Journal 2009 2008 2007 2006
(click pictures to enlarge.)
20091117 Two recent storms, along with high tides, ate away the toe of the slope for one hundred feet of the shoreline of Eagle Landing Park. Last year's slide, where I planted 30 willows and some Henderson's checker mallow, has been wiped out again. All those plants are gone. All along this section of shore, roots are hanging in air where the storm-driven waves removed the soil beneath. The beach is sandy, now, because of all the material stripped from the hill. Right at the bottom of the stairs, a cluster of five large alders anchors the slope. The front three alders now have their roots dangling in the air. If that cluster of trees goes down, it could trigger a larger slide on the slope above. This is a natural process, of course. It has happened many times before. If it takes out the stairs, will people stop coming to the park? Or will they just make their own trails, worsening the problem? A third storm with high winds arrives Wednesday night. Depending on the timing of the storm, and the direction of the wind, it could take out that alder cluster. High tide is 10.5 feet at 4:30 PM, so hopefully the peak of the storm will come later when the tide is on its way out to -1.8.
20090914 The eagles have been gone for a couple of weeks now. I guess the parents led the offspring to some river up north to feast on spawning salmon. While they are gone, it's a good time to work around the nest tree without disturbing anyone. Nelson from EarthCorps is conducting a sampling survey of the vegetation in the park, and on Friday we surveyed a .05 acre plot at the foot of the nest tree. We found very little species diversity: only 13 species, three of them non-native, compared to 65 species in and around the parking area. Although the nest tree itself seems very healthy, this is not a healthy forest in general. The nest tree measured 5 feet in diameter, making it one of the largest in the area. It must also be very old, probably over 300 years, and whoever logged this land originally must have left it behind to seed the next generation. I took a picture of my three large dogs sitting on a stump of a smaller diameter than the nest tree, and that stump had 330 rings. I suppose it could just be growing really fast. There is probably an underground stream running under the park through that valley. Eagles have been fertilizing the soil all around the nest tree for twenty years, now, boosting its growth. I wish I had been measuring the diameter all this time, but I will from now on so we can chart this tree's growth. The tree is 58 inches Diameter Breast Height, when standing on the uphill side of the tree. This giant needs our help, though. Besides clearing away the ivy and laurel from around the base, we need to protect the health of its "guard trees." Several smaller, but still huge, Douglas-firs to the south of the nest tree are protecting it from storm winds. They need to be kept healthy so they can continue to do their job of protecting the giant. In general, Eagle Landing Park is not the healthiest forest in the world, and improving the health of the entire park will ensure that the nest tree has a greater chance at becoming a champion. The tallest Douglas-fir ever recorded was 410 feet tall. Imagine that in Burien! It would alter weather patterns and flight paths. We can help the park and the tree by removing the invasives and planting a greater diversity of native plants, which is what the Vegetation Management Plan is about.
20090819 The termites are back. Every year at this time, around sunset in late August, you will see termites fluttering aimlessly. Hundreds of them land on houses in the area, leaving behind pairs of wings at the eaves or at the joint in the siding when they crawl inside looking for a new home. If your roof doesn't leak, they won't have much luck, but if they find damp wood they will start eating away at your home. No need to call an exterminator, though. Call a roofer instead. If you keep the wood inside your house dry, you shouldn't have anything to fear from these insects. They are a vital component of the forest in Eagle Landing Park. Not only do they help recycle wood, creating rich soil for new trees, but they are also a major food source for the woodpeckers, the Pileated, the downy, and the flicker. You will often hear a woodpecker chipping away at a rotting tree that is either standing or fallen. They tear apart the wood to get to the termites for one meal, but they also leave the dead wood torn up, susceptible to rain and rot, inviting future termites to make a new home. Together, termites and woodpeckers have been recycling trees for centuries. If we keep our roofs repaired, they won't bother us.
20090816 These seem to be the noisiest fledglings we've ever had, but maybe I've forgotten how noisy the others have been over the last 20 years. Yesterday evening, a new noise came to Eagle Landing Park when an osprey started diving at one of the juveniles while scolding angrily. The osprey was only about two thirds the size of the fledgling, and it didn't seem like the attack was intended to cause harm. It appeared that the osprey was complaining about too much competition for fish. After the osprey flew off, after several noisy dives, the fledgling flew back to the nest tree and had a very loud conversation with the other fledgling and an adult about the encounter with the osprey.
20090515 Knotweed is trying to invade the park. Significant stands of knotweed are being ignored on property both south and north of ELP. Little fragments break off, wash into the Sound, wash up on the beach of ELP, and take root, starting a new colony. This invasive weed is one of the few plants in the world that can grow so prolifically from broken bits that wash downstream. It is a problem around the world, costing millions of dollars to eradicate. I pulled up the knotweed I found, but I probably didn't get every last bit, so I will have to return frequently to remove any knotweed I find.
20090429 Devil's club is unfurling new leaves. (That is, the remaining devil's club. Someone, most likely the City Light meter reader, illegally cut down two devil's club plants in the park, near the gate to the private residence.) Star flower is returning, even the ones mowed down by Mr. Weedwacker last summer. At the slide, almost all of the willow live stakes are sprouting leaves and looking healthy. If all those willows live, I made need to thin them. I wasn't counting on a 90% survival rate. Two cow parsnips are coming up. After the falling madrona wiped out some small hemlocks, I planted more than twenty hemlock trees over the past month, but I don't expect 100% survival. The wild cucumber, the one that wasn't swept away by the landslide, is growing wildly, getting ready to climb into the hazelnut tree. April has been wetter than usual, and although spring arrived late, due to the cold weather, the wet weather has caused everything to catch up all of a sudden. In spite of all the setbacks the park has suffered, things are looking better than ever.
20090226 Yesterday, an old madrona collapsed, smashing the branches off a maple on its way down. It was like a bomb going off. Bits of branches flew everywhere. Some shrapnel took out a couple of hemlock seedlings, so they will need to be replaced. This morning, a light layer of snow covered the plants, including the Indian plum.
February 14th. The slide area lost a bit more mass as the leading edge calved off like a glacier, probably due to especially high tides.
The eagles have been around a bit more lately, making more noise. Things are beginning to bloom. I saw my first native flower of the year, an Oregon grape. Pictures in the gallery.
Carol Schulz of Rainier Audubon submitted the following list to the Great Backyard Bird Count, for Eagle Landing Park. Thank you, Carol.
Locality: 98166, Seattle, King County, WA
Observation Date: FEB 13, 2009
Start Time: 9:15 AM
Total Birding Time: 2 hours
Party Size: 1
Snow Depth: No snow was present
Number of Species: 21
All Reported: yes
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1
Glaucous-winged Gull - 4
Band-tailed Pigeon - 2
Anna's Hummingbird - 1
Downy Woodpecker - 2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) - 2
Hutton's Vireo - 2
American Crow - 3
Black-capped Chickadee - 2
Chestnut-backed Chickadee - 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 1
Brown Creeper - 2
Winter Wren - 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 2
American Robin - 4
Spotted Towhee - 3
Song Sparrow - 5
Dark-eyed Junco - 1
House Finch - 1
Pine Siskin - 2
To her list I would add the Townsend's Warbler
Today I planted over thirty willow live stakes in the landslide area. The species are Pacific willow and Sitka willow, I am told, and I harvested them from a King County storm water pond where they were planning to mow them down anyway. I would like to plant interesting things like wild cucumber again, but I don't want them wiped out by another slide. Willows are good for binding the soil, but they don't grow too big, so they won't torque the soil if they lean. If only three or four survive to maturity, that would be enough to provide some stability.
Elsewhere in the park, I recently saw a ruby crowned kinglet, one of my favorites. The eagles have been hanging around, but I haven't noticed nest building activity. Palmate coltsfoot is popping up through the soil, looking like something from outer space.
January 31st. Every day, I walk through a hidden forest. I mean that in the sense of Jon Luoma's excellent book, but I also walk through a secret forest that only reveals itself if you stop, look, and listen, which most people don't. In The Hidden Forest, Luoma reveals a startling amount of biology and ecology happening in our forests that was unknown until science recently revealed these inner workings. We have paid a price for our ignorance, most significantly in the massive floods and soil erosion caused by logging. It turns out that the lumber industry is heavily subsidized by disaster relief payments from the Federal government when we have to deal with the aftermath and consequences of forest mismanagement. By understanding the deep ecology of the forest, by understanding the science, we can help our forests while helping ourselves. Besides, learning the science of forest ecology makes the woods richer and more enjoyable.
Forgetting about all that, I see and hear another world when I take the time. The other morning, as fog moved through, I heard heavy rain when no rain was falling. The tallest Douglas-firs were combing the moisture out of the air and the condensed droplets accumulated and fell like rain. This is how the Coast Redwoods manage to grow to over 300 feet tall, higher than moisture can be wicked up from the soil. Later that day, the wind came through and cleared out the fog. Trees creaked and squeaked, each with an individual voice. This evening, a flock of geese flew by headed south, and then they flew by again, a few moments later, headed north, perhaps gaining altitude by zigzagging up the tree tops. Their honks revealed individual voices, and on the second pass, when they were closer, I could hear the rush of their wings. A little later, ducks flew over, and their wings made a much higher, squeakier sound. This reminded me of a time when an eagle flew right overhead and I heard the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the powerful wing beats. Just after sunset, I heard the screech owl's soft hooting in a rhythm like a rubber ball's accelerating bounce. The moon and a bright planet peeked out of high, pale clouds as the horizon colored. Although most of the plants are quiet, the licorice fern flourishes this time of year, robust and vibrant green. Even before I learn all the science--and I have much to learn about bird identification, lichens, mushrooms, tree diseases, hydrology, etc.--I can detect a forest hidden to most people just by using my senses and taking some time. Most of the 30,000 annual visitors to this park will hear only the crunch of gravel under their feet, or perhaps shouts and screams, or cell phone conversations. I wish more people would take a moment to appreciate a quiet and subtle world.
January 24th. This evening, I noticed the ground was littered with lichens. I know that many lichens are sensitive to pollution, and we have recently had our most polluted days of the year. Coincidence, or cause and effect?
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Recently, I noticed cracks in the hillside around the slide. I didn't want to walk in the slide area, so I could only see the ones near the stairs. If the slide grows to the size of the cracks, it will be three times the size it is now. On MLK day, I planted nine cedar trees on the slope above the slide. That won't do any good for this year, but it might stabilize the slope in the future. Nearby property owners who have trams to their beach houses have planted hedges of cedars beside their tram tracks, making a solid wall of vegetation. Tree roots like to intermingle with others of their species and exchange nutrients, water, and chemical messages. I planted the nine cedars between two mature cedars on the slope, hoping to form a network of cedar roots on the hill beside the stairs. It isn't my goal to stop the hill from moving, since that is a natural process, but I would like to keep it from moving so suddenly that it wipes out the stairs. Picture 1 is a crude diagram of the slide and the cracks. Picture 3 shows the stairs on a sunny afternoon. The slide is the dark area at the right of the picture.
Picture 2 shows another tree cut down in Seahurst. Every tree missing from the uplands puts more pressure on the hydrology of Eagle Landing Park. Picture 4 shows afternoon light cutting through the morning fog along the south side of the park. Picture 5: the sign recently installed. I planted a fern in the foreground to soften the stark presence of the sign, and I planted four snowberries and one mock orange at the sides and back to frame the sign and to cover the back, seen from inside the park. The park currently receives over 30,000 visits every year, the equivalent of the entire population of Burien marching up and down the trail. It seems like plenty of people knew where the park was during the three years before the sign was put up.
January 11th. The slide appears the same or a tiny bit larger. This picture shows the whole slide, the maple, and the stairs, although it may be difficult to distinguish the details. Seahurst park had several slides. In both parks, but especially in Seahurst Park, trees have fallen and land has slid. Normally, this would be a good thing, a natural part of the ecosystem. Because our forests are infected with exotic species, what used to be an opportunity for native plants has now be come an opportunity for invasive plants. Our forests need more dead wood, and before 1850, a fallen tree or a landslide would have created a niche for species like hemlock, alder, licorice fern, salmonberry, thimbleberry, fireweed, and goldenrod. Now, before our natives can establish themselves in these disturbed sites, ivy, laurel, holly, and blackberry move in first. As we walked through the neighborhood above the park, a flock of about one hundred starlings ate the red berries off a large holly bush in someone's back yard. Even if volunteers succeed in removing all the invasive species from Eagle Landing Park and Seahurst Park, English holly and European starlings will still bring exotics into these disturbed areas.
Also of note today, the beach had many new logs from the floods along the Puyallup river. Last week, these large alders, maples, firs, and cedars were in a different county.
January 10th. Hard to tell if the slide grew larger today. The mostly-dead maple still hasn't fallen even though the slide chute passes right underneath it. The old tree must have one live root hanging on somewhere. While the tree is still as vertical as it ever was, it might be lower on the hillside and closer to the beach than before. I wish it would go ahead and fall from its current position. It would help buttress the slope and stop some further erosion. If the maple walks down the slope before falling, it will be carried away by the tides and leave the damaged slope exposed to more erosion.
The Indian plum, especially near the parking area, is covered in fat, bright buds. These bushes almost seem like they are blooming, although that's still more than a month away. Some of the Oregon grape is also fattening up its buds, preparing to bloom. According to my past photographs, the first week of March is when the first flowers come out, including skunk cabbage and trilliums. Only eight weeks to go. The buds of the Indian plum remind us that winter is a time of activity for supposedly dormant plants. Like sleeping humans, they use the rest period to gather strength and prepare for the coming growing season.
January 9th. The slide continues to grow day by day. The first week of January saw five inches of rain. The top of the slide grew deeper and wider, and the material flowed down the narrow chute and fanned out at the beach. So much mud has accumulated at the beach that the high tides have not been able to wash it all away in one day. The water at high tide has appeared muddy near the slide. More pictures in the gallery.
January 5th. Geology in action.
The slide near the base of the stairs at Eagle Landing Park, which has been happening slowly for over a year, extends much farther than I had thought. The top of the slide starts about twenty feet above the mostly-dead maple, about fifty feet up the slope from the high tide line. It's hard to see. It is basically just a hole in the ground, and I'm sure I walked by it many times before noticing it. The slide goes right under the old maple, whose roots, if it has any left, must be hanging in air. In the middle shot above, the vertical post of the railing is pointing right at the top of the slide. In the background, at the top of the picture, one of those trunks just left of center is the perch tree, which has its own small slide happening just beneath it. That slide also started about a year ago. These slow-motion slides are exactly what the educational sign at the top of the stairs is referring to. I hope the entire hillside doesn't give way. That would be a natural occurrence, and an opportunity to plant new plants, I suppose, but a slide from the dead maple to the perch tree could take out the perch tree and the $120,000 stairs. Is Burien insured for that?
Pictures of the slide from the time I first noticed it.
Two maples (or a double maple) fell at the top of the wetland above the beach, south of the stairs. The roots pulled out of the ground just below the location of a small slide that happened around December 4th of 2007. All this movement is occurring right beneath the eagles' perch tree. I planted five cedars and a douglas-fir in the slide area last winter, and they are still healthy and undisturbed. The maples fell across a very mucky wetland. A young forest like that at Eagle Landing Park needs more downed wood for the health of the ecosystem. The only trouble is that invasives like ivy disrupt the regeneration process. The ivy moves in before native plants can find the exposed soil. We humans need to intervene and get the right plants started before the ivy takes hold. The opening created by this fallen maple might make a good location for a black cottonwood. Alders will naturally fill in here, but a cottonwood would add a little diversity. Also, native plants with binding roots might stabilize the slope, whereas ivy just lets the land creep beneath it while displacing or killing the plants that could send down roots.
As I looked up at the perch tree swaying above me in the wind, I noticed a train of seagulls using it as an elevator. I saw this at the Inn at Spanish Head in Lincoln City, Oregon. It rose up about eight stories from the sandy beach, and seagulls glided along the beach until they came to the hotel, where they floated up without flapping before continuing on their journey. The perch tree, besides being a hunting perch for the eagles, is also an elevator for the seagulls. It would be a shame to lose this critical component of the Eagle Landing Park ecosystem. I hope the giant Douglas-fir can hold on a few more years until the cedars and other trees get big enough to stabilize the slope and buffer the storm winds.
January 2nd. The screamers. Being in or near the park every day, one gets used to the screaming of the eagles. I even enjoy it these days, since they aren't around as much as they used to be. I do not get used to the screams of people, though. I think that people coming to the park should enjoy the one place in their lives where they can find peace and quiet. In Eagle Landing Park, there are no TVs, no vacuum cleaners, no cars. Most days you don't hear many airplanes. You can hear the leaf blowers from around the neighborhood on Saturdays, but usually it is just quiet. The silence seems to make some people uneasy, and they make as much noise as possible while in the park. They talk excessively loud, and quite often they just plain scream. One girl screamed the entire length of the trail in a sort of conversation with herself. She screamed in different voices, as if she was possessed. She just walked along at a casual pace, screaming as loud as she could for ten minutes like it was the normal thing to do. People yell and scream inside the park, and then when they walk out onto the road and walk home, they become silent.
Every day, at least one person hides behind the big cedar tree and jumps out at someone trying to elicit a scream. Instead of walking near each other, families seem to like to spread out along the trail and still communicate. "WHAT?" "WHAT?" I can hear them fine, and so can anyone for miles, but they can't hear each other. For a while, I had the impression that children were the main screamers. They are, but I have witnessed several occasions where the adults with them provoked them to scream. The children weren't inclined to scream on their own, so the adults prodded and cajoled them until they got some good screams out of them. When they aren't screaming, some people like to hit things with a stick to generate noise. Some books and non-profit organizations talk about Nature Deficit Disorder, and apparently one symptom is a fear of natural quietude. Perhaps urban dwellers faced with natural silence become uncomfortable and have to generate noise to feel normal. I like rainy, windy, nasty days because it keeps people out of the park, and I don't have to hear so much screaming and yelling.
Another possible explanation for screaming people is that they might be like the flickers. The flickers call out through the woods and tap out messages on dead wood in order to aurally mark their territory. This drumming behavior defines a nesting territory for a couple and warns others to stay away. Urban flickers have been known to find metal vents on houses for their drumming, to claim a larger territory with the louder sound. Perhaps these families that enter Eagle Landing Park have an instinctive need to mark the territory as their own, letting everyone within the range of their screams know that they own the park for the next half an hour. (If you asked them, no one would ever admit to this, I'm sure.) The goal of Eagle Landing Park is to appear wild, just like no one owns it, but this wildness might inadvertently be encouraging the screaming of these families. Like the flickers, many children have discover that they can bang on the metal spindles of the staircase to maximize their noise, and their claimed territory.
The eagles haven't had any fledglings since the park opened. At first, I dismissed the idea that visitors to the park were responsible for this change. I thought they might have simply grown too old to produce viable eggs any more. After reading a document from the WDFW, I am having second thoughts. Eagle Landing Park receives about 30,000 visits a year, and at least a third of those visitors generate more noise than a playground at recess.
Watson and Pierce (1998) found that pedestrian activity was the most common human activity
within 400 meters (1,300 ft) of 37 eagle nests in western Washington. Along with aircraft,
pedestrian activities cause the highest active disturbance responses in bald eagles (Stinson et al.
2001). Research from across the United States shows that pedestrian activities tend to affect eagle
behavior at distances up to 991 m (3250 ft) from nests (Fraser et al. 1985, Grub and King 1991,
Grubb et al. 1992, Steidl 1994). Watson and Pierce (1998) found that pedestrian activity
increased eaglesí flush and agitation responses at <120 m (394 ft), and reduced incubation time at
<200 m (656 ft). Similarly, vehicles and pedestrians elicited the highest responses from eagles in
Michigan, although aircraft- and aquatic-related activities were more common (Grubb et al. 1992).
Of course, asking people to be quiet will only make them louder. Asking people to do anything makes them want to do the opposite. I will try to plant more trees along the trail to dampen the sound and shield pedestrians from the view of the eagles. Perhaps these eagles or a new pair of eagles will become used to the screaming and yelling and banging sticks on metal, and begin to generate offspring again. It would be sadly ironic if creating a park to allow people to observe wild eagles resulted in harm to the local eagle population, but it wouldn't be entirely unexpected.
This afternoon around sunset, two eagles landed in a tree at the top of the bluff and screamed at each other, like they often do. They will sit on a branch together, less than a foot apart, and scream in voices that can be heard for miles. I don't know why they do it, but they probably don't know why they do it, either. I enjoyed the screams of these eagles much more than the screams of humans.
January 1st. On the way to the park, I noticed a gazebo in someone's back yard that had a roof entirely covered in licorice ferns. It was amazing and beautiful, and I had walked by it hundreds of times and never noticed it. How many amazing things do I walk by every day without noticing? For 2009, my goal, which I probably won't achieve, will be to observe something about Eagle Landing Park that I hadn't noticed before. Every day, the park is a new world, partly because it changes and partly because accidents of time and light cause me to see the environment in a new way.
Yesterday, I noticed the increased landslide at the beach and the new orange dots at the top of the park, near the street. I guess those don't count for 2009, then. Today, I saw a young maple that was shaped like a hand. It had been broken off at around eight feet, and the five new stems grew up from that point, a thick thumb and four fingers, each a little smaller than the previous one.
Also, today, I noticed that the property just north of the park lost several large alders on the hill above the beach, possibly because they had reached the end of their lifespan, or possibly because the soil is moving. One of the alders fell on a small young crabapple tree. I couldn't tell if it survived, in the tangled mess.
While walking through the neighborhood today, I witnessed another large tree coming down, this time a large old maple succumbing to the saw. These giants fall one by one, and people who aren't paying attention might not even notice their absence. I've started a new page to keep track of the lost trees.