Archive for July, 2013

25
Jul 13

Marmots boxing in Mt Rainier Wilderness

I discovered these two marmots in an intense wrestling match much like two puppies. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I discovered these two marmots in an intense wrestling match much like two puppies. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Passion brings them together

Up on back haunches

Punch hard to right cheek

Push, push, push harder

Mouth open, incisors flashing

Over on his back he goes

Agitated were both

Loser says he has had enough

Victor stands bewildered

Please, let’s play some more

The marmots walk off

Until another day!

 

    I rounded a corner near the west end of Sourdough trail to discover two Marmots embraced in conflict.  Each was up on his back legs and was punching the checks and chest of the other.  Their large incisors were glistening as they bit at each other but did not seem to be trying to inflict damage.  It reminded me of two puppies playing fiercely with each other.  One would gradually push the other backwards and then it would reverse.  Finally one succeeded in pushing the other over onto its back.  This individual worked hard to right himself and shortly after he regained his upright position, he suddenly stopped wrestling and turned heading rapidly across the boulders to his den.  The victor stood there for 20 or 30 seconds in what appeared to be astonishment that the match was over.  He then turned and went 50 yards along the boulder pile to his den.  He was only in the den a few moments when he emerged to run down across the trail to a patch of dirt where it looked like he ate a little dirt.  He then headed across a snow field toward another set of boulders.

Marmots are highly social creatures and young males are known to play with each other.  They frequently live in colonies if the area for dens is suitable for a number of burrows.  A dominate adult male may be able to defend burrows for several females.  If food is less abundant they may be monogamous instead.  Burrows are critical for their protection from predators and places for them to sleep through the winter.  They will dig their own or find crevices in rock fields.   The boulders in this field varied from toaster size to as large as washing machines.  I saw the one individual go down under a large rock into what looked like a miniature cave.  They feed on plants in the surrounding area and need to eat enough during the summer to build sufficient fat reserves for them to fast through the long winter at these high elevations.

I had hoped to see a marmot on this hike and turned out to be blessed to see some fascinating social behavior.

 

PS:  I will have a booth at the 6th Street Art Fair in Bellevue on July 26, 27, and 28.  I will be in booth B14, which will be along the pedestrian corridor between Mars Hill Church and Bellevue Galleria. The pedestrian corridor is off of 106th Ave, right across from 6th street.  Come on by to see my art.  I would love to chat with you.

The Marmot looks across the alpine meadow just before he runs across a large snow bank to another set of rocks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Marmot looks across the alpine meadow just before he runs across a large snow bank to another set of rocks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

17
Jul 13

Hike along Silver Forest Trail at Mt Rainier National Park

The flowers were beginning to bloom in the alpine meadows on Mt Rainier.  Snow had just recently disappeared from many of the meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

On 3 July, I walked in the evening the Silver Forest Trail from Sunrise east through scattered subalpine firs and an occasional white-bark pine and then back toward Shadow Lake.  Several bleached white skeletons of trees stood or lay prone on the ground.  The design in the wood was remarkable, with twists and turns as the grain of the wood shifted one-way and then another.  Glacier lilies, spreading phlox, and pasqueflower bloomed across the meadows.  The white and yellow flowers with the patchwork of green grasses created a mosaic across the landscape.  I found a subalpine fir with new cones just beginning to form.  They stick straight up as if reaching for the sky.  Dark-eyed Juncos sang from many subalpine firs as I walked down the trail.  These are the Oregon race of the juncos with their browner sides and back and dark head as if dunked in paint.  I heard several Canada Jays squawk in the distance.  A Mountain Bluebird called a few times as the light began to fade.

The spreading phlox added some color to the alpine meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The spreading phlox added some color to the alpine meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Emmons Glacier flows down the east side of Mt Rainier and forms the headwaters of the White River. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Emmons Glacier flows down the east side of Mt Rainier and forms the headwaters of the White River. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Mt Rainier glowed softly in the evening light as the sun began to set to the west.  The Sunrise area is on the east side of the mountain, in mountain’s rain shadow.  Little Tahoma peak sat off to the left, all snow had disappeared from it.  The massive Emmons Glacier slid down from Rainier’s peak to the right of Little Tahoma and to the left of Willis Wall.  The Winthrop Glacier flowed down right under Willis Wall.  As the evening progressed, a few clouds appeared above the side vent to the north of the peak.  I hoped some clouds would drift across the face of Rainier but they never did while I hiked.  I extended my hike back toward Shadow Lake but as light began to fade I retraced my steps before I reached the lake.

New cones were beginning to grow on the subalpine firs along the Silver Forest Trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

New cones were beginning to grow on the subalpine firs along the Silver Forest Trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Just before 9PM, a grouse began to drum in a forest clump just down hill from the trail.  I would hear the thump thump thump of its drumming and then a pause for 5 or 10 seconds before it repeated the drum role.  It seemed like it was really close to the trail but I was never able to find it.  It may well be that the drum carries a long way and it was a ways off the trail.  This was one of the last sounds of the evening as I worked my way back toward the car except for the sound of water rushing over the rocks in the White River carried easily up the hill to my location.  Otherwise as twilight set in, it was just my breathing and the drum of the grouse.

On the way back down the hill from Sunrise to White River Campground, I first saw a Mule Deer doe on the side of the road grazing quietly.  It raised its head as I coasted by but did not seem too concerned.  Around one of the large turns on the road, an elk doe was in the road and bounded across the road, up a very steep embankment as if it was level to disappear into the woods.  She paused slightly in the road, looking my way, as if saying what is this strange bright beast coming down toward me.  She then bounded forward and up the bank.  I slowed to a craw to drift by and spotted a second, an elk buck with four velvet-covered points on its antlers.  It quickly disappeared into the darkness of the woods.  I felt extremely lucky to have spotted them and had this chance to enjoy wilderness.

 

PS:  I will have a booth at the 6th Street Art Fair in Bellevue on July 26, 27, and 28.  I will be in booth B14, which will be along the pedestrian corridor between Mars Hill Church and Bellevue Galleria. The pedestrian corridor is off of 106th Ave, right across from 6th street.  Come on by to see my art.  I would love to chat with you.

 

The tree trunk formed a distinctive component to the meadow landscape.  I would love to had seen this tree when it was alive.  It must have been a magnificient monarch. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The tree trunk formed a distinctive component to the meadow landscape. I would love to had seen this tree when it was alive. It must have been a magnificient monarch. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Probably a magnificient White-bark Pine that was killed in a fire long ago.  The pattern in the wood was intriquing. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Probably a magnificient White-bark Pine that was killed in a fire long ago. The pattern in the wood was intriquing. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

16
Jul 13

The Forest along Fryingpan Trail in Mt Rainier Wilderness Area.

The forest along Fryingpan Trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Pacific Silver Fir forest along Fryingpan Trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

The whistle penetrated the forest.

The Varied Thrush was declaring his own.

Twilight was coming to the old forest.

On July 4 I left my campsite in Mt Rainier National Park a little after 6PM for an evening hike up frying-pan trail in Mt Rainier National Park.  The trail parallels Fryingpan Creek, which drains the area between Goat Mountain and Tamanos Mountain.  The headwaters of the creek come out of Fryingpan Glacier on the east side of Mt Rainier.  The creek was running clear which suggested that not much melt was coming from the glacier right now.  A lush, dense spectacular forest covers the valley floor and up both sides for at least the first several miles up the trail.  Massive Douglas Rirs were scattered through the forest, which was dominated by Silver Firs.  Western Hemlocks and Red Cedars were occasional along the trail.  This is the Pacific Silver Fir zone and is typically found between 3,000 and 4,500 feet, slightly wetter than lower forests, and the trees grow densely.

I heard strong whistles of Varied Thrush as darkness began to come to the woods, the sun had passed over the crest of the hill and the woods were in twilight. A Pacific Wren was calling right along the trail, although I could not find it.  A Wilson Warbler was busy declaring its ownership of some brushy area under the canopy.  The Varied Thrush has this penetrating whistle that is their song.  When you first hear it, it is bizarre and makes me think it is mechanically made.  The song grew on me over time and I enjoyed more and more listening to it in the woods.

Silver firs and western hemlocks are shade tolerant and have become the dominant species in this forest. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Silver Firs and Western Hemlocks are shade tolerant and have become the dominant species in this forest. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The air was cool under the canopy and even though everything was dry, it had a damp feeling.  The overhead canopy was very complete, only a small amount of sky was visible when I looked straight up.  A few openings occurred where large tress had fallen, taking other trees with them.  These areas had thick growths of understory species and many young trees.  It must be an awesome sight and sound to have one of these giants crack and fall.  I am not sure I would want to be in the forest when this happened.  The crack and thunder as the tree snapped or pulled from its roots would be loud and frightening.

This Silver Fir was close to 4 feet in diameter.  It could easily be 400 years old. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

This Silver Fir was close to 4 feet in diameter. It could easily be 400-years old. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I found a magnificent Silver Fir, the diameter was approaching 4 feet and the bark was wonderfully complex and flaking.  I studied it for quite a while and marveled at how old it must be.  A tree like this might have germinated well before the American revolution.  A big tree like this one could be 400 to 500 years old.  I wonder what all this tree has experienced in the Fryingpan Valley, probably it has seen a lot of comings and goings.  The Silver Fir is a dominant tree species in this valley.  Interspersed are massive Douglas Firs, quite a few Western Hemlocks and a few Red Cedars close to water.  The Silver Fir is shade tolerant, like the Hemlock and seems to be taking over the forest.  Douglas Firs are not particularly shade tolerant but very good at invading open areas.  Come back in another few hundred years and if climate has not changed dramatically or a major disturbance  has occurred the Douglas Firs will be disappearing.

The Western Hemlock sapling was growing out of the base of this Douglas Fir snag. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Western Hemlock sapling was growing out of the base of this Douglas Fir snag. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I marvel at the number of dead snags and down logs on the ground in these forests.  These ‘virgin’ old growth forests have far more dead wood than I realized.  All the ecology textbooks talk about the importance of dead wood in a forest and how the decay of logs provide important habitat for other species.  Most logs with a little time in the prone position have hemlock saplings growing on them.  Cedars, especially, store a lot of water in the decaying wood and this makes an ideal place for seeds to germinate and new trees to begin growth.  Many hemlocks have sprawled out bases where the roots have grown around a decaying trunk of the previous generation.

 

PS:  I will have a booth at the 6th Street Art Fair in Bellevue on July 26, 27, and 28.  I will be in booth B14, which will be along the pedestrian corridor between Mars Hill Church and Bellevue Galleria. The pedestrian corridor is off of 106th Ave, right across from 6th street.  Come on by to see my art.  I would love to chat with you.

Lichen growing on bark of silver fir. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Lichen growing on bark of Silver Fir. (G. Thomas Bancroft)