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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
July 2014
San Juan Islands, PNW

Across this field is an island of scrubby, mostly deciduous trees. The bare branches of winter are now bursting with shades of green in high summer.

distant view

It's an unusual forest ecosystem for the Pacific Northwest which tends to be coniferous. By all accounts it's been there like that for as long as the county has been settled, while most of such scraggly brush was cleared for rangeland and hay fields and homes. The diversity of plants and animals in this remnant is surprising, especially considering the challenging physical conditions there.

I took a walk through these woods a few days ago, and can show you some of what's going on there. Even in a few minutes stroll, it was evident how much more diversity there is here in comparison to the fields surrounding it. This small woodland is an oasis of native species.

(All photos by me. In to enlarge)

These 5 acres are on property owned by the local school district, open to the public since a fitness trail was installed some years ago. The school buildings and sports fields are on the other side of the woodland in the photo above. On the right is a private residence with a pond.

A closer view of the woods shows a mix of deciduous trees and shrubs of different ages. The Oceanspray bush (Holodiscus discolor) on the left is past its peak frothy white bloom time, spent flowers brown now.

near view

The dominant trees here are willows, mostly the drought-adapted Scouler's. Some are quite old for willows, several decades. I love the randomly curvy branches of willows.

tangle willows

But willows don't really "die" here. When they fall over in a winter windstorm for example, shoots emerge vigorously from the base or fallen trunk to become its new incarnation. Light from the opening in the canopy encourages new growth.

Local Salish Indians harvested fruit and a variety of medicinal herbs from willow woodlands, and as far as we know, did not burn or clear them, leaving them as reservoirs of diversity.

Native Pacific Crabapples (Malus fusca) are abundant here, with bunches of small apples ripening:


Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata) is another native fruit tree. The cherries are tastier to birds than people:

cherry bark
These trees can manage two seasonal extremes: thin dry summer soil, and soggy saturated winter soil. The ground here is a packed glacial rocky sediment deposit that forms an impermeable layer not far down, so in winter the precipitation and runoff doesn't soak in, but rather accumulates in a wet layer few trees can survive. Our climate's summer drought is tough on trees too.

These deciduous plants are usually a transitory successional stage before conifers grow up and shade them out, but their adaptations suit them well to the conditions here. They flourish and persist. There are a few conifers in this woodland but evidently don't compete well enough to replace the willow community. The tallest tree in the woodland is one Pacific Madrona, an accent of green in winter.

A few open spots in the canopy are filled by dry-adapted shrubs.

Hardhack (Spiraea douglasii) is in bloom just now:


Snowberry (Symphoricarpos alba) is transitioning from pink blooms to white fruit. It is extremely popular with pollinators right now. Here are a few insects working them.

bee 2
The various trees, shrubs and herbs in the willow woodland are a bounty throughout the season for insects, butterflies and birds. Swallowtails, Azures, Anglewings, Painted Ladies, Mourning Cloaks are a few of the butterflies that feed here, as adults or caterpillars.

Warblers, finches, sparrows, thrushes, waxwings, kinglets, flycatchers and bushtits can be heard and occasionally seen rustling the branches. I heard some of these. Forty-some species have been inventoried by the neighbor.

bee 1
bee 3
This Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini) eats willows and Oceanspray.

lorquins admiral

northern bluet
This Northern Bluet and several dragonflies flitted in open areas, foraging. I was surprised to see them so far from water.

The abundance of insects provides a ready food source for Aerial Yellowjackets (Dolichovespula arenaria) whose nest I nearly stumbled into.

Fortunately these yellowjackets are not aggressive like the more common ground-nesting species, but they would defend their nest if I damaged it. Justifiably.

wasp nest

Deer, rabbits, voles and other rodents inhabit the woodland too. This old stump looks like somebody's home. It's covered with thorny Trailing Blackberry vines (Rubus ursinus) whose small luscious berries are ripening now.



Whatever fruit the birds eat, their poop always seems to come out purple. Signs on a Crabapple leaf:


In the sunny thicket of mixed Snowberry and Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana), the rose hips are starting to ripen.


Below the dense summer willow canopy, it is cool and relatively dark. Fallen leaves build up a layer that protects the ground from drying completely, and contribute nutrients to the thin soil.

view in

Shade-loving Baldhip Roses (Rosa gymnocarpa) are also in fruit. Note the bald hips:


Like the roses, some ferns (like Bracken fern) prefer sunlight, while others need shade, like this Sword fern:

sword fern

Lots of great variety and intense activity here in this native community, quite a contrast to the uniformity of the surrounding "managed" fields. A very pleasant shady and cool walk on that hot summer day, under the canopy of the willow woodland.

view up


What's up in your backyard today? Nature news to share?

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Originally posted to Backyard Science on Sat Aug 02, 2014 at 07:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Shutterbugs.

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