Eyes wide open: because I live in a small town, in January and February of 2015, I had the chance to display some of the nature photographs I’ve taken during the 10 years I’d lived on north Whidbey Island at the Oak Harbor Library. When I started trail running in 2011, I started spending a lot of time in the Anacortes Forest Lands as well as at Deception Pass State Park. It was at these places: Cornet Bay, Rosario Beach, Bowman Bay and Dugualla State Park (plus the Dugualla Bay area, which is where I live) that I’ve had the chance to see some neat plants, animals, sea creatures and birds, some (like the inky cap mushroom and plumose anemone) that I had never seen before. And because there is a story behind every photo, here is the story behind the photos displayed. When choosing them, I tried to include a variety of subjects at different locations. My artist friend Diana recommended the title “Island Unseen,” for my blog, which is perfect. All of the photos were taken on either Whidbey or Fidalgo Island, and many of the subjects are easy to miss for someone who isn’t being mindful of his or her surroundings. Only eight photos fit. Here is the story behind each.
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish
Anyone who has lived or spent much time on Whidbey Island has likely encountered an eight-lobed blob lying along the shore. I had done so several times before I learned what it was: a Lion’s Mane jellyfish, the largest species of jellyfish in the world. I’ve since seen this creature in the water a few times, but, more often than not, stranded on the beach. According to RedOrbit, “Lion’s Mane jellyfish usually remain near the surface of the water, no more than 66 feet deep…The jellyfish depend on the current of the ocean whereby the jellyfish can travel significant distances. The Lion’s Mane jellyfish are mainly spotted during late summer and autumn when the jellyfish have grown large in size and the currents of the water begin to pull the jellyfish near the shore.”
On September 25, 2014, I stopped by the Urchin Rocks at Rosario Beach, part of Deception Pass State Park. Opposite the rocks, in Sharpe Cove, spied a woman standing on the dock staring intently at the water. She’d found a jellyfish hemmed in by a large piece of floating driftwood. I removed my shoes and socks, waded in, took some photos, and then carefully pushed the eight-inch diameter by six-foot long log to the side. The jellyfish was free!
Kelp Encrusting Bryozoan
In July of 2013, I carried my camera while crabbing at Ala Spit. I’d noticed large white lattice-like “spots” on what I’ve since learned is likely sugar kelp. I wondered if this was some sort of disease and tried not to let it rub against my bare legs as I waded along the shore, snapping a couple of photos so that I might learn what it was. Long story short, after finding an image of the creature online, I tracked down its name and some great information about it from this book (the ©1993 version). (p 70), “…bryozoans have no stinging capsules, and they are basically filter feeders, not carnivores.” (That’s a relief). I got a decent close-up it, common name: kelp-encrusting bryozoan (scientific name: Membranipora membranacea) then noticed a different one near some bubbles, and took a photo of that as well. It was only recently that I realized that my reflection is visible.
Inky Cap Mushroom
In September of 2013, my daughter and I signed up to help with a work party in our community for a local land trust in order to fulfill her community service requirement for middle school. The work involved removing plants that competed with plantings from the white plastic tubes that protected them (remove tube, remove competing plants, replace tube). It rained the night before but was sunny the morning of, so I brought my camera along with my work gloves in hopes we might encounter some cool plants or creatures. My daughter left after about an hour but the rest of us remained for an additional hour or so, leaving at the designated finish time with a number of tubes still needing attention.
As a few of the volunteers milled around talking, I took photos of some of the cool fungi I had noticed. Although I had seen several of the species before, there were two that were new to me: the inky cap and the splash cup or bird’s nest fungus. I created a collage of some of the species to show a local expert in order to get help identifying them. She (let’s call her IG) wrote, “The little cup fungus with the packets in it is called the bird’s nest fungus. The packets are full of spores (the “seeds” of the fungus). The cup is shaped so that when a rain drop hits it just right, the spore packets splash out of the cup and land far away from the parent mushroom. Hence the other name for this fungus is “splash cups.” Although I’ve seen the inky cap species elsewhere, I haven’t seen the splash cup type since. Even though I found them the most interesting name-wise, I loved the look of the delicate inky cap type.
Blue Eyed Darner
In late September of 2014, I was on a mission to figure out a half marathon path that began and ended at West Beach at Deception Pass State Park without requiring a trip to Cornet Bay (as the Deception Pass Trail Half, which takes place in June, does) when I noticed this Blue-eyed Darner at Rosario. Note: according to the Idaho Museum of Natural History site, the adult flight season is early June through October “The eyes of both males and females are bright blue. The male is dark brown to brownish black…The abdomen is marked with both large and small blue spots…The female is marked similarly to the male; however, the base color is brown and the markings are green.” I tracked the dragonfly while walking nonchalantly towards its direction of flight. When it landed on what I’m pretty sure was a Douglas fir tree branch, I approached slowly, camera raised, and clicked a couple of shots from afar. Then I sneaked closer, hoping to get a better photograph. It hung around long enough for me to take several shots. Although I’ve seen this species of dragonfly many times, and gotten shots of other species (like this one of what I think is a Striped Meadowhawk) I’d never photographed a blue-eyed darner before.
Pacific Slope Flycatcher
While I was out of commission from running for several weeks this summer, I took to the trails with my camera, hoping to capture images of some of the neat things I’d seen but had been logistically unable to photograph in the past (trail running and DSLR camera carrying don’t mix). Athough much of this trail along the north side of the system is kind of dark, shadowed by the trees, this part of the trail is often sunny, even at 7:30 am when I was there. When I heard birds calling, I quietly directed my camera towards the sound, then waited. Several species showed up, including the super shy Spotted towhee and the Red-breasted nuthatch. I got a shot of two yellowish birds before they flew off. One returned, landing directly in front of me and perching long enough for me to take three photos, and, after I returned home, identify the bird as a Pacific-slope flycatcher.
Queen Anne’s Lace
In August of 2011, I was walking along a path adjacent Dugualla Bay taking photographs and noticed a ladybug crawling on a Queen Anne’s lace plant. I took a few shots of it and thought nothing of it until I returned and downloaded the images. Having never really looked closely at Queen Anne’s lace plants (beyond viewing them from the top in full bloom), I gained a new appreciation for the beauty of these flowers that sprout up in abundance every year, and decided to make a concerted effort to photograph them the following summer. I continued to keep an eye out for the plants in successive summers, taking dozens of shots of the tops in full bloom as well as from the back and (my favorite) from the side, especially when they’ve begun to form seeds. Finally, on August 10, 2012, I got this shot. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that it is a wild carrot plant. Although I continue to pay attention to this type of plant, I’ve yet to get another shot like this one.
Western Fairy Slipper
In April of 2013, I was trail running with friends along the Lighthouse Point Loop trail in Deception Pass State Park when I noticed this flower for the first time. Although I’m no plant expert, I mentioned that it looked like an orchid, then headed home to try to find it on-line. The plant turned out to be a type of wild orchid called the Western Fairy Slipper and I became its new biggest fan.
For the next few couple of months of that year (and successive years), I paid careful attention to the plants lining the hiking trails at the park and found them most prevalent (in April and May especially) along the Bowman Bay/Rosario Beach trail, but also in other parts of Deception Pass State Park and in the Anacortes Forest Lands. I’ve since learned from the USDA site that they are actually endangered or threatened in about five states (MI, NH, NY, VT and WI), which will come as no surprise to anyone who makes an effort to learn more about this lovely but delicate plant.
The Washington Native Orchid web page says about the Calypso bulbosa var.occidentalis, “This orchid attracts insects with the tufts of white hairs on its lip,” and “The single leaf has a very limited ability to photosynthesize and so cannot provide all the nutrients the plant needs. This orchid, along with many others in the Pacific Northwest, grows in partnership with a fungus in the soil that shares nutrients taken from the roots of trees. So in a way, the orchid is using the needles of evergreen trees in the forest to provide the nourishment it needs through a fungus. For this reason, they won’t grow if dug up and taken home.”
Plumose Anemone (unsubmerged)
I love encountering things that I’ve never seen before, and finally finding out the name of this creature after noticing it for the first time on September 5, 2014, was amazing. I was at Rosario Beach at Deception Pass State Park checking out the tide pools and just before I left the park, I walked over to Sharpe Cove to see what might be living under the rocks, which is where I noticed this “thing.” When I returned home, I couldn’t figure out how to properly describe it in order to safely search for it online. Finally, I decided to email someone attached to the place who might know. His suggestion turned out to be wrong, so I emailed a professor of biology from the University of Puget Sound. I’d attached several photos of different species of sea creatures and he sent me a speedy, informative, kind reply with the scientific name of all of them and the title of a good field guide (Seashore life of Northern Pacific Coast by Kozloff). A couple of days later during another low tide, I noticed a similar creature under lots of larger rocks at Cornet Bay. During the next few weeks, I made several trips to Cornet Bay to comb the beach for this and other sea creatures. Exactly a month after the initial sighting, I noticed many of these there and took a couple dozen photos. I plan to return just before spring (when the low daytime tides return) to see if I can photograph them while they are submerged.