Not Endemic

A male dark-eyed junco perches in a subalpine fir in Olympic National Park

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.

Junco in the Dogwood

The Trixie Marmot?

An Olympic marmot sits in a meadow in Olympic National Park

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.

Birds of a Feather

A close-up view of the feathers of a sooty grouse

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.

Birth of a Cone

Water droplets cover the needles of a subalpine fir

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.


The Olympic Marmot

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.