The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery.

A Giant Pacific Octopus, Octopus dofleini, filmed at the Seattle Aquarium some time ago. Note the amazing size of the animal compared to the young observer. Also notice the animal’s unusual eye. The pupil is the horizontal line. According to one source, The Audubon Society Field Guide to the Northwest, the largest specimen on record was 16 feet long and weighed in at 600 pounds. That’s a lot of cephalopod! What a shame they have such short life spans.

 

Every now and then you read a book with something so new and startling it dramatically changes your outlook on things you thought you already knew. That is exactly the effect Sy Montgomery’s book had on me. I knew that octopuses had a reputation for unusual intelligence, but did you know that captive species enjoy being touched and petted like your family dog and actually become attached to certain people? Or that they also enjoy wrapping their tentacles around their human friends? That does not apply to all humans, though, only those they recognize as friends. There are some of our homo sapient colleagues they dislike or are afraid of. These people may receive a sudden drenching blast of water from the animal. In Sy Montgomery’s amazing book she describes how her initial fascination with octopuses led her to become more and more fond of them, and in the process of getting closer she discovered a surprising intelligence and consciousness she (and me) never knew existed. Throughout the book Sy relates her personal encounters with captive and wild octopuses. Of particular interest to our Northwest Wildlife lovers is her very close relationships with our Pacific Giant Octopus, some even at the Seattle Aquarium. The book also opens up a new way to view all of our animal friends; something I’ve pondered for a long time. What are they thinking? How do they perceive the world? How do they perceive themselves? Read this book and delve into an incredible animal adventure.

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Wildlife of JBLM and Camp Murray

Just a small tiny sample of the wildlife on JBLM and Camp Murray.  Usually happens you are not expecting it so I try to have my camera ready at all times. I was out on the marsh in the recreational area of FT Lewis when an otter popped up and briefly stared at me. The coyote pup had been seen several times on a major roadway in Camp Murray but I only got this picture because I happened lean over and look at the storm sewer. Nuthatchs are fast moving birds that constantly flicker around a tree and rarely hold still for more than a second or two. I was eating lunch in my car by the horse ranch at FT Lewis when this little guy landed on a tree right next to me. And that fantastic red tailed hawk was caught taking a break right behind the operations center at Camp Murray.

From itty bitty birds to big black bears our military bases are loaded with wonderful wildlife. I won’t go into every single species I’ve seen out there, no way I could do that I one article, so pictured above is just a small sample. But what I have seen out there is wonderful indeed. In fact, I compare JBLM and Camp Murray to the Nisqually Wildlife Reservation. Each of these locations have fine walking trails, amazing marshlands, and beautiful forests. Nisqually has the advantage of marine life but for those of us on active duty or retired, JBLM and Camp Murray are free – and we can bring our dogs there to wander with us! Now that’s a real advantage; something rarely available in national parks. Don’t get me wrong. Nisqually is a great place for wildlife viewing and I do love it. Outside of harbor seals and some other marine animals, however, I’ve seen the same things on our military bases. Reptiles, amphibians, otters, beavers, an enormous variety of avian life, rodents, deer, elk, black bears, coyotes (of course), etc, etc. and a fascinating variety of invertebrate life as well. So get on out there and enjoy one more benefit of your military service.

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Black Fox of San Juan Island

From what I’ve learned these unusually colored little canines are often seen on San Juan Island, WA, but not much anywhere else in the world. Certainly not a fox that I have observed before. They display a variety of color variations on San Juan; the normal reddish color more to the south of the island. The black species are genetic variations of the red and display a variety of black, red, orange like variations. This black fox popped up soon as we pulled into a view point on the eastern coast of the island and more to the north. Obviously accustomed to tourists it did not run away like most wild animals do. It paused in place allowing me to get good photographs. But its real purpose was to get a treat to eat. So we obliged and fed the little guy. It was much appreciated as you can see.

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The Reptile Zoo is Open!

A tiny sample of the wonderful reptiles you’ll see at The Reptile Zoo in Monroe, WA

The Reptile Zoo in Monroe, WA is now open – something you don’t want to miss! Just a couple of weeks ago as I passed by it was closed. This weekend it was open and apparently will remain open. I’ve always been a lover of reptiles and an admirer of this exhibit, but I am especially enthusiastic about it now due to some very significant improvements. The Reptile Zoo is now twice the size it was during my first couple of visits. The number of reptile species seems to have doubled, and the enclosures are much improved for the animals and for visitor observation. Some amphibians, insects, and other arthropods have made their way in for you to see, too. The gift store has expanded considerably and is filled with dozens of unique items for animal lovers. State Route 2 is a wonderfully scenic drive for the whole family and a stop by The Reptile Zoo makes for a perfect day. You will get closeup (very safe) views of the largest, most venomous, and most beautiful reptiles from around the world. I guarantee that you will be fascinated by what you see. When was the last time you came eye to eye with an albino alligator? You won’t find anything like The Reptile Zoo anywhere. This indoor zoo is perfect for a rainy day, of course, but when the sun is out the exciting tortoise petting area comes alive outside. The zoo is open every day of the week and follows all COVID 19 regulations so it is very safe from that standpoint as well.

Please visit their website for much more information: THE REPTILE ZOO

22175 State Route 2, Monroe, WA 98272

“Running with Sherman” by Christopher McDougall

“Running with Sherman” by Christopher McDougall

book review by John M. Regan

The book is flat out tremendous! Beyond the exceptionally unique topic of racing with donkeys this fascinating non fiction work includes a variety of inspiring stories about human victories over personal tragedies. Written with a great sense of humor and empathy Christopher McDougall has produced another work of wonder. Basically, it is the story of how Christopher and his family rehabilitated a mistreated, injured little donkey that was brought to their small ranch. While rehabilitating the animal they became obsessed with the idea of entering an incredible event of a high altitude donkey race in Colorado that McDougall had learned about when writing his first very great book, “Born to Run.” He relates the challenges of his city life upbringing adapting to country life (something I definitely relate to) and a number of wonderful true life stories of human and animal relationships. It is hard for me to more emphatically recommend this book. Not only will you be tempted to get a donkey of you own after learning of their remarkable characteristics you will also learn about some utterly incredible physical achievements that we humans are capable of – and how our animal friends help us to accomplish those things.

Olympic Game Farm

A small sample from big to little of the animals you will closely encounter, and get to feed, at the Olympic Game Farm.

The Olympic Game Farm in Sequim, WA is a unique wildlife experience; an experience I highly recommend. Located in a rural area of Sequim it can be a bit of a challenge to find without good directions but considering the directional capability of today’s cell phones that should not be much of a problem. Here is the address: 1423 Ward Rd, Sequim, WA 98382. The Game Farm is a drive through zoo but you will have surprisingly close up encounters with the animals you observe as you wind through the well designed pathways of the place. There are many animals such as bison, yaks, llamas, and alpacas that you will get closer to than you probably will in your life. That was certainly the case for me with the bison. For both adults and children it is a beautifully entertaining, educational experience. You simply stay in your vehicle, roll along at your own calm pace and occasionally pause to feed and enjoy the sight of the animals. The ability to feed the animals (wheat bread available at the entrance) greatly contributes to the uniqueness of the Olympic Game Farm experience, not something you normally get to do in zoological parks these days. It is also an ideal environment for picture taking. Settled in your car you get to hold your camera perfectly still and take time to focus. The Game Farm’s history is unique as well. As noted on the Game Farm’s website (https://olygamefarm.com) the Olympic Game Farm’s original title was “Disney’s Wild Animal Studio.” That’s because it was a holding and training facility for the “animal actors” of Disney movies. By 1973 it became open to the public and has been ever since. The Game Farm is entirely funded by the customers that come to experience the place but donations in various forms are accepted. It is now popular attraction so it pays to plan your visit. Early morning to early afternoon, just as in most zoos, is the best time to see the animals. This is the time of their highest activity. And just like any other tourist attraction weekends, especially holiday weekends, are the busiest times.  I recommend a week day visit if possible. No matter when you decide to visit, though, you’ll get to see a lot more species than the ones I mentioned above. Lions, and tigers, and bears – of course! But little guys like prairie dogs, rabbits, raccoons, and numerous bird species will make their appearance. That’s not all. Check out the Olympic Game Farm website for a complete list. Enjoy it!

Water Striders and Daddy Longlegs – Fascinating Arthropods

Here are a couple of examples of these very interesting animals – a Brown Harvestman or Daddy Longleg, and a Water Strider. Here the harvestman demonstrates its climbing ability on the outside wall of my home, while the water strider shows of its unique water walking talent. Note the piercing designs of their prey catching anatomy on their heads. Both of these creatures will use their forelegs to initially grasp their intended meal and then stab it to complete the kill. 

They are animals from two different classes (arachnids and insects) and inhabit two totally different environments. One loves water, the other hates it. One is perfectly comfortable on outside wall of your home, the other would consider it a nightmare. One is an arachnid, the other is an insect. But they share some unique similarities. Both have a very obvious long legged, small bodied physique. Both have pretty much the same food preference. And they have one other important, not so obvious trait. That one, however, you have to look quite closely to see – the reason I took these pictures and wrote this article.

Daddy Longlegs, or Harvestman, as they are called are members of the arachnid class of animals and are often mistaken for large spiders. They certainly resemble spiders in physiology but differ from spiders in one very important characteristic – the way they capture their food. Like spiders the daddy longleg diet consists mainly of small insects. And like spiders they capture their prey using chelicera that stick out from their head. Unlike the chelicera of spiders, however, the chelicera of the daddy longlegs are not venomous. They just “stab” their prey and then eat it. They don’t stop there, though. They eat dead bugs and decayed vegetation as well.

Water striders, members of the “true bug” family (order Hemiptera), are considerably smaller than daddy longlegs and you won’t find them hanging out in trees or on the side of your house – they prefer water. The freshwater species are the most common and most notable, but some species of this animal inhabit salt water. In freshwater ponds and streams you may see dozens and dozens of them wriggling about on the water surface thanks to their long legs, the bottom of which are covered in thousands of microscopic sized hairs that utilize water surface tension very effectively. Like their arachnid friends they also prefer small insects as prey (mosquito larvae are a favorite) and will gladly munch on dead insects that pop up or fall down into their environment. And like their arachnid friends water striders often attack prey by grabbing it with their front legs and piercing it with their sharp mouthpart called a rostrum that also allows them to inject digestive juices into their prey.

Check out the references below for more about these very interesting animals:

Online:

Nature.org

Encyclopedia Britannica  

Hard Copy:

Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America – Arthur Evans

Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders – Lorus and Margery Milne

Bugs of Washington and Oregon – John Acorn Ian Sheldon

White Marked Tussok Moth

Despite their vegetation vandalizing reputation caterpillars are fascinating creatures, especially the colorful uniquely designed species like this White Marked Tussok moth larvae. This colorful little fellow recently dropped by my home and instantly caught my attention. I had to share it. Somewhat disappointing, however, is the fact that it will develop into a bland gray colored adult. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

Hidden Wildlife for the Kiddos!

Let’s See What’s Under There!

Please check out my book folks. I wrote this for young children but with parents, grandparents and teachers in mind. Loaded with close up photographs it gives you and your family a chance to discover a wildlife adventure in your own backyard. During this stay at home environment that we are in this book will direct you to the excitement hiding right under your feet on your own property. It is available on amazon in ebook form or hard copy. I recommend the 8.5 inch by 12 inch hard copy for maximum enjoyment of the photographs. Everyone I have shared this book with simply loves it. Covering all kinds of wildlife from rabbits to salamanders and slugs, and even “fun with fungi” I guarantee you will love this very unique book. As a bonus I can provide a picture loaded power point presentation ideal for a young audience.

Otter? Beaver? Muskrat? Nutria?

Muskrats are energetic swimmers often stopping to gobble up aquatic plant; note the hairless, laterally flattened tail. Otters usually swim with their head up. Otters are predators preferring fish, frogs, crayfish or other similar sized prey. Ducks disappear when otters show up. Nutria often expose themselves from head to tail while swimming and display very prominent white whiskers. They eat aquatic and terrestrial vegetation. Then you see the obviously flattened, scaled tail of the beaver. (I got lucky with this shot out at Northwest Trek some time ago.) But if beavers are around it is hard to miss their assaults on the trees in their domain. For more on nutria go here: Nutria -Invasive Species Master on this website or just type in Nutria on the search space.

Often in ponds, streams, and rivers we see a swimming mammal that looks just like a what? The first instinct is to call it a beaver. But unless that sighting was very early in the morning or well into the evening that guess was probably wrong. You are much more likely to see a muskrat, otter, or nutria during the bright daylight hours. But even then, how can you tell the difference? Most wildlife resources point out the differences in the appearance and posture of their bodies and tails while swimming. Beavers have the obvious and famous flat tail which they tend to keep underwater when swimming while exposing their head, neck, and back. The much smaller muskrat exposes its body in the same manner but its small round tail sticks out. The nutria or coypu very much looks like a beaver when swimming due to its size but its rounded tail that sticks out of the water gives it away. River otters tend to swim with just their head above water and it has a much thicker tail than the nutria and muskrats. Head shape and whiskers are other identifiers. Just the same, these animals are difficult to differentiate at a quick glance. In my experience, behavior is another key. Beavers are just about nocturnal animals; your best chance there is to get up well before sunrise and head out to the water just as the sun begins to rise. Otters are out during the day but immediately pop back under water when frightened and stay there for a long time; enough to make you think it has disappeared. Muskrats get frightened by human appearances as well but do not stay underwater nearly as long as otters. They also like to munch on aquatic plants. The introduced nutrias I have observed seem less alarmed by humans. They also do not stay underwater for as long as otters and are noticeably much bigger than muskrats.