US Geological Survey Studies the Ground Beneath Our Feet

Both gravitational and magnetic data is used to describe the underground geology. This illustration is of gravitational readings locating structures in the South Sound. Click the image for a larger view.

A few years ago, the Steamboat Peninsula was visited by a research team from the Geologic Hazards Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey. These researchers were using equipment to view cross-sections of geologic structures far beneath the ground. This last July, the results of this research, a paper entitled, Shallow geophysical imaging of the Olympia anomaly: An enigmatic structure in the southern Puget Lowland, Washington State, was published.

A significant benefit of this kind of research is to identify areas where stress might build and quickly release in the form of an earthquake. The Puget Sound occupies a seismically active area, located along a line where the Juan de Fuca plate is squeezed under the North America plate.

The convergence of the Juan de Fuca plate, at a rate of ~50 mm/yr (Atwater, 1970; DeMets et al., 1994), has historically produced great (magnitude, M8–9) earthquakes on the Cascadia subduction zone (e.g., Nelson et al., 2006) that pose a primary seismic hazard for the region (Petersen et al., 2002).

But what’s the story, closer to our home here on the Steamboat Peninsula?Read More

McLane Creek a Little Bit of Pacific Northwest Paradise

Photo by Bob and Barb, Washington State Trails Association.

Part of the pleasure of living here is the easy access to Capitol State Forest. One piece of the State Forest is less than 6 miles from the Steamboat Island Road exit. If you go to Mud Bay and then go up the hill toward Olympia; take a right at the top of the hill. Follow Delphi Road SW for 3.2 miles. You will then find on the right side, McLane Creek and Forest Trails. Click here to map your own directions.

The park is run by the Department of Natural Resources and closes at dusk. There are picnic shelters and restrooms and wonderful viewpoints. There are three trails, two of which circumnavigate a large pond and a small lake.

Click image for a downloadable trail map.

Numerous birds, amphibians, and beavers live at the water. Salmon swim home in the fall. The trails are short and protected from the rain by trees. You should always dress for the weather and stay out of the woods when it is windy. Enjoy this little bit of Pacific Northwest paradise.

A state Discovery pass is needed to park at McLane Creek. You can buy a pass online or at 22 locations in Thurston County. Check it out at

The Red-Tailed Hawk

The red-tailed hawk is very good at adapting to different environments. They have no problem cohabitating with humans and have even made a home for themselves in New York City, where they feed on pigeons and rats.

The deforestation of the United States actually made more hunting grounds for the red-tailed hawk, who seems to find a utility pole the perfect lookout over a field or roadway.

The red-tailed hawk feeds primarily on rodents and can reach 120 miles per hour when diving from the sky to catch its doomed prey.

If you hear the screeching of a hawk look to the sky. If there is only a single hawk, the bird is probably hunting or guarding its territory, but if you see two hawks twirling around each other, be prepared to be impressed. This is a courtship flight, where the male may show off to the female for over ten minutes by swooping, diving and even grabbing her talons in midair. Hawks usually mate for life and perform this dance often, so keep your eyes on the sky this spring.

Text and photographs reprinted with permission from issue 8 of the Steamboat Island Register. For more information and to advertise in the Register, contact Amanda Waggoner at (360) 870-2126 or 

Click here for more articles about the nature around us. 

The Great Blue Heron

While Blue Herons live throughout North America, they are iconic of the Pacific Northwest, because they only live around water, and we have a lot of water, and unlike the colder parts of the country where they migrate south, here they are year-round residents.

Blue Herons gather in colonies of 5 to 500 to breed. Both the female and male build a nest of sticks. The eggs are a light blue, and both parents will regurgitate food for the young once they hatch.

The firstborn chick gets larger than its siblings because it learns how to handle food and be aggressive towards its clutch mates.

While primarily consuming small fish, the Great Blue Heron will also eat small mammals, insects, amphibians and small birds. They swallow their prey whole and have been known to choke on prey that is too large.

Text and photographs reprinted with permission from issue 8 of the Steamboat Island Register. For more information and to advertise in the Register, contact Amanda Waggoner at (360) 870-2126 or

Yuma Myotis One of the Bats Living Near Us

There are 15 bat species native to Washington, one of which is Yuma myotis (Myotis yumanensis). This little bat is medium dark brown with a darker brown face and ears. Yuma myotis can live up to 20 years and have an average weight of 6 grams. They are about 3-5 inches long with a wing span of about 9 inches.

Yuma myotis love to live near calm or “slack” water, where they can fly swiftly just above the water’s surface to catch small insects like mayflies, midges and mosquitoes. Places with extensive open freshwater lakes and wetlands provide ideal foraging habitat.

Summer roosts for Yuma myotis bats include crevices in cliffs, old buildings, mines, caves, bridges, and abandoned cliff swallow nests. Here locally, that means thousands of Yuma myotis can be found roosting at Woodard Bay, the largest known colony in Washington State and only 1.5 miles from the Lonseth Preserve.

Bats are the only flying mammals and are extremely beneficial because of their ability to eat enormous quantities of bugs. Yuma myotis is an important riparian species, but likely has been eliminated along many streams in western states by habitat loss and disturbances to colonies while they are hibernating or when mothers are nursing offspring.

Sources: Bats About Our Town, Bats Northwest, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Idaho State University.
See Michael Durham’s amazing bat photography and more at

Reprinted with permission from the Fall newsletter of the Capitol Land Trust. 

Click here for more on the nature around us.

In other news regarding the Capitol Land Trust, we learn of the successful completion of a restoration project in our neighborhood:

For over 50 years, the Allison Springs property, located near the southern terminus of Eld Inlet, contained dikes that blocked fish from spawning. This past year, we worked with South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG) and other partners to remove all six dikes and to revegetate along the new creek channel. On the adjacent Randall Preserve, we removed three structures and decommissioned a road before planting the area. The total planted area from both projects is over two acres, with about 3,000 native plants installed!

Restoration project partners were Washington Department of Ecology, South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Conservation Corps, Sound Native Plants, People for Puget Sound, Ralph Plowman – Black River Farm LLC, Thurston County, Shelly Bentley, City of Olympia, South Sound Green, WSU Extension Native Plant Salvage Project, Mason and Thurston Conservation Districts.


Capitol Land Trust is celebrating 25 Anniversary. Mark your calendars for their 8th Annual Conservation Breakfast, Tuesday February 12, 2013, 7:00 to 8:30 AM at St. Martin’s University.

The Griffin Neighborhood Association is proud to have creates the Steamboat Conservation Partnership with the Capitol Land Trust. The Partnership was created to conserve the rich and diverse natural landscapes of the Steamboat Peninsula region. Click here to learn more about the Steamboat Conservation Partnership and how you can help conserve habitat right here in the Griffin area.

The Natural World – The Crow

Believe is or not, crows are considered one of the world’s most intelligent animals. They have been seen using breadcrumbs as bait to catch fish or dropping hard-to-open nuts on busy roads and waiting for the nuts to be run over and cracked open. This use of tools has impressed scientists who study the crow, and have found them capable of solving complex puzzles. On the beaches of the Puget Sound it is very common to see a crow pick up a clam, take off, and then drop it on to a rocky area. Eventually the clam will crack open and the crow will have a nice snack.

A group of crows is called a murder, and a roost tree where the murder sleeps can hold as many as 50,000 birds.

While it is hard for humans to tell one crow from the other, crows have been known to identify specific humans, especially “bad” humans who have harmed a fellow crow. They will squawk at and even dive bomb the poor sap.

When you see crows crashing into each other in the air, they are playing a high-speed game of “chicken,” to figure out which crow is dominant.

Originally published in the Steamboat Island Register and used here with permission. For more information or to advertise in the Register, contact Amanda Waggoner at The Register is distributed locally. Pick up your copy at the Steamboat Island Coffee Shop.


Coralroot Orchid: Beautiful & Unusual Parasitic Plant

photo by Guy Maguire

photo by Guy Maguire

Last spring during a volunteer work party at the McLane Point Preserve on Eld inlet, we came across an unusual and beautiful little flower, a Spotted coralroot orchid, or Corallorhiza maculata. I immediately wanted to learn more about this fascinating plant.

The Spotted coralroot orchid is a myco-heterotroph, which means essentially “gaining its nutrients from the roots of mushrooms.” The Northwest is home to over a dozen species of these types of plants. These small orchids and heath family plants are unique because they have lost all their chlorophyll, do not perform photosynthesis, and rely entirely on the roots of certain mushrooms for all their nutrients.

Contrary to popular belief, not all plants are green. In fact, these myco-heterotrophes come in a great variety of colors. Once upon a time they had leaves and were green like most plants, but over time evolved to lose their pigment as they developed associations with specific fungi species. Some of the more common myco-heterotrophes in this area are the Candystick (Allotropa virgata), Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), Spotted coralroot (Corallorhiza maculate), and Striped coralroot (Corallorhiza striata).

While ecologists have known for many years that more than 90% of plants associate with fungi, only recently have they learned that specific plant species quite literally act as parasites on these fungi, stealing their nutrients. This may seem like a negative, but the reality is these plants play an important role in the forest’s ecology. These fungi get their energy, in the form of sugars, from the trees around them and in turn provide the trees with nitrogen and other nutrients. The “parasitic” orchids take only a minute fraction of those nutrients for themselves. In turn, they occupy a unique niche and provide more diversity in the forest. These orchids also fill an important link in the forest ecosystem by providing nectar for many species of pollinating insects.

My research on this fascinating organism led me to think about what else have we may have yet to  discover. Looking deeper into the lives of these plants has illustrated how truly interconnected the forest is.

So the next time you are wandering the woods and in the mountains, keep your eyes peeled! The Northwest is home to a diversity and abundance of these strange, beautiful, perplexing little flowers.


Guy Maguire is Capitol Land Trust’s Restoration Projects Coordinator.

This article reprinted with permission from the Fall issue of the Capitol Land Trust newsletter.

Click here for more information regarding the Capitol Land Trust.
Click here for information regarding the Steamboat Conservation Partnership, a unique collaboration between the Griffin Neighborhood Association and the Capitol Land Trust.

Click here for more articles of this kind, regarding the nature around us.

Native Plums Bloom – Nature Notes from the Steamboat Peninsula

Prunus Subcordata leaves and flowers detail

Prunus Subcordata leaves and flowers detail

Nature Notes from the Steamboat Peninsula is a series for noting and enjoying some of what nature and her admirers are up to in our neighborhood.

Recently the winter woods are breathing pale clouds of color, gifts from various species of Native Plum. Among the candidates for this distinction are the following :

The Northwest Indian Plum, also known as the Pacific Plum, Sierra Plum, Oregon Plum, or technically, Prunus Subcordata. Native to the Northwest and Northern California, this small tree prefers lower elevations but lives at elevations up to 6000 feet. With dense, thicket-like habit, this plum can grow up to 20 feet tall.

Among the first plants to bloom here in the spring, the Northwest Indian Plum is a vitally important food source for another familiar early arrival here; the fiery little Rufous Hummingbird, as well as many other creatures. The white or pink-flushed blossoms first emerge in March or April from gray-barked branches with brown lenticels.

Later, oblong dark red or yellow fruits ripen. Depending on your source, the fruit is described variously as very bitter, very tasty, or tart but edible. Regardless of its insecure rank on human menus, this plum is saluted as a seasonal treat by wildlife.

Oemleria cerasiformis

Another native plum, Oemleria Cerasiformis, also blooms in March and April, with whitish-green blossoms. This plum, also known as the Indian Plum or Osoberry, is native to the Pacific Coast and lower elevation Coastal Ranges from the Santa Barbara, California, area north to British Columbia. Westward, it extends its native range to the Cascades.

Shorter than Prunus Subcordata, this plum grows to about three and a half to fifteen feet, with smooth reddish-brown to dark gray bark. Loosely branching habit, leaves that are paler on their lower side, and fresh foliage described as tasting like cucumber help identify this plum.

Pollination requires both male and female plants. The resulting fruits, up to about half an inch long, are initially orange-yellow, but blue-black on red stems when ripe. Among others, deer, rodents and birds feed on these plums.

Oemleria cerasiformis is described as working well in Washington gardens.


The latest in an ancient line of trees native to these very woods, the native plums we see in bloom today may seem, relative to cultivated species, rather small, even shaggy, and not possessed of the the biggest, most colorful leaves, or showiest blooms. But who among their neighbors, having been graced by their pale end-of-winter blossoms, summer leaves and fruits, or simply their ancient presence as just one of the unique elements our woodlands, could turn down  another Springtime opportunity to celebrate them?

– D. Wiley

Sources: websites for The Washington Native Plant Society; USDA Natural Resources Conservation ServiceWikipedia.


Fun with Swallows and Feathers – Nature Notes from the Steamboat Peninsula

By providing the right kind of feathers in the right way, you can easily attract swallows. Every spring, swallows search for the best soft materials to improve the comfort and warmth of their nests. Soft and downy feathers are perfect and swallows get excited when they find a good source.

These birds possess remarkable flying skills. Watching them collect feathers for their nests offers hours of entertainment.

What feathers are best? Birds like the softer downy curved feathers to line their nests. They will not use large-shafted straight tail and wing feathers. Natural colors work well though the swallows can get used to brightly-colored dyed feathers too. Swallows will pick up one-inch feathers but they prefer larger ones. They get quite animated finding a five to seven-inch goose or turkey flank feather. Their nests are about 6 inches wide so one large curved feather goes a long way to cover the bottom, kind of like a wall-to-wall carpet. A big perfect large feather is a rare find so the little birds must experiment to learn how to grab and fly with them.

Swallows will sometimes land to pick up a feather though they usually grab them off the ground while flying since these birds are not efficient hoppers or walkers. When providing nest materials on the ground, just make sure that the area is even, free from obstructions, and has plenty of space for the birds to make their approach and exit flights. Swallows are very cautious when they pick feathers off the ground in flight. Several practice approaches serve to help the bird to know if a feather grab is safe. This makes sense as they are zooming down beak-first at 20 miles an hour to pick up a feather on the ground. They are safer grabbing feathers in the air.

A feather floating in the air instantly attracts swallows looking for nest materials. Provide this and become quickly popular with the local swallows in the spring. With the right wind, launching feathers by hand works well, but usually the plumes drift quickly and disappointingly to the ground. A fun trick is to launch feathers from a ten-foot, one-inch wide plastic pipe. Place a feather at one end and blow into the air from the other end like a dart gun. After a few days, the swallows catch on that airborne feathers are being offered when they see the pipe raised. 

For the larger feathers, the birds have to learn how to catch and fly with them. Early in the season, they make hesitant attempts to catch the bigger five to six-inch feathers. Once they learn how, the birds become adept at mid-air grabs. Both the male and female swallows collect feathers, often working in pairs. Their mouths make a small snap sound when closing or attempting to close on a feather. The swallows also must learn that the best way to fly with a big feather is to carry it curved under the body, shaft-first. So feathers are often dropped mid-air to change to the best position. When this happens the feather may get seized by another swallow and a chase is on.

Barnyard fowl are a good source of feathers. If you know someone who eats their chickens or turkeys, have them save the feathers. Barnyard birds may have parasites like mites. Place future swallow nest feathers in a 0º F. freezer for 48 hours, remove for 48 hours and freeze again for a 48 hours. This kills adult parasites the first freeze, lets any remaining eggs hatch when the feathers are out of the freezer, and kills them during the second freeze.

Once the swallows discover a source for feathers, they will return from nests miles away. Eventually, the birds will recognize you as a consistent feather provider and circle when you come out your door. Once your yard is known as a source, they will return again and again, year after year.

– Chris Maynard

This article originally appeared in last spring’s Echo, the publication for members of Black Hills Audubon.

Chris is fascinated with feathers. He also has a website devoted to images of feathers from around the world, including a few of swallows catching goose feathers in mid-air. He has also produced and is selling an 18”x 24” poster of the alphabet as found in the feather patterns of a single remarkable species of pheasant found in Vietnam and Laos. Some of his 3d framed feathers will be at the Mud Bay Coffee on the Westside during the month of April. His website is

Nature Notes from the Steamboat Peninsula is a new series appearing here, noting and enjoying some of what nature and her admirers are up to in our neighborhood. If you have suggestions for topics – or even an entire article you would like see published here, please email And, as always, feel free to leave a comment.

Rufous Announces Spring – Nature Notes from the Steamboat Peninsula

Another seasonal first: that distinctive, loud toy-like buzz of a RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD zipping around a feeder on Steamboat Peninsula this week. Despite its 3 1/2 inch size (one whole ounce), these birds are described as “tenacious, pugnacious . . . aggressively defending its territory” even against much larger birds. Maybe it’s the brilliant coppery iridescence of the male’s upper parts, or his also iridescent scarlet-red throat (flashed to further assert his presence) that encourage such bravado. In the rare event of my feeder being empty, these fellows glare in at my kitchen window, wings buzzing loudly, beaks all but touching the glass. No translation necessary.

Bravado indeed: They migrate mainly to the highlands of Mexico, with some wintering along California’s southern  coast or along the Gulf Coast. Considered an early migrant, Rufous moves north as early as February, heading as far as southeastern Alaska to breed. By August, their migration all the way back to Mexico begins.

Besides garden feeders, they seek food in a variey of flowering plants and trees, some spiders and insects.

Whether hovering, floating, flashing, buzzing or demanding food service, Rufous is welcome at my place any time, especially when announcing Spring.

Speaking of hummingbirds, I came across a list of their names.  These are real names, like Rufous Hummingbird, although many of them sound more like descriptions of jewels, fairy tale characters or just plain flights of fancy. Although most of these birds live far away, like the tropics, their beautifully feathered cousins right here on Steamboat Island stand well in their stead.

Some hummingbird names to savor:

Green-crowned Woodnymph
Blue-throated Goldentail
Glowing Puffleg
Royal Sunangel
Booted Racquet-tail
Sparkling-tailed Woodstar
Marvelous Spatuletail
Hairy Hermit
Fire-throated Metaltail
Golden Starfrontlet
Velvet-purple Coronet
Blue-tailed Emerald
Green-throated Mountain-gem
Golden-tailed Saphire
Velvet-browed Brilliant
Frilled Coquette
Brazilian Ruby
Crimson Topaz

And there are hundreds more.

– Diane Wiley

Nature Notes from the Steamboat Peninsula is a new series appearing here, noting and enjoying some of what nature and her admirers are up to in our neighborhood. If you have suggestions for topics – or even an entire article you would like see published here, please email And, as always, feel free to leave a comment.