Nature Notes

Vol. III January-May 1989 No. 1

Phenologically Speaking...

Phenology. What is it? No, it's not the relation of personality traits to the bumps on your head. That's phrenology. Phenology is the study of the relationship between climate and biological events, such as migrations, animals giving birth, plants budding and blooming. It's easy to do -- you just record the natural events that you observe happening -- the 1st snowfall, the 1st mushrooms picked (you don't have to reveal the location), the 1st trillium blooming.

So what's been happening at Mt. Rainier in the last few months from a phenological standpoint. Spring is here! The smell of skunks and grills, the buzz of mosquitoes, people doing yard work. It's been a long winter -- snow began rather late in November -- but with almost 200" at Paradise (3 times as much as last November) it looked like we might have a good start on a new world's record. And as March went out, semi-lamblike (1/2 foot of new snow), we were still approximately 200" ahead on cumulative snowfall -- in comparison to the last 3 winters for which we have computers stats. However, spring has ended our chance of a record and the mounds of snow are rapidly melting. Bare ground has been completely visible at Longmire since the middle of April. At Paradise snow depth dropped nearly 6' in 5 weeks -- 194" at the beginning of April to 124" on May 9th.

Birds. Some of the first signs of spring often come with birds returning from their southern migration grounds. Red-winged blackbirds were sighted in the Longmire meadow as early as February 15. Their distinctive calls can be heard (especially each morning) throughout the Longmire area. Pygmy nuthatches can also be heard calling loudly in the morning. The famous swallows of San Juan Capistrano returned to the mission on March 19 (or so the legend goes). The swallows of Longmire returned a day later, on March 20. They can now be seen (and heard) throughout the maintenance area. They will probably be as upset as some visitors about the closing and renovation of the NPI, since the porch rafters were one of their favorite nesting sites.

Let's look at what's been happening at Mount Rainier since the last issue of Nature Notes. Last fall several raptors were sighted -- a Red-tailed Hawk was seen at Little Tipsoo Lake by Catherine Bruno, a Rough-legged Hawk at Ohanapecosh was reported by Randy Brooks and a Peregrine Falcon at Frozen Lake by Christine Watson. October was a good month for birding. Besides the raptor sightings Stan Schlegel saw 2 Ptarmigan near Fremont Lookout that were half way into their winter plumage. Iver McLeod sighted a Common Loon on Mowich Lake and 3 male Widgeons on Mystic Lake. Gene and Liz Casey saw an adult Great Blue Heron on the largest of the Reflection Lakes.

Not too many bird sightings have been reported for 1989 yet. In February a Black-Beaded Grosbeak was seen by Neal Guse near Moore Family Restaurant outside the park. Several Winter Wrens exhibiting some rather strange behavior were also seen in February by Bill Dengler and Loren Lane. The wrens were flying extremely close to the ground. Neal Guse also reported observing the same behavior in a wren on the same day near Nisqually entrance. Gene Casey saw 2 male Harlequin Ducks in the Nisqually at Sunshine Point in April; Mark Thompson reported a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker in Longmire on 5/15.

Mammals. Over 150 mountain goats were observed in the fall of 1988, but only 2 elk (at least reported ones). Observation cards are probably not written up for many of the sightings. Bears were seen by 2 visitors, Rick Kirschner, and Ellen Gage. Kristine Watson saw a coyote on 2 separate occasions at the Box Canyon Picnic Area. Anne Braaten and Mike Carney (the lucky people) saw mountain lions -- Anne met hers on the trail near Mildred Point.

Plants. Longmire is in bloom! (in spite of the snowfall on 5/18). As of the middle of May Skunk Cabbage is blooming in the Longmire meadows, on the lower elevations of the Rampart Ridge trail, and along the Nisqually entrance road. Devils Club is leafing out in preparation for the unwary hiker. Coltsfoot and Deerfoot Vanilla Leaf are abundant along the roadway and in the lower forest. Margaret Yates reports seeing Trillium, Yellow Violet and Wood Sorrel in bloom along the Westside Road at the beginning of May. These species are also seen on the Longmire-Cougar Rock trail along with Wild Ginger and Salmonberry in a few spots (5/18). Bleeding Heart and Corydalis are blooming just outside Nisqually entrance. Did you know that Trillium blooms by the calendar -- as do many other species. It doesn't matter whether the weather is warm or cold; its growth is triggered by the increasing length of the day. The trail to Green Lake (off the Carbon River Road) is blooming profusely with Yellow Violets and Trillium -- also many leaves of Queen's Cup Beadlily. There's a beautiful patch of purple violets just as you get to the lake (5/21). Here's one for the calendar -- Mark Thompson reports Indian Paintbrush blooming on the rock outcrop at Glacier View on 5/14!

As you can see, it's very easy to report phenological observations. Let's start recording more completely what's happening when at Mount Rainier. You don't have to put a lot of time or effort into this -- just fine-tune your observations. Use all your senses. And remember to write down the date!

Koko Schlottman

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