Thursday, April 30, 2020

An Afternoon Easy Flow at the Rasar State Park

Skagit River

Date: July 5, 2019
place: Rasar State Park, Washington
Coordinates: 48.514968, -121.904260
Length: 1.9 miles
Level: easy

It was nearly 5 pm when we arrived at Rasar State Park so we didn't have time for a long hike. Most of that day we passed looking for information at the Sedro-Woolly NPS visitor center and hiking the Baker Lake trail. Rasar State Park was not one of the places named for us at the visitor center but Pappa Quail had it on his list of where to go birding, so were we went.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
From the parking lot we took off directly toward the river, brushing against ferns and shrubs that flanked the narrow trail. It was nice to hike without worrying about poison oak but the brambles did give me a scratch or two.

Rich, earthy smell permeated the forest air. The smell of of a damp, living rain forest. A good, healthy fragrance.
Bolete mushroom
Soon we were by the Skagit River, gazing at the wide strip of dark green water flowing westward. We joined the river trail and took it first to the east, looking for a good place to get down to the water.
Skagit River
The river bank was of large, dark pebbles, very uncomfortable to walk on. The broad-leaved trees were growing almost at the waterline and their boughs were bent down to the water, as if testing the speed of flow (quite fast, actually).
Skagit River, view east
Unhindered by the speedy pace of the Skagit River - a small group of common merganser floating almost effortlessly near the river bank.
Common Merganser
A layer of clouds hanging so low that it blocked the view of the nearby mountain peaks, darkened the afternoon sky. The forecast didn't predict any rain for today but that didn't stop me from glancing warily at the sky every now and then.
Skigit River, view west
Pappa Quail and the elder chika were busy looking for birds and sure enough they found some. A spotted sandpiper was poking its beak between the pebbles. We see this bird in the Bay Area without the spots on its belly, which are its breeding plumage.
Spotted Sandpiper
A small song sparrow was taking a bath in a little inlet pool away from the fast current. It was a song sparrow - a bird of a species very familiar for us in the Bay Area, but in a darker, Pacific Northwest form.
Song Sparrow, Pacific Northwest form
The east spur of the River Trail terminates in a dead-end so we turned around, backtracking at first, then passing the fork where we had joined it and continuing on westward.
River Trail
The west going River Trail had a surprise in store. Looking down under the brambles and ferns I saw a ghostly looking plant - the eerily beautiful Indian pipe. This plant blooms very sporadically and not every year. I was lucky to find it there.
Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora  
Little mushroom gardens also bloomed at ground level, adding their colors and odors to the forest floor. I was hoping to see a bigger display of mushroom in an area known for its near-perpetual rain, but I was happy with what was there.

The little birds that tweeted in the vegetation were not visible. We looked fr another place where we could get down to the river. Meanwhile I settled for the little wildflowers that dotted the trailside.
Fleabane, Erigeron sp. 
The next place were we found water access was more like a recreational beach, only without any people. the river bank was sandy and easy to walk on and I assume that on nice weekend this place is probably full with visitors. We, however, had the beach entirely to ourselves.
The chikas found a fallen tree with its ace still attached firmly enough to the ground. Bouncing n this log gave them pleasure to n end :-)
The Bouncing Log
While the girls were busy entertaining themselves with the bouncy tree Pappa Quail was looking for birds. He found a cedar waxwing but the lighting was such that only the silhouette was obtained.
Cedar Waxwing
I was more intrigued by the swirls of cloud sweeping across the ridge north of the river. They looked almost alive, like dancing winter sprites.

We got back on the trail and continued west, making our way between berry hedges. Most of them were still in the blooming phase but there were quite a few that were already bearing ripe fruit. Needless to say, we all indulged in this nature's treat.

I followed the bumblebees as they flew from flower to flower, doing their share in ensuring the next round of yield. The bee escaped my photo frame but the blossom turned out nice.
Berry, Rubus sp. 
Another blooming shrub I saw along the trail was a nite shade with a hue that I wasn't familiar with. It turned out to be the bittersweet nightshade- and old world invader, and a highly toxic one.
Bittersweet Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, non-native
We arrived the western end of the river trail where it curves around to go back inland. Before turning that corner however, we found a bench and sat down for a short break.

The immediate vegetation there was a large patch of a vetch-like plant that was unfamiliar to me. It's bloom was really nice. It turned out to be yet another invasive species though.
Purple Crownvetch, Coronilla varia, non-native
In California it's fairly easy for me to tell if a certain plant is native or not. Mostly so because a lot of the invasive species are from the mediterranean region. In Washington however, I'm unfamiliar with much of the plant community, so bothy native and non-native plants are unfamiliar to me. One interesting blackberry that was thriving along that trail turned out to be non-native as well.
Cut-leaved Blackberry, Rubus laciniatus, non-native
But the fireweed I recognized, already knowing it from California.
Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium
Pappa Quail and the chikas pulled some snacks from he backpack. Seeing that this break will take somewhat longer, I stepped down to the river. On my way down I saw some nice gilia-like flowers blooming between the sand and the pebbles.
Large-flowered collomia, Collomia grandiflora 
This beach was much wider, and I imagine that on nice days it is also more populated. As it was, I was the only person walking there at the time.
I rejoined my family and we continued north east through a patchy forest of trees I didn't recognize. Patches of yarrow and crownvetch decorated the trailside and little bush birds tweeted at us, hidden in the vegetation.

A few pink thistles bloomed in the forest clearings. I like seeing them, and the insect feast that can often be seen on these inflorescences. I didn't see any pollination activity at the time though. Perhaps it was too cold and dark. Perhaps the bugs were done for that day, it was already getting late. 
Thistle, Circium vulgare, non-native
The trail left the forest and we were crossing a wide and beautiful meadow. The yellowing grass field was dotted with blooming yarrow and fluffy seedheads of asters.
Interesting-looking reddish patches in the field attracted my attention so when I saw one right by the trail I came near to check it out.

I looked up and stood still. The peak north of Rasar State Park appeared to be smoking. I knew it was just the whips of cloud but the effect was really impressive and somewhat scary.
'Smoky' peak
Rasar is a small state park with a relatively small trail system. We hiked the outside loop including the north dead-end spur of the river trail in a fairly short time, including the breaks by the water. There are some inside trails that we skipped but these too are short.
In short - on the other side of the field we were back again in the forest completing the loop to the parking lot.
Organpipe mushroom
Just as the cars became visible through the trees the chikas called me to look at what they had found on the ground - a snail in motion. It was darker than the snails we see in the Bay Area. It looked more like a snail I saw at Myrtle Creek, near the Jedediah Smith Redwoods. I don't know what species it is.

The hike ar Rasar State Park wasn't a highlight in terms of flora and fauna seen, but it was a lovely hike in a very beautiful setting, along avery impressive river, and it was very fruitful berry-wise.
All and all it was a good day, but I felt lacking. I wanted to see something spectacular. Something worth having travelled all the way to Northern Washington.
I received just that on the following day, at the Sauk Mountain hike.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Forest Trail #610 and the Invisible Mountain

Mount Baker, July 8, 2019

Date: July 5, 2019
Place: Baker Lake, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
Trailhead coordinates: 48.645750, -121.674658
Length: we hiked only 3.7 miles in and out.
Level: easy+

It was my idea to travel to Northern Washington last summer. I wanted to see the North Cascade National Park and I convinced Pappa Quail that it would make a great destination because the weather there would be cool and the area is far enough north to see birds that he hasn't seen yet. Other than deciding on our general destination, I did very little else in terms of planning. Pappa Quail extended the planning somewhat and even arranged for our first 4 nights. It was his idea to go on the previous day to Deception Pass State Park.
Our second day in Washington however, started with the default plan - going to the nearest NPS visitor center (which was in Sedro-Woolly) and asking for recommendations of hiking trails along the lines of our fancy. Armed with this fresh information we printed our rental car east along the Skagit River, then north to Baker Lake.
We drove first to the treailhead of Baker Lake Trail #610. There was no view of the lake itself from there, just a narrow trail that disappeared into a thick forest.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
The forests in West Washington are temperate rain forests and the abundant moisture was apparent all around. Coming from an arid state like California it felt like diving into a whole different world.
Trail 610
The forest undergrowth was thick with ferns, shurbs, and tree remains covered with moss. Some looked very pretty and ornate, like little, sophisticated gardens.

The sky was overcast. Not that we saw much of it through the canopy, but the forest was dimmer than it would be had the sun come through. In a way that made photographing easier because the lighting was also more uniform.
Soon there was plenty to photograph: little forest flowers were plentiful along the trail, although not in a great variety of species and colors.
One-leaved Foamflower, Tiarella unifoliata 
Many of these flowers I was already familiar with from California. They were very nice but I was hoping to see new things.
Buttercup, Ranunculus sp. 
What was most certainly fresh for me to see was the lushness of this rain forest. It was great to see a place where plant growth isn't limited by water availability.

 The elder chika soon found an LBB -  a little brown bird. By the time I caught up with her it was gone.
Swainson's Thrush
I was walking in a sea of green. Then suddenly I saw it - a berry! A single berry, and not a ripe one either. Later on this trip however, I'd see many ripe berries and sometimes I'd even get to eat one or two, those that my chikas had missed after grazing the trail ahead of me.
Blackberry, Rubus sp. 
Here and there we run into little creeks crossing the trail. None were too wide to cross with a single hop.

The chikas found a big slug and called me. I guess it's the Washington version of the banana slug. Big, but not the pretty yellow slugs we see in the Bay Area. Still pretty impressive.
Banana Slug 
The next berries I found were rive and delicious. Luckily there weren't too many of them otherwise we would have been stuck there still.
Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus 
The trail neared the ;lake enough for us to get glimpses of the water through narrow gaps of vegetation. We were pretty high above the water and it didn't look like there was any easy access to the shore line.

The trail undulated up and down through the forest, without much change in the scenery. I was happy with the plant life and the flowers I saw but the burgers in my family started grumbling about the bush birds that would tweet but won't show themselves.
Siberian Miner's Lettuce, Claytonia sibirica 
Somewhat ahead there was a mark of a creek crossing on the map that looked close enough to the lake. We decided to take a break there and make it our turn around pint. The trail itself goes on for about 14 miles along the eastern shore of the lake and knowing we won't be walking all that it didn't matter much where we would decide to turn back.
Forest trail 610
Charmed by the dense rain forest I could have walked on and on. I hoped to see unfamiliar wildflowers but still much of what I see I already knew from m hikes in California.
Self Heal, Prunella vulgaris 
Deep ravines lined the hillside we were walking along. The trail was fairly level, crossing these ravines  on narrow foot bridges. From the bridge I would look down into the depth of the gulch to the trickle of water and the fern garden flanking it.

Eager to get to the turning point the chikas and Pappa Quail hurried down the trail leaving me to trail behind and capture the little forest marvels.
Bleeding Hearts 
When I finally caught up with my family they were all focusing on one Douglas squirrel that was busy with a nut on one of the tree branches. When I arrived the squirrel decided it had too much audience and darted off down the tree trunk.
Douglas' Squirrel
The trail took a dip and I could see the lake between the trees getting closer and closer.
Baker Lake 
Eventually we arrived to a large creek that was flowing into the lake not far from the trail. A larger bridge crossed the creek and we crossed on but then stepped off and sat down t snack and rest by the water.

From where we stopped there was access to the lake but it wasn't very easy to get there - we had to scramble across large broken boulders covered with slippery moss. There was no obvious shore to sit on.
Baker Lake
At first only me and the chikas went down to the water but then the elder chika made a sighting that got Pappa Quail down to join us there - an eagle!
Bald Eagle, juvenile (3rd year)
 Another bird was hopping to and fro near the creek. A very common bird, but colorful and lovely. The American robin.
American Robin
At the bridge there was an open view up slope to the healthy-looking, vigorous forest. That bridge was also our turning place. When we finished our break we started up the trail where we came from.

The way back was fairly quick and other than one exciting encounter with a very colorful garter snake we didn't really stop for any significant time.
Northwestern Garter Snake
The rest of the hike was eventless. That doesn't mean I didn't pause briefly here and there to examine the vegetation more closely.
Five-finger Maidenhair, Adiantum aleuticum 
After each such pause I had to quicken my pace to a near run to catch up with the rest of my family. Clearly they were ready to move on to the next thing.

Before leaving the area all together we stopped at the Baker Lake boat launch. Each of us had a different reason to be there: the younger chika wanted to play by the water, Pappa Quail and the elder chika thought there would be a better chance to see birds on the lake.
Baker Lake
And they were right. Somewhat. There were birds on the water, but only common Canada geese, some of them juvenile.
Canada Geese 

I wanted to see Mount Baker, the most northern of the Cascade volcanoes within the US. It surprised me to find out that this mountain wasn't part of the North Cascades National Park. and that the mountains that were inside the park's area were not true volcanoes.
To my chagrin Mount Baker was nearly completely shrouded in clouds.Only a few spots of snow-white flashed occasionally through the moving clouds.
Mount Baker
I consoled myself looking at the pretty daisies that bloomed near the water.
There was nothing more to do there that day, so we drove off to our next on the recommended hike list - the Rasar State Park.
English Daisy, Bellis perennis, non-native
Pappa Quail registered my disappointment. He didn't say anything at the time, but three days later, while driving back west on a lovely afternoon after an amazing hike at the Cascade Pass, he suggested dropping by at Baker Lake to look upon Mount Baker. We did and I got my satisfaction. The photo of this majestic volcano is at the top of this blog post.