Sunday, 28 May 2017

Monday, 15 May 2017

URSAVUS: CANADA'S GREAT BEARS

Hiking in BC, both grizzly and black bear sightings are common. These majestic beasts live up to 28 years and nearly half the world's population, some 25,000 grizzlies, roam the Canadian wilderness.

Both bear families descend from a common ancestor, Ursavus, a bear-dog the size of a raccoon who lived more than 20 million years ago. Seems an implausible lineage given the size of their very large descendants.

An average Grizzly weighs in around 800 lbs (363 kg), but a recent find in Alaska tops the charts at 1600 lbs (726 kg). This mighty beast stood 12' 6' high at the shoulder, 14' to the top of his head. It is one of the largest grizzly bears ever recorded. This past September, the King of the forest was seen once again in the Washington Cascades -- the first sighting in over 50 years.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

LANDMANNALAUGAR: AURORA BOREALIS

The Northern Lights over a sea of wildflowers in the marsh near Landmannalaugar, part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Highlands of Iceland.

Landmannalaugar is at the northern tip of the Laugavegur hiking trail that leads through natural geothermal hot springs and an austere yet poetically beautiful landscape.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

WASHINGTON RISING

Over vast expanses of time, powerful tectonic forces have massaged the western edge of the continent, smashing together a seemingly endless number of islands to produce what we now know as North America and the Pacific Northwest.

In the time expanse in which we live our very short human lives, the Earth's crust appears permanent. A fixed outer shell – terra firma. Aside from the rare event of an earthquake or the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s, our world seems unchanging, the landscape constant. In fact, it has been on the move for billions of years and continues to shift each day.

As the earth’s core began cooling, some 4.5 billion years ago, plates, small bits of continental crust, have become larger and smaller as they are swept up in or swept under their neighboring plates. Large chunks of the ocean floor have been uplifted, shifted and now find themselves thousands of miles in the air, part of mountain chains far from the ocean today or carved by glacial ice into valleys and basins.

Two hundred million years ago, Washington was two large islands, bits of the continent on the move westward, eventually bumping up against the North American continent and calling it home.

Even with their new fixed address, the shifting continues; the more extreme movement has subsided laterally and continues vertically. The upthrusting of plates continues to move our mountain ranges skyward, the path of least resistance.

This dynamic movement has created the landscape we see today and helped form the fossil record that tells much of Washington’s relatively recent history – the past 50 million years. Chuckanut Drive is much younger than other parts of Washington. The fossils found there lived and died some 40-55 million years ago, very close to where they are now, but in a much warmer, swampy setting. The exposures of the Chuckanut Formation were once part of a vast river delta; imagine, if you will, the bayou country of the Lower Mississippi.

The siltstones, sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of this formation were laid down about 40-54 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, a time of luxuriant plant growth in the subtropical flood plain that covered much of the Pacific Northwest.

This ancient wetland provided ideal conditions to preserve the many trees, shrubs, and plants that thrived here. Plants are important in the fossil record because they are more abundant and can give us a lot of information about climate, temperature, the water cycle, and humidity of the region. The Chuckanut flora is made up predominantly of plants whose modern relatives live in tropical areas such as Mexico and Central America.

While less abundant, evidence of the animals that called this ancient swamp home are also found here. Rare bird, reptile, and mammal tracks have been immortalized in the outcrops of the Chuckanut Formation.

Tracks of a type of archaic mammal of the Orders Pantodonta or Dinocerata (blunt foot herbivores), footprints from a small shorebird, and tracks from an early equid or webbed bird track give evidence to the vertebrates that inhabited the swamps, lakes and river ways of the Pacific Northwest 50 million years ago.

Fossil mammals from Washington do get most of the press. The movement of these celebrity vertebrates captured in the soft mud on the banks of a river, one of the depositional environments favorable for track preservation.

The bone record is actually far less abundant that the plant record, except near shell middens, given the preserving qualities of calcium and an alkaline environment. While calcium-rich bones and teeth fossilize well, they often do not get laid down in a situation that makes this possible. Hence the terrestrial paleontological record of Washington State at sites like Chuckanut is primarily made up of plant material.

Monday, 1 May 2017

WASH THAT FOR YOU MISS?

Spotted Cleaner Shrimp via Paul Sutherland
If you were a fish living in the warm turquoise waters off the coast of Bonaire, you may not hear those words, but you'd see the shrimp sign language equivalent. It seems Periclimenes yucatanicus or Spotted Cleaner Shrimp is doing a booming business in the local reefs by setting up a fish washing service.

That's right, a Fish Wash. You'd be hard pressed to find a terrestrial Molly Maid with two opposable thumbs as studious and hardworking as this wee marine beauty.

This quiet marine mogul is turning out to be one of the ocean's top entrepreneurs. Keeping its host and diet clean and green, the spotted shrimp hooks up with the locals, in this case, local sea anemones and sets up a fish wash. Picture a car wash but without the noise and teenage boys. The signage posted is the shrimps' natural coloring which attracts fish from around the reefs.

Wash on, wash off.

Once within reach, the shrimp cleans the surface of the fish, giving the fish a buff and the shrimp its daily feed.