Photo of the Week - May 30, 2011

Bee in a Peony
Closed Loop Park
Lacey, Washington
May 30, 2011
The site of the former Thurston County landfill has become a high of all sorts of community activity. Home to the Thurston County transfer station, Hazo-house and a Goodwill drop off location, the landfill site is also home into a brand-new off leash dog area, a playground made with recycled materials and a beautiful garden tended by volunteers of the WSU Master Gardener program. Closed Loop Park is Thurston County's one and a half acre demonstration garden built on a portion of the Hawks Prairie Landfill that was closed in 1991.

Closed-Loop Park is one of the first parks to be built on top of a lined landfill. The 60 ml plastic liner only 16-18 inches from the surface covers decades of accumulated garbage. The liner prevents rain from soaking through the garbage which would create toxic leachate (or "garbage juice") that could sink into the groundwater.

Master gardeners tend to a wide variety of plants including two notables-a wonderful variety of sedums and a beautiful collection of over 90 peony varieties donated by Pacific Northwest Peony society.

In May and early June, is worth making the trip to Hawks Prairie to visit Closed Loop Park.

Photo of the Week - May 29, 2011

Rufous Hummingbird
seen at two of its favorite perches -
the crown of a hawthorn tree and taking off from a utility line

Black Lake Meadows
Olympia, WA

May 29, 2011

A cool fact about birds in general and hummingbirds specifically is that they are creatures of habit. Once you find where they like to perch, it is probable you will find the hummingbird in the same location day after day. I was lucky enough to hear this Rufous hummingbird flying one day at while I was walking at Black Lake Meadows. He landed on the utility line. I watched for a half hour as he made his way back and forth between his two favorite spots. I have since been back three times and have found him perched at the same spot.

In Springtime, the air fills with the electric buzzing of hummingbirds. Native Anna's and seasonal Rufous hummingbirds create miniature symphonies. Twist your head quickly to see where they are going. Watch out if you are in the path of a territorial or mating dispute! Despite their appearance on tea towels, notecards and other genteel accouterments, hummingbirds can be downright vicious when you get in their way.  

Use your ears and then use your eyes to see these tiny treasures.  

Photo of the Week - May 27, 2011

Bearded Iris
Iris germanica
growing in my front yard
Olympia, WA

May 27, 2011
I like to think of these irises as the variety 'Mushroom' as we got the tubers from our neighbors down the street whose cat is named Mushroom. The funny part of the story is that the neighbors didn't know what color the irises were when they gave them to us. The idea that we might plant some unknown color and variety of large showy flower in our front flower bed is probably appalling to my friends who are garden enthusiasts. However, the same concept probably seems like a very good idea to my friends who are big into reduce-reuse-recycle. 

Either way, we lucked out. The beautiful and dramatic purple irises compliment the other vivid colors in our front yard and bring a spring smile to the neighbor's faces. I even think I saw Mushroom giving her approval one day.

Photo of the Week - May 16, 2011

Great Blue Herons preparing their nest
Kiwanis Ravine
Seattle, WA

May 16, 2011

In 2003, the City of Seattle designated the Great Blue Heron as Seattle's official city bird after a yearlong campaign by the Seattle Audubon Society. The largest nesting colony in the city (37 nests counted in 2000) is found just east of Discovery Park in the Magnolia neighborhood. Each spring, as the Big Leaf maples leaf out, pairs of herons return to the rookery to begin remodeling old nests and building new ones. Large twigs and small branches are flown in, transferred to the nest builder, analyzed for suitability and then carefully placed into the nest.

After the nest is properly fortified, three to five eggs will be laid. Both parents will incubate the eggs for a period of about a month. Newly hatched young will develop for about 60 days before their first flight and will depart the nest approximately 90 days after hatching. The adult herons leave the rookery soon after. Then, the many months of waiting begin, until the Big Leaf maples begin to flower, and the familiar primordial call of the Great Blue Heron fills the ravine once again.

Photo of the Week - May 15, 2011

Hulda Klager Lilac Garden
Woodland, WA

May 15, 2011

We had planned a weekend jaunt to go canoeing near the Columbia River in Southwest Washington. Unfortunately for us, we choose the weekend which would provide as much rain in one day as normally falls during the whole month of May. Needless to say, on the heartiest of outsdoor enthusiasts were canoeing on May 15, 2011. 

The wet weather opened the opportunity to visit the Hulda Klager Lilac Garden in Woodland, a community of about 5,500 located about 20 miles north of Vancouver in Washington state. The town is at the confluence of the Lewis and Columbia Rivers, which makes it an excellent agricultural area.

Hulda Klager (1863 – 1960) was a native of Germany, whose family settled in Woodland when she was 13 years old.

In 1903, she became interested in hybridization after reading a book by the renowned botanist Luther Burbank. Mrs. Klager was interested in producing larger apples to reduce the time spent peeling small fruit for pies. In 1905, she began hybridizing lilacs and by 1910 she had created 14 new varieties.

By 1920, Mrs. Klager had produced so many new varieties of lilacs that she began hosting a spring open house each year to showcase her efforts. This practice caused her to become known as “The Lilac Lady.”

Following the death of her husband, Frank Klager, in 1922, she contemplated abandoning her work with lilacs, almost throwing away a number of hand-pollinated plants she had taken a special interest in. But her son Fritz insisted that she continue to nurture them and from these plants came some of her very best lilacs.

The spring of 1948 brought another great adversity when the swirling waters of the Columbia River swept across her property, wiping out her lilac gardens and nearly every other shrub on the place. Only the big trees withstood the flood but undaunted and at the age of 83, she set about rebuilding her garden. Many people who had purchased her lilacs in the past returned starts to her so she could replace her losses.

After Mrs. Klager’s death, her property was being considered for industrial redevelopment. Rather than letting that happen, Woodland Federated Garden Club petitioned for state and federal historic preservation status. Subsequently, the Hulda Klager Lilac Society was created to purchase the property and maintain the beautiful gardens.

The Lilac Society sponsors the annual “Lilac Week” festival each spring when the lilacs come into bloom, selling lilac plants to visitors just as when Hulda Klager was there.

Check out the Lilac Garden Website

View Larger Map

Photo of the Week - May 10, 2011

Red Tailed Hawk being mobbed by Anna's Hummingbird
about 60 feet off the ground

Buteo jamaicensis vs. Calypte anna

St. Martin's University
Lacey, WA
May 10, 2011

all images © Michele A. Burton
no reproduction without permission

Detail shots of the David and Goliath encounter

Note in lower shot how the hummingbird has its legs rotated
as it turns back towards the hawk.

Photo of the Week - May 5, 2011

Water collecting in the leaves of a young Devil's Club
Oplopanax horridus
Lewis Creek Park
Bellevue, WA
May 5, 2011

For information on Devil's Club as a native plant in Washington State,
check out King County's Native Plant Guide

Interesting info on Devil's Club:

Wonder Weed: Can Devil's Club Beat TB, Other Ills?
Sonya Senkowsky
National Geographic Today

In Alaska, the locals call it devil's club—a spiky plant mostly known for spoiling hikes and crowding out blueberry patches. Even the weed's Latin name sounds ominous: Oplopanax horridus.

The plant grows 5 to 8 feet (1.5 to 2.4 meters) tall and is covered with thorns up to an inch (2.5 centimeters) long.

"Even the leaves have little-bitty thorns," said Peggy Hunt, an agronomist at the Native Plant Nursery in Palmer, Alaska. "They go through your skin. You wear jeans, they still go through those jeans. And the thorns will fester. It's like getting a splinter. You really have to dig them out."

Devil's club is also abundant, infesting at least 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) throughout the state, according to agronomists' estimates. The range of devil's club extends to California.

"For me, it's like a weed, a nuisance," Hunt said. "I have a tire swing for my daughter, and every year I'm out there hacking this plant away, because it just takes over."

So why is Hunt helping to grow more of the stuff? She and other plant ecologists see potential among the thorns. Devil's club may find a use as a natural "fence"—or as a resource for a treatment for tuberculosis adapted from Native American folk medicine.

The plant's bad reputation may be its best-selling point. When the state division of parks was looking for a natural barrier to keep visitors from wandering off trails, "devil's club was the first plant I thought of," said Stoney Wright, a plant ecologist and manager of the Alaska Plant Materials Center, which operates the nursery.

A Remedy for Stomach Aches, Psoriasis, and Tuberculosis?

"By simply planting something that was native and common to the area, you could in essence put up a barbed wire fence," Wright said. "There are very few people—other than tourists from the Lower 48—who would venture into devil's club."

Landscape architects have shown interest in devil's club. In late summer and fall the plant displays brilliant red berries.

"I could think of certain situations where devil's club would be very attractive next to a building," Wright said. "It has a very good color. It has that bright red fruit on it."

Devil's club may also be a source of medicine, according to David C. Smith, a former city manager in Seldovia, Alaska, and founder, in 1998, of Alaska Green Gold in Anchorage, a company that evaluates the marketability of Alaskan medicinal plants in China.

Smith started by researching ginseng, then switched to devil's club because of the plant's many traditional uses in Native American medicine as a remedy for everything from stomach aches to psoriasis to tuberculosis.

For more than three years, with grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation, Smith has experimented with methods for harvesting the plant's bark and roots. He is now pursuing a grant from the National Institutes of Health to assess the plant's effectiveness against tuberculosis.

Speeding Up the Weed's Growing Cycle

Each year, tuberculosis kills 1.3 million people in China, according to the World Health Organization. Smith has consulted with researchers in China who "think a Chinese patient is more likely to complete the treatment and continue drinking tea rather than taking pills," he says.

Previous studies have associated the anti-tubercular properties of devil's club with polyenes, pigment-producing molecules found in some plants, said Guido Pauli, a research associate professor at the Institute for Tuberculosis Research in Chicago. But other compounds may be responsible. "We are really open to looking at anything," Pauli said.

A touchy issue with devil's club is that some Native American groups may resent any appropriation of traditional medicine. Other groups may welcome a new cash crop.

At the Plant Materials Center, however, the immediate challenge is to find a way to speed up the weed's growing cycle to produce marketable quantities. In the wild, devil's club goes two winters before germinating. At the nursery, researchers are experimenting with techniques to halve the growing time.

Chesloknu Foods, a jams and jellies company operated by the Native Village of Seldovia, is helping Smith harvest devil's club. Chesloknu has been fighting the weed's incursion into its blueberry fields.

"The first comment around here was, 'Great, if someone wants to pay us for devil's club, that would be wonderful," said blueberry farmer Rod Hilts, manager of Chesloknu. "It's a very tough bush to work around, so we have some interest in thinning it out."

Photo of the Week - May 3, 2011

Osprey nesting on cell tower
Pandion haliaetus

Lakewood, WA
May 3, 2011

Fans of the movie Casablanca will remember Rick's parting words to Ilsa " doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." While this may have been true in the WW II resistance movement, it is not the case in modern day Lakewood, WA.

This is the story of two individuals who've made a lasting impact on their neighbors.
Approximately 146,000 vehicles travel the I-5 corridor through Lakewood and the Fort Lewis area each day, rushing to their jobs and through their lives - barely slowing down to notice the businesses and chain restaurants that dot the way.

On the west side of the highway, tucked into a mini-storage facility, is a cell tower. For six months each year, a pair of Osprey use the tower to nest and raise their young. This is their story.

It is not remarkable that the Osprey have chosen the cell tower. Across the country and around the world, utility poles and other man-made structures are popular nesting sites for fish hawks. From  "Because cell towers stretch high above surrounding trees and buildings, they sometimes offer perfect nesting sites for Ospreys, large brown and white birds of prey. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Osprey nests are protected, even on cell towers."

What is remarkable is the impact this pair has had on their human neighbors.

Each time I have visited the commercial strip adjoining the nest site I have been approached by people who live or work close to the cell tower. Each individual approaches with protective pride for the Osprey who have been nesting here for the past half dozen years. They carefully question me for motives and interests. They politely inquire whether I am pro- or anti-Osprey and whether I have an affiliation with the bureaucrats at the cell company.

Once it is verified that I am an ally, the stories begin to flow. Like proud parents, they recount the arrival day from Mexico (April 6 in 2011); favorite Osprey fishing spots are mentioned; ongoing battles with the unfeeling corporate types who insist on having technicians dismantle the nest each fall; glee at the speed with which the pair rebuild their summer home each spring. Most of all, the Lakewood neighbors share their joy in the birds and have welcomed me into their fold of people who care about the nesting Osprey. Each time I visit, I am enthusiastically invited to return and share in the annual miracle.

Coming back to the quote from Casablanca: Every year environmentalists, conservationists and advocates for birds struggle to make the natural world relevant and important to the general public. In Lakewood, two Osprey have created relevance for a group of neighbors who have the honor of sharing their daily lives with the natural world.


Photo of the Week - May 1, 2011

Killdeer Nest
Port of Olympia
May 1, 2011

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) have little difficulty integrating into urban environments. Although they are a shorebird in the plover family, they can be found far from water in parking lots, playgrounds, flat rooftops and other decidedly non-wilderness areas. Killdeer scrape a small indentation in the ground and line it with minimal grasses, twigs, pebbles and shells. This nest, occasionally nestled into a few larger rocks, serves as the only protection for the tiny buff colored eggs speckled with black and brown. Incubation takes 24 - 28 days and is done by both parents. Both Killdeer are vigilant throughout the incubation period, ready to distract and mislead potential predators with their vociferous calls and trademark broken-wing act.

Update: May 26, 2011
The nest is empty. Newly hatched Killdeer chicks are precocial, meaning they are able to walk and leave the nest as soon as their down is dried. It will be roughly 3 weeks before the chicks will be able to fly. Meanwhile, the adults are still visible and actively patrolling a circle around a large cargo container. I suspect the chicks are  in one of the small nooks under the container, safe from constant threat of larger predators like crows and gulls.

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