Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) Turdidae

Walnut Creek, CA
December 25, 2015
Robert Niese

These rather unassuming birds have a hauntingly beautiful song that was beloved by Walt Whitman and the inspiration for the voice of the fictional Mockingjay. They also have a very interesting genetic history. There are five species of Catharus thrushes that are long-distance migrators (plus the closely related Wood Thrush in the monotypic genus Hylocichla), but the Hermit is not closely related to the others. Instead, Hermits are sister to the Russet Nightingale-thrush (C. occidentalis) which is non-migratory and endemic to Mexico. Along with the Swainson’s Thrush (C. ustulatus) and the Wood Thrush, these birds each evolved long-distance migratory behavior independently of the other thrush lineages. Learn more here.

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Thallophaga hyperborea Geometridae

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, WA
July 22, 2013
Robert Niese

This one was a really tough ID. We found this moth during our Slater Museum moth-lighting trip in Point Defiance for National Moth Week. We gave up attempting to identify it pretty early and had to call-in help from the experts at BugGuide. But even over at BugGuide, it was tentatively placed in three different genera before we settled on Thallophaga. Western Washington University is currently attempting to create a visual key to the Geometrids of the Pacific Northwest. As soon as it gets published, I’ll let you all know!

Mertensia paniculata “Tall Bluebells” Boraginaceae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

These bluebells have distinctly bell-shaped corollas unlike many other species in our area. To be precise, their corolla “bells” are gently and roundly flared and are approximately 1.5 times longer than the “tube” section of the flower. They are also somewhat taller than other species in our area and are commonly found among other waist-high, meadow wildflowers.

Arbutus menziesii “Madrone/Arbutus” Ericaceae

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, WA
May 5, 2012
Robert Niese

This is one of my favorite PNW endemics. The bark can be collected and steeped in a tea to treat stomach aches, cramps, or sore throats. The berries can be chewed to suppress hunger or fermented into a cider. The wood of madrone is beautiful and dense making it excellent for kinds of projects. Madrone’s thick, evergreen leaves are resistant to water loss make the species well adapted for coastal and dry environments throughout the PNW.

Arbutus menziesii “Madrone/Arbutus” Ericaceae

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, WA
May 5, 2012
Robert Niese

This is one of my favorite PNW endemics. These bark peels can be collected and steeped in a tea to treat stomach aches, cramps, or sore throats. The berries can be chewed to suppress hunger or fermented into a cider. The wood of madrone is beautiful and dense making it excellent for kinds of projects. Madrone’s thick, evergreen leaves are resistant to water loss make the species well adapted for coastal and dry environments throughout the PNW.

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Camassia quamash “Common Camas” Liliaceae

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA
May 6, 2012
Robert Niese

Camas was one of the most important food plants for PNW indigenous peoples. In late spring, bulbs were collected and slow-cooked in giant pits or earthen ovens. These roasted bulbs taste similar to sweet potatoes, but are much sweeter and more fibrous. These plants were such an important food source that wars were often fought over control of the prairies in which they grow. Here in the Puget Sound, these prairie habitats were maintained through regular burning in order to preserve and promote camas growth. Today, more than 85% of these prairie ecosystems have completely disappeared and almost 20,000 of the 23,000 remaining acres can be found here on the Joint Base Lewis-McChord.