A black-tailed buck walks the border between a meadow and a small forest of subalpine firs in Hurricane Ridge. It was foggy and poured rain all day, but I was fully decked out in rain gear and stayed dry. The deer wasn’t so lucky of course.
While some species in Olympic National Park are endemic to the peninsula, others like this dark-eyed junco can be found elsewhere – including my backyard. The junco in the top picture is perching in a subalpine fir at Hurricane Ridge, the one on the bottom in a dogwood in our backyard. Earlier this week one was flitting about in a tree just a few feet away as I walked to the cafeteria at work, while others were feeding on the ground near the track across the street from my office where I walk when I need a break from programming.
Looking back at these Olympic marmot pictures I was struck by how they resemble our tortoiseshell cat, Trixie. In cats the mixed brown & black fur pattern can occur in females (or rarely in males with two XX chromosomes) where the primary color varies randomly from cell to cell, but in the marmots I think their coats are changing from light brown early in the season to dark brown near the end, and the marmots I saw on this occasion in the fall were in the process of transition.
I’ve only ever seen Olympic marmots once, near the road on the way back from Obstruction Point after a day of hiking at Hurricane Ridge. The marmots are endemic to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, the National Park service has more info if you’re interested.
I’m amazed by how diverse the feathers on a single bird can be in size and shape and color and function. The feathers in the upper left are wet with rain, it was pouring up at Hurricane Ridge when I came across a handful of grouse that were huddling near some trees for a little protection from the elements. I had on a full complement of rain gear and was nice and dry, and thankfully my camera and lens had enough weather-sealing that they shook off the rain as well.
While the previous day poured rain, sunshine arrived in the morning. I spent the early hours looking for marmots on Hurricane Hill but found none, and as the sunny Saturday attracted crowds, I decided on one last loop around the Meadow Trails before heading over to the western side of the peninsula.
I stopped when I found one small section of trees still in shade and noticed their needles were covered in water drops and tiny little cones were beginning to grow. Normally I’d use a macro lens for shots like this but you can’t leave the trail in this fragile environment and the needles were too far from the trail, so I used my 500mm lens, teleconverter, and extension tubes instead. My tripod isn’t sturdy enough for this much weight but I used a remote release and hoped for the best.
I had to work quickly as the sun was lighting up branch after branch as I photographed them (it’s even lighting up a drop on this branch). It was the last of my pictures as after this all the branches were drying in the sunlight. I didn’t notice it at the time I took the picture, but I love how the two small needles look like arms cradling the small cone. I think this is a subalpine fir but don’t quote me on it.
I saw at least four species for the first time on my Washington trip, three of them mammals and two of them marmots. In addition to the hoary marmots I saw at Mount Rainier, I was lucky enough to see Olympic marmots in Olympic National Park, one of the species that is unique to the peninsula. I expected to see them in rock formations along the trails in the Grand and Badger Valleys but neither saw or heard them. I did see a couple on the road between Obstruction Point and Hurricane Ridge, I would have missed them if a friend hadn’t seen them there on an earlier visit. The road is quite narrow with occasional steep dropoffs and made me more nervous than any of the trails I hiked, but in this particular location there was enough room to park on one side of the road and be clearly visible to traffic from both directions.