The most photographed trees in Thurston County?

Black Cottonwood trees beside the Twin Barns
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Thurston County, WA

I just got back from a virtual bike ride around the garage (hint: do the hilly part first and then you can just enjoy the rest of the ride). As I was pedaling and listening to NPR, my thoughts drifted to favorite landscapes and places. My thoughts quickly settled on a pleasant late afternoon walk I took a few weeks ago at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. 

The refuge landscape is known for its famous Twin Barns, which date back to its days as Mr. Brown's dairy farm. Adjacent to the barns are several black cottonwood trees. 

I wondered to myself, "Are these the most photographed trees in Thurston County?"

You probably ask yourself, "Why the most photographed?"

Well, for one because they are right next to the barns, which are often photographed. Also, because they stand apart from the rest of the Black cottonwoods at Nisqually, perched on the edge of fields which host thousands of Canada geese each winter. And, because they make an excellent perch for resident and overwintering Bald eagles hoping to swoop down over the geese for a mid-afternoon snack. 

Renowned northwest photographer Mary Randlett photographed them several times.

In researching this blog post, I came upon an interesting factoid about these cottonwoods (or one of their nearby neighbors). The Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute used DNA from a Nisqually River Black cottonwood to map the species' genome. How cool is that??
What other trees might be most photographed in Thurston County? 

The elm is a descendant of a tree in Cambridge, Massachusetts. According to legend, George Washington stood under the original tree to take command of the Continental army on July 3, 1775. This American white elm (Ulmus Americana, native to the central and eastern half of North America) soon became a symbol of patriotism and George Washington.

Belted Kingfisher hovering - Titlow Park, Tacoma, WA

The Belted Kingfisher is often first noticed by its wild rattling call as it flies over rivers or lakes. It may be seen perched on a high snag, or hovering on rapidly beating wings, then plunging headfirst into the water to grab a fish. Found almost throughout North America at one season or another, it is the only member of its family to be seen in most areas north of Mexico.

Tacoma's Titlow Park is an urban birder's delight. Perched on the shore of Puget Sound just south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the park includes two sheltered lagoons and a good sized natural area. The lagoons provide a winter home for a variety of waterfowl, most distinctively a large group of wigeons, whose nasal whistle call fills the air. 

Titlow is a year-round home to a variety of birds, including mallards and buffleheads. 

Several well placed snags dot the edges of the smaller lagoon. Their position near water's edge makes them the perfect perch for resident Belted Kingfisher. 

On the February day I visited Titlow Park, a male Belted Kingfisher was putting on an acrobatic show. He flew from snag to snag, dove into the water for small fish and hovered seemingly effortlessly above the surface of the pond.

Should you find yourself at Titlow Park, take a few moments to stop and listen for the rattling call of the Kingfisher. Then, grab a front row seat for some amazing acrobatics.

Rocks! Olympic Peninsula's Magical Diversity

As a small child, I was very curious. Some would say that as an adult I am still curious (but that is a story for a different time). When my family was out hiking, my sister and I often asked, "Can we bring this rock home with us???" My mother soon learned that the best answer was "As long as YOU carry it." Although this was intended to reduce the weight in our packs, it didn't always work and both my sister and I have quite the collection of interesting rocks. 

Now that I am an adult, I am slightly more judicious about picking up rocks. I say slightly, because my dresser is heavily adorned with treasures I have picked up in my travels. 

The South Fork of the Skokomish River on the Olympic Peninsula is a particularly difficult spot for me. Along the river bar, one can find rocks and minerals of almost every hue. Red, green, purple, yellow, orange, gray and blue. Every step is a magical discovery.  

Fortunately for me, I brought my camera with me on a recent hike on the Lower South Fork Skokomish trail. The photo above contains a few of the many interesting rocks I saw... and did not bring home.

The Olympic Peninsula of Washington State is geologically interesting. Although it is close to the Cascade mountain range, it is not volcanic. Plate tectonics are creating the mountains as the Juan de Fuca plate is being pushed eastward underneath North American Plate. The oldest rocks found on the peninsula came from deposits that originated on the ocean floor. These include sandstone, shale and basalt. Sediments from Ice Age glaciation deposits are also prominent on the peninsula. As the Skokomish River flows, it reveals the incredible diversity of the Peninsula's geology.

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