surprising variety of big mature trees in here: Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar, Red Alder, Grand Fir and the ubiquitous Douglas Fir. Connelly Creek winds through meadow, forest and open trail areas. This variety is reflected in the birds who live and pass through this special place. I’ve seen Brown Creepers, 3 species of woodpeckers, beautiful Cedar Waxwings, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Stellar Jays, Winter Wrens, Swainson’s Thrush, Black-Capped Chickadees, Sharp-Shinned Hawk, tiny Bushtits (and their amazing nest!) and Barred Owls. That’s when I was birding solo. When exploring with Nature Babies, our pace is slow and fit for birding, but our volume is not! We’re having too much fun.
Trail map here: http://www.cob.org/documents/parks/parks-trails/trail-guide/connelly_creek.pdf
How to race/play Pooh Sticks: Choose something from nature that you think will float like a boat. Toss it into creek on the upstream side of a bridge, watch it come out the other side. What goes faster, a leaf, a stick or a chunk of bark?
Thank you Erin Moore, our fabulous knowledgeable guide to the fungus among us and the education specialist from the Northwest Mushroomers Association. For more info visit http://www.northwestmushroomers.org/.
Rachel Castor dreamed up Wild Whatcom Walks many moons ago… She asked me to join her on this splendid adventure, for which I will be forever grateful. She is leaving Whatcom county for a bright future in Nelson, B. C.
Her lively spirit and gifts of creativity, poetry, beauty and her knowledge base and teaching skills will be missed by all that have met her. Not to mention the ability to keep us on track and on time! I will miss her administrative skills, as well.
So long, good friend and good journey. May the love of nature forever be in your heart. Thank you for all your work for this labor of love.