Showing posts with label wildlife. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wildlife. Show all posts

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spellbound by magical mosses

The road to the Hoh Rainforest winds through the wet, moss-coated forests, giving a inkling of the wilder things to come...

A never-ending sound of water: dropping, drizzling and splashing everywhere. And a smell of drenched, soaked earth, combined with the aromatic fragrance of water-dripping conifers. The Olympic National Park in western Washington state might seem like an odd holiday destination for winter weary Seattleites being a place four times wetter than our drizzly hometown, but it is nevertheless the place where we spend our spring break, hiking the forests and beachcombing the shores of the Pacific ocean.
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Waterfalls run through the soaked slopes of the mountains.
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On these western slopes of the Olympic mountains, the storms from the ocean drop off their wet cargo drenching the area with up to 170 inches (almost 4 meters) of rain per year and creating perfect growing conditions for fertile temperate rainforests. Once, they covered the land between Oregon and southern Alaska, but today, only the lush valleys of Hoh, Queets, Quinault and Bocachiel protected within the National Park remain as a testament for how the landscape looked like before logging took over. In the tiny town of Forks near the Hoh Rainforest, there was no escaping from commercial buzz created by the "Twilight" vampire sagas, but for once this felt like a stroke of luck, as the place (the village, not the surrounding nature...) seemed to need all the help it can get to be any kind of a magnet for visitors.
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Mossy trees and ferny banks by the shallow, stony Quinault river.
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Walking through the Hoh and Quinault Rainforests, the landscape felt spellbound and almost unreal in its magnificent, great wildness. Everything was dripping, drenched, saturated with water, and all things growing seemed to be involved in a slow but ceaseless competition for light and space. The ground was filled with older generations of giant trees, now gently nursing the younger ones with nutrients from their gradually decaying huge trunks. An earthy, rich smell of decomposing wood lingered in the air, competing with the fragrant scent of the conifers. With their canopies almost 300 feet above, the great, straight stems of Western redcedars, hemlocks and Sitka spruces formed a cathedral with only two colours, emerald and rust, in its stained-glass windows.
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Beard mosses hanging form the old sugar maples.
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A thick coat of mosses and lichens clung to every surface. These usually humble background players seemed almost have taken over the scene, celebrating their triumph by forming intricate tapestries in olive and coppery tones, hanging like wet rags from the branches and covering everything on the ground with billowy mounds. Burrowed in these moist cushions, small seeds had germinated and peeked up their heads, ready to begin their long journey upwards guided by the thin threads of light peeking through the greenery from the distant sky.

The bright leaves of common wood sorrel carpeted the ground together with mosses everywhere.

Even the river bottom was covered with bright green mosses, swaying gently in the cold, glazier-fed water. Careless of our excited glances, a flock of deer grazed on the adjacent meadow, only interested in the fresh new shoots that poke up from the waterlogged soil.

Tiny spruce saplings sprouting from the fallen trees.

In the evenings, we huddled around the fireplace in our room at the lodge. Listening to the pounding waves outside the windows, we thought of another favorite hiking place of ours on the other side of the same ocean: the Otway National Park with its temperate rainforests of tree ferns, gumtrees and tiny frogs in southeastern Australia. So different, and still so similar. Contented with our visit to these stormy, mossy shores, we couldn't help sending our longing regards with the waves to the gentle, southern sister of these wild northern forests.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spotting ladybugs

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Euphorbias are now in full bloom, showing off their large trusses of chartreuse flowers inside the similarly coloured bracts, containing glistening drops of honey. Yesterday, I found this little guy having a sweet drink in the evening sun. The British and Australians call these kids traditional favourites for ladybirds, the Americans call them ladybugs, which is kind of cute too. Ladybird sounds a bit more romantic to me; I can't imagine that Lady Bird Johnson, a First Lady of the US in the 1960's would have called herself Lady Bug Johnson either...
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Sadly, many foreign species of ladybirds, like the seven dotted ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) so common in Europe, and the Asian lady beetle above (Harmonia axyridies) have either been introduced in North-America or arrived by hitch-hiking with ships. For a long time, they've been considered as useful insects as they feed of aphids and other scale insects; the first alien lady beetle species was introduced already in the 1880s to try to combat the Cottony cushion scale in California. To this date, more than 170 lady beetle species have been introduced to North America. But in reality, these foreign invaders are now outcompeting native beetles, and altering the fauna in North America, just like introduced species tend to do. So in fact, in the picture above, instead of musing over a sweet little ladybird or ladybug, we are looking at a biological control agent wreacking havoc in the ecosystem...

To help the native nine spotted ladybug and other native ladybugs scientists need to have detailed information on which species are still out there and how many individuals are around. To do this, the entomologists at Cornell University launched the Lost Ladybug Project, where everybody can join in spotting these little creatures. So if you feel like making a difference in an easy way, look for ladybugs and send Cornell pictures of them on email. This is a great summer science project for children and adults, just check out the pages above for loads of information and fun things - in addition to getting to help ladybugs, all "spotters" get their photos and names published on the project pages.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The remains of a holly farm

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In 1902, a holly farm was established in Yarrow Point, a narrow peninsula north of Bellevue on the East side of Lake Washington. At some stage, this farm was the largest supplier of holly in the United States, providing cheerful materials for Christmas decorations and wreaths for the whole country. Holly farming at Yarrow Point ended in the 1960’s, and the area was gradually built over with houses. The street name of Holly Lane reveals where the farm was situated.
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Some of the original hollies still remain, huge and beautiful with gnarled, thick trunks, and branches carrying bright, red berries. It is wonderful to see them as main attractions of the gardens they stand in, hopefully for many years to come.
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To pick up the theme, many house owners at Yarrow Point have planted holly hedges, some of which are now over 4 meters (12 feet) high, providing birds with excellent hiding and feeding places throughout the winter season. In these times of total eradication of all old - both houses and gardens - when new residences are built, it is lovely to see these examples of appreciation for the local history in Yarrow Point.
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