Spring Flowers

We’re easing from early spring into mid spring here.

The first Pacific Trilliums opened about a week ago. Over the next month or two they’ll go from pristine white to a gentle, dusky pink, as the blossoms age.

Pacific Trillium in the woods. The pristine white shows that it opened recently.

If you ever see a trillium of any sort in the woods, please do not pick it. It’s a bulb, and those three pretty leaves providing a backdrop for the flower are the only leaves it will ever get.

If you pick it, it will either die, or — best case! — grow a tiny little set of leaves next year. There won’t be a flower for several years. Common wisdom says seven years, but I’m not going to do a test on this one.

Our earliest rhodie just opened. The next two months will be a glorious march of rhododendrons here. We have a native rhodie, and it has been hybridized with a number of Asian varieties to give a glorious range of rhodies that thrive in our climate.

We got a delivery of soil (manure and sand), and have been topping off the garden beds. I’ll be direct-seeding poppies and some other things in the next few days.

I also have way too many seedlings under grow lights right now. Figuring out when to plant them out is always a challenge!

I love this time of spring: more and more flowers blooming; more and more birds singing. The spring chorus has definitely started here, with the Pacific Wren the most melodious virtuoso. There are still a few types of birds we’re waiting on.

I try to get out for a morning walk with Merlin to see who’s in town.

The wood ducks arrived a couple weeks ago. They’re definitely our showiest migrant.

Blurry iPhone picture of two male and two female wood ducks

Based on last year’s bird list, we’re still expecting Pacific Slope Flycatchers, warblers of many types, and Western Tanagers.

Because I’m very reliant on song for the flycatchers and warblers, it’s possible that they’re already here, and just haven’t started singing yet. The Pacific Wrens live here year-round, but they barely sing in the winter.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the burgeoning chorus!

Spring!

Spring is springing here in the Pacific Northwest.

The first queen bumblebee showed up a couple weeks ago, and now they are regular visitors on the Pieris.

Queen bumblebee sipping on a cluster of Pieris flowers that we brought her

The Osoberries (the earliest native shrub) are blooming, and the red flowering currants are opening.

But the clear indicator that spring has really, truly arrived is that the wood ducks are here. They arrived a couple days ago, and may have been here since March 28th or so.

Here, four males and two females are on their way to get the corn the neighbor sets out.

Cell phone photo of wood ducks

Wood ducks are beautiful, but frustratingly shy. I’ll have to pull out our good camera to get a good picture.

Right now there are eight males and two females. Most of the males will probably migrate on within a few days, but the two pairs and a couple spares will likely stay until June.

I have a bunch of seedlings going in the garage and mudroom. Hopefully I’ll be able to plant most of them out before a business trip in early May.

We’re getting some more soil delivered next week. The joy and labor of spring!

First Case of COVID

Having been both careful and lucky for nearly three years of pandemic, my care and luck ran out at the beginning of the month.

I had a work trip in Louisiana, my third work trip in six months. I had skated through the first two, masking at the airport and on the airplane but taking some risks once there.

I did the same in this case… but this time, one of the other attendees brought the plague, and half of the attendees were sick the following week. Including me.

I got home Friday evening, and felt the first bit off Saturday evening. Sunday morning, 2/5, it was clear that I had something.

I thought it was either a head cold or RSV. Rob suspected otherwise, as witnessed by the label he added to this photo of me napping Sunday afternoon. I had a minor fever (99.7) when I went to bed Sunday night.

I tested positive first thing Monday, although it still mostly felt like a head cold. Still a bit of a fever (99.8, with a high of 100.5). I napped a lot, but didn’t feel too bad.

By Tuesday, I was able to work a part day, but still napped in the afternoon.

Wednesday, I was able to work a part day, and failed to nap in the afternoon — clear sign that I was on the mend. I felt about 80% in terms of brain and energy.

Thursday, I worked a full day, felt about 90%.

Friday, I tested negative, and nudged above 90%.

By the following Monday, I was aaalmost back to normal. Since then (almost another week now), I have battled the notorious lingering cough.

I’ve been taking dextromethorphan to try to prevent my lungs from becoming irritated by gratuitous coughing. I have also been masking a lot — that little pocket of humidity helps a lot. And hydrating, of course.

My chest still feels a bit tight, and I’m not sure what lung imaging would show. I’m definitely being careful not to push myself physically; my big fear is getting Long COVID.

At present, I feel like myself plus a cough. Is my energy a tad low? I think so. Is my brain a little creaky? Possibly.

Overall, I think I’ve fared fairly well, but it isn’t an experiment that I’m keen to repeat. The actual acute phase wasn’t bad for me (fully vaxxed and boosted!), but this lingering impact is worrisome.

Hopefully in a couple more weeks I’ll truly be back to normal. We’re getting on to spring and gardening season, and I want to be feeling my best!

Update: the lingering cough lingered until around March 6th, so a full month from first symptoms. That said, I’m prone to lingering coughs, and it felt like the same general type of lingering coughs that I get from colds.

My sense of smell was impacted for a week, maybe two. It never went away completely, thank goodness.

I’ll try not to do this experiment again for a goodly while.

More Hair Ice!

After an unusually mild January, we just started a bit of a cold snap. That means hair ice (frost flowers)!

Larger sticks can “grow” longer hair ice, but small sticks sometimes have especially pretty formations — especially if it wasn’t especially cold. This was a fairly small stick.

This is a much larger stick — really a branch, maybe 3-4″ diameter. The length of frost grown is comparable in this case, but the result isn’t as spectacular. However, it shows off the way the frost grows quite nicely!

Sometimes the tiniest sticks produce the prettiest formations — because you can actually see them! In a big, fluffy formation, it can be hard to see the individual strands of frost. This formation is on a tiny stick at the side of the driveway.

By contrast, here’s a frost flower that looks like a piece of cotton wool. It’s neat, but also hard to see enough detail to truly appreciate it.

I’ll close out with one that puts the “hair” in “hair ice”. They really do look like powdered ringlets! That’s because as the ice grows, it has a slight curve in one direction, resulting in a curl šŸ™‚

KÄ«lauea!

Rob and I were lucky enough to visit the Big Island of Hawaii for a few days. We were even more lucky because KÄ«lauea had resumed erupting a few days before, and had a lovely lava lake in the crater!

We got up well before dawn to see it before dawn, and it was well worth the effort. It truly felt like looking into the heart of the earth.

Glowing lava lake, with brilliant lines of incandescent red split by black
KÄ«lauea lava lake, taken from the KÄ«lauea overlook

Note that we didn’t have a good camera, so this was taken with my iPhone. It gives the right impression, but doesn’t do it justice. In reality, the “cracks” in the cooled surface lava are crisper and cleaner, but the incandescent light tends to overwhelm even a decent camera.

It probably takes a really good camera and maybe some filters to really capture it. As dawn broke, it was easier to catch a somewhat representative picture.

Dawn over the KÄ«lauea crater. The crater is still vivid.
KÄ«lauea crater at dawn. The level of incandescence is more accurate at this point. The bright points are lava fountains.

This was at 6:42 a.m., well into dawn. I’m really glad we arrived in full dark, but people arriving at this point still got a good show.

However, people arriving after full light got a completely different experience!

KÄ«lauea crater, the inner crater steaming and black. There is one visible spot of red, which is a lava fountain.
KÄ«lauea crater at full light. The inner crater that is steaming is the lava lake. The temperature hasn’t changed, but the liquid lava is no longer clearly visible. One lava fountain is visible at the top/center of the crater.

It was still amazing, but not nearly as awe-inspiring as clearly seeing the liquid lava.

Highly recommended, if you are lucky enough to get the chance!

Frost Flowers with Snow!

We’re lucky enough to live in a region that gets frost flowers (hair ice) several times each winter.

On the morning of the solstice, for the first time we had both frost flowers and snow. I was initially disappointed, because I expected the snow to ruin the frost flowers, but it was a very light dusting of cold, small flakes — so it actually added an interesting dimension to the frost flowers.

Curving strands of frost support a delicate snowflake
Closeup of hair ice holding a perfect snowflake.

Frost flowers (hair ice) form when there are sodden sticks that dip below freezing overnight. Around here, the sweet spot is ~28-31 F. It needs to be cold enough to produce frost, but not so cold as to freeze the stick solid.

The ice forms on the surface of the stick, and is extruded as it freezes to form ā€œhairā€ which can take beautiful forms that look like silvery locks or silvery flowers.

 Curving threads of ice that look like parted white hair, coming from a stick
Characteristic hair ice formation

There is a fungal association with Exidiopsis effusa. Around here, there is also a clear preference for alder twigs and branches. I’m not sure whether that’s what the fungus prefers, or whether the wood somehow favors frost flower formation.

Frost flower and hair ice are two terms used semi-interchangeably. As far as I can tell, the distinction is mostly based on the type of formation. If it’s a burst formation (e.g. from the end of a stick), it’s a frost flower. If it looks like hair growing out of the middle of a stick, it’s hair ice. Even though most of what we get is probably more hair ice than frost flowers, I like the latter term better šŸ™‚

Frost flowers and hair ice are relatively rare worldwide. They require specific conditions to “grow”. In climates with cold winters, you might be lucky enough to see a few in the autumns.

Here in the Puget Sound area, the winters are mild and tend to only dip below freezing occasionally. We also have an abundance of alders. That gives us the ideal conditions for hair ice and frost flowers.

White frost formations growing from a branch against a leafy background
Frost flower in the wild

To see them, go out on a cold morning and check any local alder groves. They tend to be more common at the edges of alder groves, where the sticks are a bit more exposed… but that depends on the temperature range. On a very cold morning (25-28F) there may be such formations deeper in the woods.

They are most common on mid-sized twigs and branches (~1/2-2″ diameter), but occasionally they grow on larger or smaller branches.

Garden Update

It’s mid-summer here, and the garden is blooming.

The garden got a bit of a slow start, since we had an unusually cool and rainy spring. We had at least a little rain every couple days into the second half of June. It was much better than last year’s sudden and brutal heat wave, but it definitely slowed the garden down.

For quite a while, the only things flowering in the garden were German Chamomile and borage. The German Chamomile is now mostly done, but the borage will keep on trekking until autumn.

Borage can get a little funny looking and leggy late in the season, but I’m a fan. The pollinators love it!

The bread seed poppies got a bit of a slow start — the very first bloom opened July 2nd. They’re in full swing now, though, and should hopefully bloom gloriously at least to the beginning of August.

I’ll have to try some extra clusters scattered at the edge of the trees next year. The deer completely leave the bread seed poppies alone, and they make a wonderful clump of color!

I have a nice variety this year: red frilly, red with a purple tinge, purple, and purple-pink.

So far, I’m fairly pleased with how the garden is doing.

I set up a thorough caging system starting at the beginning of July, since last year I had so much trouble with things tipping over. The setup (wood stakes with holes drilled through, and hoops of heavy wire) is working well, but at 3′ tall may not be tall enough. We shall see!

Next year I’d like to inter-plant the potatoes more with borage and edible chrysanthemums and other tall things. This year I just planted a couple sunflowers in the midst of the potatoes, and so far it has worked well… the deer didn’t chomp it off! We’ll see how well it flowers.

I like having the feverfew and bread seed poppies clustered on the sides. I like having some mullein at the back.

I’d like to work a bit more on the plants at the front of the beds. I have some Tiny Tim sweet alyssum, which is nice but too sparse. I have some marigolds; again, nice but too sparse.

I saw some adorable Little Gem marigolds at the nursery, but they were taken. I’ll definitely try to get my hands on some of those next year!

I do think I need some more mid-height things to go between the front of the bed and the massive green potatoes, though….

Cosmos might be an option. I planted some at the back, but slugs took a toll, and they aren’t actually that tall (especially not the yellow/orange/red ones).

I’m still waiting to see how late summer goes. I have sweet peas just starting in baskets, and I have tall coreopsis growing and growing, but no sign of blooms yet.

Last year, the lambada monad and coreopsis dominated the late-summer garden. I’m hoping they come into their own!

I will report back next month….

Redwoods

We had been wanting to visit the big trees of California for some time. I visited Muir Woods when I lived in the Bay Area, but it was many years ago.

Since this was to be our first roadtrip since the start of the pandemic, we decided to do a relatively short roadtrip, just as far as Redwood National Park in far northern California.

We meandered down through Eastern Oregon. Along the way we saw many volcanoes…

We also ran across a rather wonderful rock formation popular with rock climbers.

We saw the largest living Ponderosa at LaPine State Park.

And we swung by Crater Lake.

Our first introduction to the northern redwoods was on highway 199, which actually cuts through Jedediah Redwood State Park. There were a number of incredible trees visible from the road, plus the unexpected bonus of a fair number of blooming rhodies.

The next morning, we went to see big trees in earnest, starting at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the southernmost of the four clustered parks.

We started with Big Tree.

We then continued on the Cathedral Tree Trail. This was a wonderful and incredibly peaceful trail. You had to watch your footing: there was a fair bit of up and down, and lots of roots.

In exchange, we got to see some truly amazing trees, as well as acres of peaceful forest.

The sheer scale of the big trees is hard to capture.

The thing that impressed us wasn’t any single big tree, but the sheer number. 6 foot diameter trees are commonplace, whereas in many parks they would be a crown jewel.

We then looped back on Foothill Trail, which was very flat and easy. It still had many beautiful redwoods, as well as some of the biggest California Bay I had ever seen.

The next morning, we ventured farther north to Jedediah Redwoods State Park. Our route cut from the highway up Howland Hill Road, a wonderful narrow gravel road that zigzags through some absolutely gorgeous trees.

It’s really a one-lane road, and slow going, but it doesn’t matter because the surroundings are so beautiful.

We didn’t encounter a single car between the south end and the Boy Scout Tree Trailhead. After that, it started to get busy.

Our target was the Grove of Titans.

It was very beautiful, with trees that rivaled or exceeded the largest trees we saw at Prairie Creek. There were also a lot more people… we only encountered a handful of people tromping around Prairie Creek, whereas we were often in earshot of other people when walking the Grove of Titans trail.

However, the trees were incredible, and the path was very well maintained. We’re glad we went, but it was interesting to see how variable the people-pressure was.

The understory was different: vine maples and rhododendron and Tanoak and maidenhair fern — none of which we had seen at Prairie Creek. It was fun to see the impact of the added elevation, and the resulting extra moisture.

All in all, the redwoods were awesome in the old sense of the word.

They made me feel small, but in a comforting way. These were trees that had seen many centuries of little humans pass them by.

May they see many more!

Bird List May 21, 2022

I’m continuing to enjoy the Merlin bird app. I also enjoy watching the birds around the house. We have robins nesting in a big rhodie; I think the eggs have hatched, since I’ve been seeing the robins come in regularly with worms.

We also have Juncos that fledged recently. The parents come for the suet and black oil sunflower seed. The babies, who look more like finches at this point, cluster around begging. They’re starting to pick and peck on their own, at least some.

This week’s bird list (unverified audio ID in italic; newcomers in bold):

  • Annaā€™s Hummingbird
  • Barred Owl
  • Black headed Grosbeak
  • Brown Creeper
  • Chickadee, Black-capped
  • Chickadee, Chestnut-backed
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Crow, American
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • Flycatcher, Pacific Slope
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Junco, Dark-eyed
  • Mallard
  • Nuthatch, Red-breasted
  • Pine Siskin
  • Red Crossbill
  • Robin
  • Song Sparrow
  • Stellarā€™s Jay
  • Swainsonā€™s Thrush
  • Towhee, Spotted
  • Warbler, Wilsonā€™s
  • White-crowned sparrowĀ 
  • Western Tanager
  • Wood Duck
  • Wren, Bewickā€™s
  • Wren, Pacific
  • Vireo, Warbling

Unlikely IDs by Merlin:

  • Spotted Sandpiper

Birds who were here last week who I didn’t see and Merlin didn’t hear this week (any in italics were just based on Merlin, and could be mis-IDs):

  • Brown-Headed Cowbird
  • Finch, Purple
  • Goldfinch, American
  • Warbler, Hermit
  • Warbler, Yellow-rumped