I haven’t seen frost in quite a while. And yet, even if we don’t get much snow on the Hill, I know every winter I can count on some frost. Mundane? Well, you may or may not know that there are several kinds of frost, brought on by a variety of conditions. Frost is fascinating.
You mostly know when to expect it. After that clear, cold night, you wake up, ready to scrape the windows or watch your step as you walk down the block. In its simplest form frost is moisture in the air, gaseous water, that has settled into a liquid state, and frozen, on a surface. For this to happen, the air temperature needs to get below dew point, the temperature where gaseous water turns to liquid (why we get dew on our lawns overnight in cool temperatures). Frost mostly happens when the air is saturated with moisture.
When we do get cold, clear weather in our area, we see a lot of frost because we have moisture to spare. In a more dry place, even on the other side of the Cascades, frigid temps don’t always mean an accumulation of frost on the available substrates. Less moisture, less frost. Continue reading
American Robins are common in our yards, but almost never come to feeders. Habitat is what attracts them. (Image: Brendan McGarry)
When I was eight years old, few things were more exciting than birds. This excitement may feel eccentric to certain folks. However I’m not unique in this. In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that at least 47 million people in the U.S. watch birds, in one form or another. Few of these people probably match the fervor of my 12-year-old-self seeing “life birds” — species I’d never seen before — but I bet many feed birds.
There are likely more people on Capitol Hill who feed birds than identify themselves as birdwatchers. Bird feeding is a $5 billion industry. Inevitably, people on the Hill feed birds. I have been feeding birds most of my adult life. Not only do I get to enjoy feathered friends with morning coffee, but it gives me a sense of who is in the neighborhood, helping me feel less disconnected from the world.
So, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.
A burying beetle species found on a deer carcass. (Image: Brendan McGarry)
Most folks have an aversion to dead, rotting, and decaying things. They smell bad, they have a weird texture, they’re just simply gross. Most of us, if we had it our way, wouldn’t deal with the slime that forms in the bottom of the garbage can. However, in a strange way, this is the stuff of life: in the unmaking of things that once lived, the new foundations of life are found.
We are on the verge of a holiday in which we celebrate our fascination with death. Halloween mostly focuses on the spiritual side this. I thought we could think about what happens to the corporeal after life.
Things certainly don’t just fall apart by themselves. We can’t just throw our yard waste in a pile and expect it to turn to compost immediately. A whole host of organisms, we’ll broadly call decomposers, break them down. On a simplistic level, a decomposer picks apart the larger pieces in the process of getting sustenance, leaving divisions in its wake.
There are fungi, bacteria, insects, and even vertebrates that aid in decomposition. If we get into it, only fungi and bacteria really break things down enough to be considered fully “decomposed,” broken into essential ingredients of life like nitrogen or carbon. The rest are just detritivores that aid the process. No matter the role, they’re all important. So let’s consider some possibly familiar, and less familiar, decomposers that live on the Hill. Continue reading
It’s a peaceful, mostly quiet existence. And friends seem to drop enough granola bar bits from above to augment whatever goldfish chow exists naturally in the storm drain of a Capitol Hill elementary school.
It’s not exactly clear when or how they arrived, but two fish continue to make the Stevens Elementary campus near 19th and Galer their home. Continue reading
Northern Flicker wings, from the spread wing collections at the Burke Museum. (Image: Brendan McGarry)
Growing up a birder, one tends to become the focus of bird questions. Frequently, people describe birds to you, hoping you can identify them. This has never bothered me and it serves as an entry into getting people to think about birds a little more with a series of questions: Where was it? What was it doing? How large was it compared to a bird you know? How did you know it was a he (as in, why do we assign “he” to animals without typically knowing their sex)? Lots of bird species surface in these queries. However, there’s one that tends to garner more attention than most: The Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus.
I think what frequently catches the attention of people who see a flicker, is the intense color of their underwings and undertail. A reddish-orange flash greets the person who stumbles across a flicker, or as they are also called in our area, Red-shafted Flickers (a Yellow-shafted form of the same species exists east of the Rockies and they used to be considered different species). Of all the feathers I find, a good percentage are from flickers, their orange shafts acting as beacons, more than their feathers being more commonly dropped than other birds. Also noticed by observers is their white rump, or the body speckled with black dots. For being a bird that displays as predominantly gray and brown from afar, they are beautiful birds. An urban favorite. Continue reading
Ghosts and Goblins in a cemetery for Hallowe’en?
Why not consider lichens as an alternative? Lichens are friendly and interesting organisms that love to grow on headstones and old trees. They are harmless to your plants and add aesthetic value to trees and shrubs. We can actually use them as indicators of air pollution!
Cemeteries can take on new meaning as a fun place to observe a symbiotic organism made up of fungus and algae. You will also learn about common lichens found in an urban environment and take home a user-friendly chart that lists lichens found in your neighborhood. Join Dr. Katherine Glew and the UW Botanic Gardens on Saturday, October 27 to get a head start on learning lichens from your local cemetery. You can enjoy Hallowe’en looking for lichens rather than scary witches and pumpkin heads.
When we live in human altered spaces and inhabit a cultural space dominated by binaries, it’s incredibly easy to create a false dichotomy about the natural world. This stems from a troubling belief that if we are in place like the Hill, are not a part of nature. And, if we travel out to say, an alpine meadow in the Cascades, we’re in nature. We think of unkempt greenspaces on the edges of our urban landscape as awful, non-native, invaded landscapes, and idealize the seemingly natural, wild, or “untrammeled” spaces beyond our fold.
Has anyone else noticed the sudden appearance of rabbits on the Hill? Growing up in Seattle, I can’t recall many rabbits sightings. There were a few at Discovery Park, and there was the infamous colony in a rocky warren in Lower Woodland. Other sizable green spaces have rabbits as well, but it always seemed likely that the Hill and the rest of central Seattle wasn’t suitable. Turns out I was wrong.
Feral, domesticated rabbits are not unusual in cities overall. Often people assume they are easy pets, and disown them upon discovering otherwise. They hop about for awhile and I assume, are dispatched by cars or coyotes. But the bunnies we’re seeing aren’t domesticated, they’re eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus), and they’re suddenly everywhere. The real question is why? Continue reading
Twilight is that time when people-activity in the Arboretum quiets down and we get to view this enchanting place in another light. Our open-air tram offers the ability to glide through the early evening hours in ease and explore the changes that start to occur as the sun goes down.
Dr. John Wott, Director Emeritus, will lead this journey through the many plants in the Arboretum’s world-class collection, while sharing the history of the park. Dr. Wott served as Arboretum Director from 1991 to 2004 and continues to serve as a passionate leader, teacher, and advocate for our programs and collections. With any luck, along the way on this special tour of the plant collections, you may have an opportunity to get acquainted with our resident nocturnal fauna, including bats, raccoons, and owls.
What are birds getting up to during the summer? Our local birds are very busy with the “kids”, but they’re also getting ready for the big push south in the fall. Join master birder, author, and Seattle Audubon Conservation Chair Constance Sidles to find out exactly what our avian neighbors are doing this summer. Connie will show us what birds are up to, and share some delightful bird stories and facts.