CHS Pikes/Pines | A tale of three Capitol Hill wildflowers

For many decades of my life, when I thought of native wildflowers, I thought of the alpine wonderlands of the Cascades and the Olympics.

We may be able to spy these ecologically important places from our perch on Capitol Hill, but these distant alpine meadows have also become entwined in the zeitgeist of wilderness.

Untangling the concept of wilderness is not my goal here, but to say that I’ve spent far too many summers of my life wishing to frolic through alpine meadows while sitting in Seattle, (I still deeply appreciate being able to visit these places so close to home). This yearning for places exotic and difficult to reach obscured what was around my feet and out my front door. In a very strange way, I diminished my knowledge and in turn, care for the places I actually spent most of my life. I spared no time to consider native perennial wildflowers that might grow in the cracks of the pavement. In doing so, I missed out, and this my dear nature nerds, is my impetus for today’s topic.

While I’ve somewhat beaten the discussion of native vs nonnative plants into the ground, I still appreciate that there are native wildflowers lurking among the wild tangles of the novel ecosystems on Capitol Hill. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Splendor in the grass: The bees and — the what the heck is that-s! — you’ll find in the lawns of Capitol Hill

A yet to be identified bee found nesting in my lawn. (Image: Brendan McGarry)

 

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One of the major benefits of paying attention to the natural world is that no matter how long you’ve been doing it, there’s always more to learn. Within the last five years I’ve gone from knowing honey bees, bumblebees, and mason bees to devoting many hours to the breathtakingly nerdy pursuit of studying the wealth of Washington’s native bees.

The best thing about this real life Pokemon pursuit, (I’ll take running around like an idiot staring at zipping dots any day to chasing things that only exist on my phone), is that I don’t actually have to go that far to get stumped. I can just hang out on a lawn and be a lawn-chair melittologist.

With projects like Pollinator Pathways and Capitol Hill Connections it shouldn’t be surprising that you can find interesting insects on the Hill, let alone a bunch of cool bees. The thing about many invertebrate species is that while some require very specific conditions and host plants that are lacking in urban spaces, they also don’t need the same physical space that, say, a wolf does. Some scrubby ground, some flowers with sufficiently tasty nectar, and a dearth of pesticides and a lot of species make it work or even flourish on the Hill even if we don’t get the same diversity a native prairie would have. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Social queens with bright, distinctive patterns, Capitol Hill’s bumble bees also have perfect hair

A bumble bee visiting a bigleaf maple bloom (Image: Brendan McGarry)

Every year I mark the start of spring when I see my first bumble bee. Birdsong and flowers are part of the cue, but I’m not filled up with vernal energy until a buzzing fluff passes by on some dreary spring day. That first bee is large. She’s always a queen who overwintered in some sheltered space. Her focus is on finding a suitable place to start her nest and getting on with the rest of her life.

Bumble bees are undoubtedly one of the most recognizable insects in our part of the world. It’s hard to miss these big insects, which are often brightly colored and noisily bounce from flower to flower. Sometimes our attention might be due to a misplaced worry that being bees, they might sting you and some bumble bees are indeed intimidatingly large. Thankfully, unless you accidentally squish a bumble bee or really disturb their nest, you’d have to work very hard to get stung by one.

Pikes/Pines has talked about native bees before, but bumble bees hold a particularly fascinating corner of the bee world. Not only are they obvious, with several species being relatively common on the Hill, their life histories are unique. One of the most noteworthy is that bumble bees are one of the few truly social native bee species in North America. Continue reading

CHS Pics | A Capitol Hill coyote in Interlaken Park

Mornings and evenings this spring on Capitol Hill have included occasional reports of sightings of shy, elusive neighbors.

Thanks to a reader, CHS can share a glimpse of one of these amazing city dwellers.

Tim Schluttenhofer took the picture in Interlaken Park on Sunday afternoon and reported the peaceful encounter to CHS.

Reports of coyote sightings around the Hill seem to have risen this month. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s North Puget Sound – Region 4 office has said that urban coyote reports pretty much always increase in the spring when pups are born and the drive for food and protecting young increases. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | The City Nature Challenge in Seattle: 200 observations about 121 species on Capitol Hill — including native epiphytes outside Everyday Music

(Image: Beth Jusino via Flickr)

Last month I wrote about the City Nature Challenge, an annual “competition” centered around getting out and logging as many species as possible on the community science database iNaturalist.

The results are now in and in the Seattle-Tacoma Area, 571 observers contributed 7,144 observations of 1,235 species; pretty awesome for a long weekend. Just as cool were the nearly 200 observations of 121 species within the Capitol Hill Connections corridor. And we definitely weren’t alone in our participation.

All around the world 52,587 people got out and recorded a total of 1,259,469 observations on iNaturalist, accounting for 45,583 species, over the course of four days. Even more exciting is that the number of observations grew by around 400,000, and 10,000 more people participated than in 2020. This growth in participation is very exciting; to me it represents a whole bunch of people who just got more excited about nature where they live.  Continue reading

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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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