by Jeff Goulden
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't rain all the time in Washington State. Indeed, there are several rain forests in the state, some of which get over 100 inches of rain each year. Seattle, as a point of reference gets an average 38 inches of annual precipitation. Spokane, in the eastern part of the state gets less than 17 inches.
There is a vast central region in Washington that receives less than 10 inches of annual precipitation and has sagebrush, cactus, lizards and even rattlesnakes. Average summer temperature is 84F but can easily top 100F. Why the big difference between this and Western Washington? The answer is in the the high Cascade range of mountains that divides the state and creates a rainshadow effect. West of the Cascades is generally cooler and sometimes cloudy. Summers east of the Cascades are generally dry and hot.
Does the arid climate really qualify Central Washington as a desert? You won't find Sahara type sand dunes or Saguaro Cactus. This is not the Mojave or Sonoran desert of the American Southwest. Not even close! Technically, Central Washington is a shrub steppe environment, dotted with sagebrush, layered with basalt from ancient volcanic flows and divided by dry coulees and grassland ridges. Seasonal creeks and waterfalls are not uncommon. It is cold in winter and hot in summer. Winter snowfall is relatively light, inviting not only the occasional hiker but an abundance of wildlife seeking refuge from the snowbound high Cascades.
Lest I forget to mention the views, they are simply stunning. In the Cascades one can hike miles uphill through dense forests to get to a viewpoint. In the desert the view is limitless. And if you work hard to reach a ridge-top, you can literally see forever.
Spring is a season of incomparable beauty in Central Washington. The desert comes to life with all manner of plants and animals. The temperatures are cool and comfortable, the aspen trees are leafing out and the hillsides are colorfully carpeted with Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Yellow Bell, Lupine, Yarrow and many other wildflowers. In April and May the streams are running, marmots are waking up from hibernation and the melody of birds fills the air.
Much of the Central Washington desert is publicly owned land administered by federal or state agencies. There are many maintained trails as well as off-trail hiking. Most trailheads require some sort of parking permit. State lands generally require a Discover Pass while some federal lands need a Golden Eagle or BLM Day Use Pass. Be sure to check a guidebook or the appropriate agency for specific hikes and the permit required.
An excellent resource for hiking in Central Washington is the Mountaineers' book "Best Desert Hikes in Washington" by Alan L. Bauer and Dan A. Nelson.
More pictures of this amazing part of Washington can be seen in my Washington State Desert Gallery at Istockphoto.com. Signed fine art prints from many of my photographs are available for purchase on Fine Art America. For special offers and to follow my photographic journey please Join My Email List.
by Jeff Goulden
The official state bird of Washington, Iowa and New Jersey is the American Goldfinch. This very colorful bird is fairly common throughout the Pacific Northwest but mostly in rural areas. It likes to frequent weedy open fields and farms. Deciduous trees provide excellent cover. The goldfinch is migratory, spending winters in the southern U.S.A. and Mexico. In the Pacific Northwest, the goldfinch is mostly seen from May to November. The American Goldfinch is a yellow bird but depending on sex, season and age they may vary greatly in shade and intensity of color. The breeding male goldfinch is a bright canary yellow with distinct black markings.
The female is a dull yellow with some olive color mixed in. The juveniles are a yellowish brown with buff wing markings. All the variances sometimes make the goldfinch difficult to identify.
The goldfinch is a gregarious bird, gathering in small flocks and competing aggressively at bird feeders. Their favorite food is thistle seed although they will eat other small seeds or nuts.
More pictures of this brightly colored bird can be seen in my American Goldfinch Gallery at Istockphoto.com. Other bird species can be seen in my Joy of Birds Gallery. Signed fine art prints from many of my photographs are available for purchase on Fine Art America. For special offers and to follow my photographic journey please Join My Email List.
by Jeff Goulden
According to Merriam-Webster Online, an irruption is defined as a species "undergoing a sudden upsurge in numbers especially when natural ecological balances and checks are disturbed". Washington State has seen an irruption of Snowy Owls in both 2012 and 2013.
Scientists don't know for sure what causes an irruption, but it is almost certainly linked to cycles in the lemming population. A Snowy Owl will consume 3 to 5 lemmings per day so the survival of Snowy Owls depend on this food source. Since most of the owls at Ocean Shores are dark spotted juveniles it is thought that the younger birds were forced by older owls out of their native habitat in search of alternative food. Ocean Shores with its abundant population of shore birds is an ideal substitute for the owls' native arctic tundra.
Ocean Shores on the Pacific Coast has seen significant numbers of these magnificent birds in January and February of this year. Damon Point is a strip of land with lots of dune grass and driftwood logs. It is a very similar habitat to the owls' native arctic tundra. The owls have excellent vision from their perch on the logs and when they see their prey they can fly off to pursue it.
November through March are probably the ideal months to visit Damon Point if you want to see Snowy Owls. Visitors need to respect the bird’s habitat and privacy. Snowy Owls are relatively calm birds but don't like to be harassed. If you want to photograph the owls use a telephoto lens, keep a respectful distance and don't rush toward them. If the bird begins to move as you slowly approach, back off.
Damon Point is on the southeastern tip of the Ocean Shores Peninsula.
For more information and directions to the point go to the Washington Trails Association. To learn more about birding in the Grays Harbor area go to the Grays Harbor Audubon Society.
More pictures of Snowy Owls can be seen in my Snowy Owls Gallery at Istockphoto.com. Other bird species can be seen in my Joy of Birds Gallery. Signed fine art prints from many of my photographs are available for purchase on Fine Art America. For special offers and to follow my photographic journey please Join My Email List.
by Jeff Goulden
Mount Rainier National Park is much more than just a mountain. It’s a wonderland of sights, sounds and smells which shares a mystery and majesty with all who enter its domain.
The park represents four unique life zones in its 235,000 acres. In addition to the thousands of climbers who attempt the 14,410 foot summit each year; a similar number backpack the 97 mile Wonderland Trail. This popular trail encircles the mountain and takes in all four life zones gaining and losing 20,000 feet along the way.
The Transition and Canadian zones are below 4,500 feet elevation and are mainly forested. Here deer, elk and bear seek shelter in addition to many smaller mammals and birds. The babbling streams offer life to the flora and fauna of the woods.
The Hudsonian zone between 4500 and 6500 feet consists of smaller trees and the fragrant sub-alpine meadows. Here, in the short growing season, wildflowers carpet the earth with an abundant array of color.
The Arctic-Alpine zone above 6500 feet is unique with a harsh treeless characteristic. A short stretch of the Wonderland Trail passes through this zone. From here the hiker sees the overpowering glaciers extending their arms down the mountainside. This zone speaks of ancient history, eons of glacial carvings and massive rock slides.
The swirling clouds, the penetrating fog, the fragrance of the wildflower meadows, the birds and mammals, the glaciers, the towering firs are all part of the wonderland of sights, sounds and smells that makes up Mount Rainier National Park.
If you are interested in helping to protect and preserve the park, please consider joining Mount Rainier National Park Associates, a non-profit organization formed in 1985 to promote the values and resources of this national treasure.
More pictures of Mount Rainier National Park can be seen in my Mount Rainier Gallery. Signed fine art prints from many of my photographs are available for purchase on Fine Art America. For special offers and to follow my photographic journey please Join My Email List.
by Jeff Goulden
In Western Washington State the chickadee is a year-round resident. When I go out in my backyard I am frequently greeted by their chick-a-dee-dee-dee call. There are two distinct chickadee varieties that live in my area. The most common is the Black-Capped Chickadee with its buff colored sides and black gray wings and tail. The Chestnut-Backed Chickadee is slightly smaller and sports a rich chestnut brown color on its back.
Both varieties have a voracious appetite at the bird feeder. They seem fairly cooperative and I haven't observed much fighting or squabbling among them. One interesting habit I have observed is chickadees will take a nut from the feeder and peck at it while holding it between their toes. Did they learn this behavior or is it instinctive? One can only speculate. I've researched this behavior and have yet to turn up any information.
The chickadee is bold, gregarious and not a bit shy of humans. On more than one occasion, a chickadee has landed on my head, perhaps looking for nesting material.
I try to keep my distance when photographing birds by using a 400mm lens. On several occasions I have been able to approach a chickadee close enough to use a 200mm lens.
More pictures of the cheerful chickadee can be seen in my Chickadee Gallery at Istockphoto.com. Other bird species can be seen in my Joy of Birds Gallery. Signed fine art prints from many of my photographs are available for purchase on Fine Art America. For special offers and to follow my photographic journey please Join My Email List.
by Jeff Goulden
Birds fill our lives with joy and wonder. Constantly entertained by their melodic song, we enjoy observing their vibrant colors, watching their antics and photographing their unique expressions.
As we go about our busy lives, birds may be the only wildlife we see. This is especially true for city dwellers. Even through our own windows, we can see birds at the feeder or going about their daily business. And these are just the common species. Outside our cities and towns, in parklands and preserves, wetlands and wildlands, a vast array of intriguing birds can be found. Each species, with its own lifestyle and habits, invites observation, study and photography.
Some birds are with us year round and some migrate from afar only to stay a few weeks of the year. A bird’s diet is determined by the shape of its beak. Some are vegetarians, others scavenge carcasses and some kill for their food. Each has its place in the circle of life. And most have, now or in the past, achieved something that humans have never been able to do without artificial means. As we are rooted to the ground by gravity, birds have the power and freedom to soar above us, often traveling great distances to follow their instincts.
In many ways, birds bring us so much joy. These feathered friends have certainly earned a special place in our lives.
Future blogs will feature some individual bird species, their characteristics and habitat. Other bird species can be seen in my Joy of Birds Gallery. Signed fine art prints from many of my photographs are available for purchase on Fine Art America. For special offers and to follow my photographic journey please Join My Email List.
by Jeff Goulden
The American Pika (Ochotona princeps) is an herbivorous, smaller relative of rabbits and hares. These very cute rodents can be found in the mountains of western North America usually above the tree line in large boulder fields.
The Pika could well become the first mammal in the lower 48 United States to be listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a result of global climate change. According to the Center for Biological Diversity "rising temperatures caused by global warming shorten pikas' food-gathering period, change the types of plants available, shrink the alpine meadows where they feed, and reduce the insulating snowpack that protects them from winter cold snaps. Because pikas are specially adapted for cold climates, warming can even directly kill them through overheating."
One of the places I find Pikas is Sunrise Lake in Mount Rainier National Park. The trail passes a large boulder field on the left just before reaching the lake. Listen for the Pika's whistle while scanning the rocks for movement. I got most of my pictures with a medium telephoto lens (18-200) but a larger lens would help avoid getting too close and disturbing these shy creatures.
The Pika pictured above can be seen in the German edition of National Geographic. More pictures of this fascinating animal can be seen in my Pika Gallery at Istockphoto.com. Signed fine art prints from many of my photographs are available for purchase on Fine Art America. For special offers and to follow my photographic journey please Join My Email List.
Jeff's Photo Blog
In this Photo Blog I have combined my 50 year passion for photography and my love of the natural world, creating a portfolio that reveals nature in its pure and simple beauty. I am pleased to share my passion with you through this blog.