Fossil Maple Leaf, Winthrop Formation

Winthrop, WA
Mid-Cretaceous (110 mya)
Robert Niese

In honor of National Fossil Day, here’s a neat fossil from the Winthrop Formation in north-central Washington. This species looks very similar to modern day maple species, but has yet to be formally identified. This particular fossil formation is rife with beautiful plant specimens. By studying the morphology of these fossil leaves, we can estimate the mean annual temperature of the region 110 million years ago. Using this method, scientists estimate that mid-Cretaceous Washington was almost 12 degrees (˚C) warmer than it is today. (Specimen courtesy of the University of Puget Sound, Geology Department)

Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) Trochilidae

University of Washington, Seattle, WA
January 13, 2013
Robert Niese

This is the only species of hummingbird to overwinter here in the Pacific Northwest — and they’ve only been doing it for a few decades. Scientists believe that human-provided winter nourishment (i.e. hummingbird feeders) are the primary food source for these non-migrating individuals during the winter months.

As such, researchers at the University of Puget Sound are studying these two distinct populations of birds to determine if they might be diverging — genetically and morphologically. With the help of museum specimens dating back to the early 20th century, we are finding that resident populations of hummers here in the PNW are slightly different than their migratory counterparts.