Remember lhe previous Pikes/Pines when I talked about redefining our sense of “being in nature?” — there are opportunities to enjoy nature, properly socially distanced, just about anywhere. If you are bored, why not take some time to observe something?
Here is a way to practice.
I created this bingo to get you outside, looking around, and observing the beautiful sights around Capitol Hill.
Grab some supplies (Binoculars? A notebook? Your phone to take pictures and for reference?), challenge yourself to be a hyper-local naturalist in your yard, and or make a full day of it and go for a long walk. Don’t just rely on the info below, you’ll need to do some of your own sleuthing as well. And remember to stay safe and following social distancing guidelines while participating.
- Native Tree – Bigleaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum
- Bigleaf maples just finished flowering and have spread their gigantic leaves. They have the largest leaves of any maple and are our largest native maple on the West Coast. Maples cut back to a stump grow back vigorously and left to their own devices will become a many stemmed tree that start low to the ground. A healthy stump can grow shoots up to ten feet long in the first year! Hint: look leaves with lightly-toothed edges, 5 obvious lobes that are 9” or more in length.
- Introduced Tree – Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia
- Black Locusts are just starting to leaf out and bloom on the Hill. They are in the Legume family and like other legumes (peas, clovers, etc) they are nitrogen fixers, with symbiotic soil bacteria that live in their roots and make atmospheric nitrogen available to them. This has allowed them to establish themselves in disturbed places across Seattle. Originally native to the Eastern United States, they have become naturalized across the country. Hint: look for thickly grooved bark, thorny new growth, and compound leaves with rounded leaflets.
- Find a “wild” mammal in Cal Anderson –
- Interestingly, most or all of the wild or feral mammal species on the Hill are here because of us. The various species of rats, Norway and black came with settlers and ships. Eastern gray squirrels likely showed up with shipments on trains (there is a Western gray squirrel that is native and an obligate of oak and pine forests). Eastern cottontails populations have boomed but they’re not from here either. Sightings of possums, raccoons, and coyotes are unlikely, but they all are present because of the city. Hint: think about food and lodging. You might not have the guts or interest to sit and wait, but where there are traps, there are often rats!
- Mallards in Volunteer Park –
- Most of the native ducks have started to move off to breed elsewhere. Mallards, which are native and common, should still be around. Some of the mallards we see around the city look strange, with odd colorations or feathers. Most domestic ducks come from mallard stock, and when someone’s pet or farm duck gets loose, they happily reintegrate with wild mallards and bring their human selected traits with them. Hint: Most mallards are starting to breed, they nest in hidden places near water.
- Native Flowering Plant – Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
- There aren’t a ton of native flowering, herbaceous plants left on the Hill unless they have been planted purposefully in someone’s garden. Most have been overtaken by vigorous introduced species. Miner’s lettuce is an exception and can be found in moist shady places, tucked in here and there. It’s edible, hence the name, and is a good wild green to know about (though do your research before foraging). Hint: look in moist, shady places. They have lots of narrow, basal leaves but their tiny white flowers grow on a stalk with a saucer like leaf.
- Non-native Plant – Purple deadnettle, Lamium purpureum
- There are dozens of introduced, wild growing flowering plants on the Hill. I am particularly fond of the understated purple deadnettle because they are common, have cute little purple flowers much of the year, and are even edible. They are actually in the mint family and don’t sting, though a supposed resemblance gives them their name. Hint: look for small stalked plants in unweeded corners of yards and parks. They can sometimes grow quite thick.
- “Rare Bird” – Wilson’s Warbler, Cardellina pusilla
- Migratory songbirds are arriving back from balmy places like Mexico and Central America. Not all of them stick around on the urban Hill, and are just around for a little while, like the diminutive Wilson’s Warbler. Use the month of May to find this bright yellow bird with a black cap (in the case of male birds). They like to hang out in wet, bushy places, which can make them hard to see, but they sing a lot and can show up in backyards while passing through the area. Hint: Look up them up here to get visual and audio information, and use eBird to see if anyone has seen them lately in your area.
- See the Olympics and Cascades Simultaneously
- We are incredibly lucky to be able to see two distinct mountain ranges at the same time here on the Hill. Our vantage means we can see the Cascades, which run from Southern British Columbia to Northern California and are the result of the Juan de Fuca plate diving beneath the North American plate. Three of the five volcanoes in Washington State are visible from Seattle on a clear day: Mt. Rainier, Glacier Peak, and Mt. Baker. The Olympic Range is an entirely different type of range, basically a mass of different marine derived rocks that have been pushed up into peaks by tectonic action off the Pacific Coast. Hint: Find a place where you have good views both East and West, high up. Bonus: Find Glacier Peak.
- A Butterfly (and Identify It)-
- Some butterflies on the hill are common and native, like the Western tiger swallowtail. Others are also common, but introduced like the cabbage white. While adult butterflies like flowers, their offspring need host plants for food, and you can often find specific butterflies with specific plants. Some adults are very discerning about what plants they nectar, others are happy with introduced plants like buddleia, also known as butterfly bush. Hint: find a place with lots of flowers, like the pollinator pathway. Bring a camera to snap a shot, try to figure out the species with an ID guide online, or upload it to iNaturalist to crowd source some info.
- An animal track (and Identify It) –
- People who study track and sign will tell you that a lot can be learned about animals by studying what they leave behind. From tracks you might discover that an animal you’ve never seen has been around or that the culprit behind a dug up garden bed is your neighbor’s dog not a squirrel. Ask questions: what was it doing? Do you have an initial guess as to the species? How many digits? Two or four legs? Hint: Find a place with mud that people don’t walk through a lot. Bring a ruler or use your hand for scale, take a picture or write down notes.
Have fun and stay safe everyone!
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