Pikes/Pines | How to be part of the City Nature Challenge on Capitol Hill

(Image: iNaturalist)

Spring is a time of wakefulness. A time to pull out of our winter funk, poised for the leaves and blooms bursting forth, pollinators and migrants winging back. Spring is the watchful season too.

Instead of anxiously staring at the vegetable starts on your windowsill, direct that nervous energy towards an upcoming opportunity to help monitor your local ecosystem. The City Nature Challenge calls for us to engage in the spirit of “nature, everywhere.”

Beginning in 2016 as a competition between San Francisco and Los Angeles aiming to engage community members in documenting as much urban wildlife as possible, the Challenge has become an international affair. In 2020, 244 cities across the globe participated and over 32,000 species were documented with 1300 of those being rare or threatened. The Challenge concept is simple: during specific dates, get outside and document nature with nothing more than a smartphone and curiosity. Continue reading

What the duck! Capitol Hill waterfowl question Seattle Parks over anti-duckling measures at Volunteer Park lily ponds

No anti-duck mesh — yet — on the north pond (Image: CHS)

Ducks hate this mesh (Image: CHS)

Capitol Hill area waterfowl are outraged over a new effort by Seattle Parks to improve the Volunteer Park lily ponds which, apparently, “were never intended to serve as duck ponds.”

New mesh wire has been securely installed to block the spaces of the lily pond fence that surrounds the northernmost of the twin Volunteer Park ponds. Seattle Parks hasn’t responded yet to our inquiry but it sounds like new mesh will also be added to the southern pond.

“The two small ponds at Volunteer Park were never intended to serve as duck ponds,” a Seattle Parks representative from the office of Superintendent Jesús Aguirre wrote in a response to a community member’s email complaint about the anti-duck mesh shared with CHS. “But over the years, ducks have used the ponds, and the duck population has increased dramatically.”

This is where it gets dark. Content warning: sad duckling details from the city — Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Even over Capitol Hill, bald eagles are assholes

There is a long list of things I take for granted. Some are deeply important like clean running water. Others are not, but make my life significantly better: good pizza and microbreweries, for example. To some degree, I could live without pizza and beer, but certainly not water. I’d argue that bald eagles fall somewhere in between this hierarchy of needs. But that doesn’t mean I necessarily love bald eagles. They feel more like an oil change.

Just under a year ago, my favorite undergraduate professor and dear friend passed away. His personality and impression on generations of ornithology students was so indelible I can’t help but quote him on a regular basis. One of my favorite statements during field outings was in relation to young eagles: “They look like they are rotting” — which summed up his feelings on bald eagles quite well.

I’m not quite to the point of accusing young, mottled individuals of being flying corpses, but I cannot call myself an eagle fanboy either. They are deeply aggressive bullies that scare other birds and alter their behavior. This can be impressive but also frustrating when you are birding and every other species in the vicinity is cowering under the frown of the big bald tyrants. Their presence soaring this late winter above Capitol Hill is, at best, a mixed bag of excitement and dread. Continue reading

Reminder: Please spring forward to Capitol Hill Daylight Saving Time


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A post shared by Kate T. (@nephelokokkugia)

It is not good for your body and it can throw your timing for a loop. Capitol Hill Standard Time is ending Sunday. It is time again to jump forward to Capitol Hill Daylight Saving Time. First envisioned by Ben Franklin to give Americans an extra hour of daylight for brunch, CHDST is the crappy one. At 2 AM, your clock jumps ahead to make it 3 AM. You lose an hour of sleep. The cool one happens in the fall and gives you an extra hour of sleep. Your dogs and cats will be confused by all of it. Your kids and friend who is bad at “telling time” will be, too. The good news? The sun won’t set until after 7 PM starting Sunday night.

Pikes/Pines | Hitting the pavement for a geological trip through the natural history and present day questions of the Capitol Hill streets and sidewalks beneath our feet

Ready for shipping from CalPortland’s Ready Mix and Pioneer Aggregates Plant in DuPont (Image: Cal Portland)

I don’t know about you, but I rarely consider the streets and sidewalks I travel over unless they’re an impediment. Biking around Seattle I know where to veer past a specific pothole. I’ve found myself in a groggy rage having spilled coffee down my sleeve, tripped by a tree root uplifted section of sidewalk. My car is old and I know when a road is equally as pocked by time.

And yet, it’s easy to just feel as if roads happen (if one ignores the traffic revisions that we endure for years). A good number of folks reading this do not remember a time when new roads were built on or adjacent to the Hill. They were just there and unless you are a civil engineer, an urban planner, or a mass transit or bicycling advocate, you might not have considered them either.

Sometimes roads take us in directions we hadn’t considered. When I first pondered the natural history of roads, I had this quaint idea of delving into what grows in the cracks of the concrete. There are surely compelling stories here, but really, you can figure it out: roads are made of earthly materials and plants grow in and wear at said medium with their roots, which combine forces with other types of weathering. We’ve all probably seen a bokeh image of a tree growing out of rock in some misty locale. Give some seeds a few years without any bother and our streets and sidewalks would quickly begin weathering away, all manner of vegetation sprouting from the cracks.

Ultimately, I realized I didn’t really know what roads are made of. Where did the material come from? What are the environmental costs of putting in and maintaining roads? How long does a road last? These are all questions I recently put forward to folks at the Seattle Department of Transportation who endured such infantile questions about our city streets with grace. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | The Hill’s Pine Siskins also face an outbreak

A Pine Siskin (Image: Brendan McGarry)

As we go about our lives, the rest of the world keeps moving. Seasons change, animals and plants enact glorious revivals, tremendous gatherings and movements, that we take various approaches to noticing. All too often we miss great natural events in urban spaces, either because we are simply too distracted or don’t know where or when to look. Sometimes it’s simply that our spaces don’t support such events.

And sometimes we do notice, because they’re too hard to miss. The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit population explosion of the past couple years. Or this winter: the initial joy of Pine Siskin flocks at our bird feeders — a moment that quickly backpedaled into dismay.

If you don’t feed birds or don’t watch them as religiously as some, I wouldn’t put it past you to have missed the bevies of tiny finches. However, if during this dark winter, you were constantly at home you might have found new (or renewed) relief in bird feeding. It’s entirely likely that a few people reading started feeding birds for the first time in 2020, realizing how fun it can be to see our neighbors up close and personal. This isn’t just a posit: during the spring of 2020 Instacart searches for “Bird Food” rose by as much as 450%.

The birds
Pine Siskins are small, brownish finches with embellishments of yellow in their wings and tails. They are extremely gregarious, exploding into noisy flight, filling the tops of alder and conifers to find the winter seeds they subsist on. Siskins flocks are hard to miss once you know their intensity.

Though they are a northerly species, they are year-round residents on the Hill (though most head for the forest in summer) and mountainous areas of western North America all the way into northern Mexico enjoy them as such also. Siskin populations are deeply influenced by coniferous seed crops, so much so that in some years we have huge numbers and others they are entirely absent. Many finches have similar ways of responding to the variability of food and live irruptive, nomadic lives across much of their ranges.

Especially epic eruptions of finches are called “superflights.” Not only do Pine Siskins show up, but their enticing cousins do as well. Redpolls, crossbills, and grosbeaks, all are reliant on cone crops in winter. Only sometimes that food isn’t there. Continue reading

Remembering Daniel Streissguth and looking back on the growth of Capitol Hill’s family-run hillside gardens

Daniel and Ben worked together to build the Woodland Path in Streissguth Gardens in 1974. (Image: Streissguth Gardens)

By Lily Hansen, UW News Lab/Special to CHS

On a steep hillside just off Broadway sits just over an acre of cultivated woodlands. Home to Seattle’s third-longest stairway, the Blaine Street Steps, with views overlooking Lake Union and the Olympic Mountains, the idyllic gardens are the 48-year product of one dedicated family: the Streissguths.

Its patriarch, Daniel Streissguth, created the garden in 1962 after purchasing a plot of land and constructed a four-story house just north of the staircase. In 1965, Ann Roth Pytkowicz moved into the house next door and began cultivating her own hillside garden.

Bonding over their shared appreciation for gardening, Daniel and Ann fell in love. They married in 1968, and welcomed a son, Ben Streissguth, in 1970. Together, the family of three built, expanded, and maintained the Capitol Hill oasis known as Streissguth Gardens.

On November 21, Daniel died peacefully at his home of natural causes. He was 96.

In honor of his father’s memory, Ben is remembering Daniel for the loving husband, skilled architect, avid gardener, and community socialite he was. With the help of his fiancee and Streissguth Gardens assistant director Jade Takashima, the two are working to ensure that the green space is maintained for generations to come.

In 1972, Daniel and Ann purchased two hillside lots across the Blaine stairs, looking to beautify the land and expand their garden. Although Ben was only two at the time, he has vivid memories of working with his parents in the newly acquired land.

“Some of my earliest memories are of playing in what’s now called the public garden,” he said. “And realizing, even back then, that the soil that we were working with was really horrible. I don’t know how my parents managed to make [gardening] fun for me, but they did. And I’m so grateful to them for that.” Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Your squirrelly Capitol Hill neighbors might make you nuts but you’d miss them if they were gone

(Image: ERIK98122 via Flickr)

Capitol Hill squirrels. They’re amusing and cute to some. Considered hirsute rats by others. Ultimately they are one of the only non-domesticated mammals we see on a daily basis. So, if you feed birds you might have developed a bit of rage towards them. Every day they’re there, little tree climbing pigs, gulping down your birdseed, and hiding peanuts in your flower beds.

Though corners of greater Seattle have holdouts of our native tree squirrel, the Douglas Squirrel, the only squirrel on the Hill is the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Like many of our day to day urban species, they are not native. They hail instead from east of the Rocky Mountains. They are here because of us, which as I have continued to repeat, is not a real reason to hold grudges. (Though for people who feed birds all across this country, indigeneity matters not.) Continue reading

CHS Pics | The colors of fall crepe myrtle breakage season on Capitol Hill

Image from reader Robert in the CHS Facebook Group

No, a bolt of lightning probably did not split the crepe myrtle tree this weekend on Capitol Hill. And it probably was not antifa.

The CHS Facebook group filled up with posts of concern on Saturday and Sunday. Sometime — probably Friday night — the blooming tree just across from the Harvard Market QFC ended up split down its center, pink flowers scattered to the wind. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | The Capitol Hill Connections Project

When I tell new acquaintances that I write a column about nature on Capitol Hill, I sometimes get a bit of a side eye. Though there’s much credit due to how we define nature and where we see it existing, many people still wonder why I would want to spend my time pondering one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Seattle. Why not dream over far off wild places instead of a place many might find lacking wildness? One of many answers can be found in the Capitol Hill Connections project.

The goal of this project, collaboratively spearheaded by Seattle’s Urban Bird Treaty City partners is to promote healthy urban habitats along a corridor on 11th Ave between Volunteer Park and Seattle University. This means making the pockets of greenspace in between, as connected as possible, which requires multimodal efforts to engage the public and private landowners in creating, connecting, and stewarding spaces for birds and nature. And often what’s good for them is of course good for people. Continue reading