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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Yellow Island Wildflowers ~ 2012

Yesterday afternoon I got to make a trip to Yellow Island, the 11-acre wildflower mecca that sits in San Juan Channel. It's protected by The Nature Conservancy and open to the public year-round, though the peak visitation coincides with the spring wildflower blooms for which the island is famous. The caretaker of Yellow is my friend and fellow birder, Phil, who had a great idea of bringing several island bloggers to the island together, inviting each of us to blog about our visit in our own unique way. I'll link to Alex's and Shann's posts here, so make sure to check back; this morning, I learned Phil used the visit as an opportunity to start his own blog, too! You can read his inaugural blog post here. Here are the four bloggers:

My first visit to Yellow Island as part of a San Juan Nature Institute field trip in 2009 inspired me to learn more about local plants, and opened up a whole new world of investigation on San Juan Island. Last year I got to go again, and the flowers were in such abundance (the biggest bloom Phil has seen in 13 years!) it took two blog posts to capture the flowers here and here.

After arriving on the island, we didn't have to walk too far until we were hip-deep in western buttercups (Ranunculus occidentalis), great camas (Camassia sp.), and harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida).

I walked straight to Hummingbird Hill, my favorite part of the island where the three flower species mentioned above grow in abundance in and among each other. It's a popular location with hummingbirds and bumblebees, and I was pretty happy there too!

Here are a couple views looking out from the hill:

With the exception of the above photos, I spent most of the visit with the macro lens on my camera to take flower close-ups. It was occasionally challenging in the wind, but I'm pretty pleased with some of my results. It turns out taking macro pictures of wildflowers is a great way to get a workout without even realizing it; today I'm sore from all the deep knee bends I must have done to take my 200+ flower photos!

Harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida)
Meadow death-camas (Zigadenus venenosus)
Chocolate lily (Fritillaria biflora)
Some flower species jump right out at you and dominate the landscape, but it's amazing the diversity you can see if you take a closer look. One species that was fairly common but could easily be overlooked is the Pacific sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis), a member of the parsley family. It comes in two color morphs - yellow and maroon.

Speaking of color morphs, the camas came in two colors, too! The purplish-blue is the predominant variety, but I saw four plants that had white flowers.

Some of my favorite flower species are pretty small, like the broad-leaved starflower (Trientalis latifolia):

Another one I really like is the tiny small-flowered forget-me-not (Myosotis stricta). This whole head of flowers is smaller than a fingernail!

Another little flower Phil took the time to point out was naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora) growing in a patch of broad-leaved stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium), one of the species it parasitizes. Broomrape doesn't have any leaves, since instead of generating its own energy through photosynthesis, it taps nutrients from other plants.

Field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) is a flower I see a lot of on San Juan Island, and we saw some on Yellow, too. One plant I didn't recognize turned out to be another type of chickweed: common chickweed (Stellaria media):

Remember the tent caterpillars I saw at Three Meadows Marsh a little over a week ago? They're on Yellow, too, and they're getting bigger:

There were many members of the pea family in flower, both vetch and pea species. I'm not sure what kind of vetch (Vicia sp.) this is, but it was pretty:

Phil taught me the difference between the native Sierra-Nevada pea (Lathyrus nevadensis), pictured below, and the non-native beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus). The best way to tell them apart is by the size of the stipules (pairs of leaf-like appendages at the base of a leaf stalk): beach peas have large stipules, and Sierra-Nevada peas have small ones.

One of my favorite photos of the day is of the large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora). I like both, but the second one is my favorite:

And finally, one more flower picture (I probably could have made this Yellow Island visit two posts, too!). Cow parsnip (Heracleum maximu) stands out for its giant leaves, but its cluster of tiny flower is pretty impressive, too:

As the wind picked up, we headed to Phil's cabin for some snacks and good conversation. One of the most interesting things that came up was this specimen Phil's neighbor (meaning on a neighboring island!) brought him some fresh seafood, and in his trap was this creature that he believed was a hybrid between a crab and a shrimp. It's certainly not like anything I've ever seen before, and a little searching online didn't turn up anything about it Help me out, readers - do you know anything about this creature?!

EDIT: Thanks to blog reader Connie, who identified this as a galatheid crab (Munida quadrispina), also known as a squat lobster.  According to my helpful book Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest,  it's even known for being a nuisance in prawn traps.

As always, it was an honor to get to visit Yellow Island - thank you Phil! It was especially nice to do so with some fellow bloggers. I look forward to reading all your posts!


Connie B said...

Your little sea creature is a Galatheid Crab or Squat Lobster.

Monika said...

Thanks Connie!! Spot on.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

That's some wildflower meadow - such vibrant colours! we used to have such things here many years ago sady agricultural intensification has seen them disappear. Tried to recreate something ike that o few times without too much success - mainly due to the deposition of atmospheric pollutants like nitrates which encourage the growth of ranker vegetation



kirstallcreatures said...

Lovely array of wildflower macros, what a super wildflower meadow.

Vera said...

Wow! I wish I could have been there. Amazing photos once again.

The K said...

Great photos. I was looking up pix of your sea creature before I looked at the comments. Was going to suggest a baby lobster -- some photos look like that. But, I guess you got an id.

Connie B said...

I love that book - Marine life of the Pacific Northwest, that's where I found the ID. BTW - love your blog and photo's. What kind of camera do you use and what are your prefered lenses?

Monika said...

Connie - Thanks! I have a Nikon D90. My lens for wildlife photography is a 70-300 mm zoom. I have a standard 18-105mm zoom for landscapes, people, etc., and then for macro I have a fixed length 85mm.