Posted by: Blythe | April 27, 2010

Clams & Oysters on the Hood Canal

Harvesting clams and oysters on Hood CanalHey folks – great opportunity coming up this weekend: minus tides and new tideland openings for shellfishing along Hood Canal. Lowest tides of the month (-2.4!) fall on Wednesday and Thursday, but minus tides are also scheduled for the weekend, along with great spring weather – which is a great combination for a good time!

Lots of places to go along Hood Canal, Quilcene, Dabob Bay, and the surrounding areas – easy pickins – and limits are 40 clams and 18 oysters per person, which is a LOT of shellfish!

Bring along a bucket and a small garden claw to gently pick through the sand and gravel. A shovel might be handy but is not really necessary because oysters lie on top of the beach and clams are just a few inches beneath the surface. Also don’t forget a lemon when it comes time to feast on the fruits of your labor!

Oysters have to be shucked on the beach, which, if you haven’t done this before, by the time you get through 18 of them, you kind of get the knack of it, if not a few cuts in the process!

We headed out two weeks ago on the new moon, camped at the Dosewallips State Park, and although we got some heavy rains on Saturday, Sunday was bright. I posted more pictures, tips & tricks for harvesting & shucking, and some ideas on how to cook at my main website: http://whaletails2quailtrails.com. (Thanks for visiting!)

Seriously. This is one of the many reasons why I love living here.

Important Links:

Go to the Washington Dept of Fish & Wildlife for info on where the beaches are, what you can collect, and more info on species.

Go to the Dept. of Health Hotline for closure announcements and info on biotoxins.

Check this Saltwater Tide site for dates, times, and levels of high and low tides along Hood Canal or anywhere on the Olympic Peninsula. (More low tides at the end of the month!)

Oh yeah – did I mention my main website for the “rest of the story?” Whaletails2quailtrails.com

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Posted by: Blythe | March 31, 2010

Tides of March

Storm coming in on Rialto Beach … the Pacific Ocean easily drowns out Amazing Grace.

Still photos are at my other website: http://whaletails2quailtrails.com. I can never seem to truly capture the power of a storm. Maybe the video helps.
Enjoy!

Posted by: Blythe | March 18, 2010

Snowshoeing Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge is finally back open after a couple month hiatus while repairing the road washout from mid-January! We took the opportunity last weekend to get one last final snowshoe hike in before the last of winter. I dug my Merrell boots out of the closet – these things have carried me all over Alaska & the Pacific Northwest, and it feels really good to chase the spiders out and put them back on! The day started out clear enough but was quite blustery by the time we left.

You can read the whole story at my new website: WhaleTails2QuailTrails. In the meantime, the pictures above give you a feeling for what it was like. Absolutely LOVE it up there!

Happy Trails!

…blythe

Posted by: Blythe | March 8, 2010

Kayaking Beneath the Hood Canal Bridge

So much about kayaking is timing – and I could write several posts about that topic alone. You time the tides, the currents, the traffic, the weather, the time of day, the day of the week, where you go and when – but the two big ones are weather and tides. Getting those right can make a huge difference in your experience.

And so – when we got an absolutely gorgeous day on a Saturday with a predicted fall in the barometer for Sunday – and we’re about mid-way through the lunar cycle – nothing too extreme – we wanted to try a paddle somewhere where we hadn’t been in awhile and decided on the Shine Tidelands by the Hood Canal Bridge.

It can get choppy around the bridge, depending on what the tide is doing. We timed it at the end of the ebb. We were coming from the west side. There are launch sites on both the north and south ends, but on the southwest side (toward Shine) is a small launch site and parking lot that is the least used.

The water here is very shallow, and although not a minus tide, the gulls, herons, sanderlings, and an assortment of ducks – merganzers, scoters, cormorants, and others – are obviously enjoying the sunshine and easy pickings on the beach. The mountains are out: we can see a string of the Olympics and try to identify some of the peaks.

As an aside, I am in the middle of reading “One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World” by Gordon Hempton and John Grossmann, and it has made me more keenly aware of the intrusion of man-made noise wherever you go. This is no more blatantly in-your-face as paddling beneath the Hood Canal Bridge. I have no idea what the decibles are, but it is a roar of clanking, clattering, and traffic thunder.

The new bridge is an amazing structure, built to change height with the changing tide. It is the longest bridge across saltwater; some 20,000 vehicles cross it every day. Environmental studies were conducted to ensure eelgrass and salmonids would not be deleteriously affected by its construction. It is state-of-the-art: lightweight but strong; it allows light to filter through its grates to minimize impacts. Ironically, extensive studies were also conducted to make sure the sound of driving pilings during construction would not impact the environment. They were considered minimal and temporary. True enough. But sit in a boat beneath the bridge on an average post-construction day: the sound is deafening, literally.

We do not linger under the bridge. There is much to see. On the northern  side, people are competing with seagulls for littleneck and butter clams and oysters; dogs race along the beach; scoters chatter loudly while scooting across the water, madly thumping their wings to try to get the momentum to lift off. There is a small piece of land that would be an island if not for a thin strip that connects it to the mainland. The eastern side is rocky; I see several starfish in the water. Particularly striking are the sunflower stars, aka Pycnopodia helianthoides, which, contrary to their benign beauty, are voracious predators.

We find a quiet sunny spot on the opposite side and have a picnic lunch while watching the bridge open for a passing sailboat. There is not much of a breeze, and the boat takes a long time. Traffic is backing up undoubtedly for miles, people are probably getting out of their cars to see what the hold up is, others are likely to be fuming and missing their ferry schedules. There is a noticeable lull in the traffic noise.

We are unphased by the stress overhead, but it is afternoon and time to head back. The tide is changing and is calm on both sides of the bridge. A skittish heron doesn’t take chances when we approach; a cormorant stands on a rock and airs out his wings; a large community of sanderlings peck away together at the soft shore sand; a curious seal follows us home.

My paddling partner does a couple of kayak rolls, just for practice. We take a moment to watch the sparkles on the water and just feel the warmth of the sun on our faces. It is a perfect day. Perfect timing.

Posted by: Blythe | March 3, 2010

Run, River Run

Something about a river – always changing; always the same

From one moment to another, sometimes subtle – sometimes drastic – transforming from one season to the next.

We stand on its banks and watch all that water

Life giving; life taking

How something so fluid can make us feel so grounded.

The Hoh, Calawah, Bogachiel, Sol Duc, Elwha, Dungeness, Dosewallips – the names roll off the tongue like the sound sweeping along the banks and washing over rocks and out to sea.

And here, the last of winter.

Posted by: Blythe | January 24, 2010

Kayaking Among Clouds in Port Angeles

It’s freezing in Florida. There is some kind of deluge in California. Arizona is closed for snow. And here in the Pacific Northwest – well, yes, we’ve had our share of mudslides – but hey – today – a gorgeous calm day fell on a weekend, and we lost no time loading up our boats and heading for Port Angeles Harbor before it had a chance to change its mind. A near perfect day. People and their dogs along shore enjoying the weather, some skipping rocks, some flying kites. Some new rock stacks stood as monuments on the rocky side of Ediz Hook.

Paddling PA Harbor is fun because it’s close to home, has several options for launch sites, there’s always something going on, and the wildlife are rather used to human activity. Today, the first thing we noticed was that the water was flat calm, although dramatic clouds overhead could soon spell otherwise. Second, we noticed lots of debris on the water — all kinds of bits and pieces of driftwood scattered across the bay, blown in by recent storms, cormorants using them as rafts. Third, it took us a moment, but we noticed something conspicuously missing: no freighters or tankers! No ferries. No tugs. Nada. Just open water.

We launched our Pygmy boats and let the saltwater rinse the dust (yikes! how could we let this happen!) off the hulls. The sun was so bright, it cast stars across the water. At times we felt we were paddling amongst clouds.

We found a lot of activity over at the fish pens. Fish were leaping several feet out of the water, but inside their netted cages, were safe from several nearby seals watching with intense interest.

The Pilot boat cast a gentle wake as it smoothly glided past us. The wind started to pick up; late afternoon already and time to get back. A great day to get back out on the water. It’s been too long.

Posted by: Blythe | January 12, 2010

Olympic Hot Springs in Winter

It’s not the Winter Olympics. It’s the Olympics in Winter.

Most people think of coming out to the Olympic Peninsula in the heat (used loosely) of summer. Most people – meaning, lots of people. Lots and lots.

If you want to really experience the solitude of the rainforest, go in winter.

This is an interesting year. We had a deep freeze and some snow in November, along with some deadly storms – but then things warmed up. A pineapple express wind blew through here the other night with gusts reported (or was that just expected?) of 115 mph up on Hurricane Ridge. We can expect that at a place called “Hurricane.” Here in the lowlands, still pretty strong. The immediate result,  compounded with recent rains, was melting snow that turned the rivers into gushing torrents of murk.

We took advantage of a window in the weather on a Sunday afternoon and decided to take the short hike up to the Olympic Hot Springs. I have not been up this way in several years, primarily because the disrespectful crowds of people in the summer make it highly unsanitary and because in the winter, we usually have so much snow, the Park closes the access road. You have to get the timing right: either before crowds/after snow or after crowds/before snow.

It’s not a difficult hike – it takes about an hour each way – a gentle incline along an old road that is undercut and washed out in several places. A few creeks to hop rocks across; others to take a makeshift log bridge. Mother Nature may eventually hide the scars of the road, but we are reminded asphalt is forever.

We timed it right: people were leaving as we were coming in. Surprisingly enough, quite a few locals were coming in as we were leaving, and whether or not they had headlamps, I don’t know, but I don’t think the log crossings would be all that easy in the dark. While we were there, though,we basically had the whole place to ourselves.

We step into the pool. We are naked in a pristine forest, where the moss drips down from the rocks and trees, a steam rises from the water with the faint smell of sulphur, trees reach overhead to inhale the vapors. It is unbelievably warm. Any annoyances of the day quickly dissipate. It is somehow ethereal, this moment in time where time stands still. I let it envelop me. We emerge relaxed but energized. On the walk out, a gentle rain begins to fall, first as a mist, then as light droplets…. it feels good. Refreshing. Clean. I am reminded why I live here.

Posted by: Blythe | January 10, 2010

Elk Herd in Forks

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted an entry here! Soon after my last post, I broke my foot, and although I would like to say it was from trapeezing through the upper story of the Olympic rainforest, reality was it was as simple as stepping off a porch! The result was a cast and crutches and all those things that put a serious cramp in outdoor activities!

But that’s just an excuse, albeit a good one. Reality was I found lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors that didn’t require extensive hiking, kayaking, or bungee jumping (not that I think jumping off a ledge suspended by a piece of elastic around my ankle is an idea of a good time!).

I’ll keep this short and just say the Olympic Peninsula is as wild as ever and you don’t have to go far to experience it.  On my way to Forks the other day, just outside the little community of Beaver, I saw this herd of elk alongside the road, getting ready to bed down for the afternoon in a field.

And at the entry to Forks, the beautiful Calawah River runs clear and cold, its banks cushioned with ferns, and one would hardly guess its already the middle of January!

Happy New Year everyone – and may 2010 bring you lots of adventures (safe ones! no broken bones!)

Posted by: Blythe | April 27, 2009

Dungeness Bay Birds: Waterfowl World from a Kayak

lighthouse-mirrorWhat an incredible day! A new moon, extreme tides, and absolutely gorgeous weather made for a perfect paddle to the Dungeness Lighthouse and back.  I always knew Dungeness Bay was shallow – but just how shallow was revealed as the tide rolled back to a -2. At this level, the steam from the morning sun rises in a smoky fog from the mudflats, and expansive fields of bright green algae are nakedly exposed. We watched the depths carefully to weave our way through a channel barely deep enough to float our boats. The sea was flat-calm enough to mirror the clouds – could this be saltwater?

Dungeness Bay, bordered by the Dungeness Spit and the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, is home to a wide assortment of wildlife. We routinely see seals here – even an occasional sea lion – as well as a lone coyote now and then. The water is so clear, you can spot crab crawling around on the bottom. But most amazing of all: the birds! It is said that over 250 species of birds live here; thousands upon thousands migrate through.

The spit itself is 5.5 miles long; you can walk its length on the western shore. The eastern side of the spit, and along the extension of Graveyard Spit, however, is off-limits to human traffic – which is why it is best to explore the area by the water side.

And as often as I have been there, on this particular day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many birds so busy and so enjoying the morning!

heronGulls, social creatures that they are, normally flock in the hundreds to maybe thousands. They seemed to be having a convention at the water’s edge, and everybody squawking about it. By contrast, an occasional solitary heron waded here and there.

scotersA great variety of ducks: assorted scoters, scaups, merganzers, buffleheads, among them. The scoters are particularly humorous – they are a somewhat heavy bird that seems to have to run across the water to get enough speed for take-off, complaining about it the entire way.

The Caspian Terns have returned to the Northwest. They are a dramatic bird, rising to get momentum and then plummeting straight down to catch their fish in a splash! (That was definitely the picture that got away.) Their long sculpted wings with black tips, white sleek bodies, and bright red contrasting beaks give them a graceful elegance not seen in other birds.

Just as amazing, the flocks of Sanderlings with their coordinated display of aerial maneuvers. They fly in tight groups, first one direction, and then suddenly, an opposite direction. The sun catches the underside of their wings, making them flash silver in the light. They twist and turn erratically in the air, flashing bright, then dark, then bright again. How they can know when to turn is phenomenal.

canadian-geeseMeanwhile, sandpiper-like birds scurry along the shore, poking their bills into the mud. Based on the dark underbelly, I think these must be Dunlins.

Lots of geese out, too. Flocks of geese, including the Black Brants, which are a true sea bird – they can drink saltwater – gather along the shoreline. The Canadian Geese are serene and almost tame on the lighthouse lawn.

immature-eaglebald-eagleAnd what would be the day without eagles? The more I am around them, the more I am attracted to the juveniles. From afar, I spotted a large piece of driftwood on the flats, but as I got closer, I realized it was this condor-sized juvenile eagle, brown and scruffy looking, unwilling to move until I approached too closely. A half-dozen of them hung out on a temporarily exposed island.

gulls-with-fishgull-flying-sidewaysBack at the boat launch, several more hung out in the trees, waiting for an opportunity to steal fish scraps from the gulls. It always amazes me how smaller birds will boldly chase off these humongous birds of prey that could easily make mincemeat of them in mid-air, if they chose to do so.

I have to apologize for the quality of these pictures. They don’t even come close to capturing the day. I have a little Canon PowerShot, which is a good point-and-shoot camera that fits nicely in a waterproof housing. But on a sunny day (not that I am complaining about sunshine!), it is almost impossible to see the view screen, and trying to peer through the viewfinder is not much better. Any good shots I get are not from skill–just a lucky stab in the light.

eagle-gets-some-tooBy far, the best way to watch seabirds is not through a camera lens but from a kayak. It is much easier to quietly sneak up on them from the water or to pretend you are just some oversized log drifting along. I have yet to be successful capturing the beauty of this special place on film or pixel. Best to just get out and enjoy it!

Posted by: Blythe | April 22, 2009

Earth Day Coastal Cleanup at Shi-Shi Beach

Hats off to CoastSavers and the many supporting organizations (the Surfrider Foundation, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, the Olympic National Park, the Clallam Bay-Sekiu Lions Club, and numerous local community groups, among others) for coordinating a very successful Coast Cleanup event on Saturday, April 18. There was a reported 22 TONS of trash collected by an estimated 1100 volunteers from beaches on the Strait and ocean sides of our coasts.

We signed up for one of the most beautiful, pristine beaches in the United States: Shi-Shi. The Makah Nation very generously gave a free parking pass to all cleanup participants on their Reservation, as well as free entrance to the museum (it was also the day of the first Eagle Festival – but that’s for another post).

Approximately 30 others had signed up for this particular beach, noted for its more difficult access on a basically flat 2-mile trail that starts out with a nice boardwalk but finishes sloshing through thick mud.

The view is worth it.

seastacks-in-mist-1sculpted-rocks-11tidepools-1waves-jumping-rocks-1Shi-Shi is breathtaking. It is a place that is constantly changing, shaped by winds and tides, but remains timeless. Pinnacles of sculpted rocks dot the shoreline; waves crash and splash high in the air; sculpins and hermit crab scavenge amongst anemones in quiet tidepools; herons fish while wading in the shallows.

And at high-tide mark:  garbage. Flung on the beach during winter storms, plastic water bottles, plastic wine bottles, plastic jars, plastic scraps – plastic, plastic, and more plastic – and styrofoam in buoys, chunks, and crumbles – an old shoe, rubber hoses, food containers, fishing ropes and nets and gear – garbage that careless (read that could-care-less) people carelessly threw overboard to become an eyesore on one of the most gorgeous places on earth. Stained. The majority of it was bottles. Emptied, capped, and thrown overboard – not in an “oops!” moment – but deliberately thrown overboard.

trash-1trash-2We filled a backpack, 3 garbage bags, and hauled whatever else we could tie on or carry. Unfortunately, we left much behind. It was painful to do so.  We hauled what we could back up the trail, no longer caring about the mud squishing over the tops of our boots.

What kind of society have we become, so accustomed to our conveniences that we do not recognize we are smothering ourselves and everything we hold precious with our excess?

Plastic bottles are the curse of our existence. It doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to buy them. We can recycle them if we use them.

22 Tons. That’s from the Olympic Peninsula alone. I’m trying to grasp what that must look like. It’s not something I can get my mind around. We become numb to trash that is scattered here and there across 3200 miles of coastline in Washington State. It all piles up. And up and up and up.

It’s so easy to pack it out – not only what you’ve brought in, but also a little bit more.

Happy Earth Day, everyone. It’s a good time to think about what that means to each of us and to our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

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