Ankenny Wildlife Reserve July 2023

Once I got to the big stream, bull frogs and nutria showed up. Most of the frogs jumped away as soon as I approached but the brown one above kept staring at me. The bald eagle stared at me too for a while as if to say “How dare you walk on our property!” When I came to a small bridge I immediately jumped out there in order to get a closer observation on the stream. But two nests full of yellowjacket wasps on the bridge also yelled “How dare you!” and let me know how upset they were. I apologized and quickly got out of their way. In the northwest we have 3 wasps species known as “yellowjackets” due to their color pattern. This one that got me happened to be the German yellowjacket.


My job had me in Oregon again for a few days so I ran out to visit one of my favorite places – the Ankenny Wildlife Reserve. I saw what I expected to see due to the warm dry weather in Oregon – just about all of the water along the beautiful Rail Trail boardwalk was dried up. I would be happy to see any kind of wildlife but with the temperature up to 90 degrees the next day, I went to another place in the reserve and kept strolling along until I found what I was looking for – a big stream. There again were a pair of common water loving creatures – bull frogs and nutria. I got some nice views of bald eagles, too. Canada geese, of course, maintained their big populations as well in several locations. I also had run ins with lots of insects, one of which – yellowjacket wasps – did not appreciate my visit and they let me know about it on the side of my arm. Oh well, it was a small price to pay for what I found. I love going to that wildlife reserve so just for your information I recommend that you first stroll along the Rail Trail Boardwalk. A little further down the road on the right, you will find another boardwalk. Check it out. A bit further on down from there on the right is a huge pond often found with incredible populations of waterfowl, especially Canada geese. But keep on moving down the road and you come to another huge pond, often dried up by July, but in front of a great level hiking trail. That trail is very interesting during the wet or dry season. And that was the location of my most recent visit where I found a big stream still full of water that lasts all year. Where is this wildlife reserve? About 10 miles south of Salem, OR. Drive down south I-5 and look for the Ankenny Hill exit. Take the exit, make a right turn, and you’ll be there.


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Close Look Finds Creatures

We have three ponds on our property, the smallest only about 3 square feet sits right out in front of the house. We did not expect much but goldfish for this, but it turned out to be a favorite habitat for salamanders. I did not quite know that until I sat down and took a look. I am very pleased to see two different species. And as you know the world is full of tiny insects and spiders, and I am always greatly pleased when I find them. Here for example, I lift up a tiny piece of something on a concrete boundary and find an itsy bitsy spider.

For a very long I have been doing this, and for a very long time I’ve been advising others to do the same. Why? Because you never know what you may find or where you may find it. Of course, this being me, I am only referring to wildlife. Years ago I began turning over logs and rocks and was amazed at the creatures I found. So much so it inspired me to write the book “Let’s See What’s Under There!” and give numerous presentations. But it is not just looking underneath things that turns up surprises, just plain looking closer at everything will do it for you. And there is no need to travel around the world to find beautiful, interesting animals. Many are right there in your front yard, backyard, or anywhere else you go. Just take the time to look close.


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Puget Sound Express Whale Watching


On Saturday, 22 April, my wife and I went on a whale watching tour with the Puget Sound Express company in Port Townsend. And it was marvelous! I’ve been on a couple of other whale watching tours, including some on my own boat, but this was the best I’ve ever been on. The guys running this business have such great knowledge about Puget Sound and the wildlife out there that they even know when to stop and give everyone a chance to observe and film the animals. As you can see above, a couple of these pauses were very worthwhile. And while rolling along on this very comfortable ship you will also get entertaining educational lectures from whale watching experts. I highly recommend you book a tour with this company. Bring your camera of course. Binoculars, too. If you don’t have a bino they will give you one on the boat. Here is the link to their website:  Or call 360-385-5288.

Gray whales normally turn up in Puget Sound during spring while on their way to Alaska. Although they look pretty dark, they get that Gray Whale name due to bright parasite scars on their back. This thanks to their feeding habit. Rubbing the sea floor they will gobble up any small creature they expose, but will also eat invertebrates they can catch above the sea floor. This method must work very well. They get almost 50 feet long and up to 40 tons by feeding along the ocean bottom. Females are a little bigger than males.

Several species of sea lions live in ocean habitats around the world. And here in Puget Sound we have two species of sea lions that stay with us throughout the year. Known as “eared seals” due to that visible ear on the side of their heads, sea lions have rear flippers that expand out horizontally instead of the vertical up and down style of real seals. This gives them a much great ability to move on land or even to climb up on things. The Stellar Sea Lion is the largest of our sea lions. Males reach 10 feet in length and over one ton in weight. These sea lions have a range that extends from Japan to Russia and Alaska, and are reported now as two sub species. The California Sea Lion ranges from North Pacific to Gulf of California and the Galapagos Islands. And according to data from the Smithsonian National Zoo, each of these is a different sub species. Darker in color and smaller than the Stellar sea lion males get up to 7 feet in length and about 800 pounds. California sea lions have reputation and fame as the most vocal of all pinnipeds. They bark, growl, and make a lot of other noises above and under water. And they seem to love hanging out in channel marker bouys.

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Pacific Tree Frog Season!

Our Pacific Tree Frog has a wide variety of color, size, and habitats. From sea level to altitudes even beyond Paradise at Mount Rainier, they are found from British Columbia to southern California. (this according to National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians)

The time of year for one of my favorite little frogs has arrived. Despite our cooler than normal temperatures you may hear hundreds of these amphibians croaking away, and maybe only one or two them. But whenever and wherever, they are often very hard to find due to their hiding habits under vegetation. And their unique sound could be mistaken for just a big cricket. So how do you know this is a frog? Because the unique two note chirp will usually come from a place very close to water and is surprisingly loud. At this time of the year many are hidden under shrubs and things but later you can see them clinging to everything from blackberry leaves to the walls of your home. They can climb like gecko lizards. I have even seen them easily scrambling up the side of my home and even up the glass wall of an aquarium. And you will hear them there also. Amazing! One of my goals this season it to get a macro photo of their toe and compare it to one of a geckos. More to follow – I hope!

Our American Opossum!

Above you can see part of the large numbers and size of possum teeth, and the resemblance to reptile scales in the tail. These were photographed from a poor thing hit by a car. Sitting and eating lunch off a street in Illinois, I noticed what look like something in a tree. Doing what I always do, just in case, I took a picture with my long lens and discovered this large almost pure white possum during the day. The more normal looking one on the ground is gobbling up things in our backyard compost heap.

We have here in America a lot of common but very interesting animals. One of which I love and take time to feed in my backyard is the Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana). We happen to have just one of many possum species. The rest of which have decided to stay in Central and South America, thus giving us our only marsupial. This is our most primitive animal, too, having survived from the time of dinosaurs over 70 million years ago. Our American Opossum has several other interesting features:

Teeth – more than any of our native predators, about 50 of them!

Babies born quickly. Over a dozen young that gestate in less than two weeks, the shortest time for any North American mammal. They then spend time clinging to Mom’s back. Marsupial birth is amazing in any animal that does it.

About one year later, when finally mature, they love to climb trees. And like monkeys they have prehensile tails which help that activity.

Self defense – If those abundant teeth don’t frighten you, they play dead. And if you have ever experienced this you’ll know how realistic it is. Even fooled me once because I thought my dog had killed it. On another occasions I was threatened by those teeth, and that was frightening. By the way, we have one other animal in our country that does the same thing – a Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos). I’ve experienced that too.

Diet – Possums will eat just about anything from insects to chickens, and numerous veggies, especially fruit. We keep a compose heap in our backyard which attracts, and saves, a lot of possums.

            Since possums are so numerous and widespread around North America why do we usually just see them lying dead in the road? Because our Virginia Opossum is usually only active at night, and apparently does not recognize cars as predators that will stop. Too bad. These accidents and natural predators kill a lot of them. On that note, however, there is a surprising number of wild reserves and other organizations that work to protect them. No surprise about a wildlife reserve or zoo doing this, but here is an organization that did surprise me:

Opossum Society of the United States

Go there and you will find a lot more information about possums and their relationship with humans.

Winter Weather Waterfowl

No matter how chilly temperatures here in the northwest get there are a couple of animals you can always depend on seeing. Birds and coyotes. And sometimes both at once! Coyotes pop up just about everywhere and are usually seen just individually. Packs up to 7 exist and are mainly families. As you know they do not tolerate anybody else to joint their group. Here’s one trotting along very close to Canada Geese, Mallards, and Coots. Probably looking for lunch, but the birds did not seem at all nervous. The coyote trotted away without trying to get anything. Anhingas love to take over the empty boat docks in the winter. And when you get a close look at Coot flocks, here is what you see.

The increased flocking of certain waterfowls as the weather cools is surprising. Sure, Canada Geese flock in astounding numbers at all times of the year. That is no surprise to just about anyone living in this area. But I notice that in the colder temperatures they seem much more content to gather with other flocks in the water. I’ve seen this behavior numerous times on American Lake in JBLM, as seen in the above photos. Then there are the waterfowl that put on the biggest winter weather show – Coots. Congregating in huge flocks in the water they tend to travel in extraordinarily lengthy formations, a behavior I have never observed them doing in warmer seasons. Then we have the Anhingas. Also called “snake necked birds” due to their very long necks, Anhingas seem to follow the same pattern of flocking in cold weather, yet they do it differently. They do not gather in swimming flocks. They group in big numbers on the shore or on empty boat docks. Joining these flocks are the Mallards, very common birds that also gather in big numbers. Not as much as the Canada geese, Coots, or Anhingas, but they have seem to have no problem at all swimming around with these other birds in the winter. So – why such big avian crowds in the water during the coldest weather?  Perhaps because there is much less food on land. Or maybe the water is a bit warmer. This more intense flocking of the water fowl during the winter season is based on my own observations. If you see anything different please let me know.

Merry Christmas for Suki the Elephant!

Suki is an Asian elephant at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium who is about to celebrate her 58th Christmas! Born in the wild around 1964 she spent her first few years as a calf with a private owner. When she became too large and hard to handle the owner sold her to a circus. But Suki was not ready for that environment, either. So from there she went into a zoo. In 1996 she finally arrived here at the PDZA and her life has been much better ever since. Why? Because Suki had always displayed aggressive “don’t come near me” behavior. But when she arrived at the PDZA keepers there had transitioned to a new method called “Protected Contact.” The basic principle of this method is to reward good behavior, and never punish anything else. Suki quickly adapted to this, and soon responded to her keeper amazingly well. She has also adapted to the NW summer and winter weather, but if it is too chilly or too hot the zoo has a large indoor enclosure for her. And there, Suki does some entertaining things that you can easily see. I highly encourage you to go see her. She is currently much older than average for an elephant, and there is no telling how much longer her life will last, but she is in very good shape for now. And it’s a great time to visit for the PDZA “Zoo Lights” also.

Cold Weather Wildlife

Hello everyone and welcome to the wonderful Christmas season. All I want to do right now is to share some interesting animals that showed up in temperatures of the 30s and very low 40s. There is always something to see no matter where you go, and often when you least expect it. I was eating lunch while parked in my vehicle at JBLM when this lovely Red Breasted Sapsucker decided it was time for his lunch also. They eat the sap that leaks out and any insects caught there. Then came Saturday morning when I took my dog out for a walk in Orting, WA. And there in the public park was an amazing number of mole hills! Moles successfully survive in a difficult environment. But why so many in one location? I’ll do some more research on that.

A Squirrel Forever


Book Review: A Squirrel Forever by Douglas Fairbairn

Every now and then you pick up one of those books you just can’t put down. A Squirrel Forever is one. When I first saw the cover and the title I did not expect more than a lot of information about how to keep a squirrel as a pet. Since I love the little creatures I signed for the book. Yes, that information is very prevalent in the book, but it has a surprising number of other events as well. I did not think I’d be reading about the place where Frank Sinatra was making a movie, or a home where an ocelot was found in the backyard. And that is just a couple of incidents. In addition to fascinating descriptions of his relation with Chippy the squirrel, Douglas Fairbairn goes into the issues of his own life and collisions with other animals and humans on his property. The book is non-fiction and provides numerous details about wildlife interactions with humans, yet reads like a fascinating novel. Whether or not you have a passion for squirrels I believe you will find A Squirrel Forever surprisingly entertaining. Like many other great books I’ve read I found this one in the library at Fort Lewis. Written in 1973 but you can still find it on Amazon. Douglas Fairbairn has passed away but God bless him for this book.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Mount Rainier

Here are a few examples of the herps you can find around MT Rainier National Park. Note the tiny tail on the Tailed Frog. That “tail” is actually a mail tool for mating. The small Western Toad jumped right off the trail in front of me and ended up clinging to a tree stump. Cascades Frogs are very common but easy to miss thanks to their coloration. The Puget Sound Garter Snake is just one type that shows up in this area. I am sure there are other frogs and snakes, plus lizards and salamanders, somewhere in the park, but I have not seen them yet. So I’ll keep looking and let you know.

Thousands of people visit and hike in the Mount Rainier National park every year. Mammals and birds are the most common wildlife sightings there. They are the animals most expect to see, and are the ones most advertised in the park documents and stores. Yet there are some other common animals not much noticed or talked about – the herpetological species. Why is that? Well, as I stated before the mammals and birds dominate Mount Rainier documents and photographs. And for serious hikers and beginners the magnificent mountain and cliff sceneries naturally attract attention. Plus, many of the hiking trails are quite rocky and covered with “spaghetti roots” that demand attention for your safety. Yep, I’ve been there and done that many times. But stopping from time to time and letting your eyes focus on the small streams and wooded areas right alongside your trail will often lead to other pleasant wildlife surprises. Garter snakes are everywhere in Washington State and they show up in many unexpected locations around Mount Rainier. You will find them in the lower elevation trails.  At these lower elevations and even ones much higher you also find a lot of amphibians. A couple of thousand feet up I have found Cascades Frogs and the unusual Tailed Frog. According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, Tailed Frogs live in cool mountain habitats, and Cascades Frogs live even above 3,000 feet. My observations align with that, but at an elevation of about 2,000 feet I was surprised to also discover small Western Toads. These toads are normally found at much lower levels. There are of course Bull Frogs to be found and heard in the lower level ponds.