Lake Julius, Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Lake Julius during a snow storm in Alpine Lakes Wilderness (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Lake Julius during a snow storm in Alpine Lakes Wilderness (G. Thomas Bancroft)

At 5,000 feet elevation on the eastside of the Cascades outside of Leavenworth, Scottish High Camp sits beside Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I stayed in an A-frame cabin with a wood stove to heat the place and a propane light and cooking burners.  I wanted to snowshoe into Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  The camp is 3,000 feet above the parking lot along Us 2 and I rode a 4-wheel vehicle up the first half and a snowmobile the second half to the camp.  Almost 2 feet of snow covered the forest floor and snow flurries were drifting down as I moved into my cabin.

I left early in the next morning to snowshoe over the ridge and down to Lake Julius. The trail moved through a forest dominated by large noble firs. This tree, a popular Christmas tree, can grow to 8 feet in diameter and over 275 feet tall. Most of the ones I saw were a foot to 2-feet in diameter but I did find a few with more than 3-foot diameter trunks. These trees do not tolerate shade and need to be first in the regeneration of a forest.  This tree has high strength for its weight making it historically a valuable tree for airplane building and ladders. It still remains a premier timber tree and the Forest Service often replants this tree following timber harvest. Silver firs, Douglas firs, western hemlocks and a few white pines were interspersed with the noble firs.

Scales from fir cone (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Scales from fir cone (G. Thomas Bancroft)

In most years, noble firs produce abundant cones; a favorite food for Douglas squirrels and I saw and heard many squirrels along the trail.  One came down a tree trunk to 10 feet above the ground and let me know that he was not happy that I was walking in his woods.  All fall, Douglas squirrels cache cones under logs, in the leaf litter, and other suitable places for them to dig up later for eating. I watched one race across the snow and behind a trunk as I approached.  I found a number of places where they had retrieved a cone and taken it apart to eat the seeds, scattering the scales across the snow.

Fresh snowshoe hare tracks crossed the trail in many places. I hoped I might flush one but never did.  They are primarily nocturnal and find thick cover to hide during the day. In winter they turn white and hide by freezing in place, blending into the snow, making them difficult to spot. Their hind feet are long, 4-6 inches and have fur extending out to give them broad feet that helps them stay on top of the snow. The footprints suggested that they were moving quickly across my path. The two front feet landed first in the snow and then the hind feet several inches in front and each set of prints was 3 to 4 feet apart. They are agile and can run up to 25 mph and jump as far as 10 feet.

During winter hares eat bark and buds and the young firs and hemlocks with branches close to the ground in this forest would provide abundant food. Hares travel over a 10 to 25 acre area in search of food and shelter. Hares reach their highest densities in young lodgepole pine forests, which have good cover, and these pines are more nutritious than firs and spruce.  But lodgepole pines self prune, loosing low branches after a few years eliminating both cover and food, and hare populations then crash.

In the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska snowshoe hare populations fluctuate through a 10-year cycles.  Winter food and disease seem to drive these cycles. Canada lynx populations track these cycles closely and may play a role in causing the peaks. Snowshoe hares are the primary prey of lynx, which also have broad feet and long legs allowing them to walk on snow. I looked for lynx footprints, hoping that I might find some. Lynx are a threatened species in Washington. Prior to 1947, a $5 bounty on lynx resulted in their populations being decimated. The state implemented a ban on hunting and trapping them but their populations have not fully recovered. Historically they ranged down the eastside of the Cascades above 4,000 feet through Alpine Lakes Wilderness but according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recovery plan, there has been no sightings this far south in recent decades.

At the ridge, I could look down into Roaring Creek Valley. Lake Julius was a mile up the valley. Snow showers moved through the landscape and at times were heavy.  Clouds danced across the hills, on occasion totally blocking my view of the far slope. The dusting of white on the trees made a stunning setting. Fresh snow began to cover my tracks and I headed down the hill toward Lake Julius.

Ice and snow covered Lake Julius but Roaring Creek remained open. The lake lies at the base of a large cirque and the far shore and headwall drifted in and out of the clouds, never reveling the headwall’s top. Firs lined the bank of the lake on its other sides.  As I stood watching the scene, the snow began to build on my shoulders and cap; close to an inch of snow accumulated in the hour I wandered along the shore.

Sigurd Olson in his book, Reflections from the North Country, discussed how before humans dominated the landscape “great silences” permeated the landscape. He defined great silences to “include the temporary physical sounds of wind and falling water, the roar and crashing of prehistoric creatures, natural in origin and always present. The silence itself was beyond the ordinary sounds of nature: it dealt with distance, timelessness, and perception, a sense of being engulfed by something greater where minor sounds were only a part, a hush embedded in our consciousness.” I spent more than an hour along the edge of this subalpine lake and think I came to appreciate what Olson was professing. It is more than just quiet. The tingling of snow was constant on my jacket; a few breezes rustled branches at one point; two ravens squawked as they flew unobserved through the thick clouds, and a few Gray Jays fed in the trees behind me. I spent more than four hours exploring this wilderness and I had not heard or seen a person. It was marvelous to feel I had this vast landscape in front of me in its primordial condition to myself. I stood in silence for a long time along the lakeshore until I realized it was late and I had a trek back to the cabin.

 

Snow storm moves through Roaring Creek valley in Alpine Lakes Wilderness (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Snow storm moves through Roaring Creek valley in Alpine Lakes Wilderness (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

Roaring Creek drops down through a snow covered forest (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Roaring Creek drops down through a snow covered forest (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

American Dipper at Bagley Creek

Ice formed elaborate designs along the edge of the open water in Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice formed elaborate designs along the edge of the open water in Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Light waist deep and sparkling in morning light
Crust thick with fluffy white top
Ice crystals line the creek like
Lace on a fancy gown or
Maybe feathers growing out from shore
Pools run smooth and quiet.
The water dark, almost black against,
The white reflected in the water.

Sudden movement
Upstream, not water
What might it be.
I inch toward the creek
Senses alert.

Grey-chocolate puffball
With legs and sharp bill
Flies down, Alights on a rock
Water rushes around the perch,
There it bobs up and down
It peers one-way and then the next

Dives right into water which
Must be ice cold right now.
Flies out of water to
Another rock. Swims through
Pool of tumbling water with
Head under, looking for what.
A trout cruises by, both searching
For food. The Dipper flutters to snow bank.

Walks lightly, leaving
Deep foot prints as it goes.
Water droplets roll off back,
Feathers as dry as fresh towels
Scolds loudly at me, leaves
Gliding down stream, on
Stiff steady wing beats.

American Diver, or Water Ouzel, walks through the snow above Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

American Diver, or Water Ouzel, walks through the snow above Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice sheet hung over the quiet pool.1 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice sheet hung over the quiet pool.1 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice dangles above the rapids in the creek forming an intricate design. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice dangles above the rapids in the creek forming an intricate design. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Moods of Lake Janus in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

The clouds were shifting rapidly across Lake Janus as the sun was preparing to set.  The lake was flat, forming a wonderful mirror for the changing sky.  I found a good rock to sit and watch.  It was an uplifting period and a great end to a wilderness day. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The clouds were shifting rapidly across Lake Janus as the sun was preparing to set. The lake was flat, forming a wonderful mirror for the changing sky. I found a good rock to sit and watch. It was an uplifting period and a great end to a wilderness day. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Lake Janus sits below Jove Peak along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness.  This wonderful subalpine lake is at 4,100 feet and you can camp along the southern bank.   Jove Peak rises steeply on the east side to 6,007 feet and a major but lesser hill sets to the west.  The lakeshore is lined with a mixed forest dominated by mountain hemlocks and subalpine firs with a few silver firs for variety.  The understory around the southern edge is a lush growth of huckleberries, blueberries and asters.  The huckleberries and blueberries were ripe and delicious in late August.

I camped for two nights in a flat area surrounded by trees and only a short distance from the lake.  A meadow of grasses, sedges and a few flowers formed a light green expanse just beyond my camp.  Pond lilies were scattered across the shallow end of the lake.    Small frogs, less than half an inch long, were hoping along the shore, some still had small tails, showing they were just finishing metamorphous from tadpoles.   A spotted sandpiper landed on a log against the shore, bobbed several times, before hopping down to the waters edge and working along the shore.  The setting was sublime and I found a place to sit to watch.  An Osprey called loudly and I found it sitting on top of a dead snag along the eastern shore.  It flew across the lake, dove for a fish, but I could not tell if it was successful.  I decided I would visit the shore in different lights to see how the lake’s mood changed during my stay.

At 3AM, the moon was glowing through clouds giving a eerie feel to the woods.  I walked down to Lake Janus to find mist rising from the lake and clouds drifting by the forest.  A great-horned owl called softly from the forest on the right.  The lake was sublime and I watched for a long time before retuning to my tent. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

At 3AM, the moon was glowing through clouds giving a eerie feel to the woods. I walked down to Lake Janus to find mist rising from the lake and clouds drifting by the forest. A great-horned owl called softly from the forest on the right. The lake was sublime and I watched for a long time before retuning to my tent. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I set my alarm for 10PM for the Milky Way and 3AM for the waning moon.  The first night, it was cloudy at 10PM so I went back to sleep.  At 3AM, the moon was directly overhead fading in and out of the clouds.  It was quite eerie and I noticed that I kept looking over my shoulder to see what might be there.  I walked down to the lake to see how it looked in the moonlight.  Mist was rising from the lake and clouds were drifting across the forest.  A great-horned owl called softly from the forest on the right.  The lake in this light was serene and I lost the eerie feeling.  I watched for a long time before retuning to my tent.

The stars were bright above my camp site on Lake Janus.  I could see thousands and thousands of stars.  I stared for a long-time in amazement of the sight. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The stars were bright above my camp site on Lake Janus. I could see thousands and thousands of stars. I stared for a long-time in amazement of the sight. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Thousands of stars were visible above Lake Janus and reflected in the mirror flat water.  It was an inspiring and invigorating sight.  I stood watching for a long time in awe. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Thousands of stars were visible above Lake Janus and reflected in the mirror flat water. It was an inspiring and invigorating sight. I stood watching for a long time in awe. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A 10PM, the second night, I found the stars out and bright.  The Milky Way was right over my tent and I stared in wonder as I climbed from my tent.  I could see thousands of stars at once.  A gas-dust cloud in the galaxy that absorbs light of the stars forms the dark area through the middle of the Milky Way.  It was perfect to finally see this.  I walked down to the lake, hoping the Milky Way would be reflected in the lake.  It was not particularly distinctive but there were still lots of star reflections.  The air was fresh and I noticed that a few clouds were drifting by because stars would disappear for a few minutes and then reappear.  The long exposure showed the clouds in the photograph.  A trout hit the surface by a lily pad and its dorsal fin created a ripple as it swam swiftly to deeper water.  The night and the lake was tranquil, the owl called once as I headed back to my tent.

The mist was rising from the left side of the lake and drifting across the lake.  The morning clouds were wispy and delicate.  The tranquil setting inspired me for the days hike. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The mist was rising from the left side of the lake and drifting across the lake. The morning clouds were wispy and delicate. The tranquil setting inspired me for the days hike. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

In the morning, I walked down to the shore with my tea to sit.  Mist was rising from the east side of lake and drifting across.  Blue sky with wispy clouds was reflected in the water and constantly changing.  A spotted sandpiper called from the far shore.  A pair of Canada jays landed in the tree behind me, squawked once or twice and then moved back into the trees.  Two red-breasted nuthatches called softly from behind my tent. The scene was mesmerizing and I sat for a long while.  I walked back to my camp exhilarated and ready for the hike back out of the wilderness.

Small stream carves its path across the beach in Olympic Wilderness Area

The small stream formed an intricate design on the beach as the tide moved out.  I was fascinated by the pattern and how the flow of water created it and changed it. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The small stream formed an intricate design on the beach as the tide moved out. I was fascinated by the pattern and how the flow of water created it and changed it. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Water has always fascinated me.  How in liquid form, it is so critical for life, making up the majority of our bodies.  Ice and running water plays a major role in shaping the landscape especially here where the last glaciation covered much of northern Washington under thousands of feet of ice.  The water cycle from evaporation over the ocean to rain falling as winds carry the air across the mountains help define our ecosystem.

I was standing on Second Beach in Olympic Wilderness Area admiring how wide this beach was at low tide when I noticed a small stream crossing the sand.  I walked over to see how the water was flowing.  The stream had broadened out to this wide, very shallow flow.  It was probably 4 or 5 feet across and most was less than a half-inch deep.  One section maybe 4 or 5 inches across and about an inch deep formed a sinuous curve down the beach.  Littler side flows came off this main channel and others returned into it.  In the main channel lots of sand was rapidly drifting in the flowing water.  The thinner sheets were flowing slower and didn’t seem to have the force to carry sand particles.

After each tide, this stream will reform its path across the beach to the ocean.  My guess that each time it does this, a unique pattern will form.  Do you wonder how this is determined?  Individual water droplets randomly bounce off sand grains, shells, or rocks on the beach and head down slope.  Other water droplets follow or go in a different direction.  The way more bounce will eventually determine the course for the stream; always down slope but with much uniqueness between days.

This made me think of life and all the decisions, small and large, we make along the way that determine the course of our life.  If we had a second chance, would everything come out the same or might we react differently to the people and events that helped shape our current life and end in a different place.  Just like the stream across the sand beach, it would be unique each time.

Let me know what this photo makes you think about?

 

Magnolias, Cherries & Rhododendrons at UW Arboretum

The pink cherry flower glowed in the early morning light. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink cherry flower glowed in the early morning light. (G. Thomas Bancroft) [check www.thomasbancroft.com for more pictures at UW arboretum.]

A walk down Azalea Way at the University of Washington’s arboretum continues to be spectacular.  Several late blooming cherry varieties are now in full bloom.  One had such delicate blooms and another had very fluffy blossoms.  The Magnolias are open now and make for quite the showy tree.  Rhododendrons are just beginning to open.  I found one with spectacular flowers in large clumps on the hybrid trail.   It is definitely worth a visit.

 

Cherry flowers and new flower buds were clustered at the end of the branch.  The soft light allowed the light pink to sparckle in the soft light. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Cherry flowers and new flower buds were clustered at the end of the branch. The soft light allowed the light pink to sparckle in the soft light. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink rhododendron had large clusters of flowers on the ends of each branch.  This created quite the show.  I was intriqued by the detail in each flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink rhododendron had large clusters of flowers on the ends of each branch. This created quite the show. I was intriqued by the detail in each flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

Fields of Tulips, oh it must be Holland; no it is the Pacific Northwest

Tulip colors varied across rows.  I was fascinated by the colors and how they formed a linear design. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Tulip colors varied across rows. I was fascinated by the colors and how they formed a linear design. (G. Thomas Bancroft) [see more photos on the web site at www.thomasbancroft.com.]

I went up to Mt Vernon in Skagit County to see if the Tulips were beginning to bloom.  Tulips are a major agricultural product for this part of Washington.  This area grows three-quarters of the tulip bulbs produced in the United States.  The rich organic soil of the Skagit plain is good for their growth.  I found fields stretching as far as the eye could see with wonderful colors.  Reds, purples, pinks stretched in long rows.  It was lightly raining while I was there which created perfect light for photography.  I found some wonderful specimens to capture.  You can see some more at http://thomasbancroft.photoshelter.com/gallery/Tulips-in-Skagit-County/G0000zx9niJPQpv0/C0000.fXuY8bBxag.  If you have a chance, it is quite the sight to see drive up to see these fields while they are in full bloom.

 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

(G. Thomas Bancroft)

I had some fun, making abstract art with some of the designs formed by the mixed colors.

The reds and whites of the tulips shot out from the center.  Green leaves gave some contrast to bright colors. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The reds and whites of the tulips shot out from the center. Green leaves gave some contrast to bright colors. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A Pacific Northwest Trillium in bloom at the UW’s Arboretum

The showy flower of the Trillium caught my eye as I walked through the woods at the Univeristy of Washington's Arboretum. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The showy flower of the Trillium caught my eye as I walked through the woods at the Univeristy of Washington’s Arboretum. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I was excited to spot a Trillium under a tree on the hill to the east side of Azalea Way in the UW Arboretum.   This sighting flooded me with fond memories of searching for Trilliums in Pennsylvania with my mother and sisters.  Finding this showy 3-petal flower confirms that spring is here and we can rejoice that more flowers are on their way.  For them everything is in threes; petals and leaves.  My family use to take long walks through the hollow on our farm to look for Trilliiums and see what other flowers might be coming soon.  Seeing this flower in Seattle was wonderful for me.  The Pacific Northwest’s Trillium is larger than Trilliums in western Pennsylvania.  The plant I saw was 18-20 inches tall and the flower was at least 2 inches across.  This one was starting to show a little pink in the middle indicating that it had been open for a while.  They gradually develop some pink as they age.  One-flower blooms each year on an individual plant and it is really a beauty.  White-tailed Deer in the east have really decimated trilliums.   Deer repeatedly eat them to the ground and eventually the plants die.  It looks like trilliums are doing well at the arboretum.

The Pacific Northwest Trillium is common in woods throughout western Washington and Oregon.  I saw a number of others as I strolled through the Arboretum. Look for them in the next few weeks if you are out enjoying wildlands.

Cherry Trees in bloom on Azalea Way in the University of Washington Arboretum

The cherry trees along azalea way were in full bloom at the University of Washington's arboretum (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The cherry trees along azalea way were in full bloom at the University of Washington’s arboretum (G. Thomas Bancroft)  [All pictures are available as prints by clicking on the photo to go to www.thomasbancroft.com.]

The cherry trees in the UW Arboretum are in full bloom right now.  It was lightly raining while I walked along Azalea Way and the soft light made the cherry blossoms really glow.  Light rain and cloud cover creates a beautiful light for viewing flowers and really appreciating the intensity of colors.  The arboretum has a number of varieties of cherries and each is slightly different in their flowers and tree shape.  The twisted trunks of some trees created an intricate design with their knobs and blanket of moss.  A dusting of blossoms floated to the ground under a few of the trees.  Up close, the blossoms were just exquisite to study and the perfume of some trees was strong and sweet.  I stood for several minutes under many to just enjoy the ambiance of the moment.  A walk now through the arboretum is well worth your time.  Soon the azaleas and rhododendrons will be blooming.

The chickadees and juncos were singing away as I strolled along the path.  Several robins were also telling the world they had staked out territories for the coming breeding season.  I watch several crows work the lawn for grubs and worms.  The place was alive with activity and showing signs that spring is here.

Take a walk in the woods to see what spring offers.

The twisted tranks and knobs on the trunk created an unusual design that was accentted by the soft light glowing through the flower pedals. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The twisted tranks and knobs on the trunk created an unusual design that was accentted by the soft light glowing through the flower pedals. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Flower pedals floated slowly down to join those already blanketing the ground under this cherry tree, (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Flower pedals floated slowly down to join those already blanketing the ground under this cherry tree, (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink wash on the white pedals draw the eye toward the pistal and stamines in the center of the cherry flower.  Water droplets from the light rain glide across each pedal.  The perfume scent of these flowers was strong in the stillness of the morning. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink wash on the white pedals draw the eye toward the pistal and stamines in the center of the cherry flower. Water droplets from the light rain glide across each pedal. The perfume scent of these flowers was strong in the stillness of the morning. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

The cherry blossoms covered the ends of branches in a thick array. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The cherry blossoms covered the ends of branches in a thick array. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

 

Tundra Swans in Skagit County, Washington

Tundra Swan families stay together throughout the winter. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Tundra Swan families stay together throughout the winter. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

When I was growing up in Western Pennsylvania, we would listen for Tundra Swans flying over during spring or fall.  These birds would generally fly over Pennsylvania between breeding grounds in the Arctic and wintering area along the eastern shore.  Here in Washington, it is great that we can easily find this magnificent bird in Skagit County feeding, resting and flying in areas where they are easy to study up close.

Tundra Swans are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds.  In North America, they breed across the northern tundra from Alaska through Canada.  They winter along both coasts of North America.  Young of the year stay with their parents throughout the first winter.  You can often tell how successful a pair was by whether one or two young are foraging with them in the fields or flying as a group overhead.

In Washington, they feed in agricultural fields in winter on grain, roots, and tubers and graze on grass.  The area west of Interstate 5 from Conway north to Bow and Edison is an excellent place to look for them in winter.  I found a number grazing grass in green fields and pulling roots from fallow fields.  I was able to park along the road’s edge and watch them feed peacefully.  Seeing family groups fly over and land amongst others is a spectacular sight.  They fly with their necks stretched out and use their wings to slow themselves down as they come into land.

Trumpeter Swans, a larger species, also winter in this area and are often difficult to tell from Tundra Swans unless they are standing together.  Bill and head shape is the best characteristic but difficult to see unless they are close.  Some Tundra Swans have a distinguishing yellow dot between the eye and bill.  In March, families of both species will start heading back north to breeding grounds.

A pair of Tundra Swans fly from a feeding area. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A pair of Tundra Swans fly from a feeding area. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A Tundra Swan flies while calling. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A Tundra Swan flies while calling. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Tundra Swans feed in fallow fields on roots and tubers. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Tundra Swans feed in fallow fields on roots and tubers. (G. Thomas Bancroft)