Posted by: holly | April 10, 2011


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!

Nature Babies

Whatcom Falls Park

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.

New Moon Morning

Twig Tracking with Joanna Lynam

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?

Thanks everyone!

Walk When the Moon is Full

Moon of the Beaver

Squire’s Lake

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!


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