Category Archives: Nature

Christmas Gift Aboard the Blue Pearl

Teri Williams, T WIlliams RealtyBy Teri Williams

Headed to Friday Harbor on Christmas Day.

Heading to Friday Harbor on Christmas Day.

Every other year Jay and I find it’s just the two of us on Christmas morning. We actually look forward to these holidays as much as the full-on grandma-and-pa celebrations with all the trimmings and train set running under the tree. This was our year and the Blue Pearl called for us to pull her away from the dock and breath the fresh salty air. Loaded down with a baked Coffelt ham, fixings for Debbie Woodruff’s garlic potatoes, my garden spaghetti squash, long johns and earmuffs, we pulled away from the dock at 3:00 on Christmas Day. Little did we know it would be a cruise to remember.

one sailboat

We see only one other sailboat on the way, plus four powerboats.

A half-hour under way it dawned on me – we are going to lose daylight! Probably a good time to ask Jay what is on his mind for the night. We usually tie up to a dock this time of the year as it’s warmer, you sleep better and wake up where you left her the night before. Windless, blue sky scattered with white clouds and sun on our face, we arrive at the Port of Friday Harbor at 4:08. Not bad, very calm, saw four powerboats and one sailor.

On the foggy, cold morning after Christmas, the Blue Pearl heads north to Roche Harbor. No wind again (Jay says we really have a power boat). No sign of another adventurous sailor, we cross paths with Washington State Ferry headed to Vancouver and the Pintail barge.

crabs in crab pot

We bring up 16 crabs in our pot, three keepers.

Arriving into Roche Harbor at 2:44, we dropped two crab pots and cruised the harbor (Laurie and Eric say it should only take 30 minutes and fresh chicken). Half an hour later we had 16 crabs in one pot, three keepers. Tie to dock at 4:11. Ready for warmth and a hot toddy.

festive lights in Roche Harbor

Festive lights decorate the dock in Roche Harbor.

Crab on ice, we head to Roche restaurant, all lit with festive lights and music of the season. It really does feel like Christmas!

A lazy morning turns into a “get your butt in gear, we need to go with the currents and get back to Orcas!” It was very windy with dark clouds as we motored through Spieden Channel. Nobody was out except the Coast Guard and a few fisherman. Throughout the trip, I kept saying to Jay, “wouldn’t it be a wonderful gift to see whales?”

Just then, off the north end of Jones we see what looks to be a porpoise, but turns out to be a mother and baby whale swimming. A few air blows of spray in the air and our hearts were racing. I run to get my iPhone and push the video button. No matter how many times or how many of these beautiful mammals you see it is always very exciting and memorable. So much so, you better memorize it in your soul because if you are like me, all you get on the video is sky and your feet with a lot of vocals that sound like “oh wow, oh wow, oh wow!” We must have been one of the first to see the new baby orca, Calf J50. We followed for a bit, but they were headed north and we would have had to buck the current, so turn around we did.

new baby orca

We must have been among the first to see the new orca calf.
(From Yahoo News, photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research)

It was a memorable Christmas indeed and a successful sailing on the Blue Pearl…. ahh, I mean motoring. No matter, the saying goes, there is nothing better than messing around on a boat, especially when you do it on Christmas, eating crab, dodging ferries and being one with the whales.

Want to learn more about the new baby whale? Here are two articles you might enjoy:

Orcas Issues: Hey Girl, Who’s Yo Mama?
Yahoo News: Newborn killer whale a good sign for imperiled pod

 

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Fall and Winter on Orcas – What’s to love about it?

Sandi Friel - Orcas Island Real Estate brokerBy Sandi Friel

Now that I’ve recovered from my brief mourning over the end of summer, I’ve fully embraced the change in seasons. Just like the moss and licorice ferns burst back into life at the first rains, I find the slower pace renews me and allows me to grow inwardly.

Sandi Friel's moss terrarium

One of my mini moss creations

This is a great time of year for inside projects and creativity, and one of my hobbies is creating moss terrariums. It combines my love of miniatures, moss and designing with CTnature. And it lets me experience a little bit of the outdoors, inside?

There are plenty of other reasons to love this time of year, too. Here’s a list of a 10 that come to mind:

  1. The departure of tourists and part-timers creates a strong camaraderie among year-round islanders. It’s like being a part of an exclusive club and gives a comforting “we’re all in this together” feeling.
  2. Yes the days are shorter, but the nights are longer. If you’re an avid reader and/or Netflix movie hound, this is the time of year you can indulge yourself without guilt.
  3. I’m loath to leave the island when the weather is picture-perfect, but December gives me a great reason to visit mom in Florida.
  4. Soups, stews and other comfort food. I’m trying a new recipe each week.
  5. Planning and prioritizing for next year helps me gain clarity and focus.
  6. Flannel sheets.
  7. Cozy fires in the fireplace.
  8. Hot apple cider, dusted with nutmeg and stirred with a cinnamon stick.
  9. Reconnecting with people who’ve been on your mind.
  10. The glow of indoor colored lights strung around a gray window scene.

What we experience on Orcas in the quiet season is much like the Danish concept of hygge: a sense of comfort, camaraderie, warmth, coziness, well-being and connectedness. It’s nesting at its best, and one of the simple pleasures of living on a small island.

Looking to enjoy the simple life on beautiful Orcas Island?
Contact T Williams Realty – we’ll help you find your way home.

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The Great Potato Dig!

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Orcas Island School District is home to one fantastic school garden. You’ll find it right there next to the great maple tree in front of the big brick building that houses Orcas Island Elementary School.

The garden is maintained by the Elementary Children during a weekly class called Farm to Classroom. I have been teaching this class since its inception almost six years ago. It is a labor of love and a time of great discovery by all.

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Miss Mandy sharing a watermelon grown in the school garden with some eager students!

One of my favorite activities in the garden is the yearly “great potato dig” with the Kindergarteners. It is early October in the school garden and the potato patch is ready for picking! Enter 35 Kindergarten Students. First a quick lesson on potatoes. You wouldn’t believe how many 5 year olds don’t know that potatoes grow under the ground. You can imagine the delight on their faces once they realize that they get to dig for the buried treasure.

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Farm to Classroom students digging for potatoes!

The digging commences and soil starts flying from the children who dig with wild abandon. Some of the kids decide it is much tidier to pull the plant and pick the potatoes off the roots. Everyone is actively engaged.

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Beautiful red potatoes and the excitement of pulling out the entire plant with potatoes still attached at the roots!

Oh, the squeals of delight as they find their first potato! And then the variety of colors and potato shapes cause more shrieks of delight and several shouts of “Show me, show me!”

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Just look at our variety of potatoes. Red, purple, blue, yellow, and we even grew a heart shaped potato!

The potato patch was plentiful this year. We started a new patch in a well-seasoned compost pile. Added to that was a delivery of soil from San Juan Sanitation to establish a nice deep area of loose soil. We planted organic potato seeds of several varieties. What a fabulous combination. We will use these potatoes for cooking projects in the classroom this winter.

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“This one looks like a person!”

The children have put the garden “to bed” for the winter. The potato patch was gently tucked in with a cover crop of fava beans that will certainly provide another exciting opportunity for discovery next spring!

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Third and Fourth grade students prepare the potato patch for the fava bean cover crop planting.

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I’m in Love with a Spiny Lumpsucker

Sandi Friel - Orcas Island Real Estate brokerBy Sandi Friel

And no, that’s not my latest nickname for my husband! I’m smitten with a tiny fish that looks like a living Christmas ornament. This bobble-eyed bottom-dweller is called the Spiny Lumpsucker and it gets my vote for the cutest among the thousands of fascinating critters that call our Salish Sea home.

It’s easy to forget while enjoying our beautiful islands that the majority of San Juan County is below sea level, along with the vast majority of its inhabitants. Here are some of our more colorful and unusual neighbors. Click on any photo to enlarge and start a slideshow:

The underwater world here is so varied because a rich stew of nutrients from both mainland rivers and Pacific ocean waters is stirred and dispersed by strong tidal currents to feed the Salish Sea’s plankton, which in turn supports an incredible diversity of marine life from shrimp to humpback whales.

My husband, a long-time diver with a background in marine science, frequently surveys the area sea-life with researchers from the SeaDoc Society. SeaDoc does serious science to monitor the health of the Salish Sea. Most recently they’ve been examining a die-off of starfish caused, they suspect, by a combination of factors, including a naturally occurring virus.

The Salish Sea includes Puget Sound, Georgia Strait and Juan de Fuca Strait, and it washes along the shores of Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Tacoma and Bellingham as well as the San Juan and Gulf Islands. That’s a lot of people, and one thing we all need to be conscious about – both out here in the islands and along the mainland coast – is controlling stormwater runoff, which is the leading cause of pollution in Puget Sound.

We can all do our part, from picking up pet waste, fixing oil leaks, repairing failing septic systems, curtailing use of fertilizers, keeping culverts clear, and using Low Impact Development (LID) techniques such as rain gardens when developing new homesites. San Juan County Public Works even has a new website where you can identify any stormwater issues you notice along the roadside.

Stormwater management is not a sexy topic, but understanding the downstream impact to our undersea neighbors helps us to act. Just remember the Spiny Lumpsuckers out there, Orca whales or whatever critter melts your heart. They’re depending on us to keep our shared ecosystem intact.

 Note: Simply Orcas Blog is moving to a new home at http://www.twilliamsrealty.com. Follow us by signing up at the new site!

 

 

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Tiny Wildflowers on Orcas Island – Three Lesser Known Beauties

Sandi Friel - Orcas Island Real Estate brokerBy Sandi Friel
It’s easy to get excited about the riot of color on Yellow Island, or the many cultivated flowers beckoning bees right now. But if you slow down, look down, and take notice, there’s a miniature world in bloom too. Here are three often overlooked native beauties I found growing on our mossy knolls – all with very different growth habits.

Littleleaf Montia on Orcas IslandLittleleaf Montia | Montia parvifolia
This adorable mini succulent grows from a base of spreading rosettes, sprouting up tall thin stems which support delicate pale pink flowers May through July. The fleshy egg-shaped leaves are evergreen, sometimes with a reddish hue. Also known as Little Leaf Miner’s Lettuce (although I’m not sure why — it doesn’t resemble the Miner’s Lettuce plant at all), it was named for the eighteenth century Italian botanist Giuseppe Monti. It likes moist areas and flourishes amidst mosses in rocky outcrops. One of my favorites!

Chickweed Monkeyflower on Orcas IslandChickweed Monkeyflower | Mimulus alsinoides
Get out your magnifier to appreciate this tiny annual.  The small striking flowers are intense yellow with a prominent reddish landing spot to guide pollinators. They are prettier and daintier than their name suggests; monkey flowers are named after the grinning ape-like faces of the flowers. Also known as Wingstem Monkeyflower, it grows to a max height of 6 inches and likes moist rocky ledges.

Naked Broomrape on Orcas IslandNaked Broomrape | Orobanche uniflora
Another harsh-sounding name for a delicate beauty! I discovered this intriguing deep purple flower growing in a limited area amidst stonecrops, which it parasitizes in our area. A single yellow-throated flower blooms on a “naked” stem without leaves. The genus name Orobanch, from orobos (‘a clinging plant’) and ancho (‘to strangle’) alludes to its parasitic nature. There’s a British species that’s parasitic on Scotch Broom.  Appearing briefly in April and May, it seldom grows over four inches tall.

These are just a few samples of our miniature native wildflowers worth appreciating. So slow down, and take notice!

Looking to enjoy the simple life on beautiful Orcas Island?
Contact T Williams Realty – we’ll help you find your way home.

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Life on Orcas is Going to the Birds

birds of orcas island

By Teri Williams

Life on Orcas is going to the birds!

Don’t believe me? Come see for yourself on April 10 – April 12.

teri williamsOn Thursday, April 10, Orcas kicks off the first annual Orcas Island Bird & Wildlife Festival with a dinner at Rosario Resort’s Beach House. Featured speaker will be Thor Hanson, conservation biologist and author of the book Feathers. Hanson  lives in the San Juans and will share his knowledge of all things wild on Orcas Island. There will be a Silent Auction to add to the fun, and help secure funding for future festivals.

The perfect place to stay while experiencing the festival is at Otters Pond Bed and Breakfast. Otters Pond, renowned as a prime birding spot, is home to hundreds of bird species and certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Habitat. At the breakfast table, you will enjoy a front row seat to flurry and feathers and as a variety of birds dine in the feeders just outside. Innkeepers, Carl and Sue Silvernail, provide more than a ton of bird seed each year to attract some of the Northwest’s most colorful flying wildlife.

otters pond prime birding spot

Enjoy a front-row seat to flurry and feathers at Otters Pond Bed and Breakfast.

Sue reports that just this week, they are seeing Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, House and Purple Finches, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Spotted Towhees, Crossbills, American Robins, Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Bald Eagles, Anna Hummingbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. On the pond they are seeing Hooded Mergansers, Ringed Neck Ducks, Pied Billed Grebes and Mallards.  She says they  are watching for Rufus Hummingbirds, White-crowned and Golden Sparrows and Pine Siskins.

Sponsored by the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce, BirdFest will offer activities sure to please all who enjoy the birds and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. The still-unfolding line-up of walks, talks, workshops and activities are ideal for all ages and experience levels. Stay tuned for more information and events to be announced! Meanwhile, here are some helpful links to help you plan for BirdFest.

Birds of Orcas Island

Make a reservation at Otters Pond Bed and Breakfast

And if you want to stay forever, find out more about Otters Pond B&B for sale.

Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce

Rosario Resort & Spa

San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau

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Christmas on Orcas: A Full Heart

By Teri Williams

Here’s what this Orcas Island grandma and her grandson did on Christmas vacation:

coffelt farm collage

Coffelt Farm
Enjoy cookies from Sydney Coffelt and a peek at her pie shelf, nuts, and other porch memorabilia. See the two momma sows, and other pigs (all named pork chop). Learn about the balance of feed vs number of pigs. Learn about feeding baby cows with a bottle of momma’s milk. Check out the chicken pen. Learn about the farm stand and the importance of farms for future community (my grandson).

cascade lake

Moran State Park
Have lunch in the covered picnic area. Walk along the trails surrounded by huge cedars and cross the wooden bridge that spans over the creek and runs into Cascade Lake. See how far a cedar bow will float down the creek. Walk out onto the floating fishing dock hunkered below the fog, and spot the sun above it all. Fish with a switch found along the shoreline.

Eastsound
Hit Island Market for ice cream!! Walk to the post office and look at all the gardens in Eastsound.

driftwood ranch

Driftwood Ranch
Cruise the barnyard. Say howdy to Cowboy Bob, watch him tow a broken down tractor with a tractor that runs (Cowboy Bob has 3!!) Feed pancakes to the chickens. Feed green grass to Snowflake, the miniature pony. Find two bulls in the outdoor pen. Watch a round-up with cowboys and cowgirls saddled up and sporting Stetson hats.

cut christmas treeCrow Valley
Get Grandpa to ask Carol Clark for permission to hike in across her property and cut down a Christmas tree. Find her old barn and look for spider webs. Inspect the old growth stumps for bird nests. Wonder about the loggers who carved the spring-board notches along the sides. Learn about standing old growth trees with charred, thick, black bark are signs of a history.

This grandma’s heart is full after sharing my Orcas with grandson and his family.

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Teri’s Log: Shallow Bay

Whenever I leave the office and Jay is not on call for OPALCO, we welcome the opportunity to go sailing. Every trip offers new discoveries, and gives us a chance to relax and appreciate our beautiful surroundings. In this boating log, I share my adventures with you.

teri williamsBy Teri Williams

Shallow Bay- Sucia Island
48 45.79’N 122 55.47’W

According to the Cruising Guide to the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands, Shallow Bay offers the best sunset views of any anchorage on Sucia Island and has the warmest water for swimming.

Well, I cannot attest to the sunset due to thick heavy fog surrounding us the entire time we spent there. I can, however, state the bay supports swimming. There was a wide Catamaran anchored shoreward of us where we watched and listened to four kids play and romp atop her wide deck all afternoon. When the fog thickened in the early evening we could only hear the kids, who were counting “one, two, three, go,” then splashes and gulps of air rang through the thick air, evidence of jumping into the water. This went on for some time. Very nostalgic, only to hear the sounds of this frolicking!

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During the day, Jay and I rowed ashore and did a two-hour hike over to the beach at Echo Bay and Fossil Bay. The woods were thick, but trails were more populated than Matia Island. The hike back to Shallow Bay from Fossil Bay looked more in keeping with the forest at Matia. The trail along the Echo Bay side was less dense, fewer trees and salal instead of large ferns.

There are red and green markers at the entrance of Shallow Bay which can easily be seen from a distance. The depth changes quite fast when entering this area.

Shallow Bay has seven mooring buoys, with some anchorage room as well, but the basin is smaller than it appears on the chart. Know your tides and allow for plenty of swing room. The guide states southeasterly winds can come across the marsh on the southeast end of the bay, but there’s no problem with swells from boat traffic out in Boundary Bay. We bounced around some during the night with what felt like swells, but never really heard the wind. Next time I believe we will choose to anchor so we are not hammering the buoy all night!

All the shoreline around Shallow Bay is State Park land. The cluster of Sucia Islands was purchased in 1960 by the Puget Sound Interclub Association and then donated to the State for protection as a Washington State Marine Park.

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Teri’s Log: Fossil Bay

Whenever I leave the office and Jay is not on call for OPALCO, we welcome the opportunity to go sailing. Every trip offers new discoveries, and gives us a chance to relax and appreciate our beautiful surroundings. In this boating log, I share my adventures with you.

teri williamsBy Teri Williams

Fossil Bay, Sucia Island
48 44.68’ N, 122 53.65’ W

Fossil Bay gets its name from the fossils found in the surrounding bluffs and could easily be the most popular bay due to the number of individual buoys (15), can-line buoys (2), two floats (100’ in length) and plenty of room to anchor.

Little Herndon Island used to serve as the guest book for Sucia, but the practice of writing your boat’s name on the cliffs is now prohibited. You can still see remnants of names, some believe due to the State coming out to sandblast the writing, which in some places just memorialized it.

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Plenty of beach, campsites, fire pits, BBQ and an enclosed picnic area sit at the head of the bay. All of the shoreline and surrounding land is State Park land. Sucia was purchased by the Puget Sound Interclub Association and placed in trust of the State of Washington 4-29-60 – “For Yachtsman Forever.”

Head directly into Fossil Bay from the southwest, keeping in the middle and away from reefs off of the tip of Wiggins Head. Mud Bay behind Herndon Island dries at low tide.

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Teri’s Log: Matia Island

teri williamsWhenever I leave the office and Jay is not on call for OPALCO, we welcome the opportunity to go sailing. Every trip offers new discoveries, and gives us a chance to relax and appreciate our beautiful surroundings. In this boating log, I share my adventures with you.

By Teri Williams

Matia Island
48 45.03’N, 122 50.99’ W

Matia Island is less than two miles east of Sucia Islands, just north of Orcas Island. Although equally beautiful as Sucia, it attracts fewer people. Matia is jointly administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington State Department of Parks and Recreation, and is designated as a refuge for seabirds, eagles and seals. Along with Turn Island (located southeast of Friday Harbor, where I saw my first small pod of whales for my birthday sail adventure), this is the only National Wildlife Refuge in the San Juan Islands that is open to the public.

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On Matia, activity is limited to the five acres of State Park land, where there are a few campsites, picnic tables, a composting toilet facility, and a must-do mile trail where you hear nothing, literally, stand near many old growth who show signs of a fire long ago and notches from spring boards. The ferns are some of the largest I have ever seen.

You will find three beaches, two accessible. Sand, small gravel and large beach logs give welcome to getting your toes along the shoreline and explore. Sorry: no pets allowed on Matia Island.

The remaining 140 acres of Matia are the exclusive preserve of puffins, oystercatchers, seals and otters. We witnessed many blue herons close by, perching in the dead limbs of trees along the top of the sandstone/rock banks lining Rolf Cove.

In Rolf Cove, you will find a public small dock, which allows four tie-ups. We tied to the northwest end and shared the dock with three other 20-35’ boats. Rumor has it that there is an old settler’s ruins “Hermit of Matia,” who rowed weekly to Orcas to socialize. Jay and I did not spot anything that looked like ruins of a settler, just some ivy and fruit trees that suggest past inhabitants.

The current runs strong through Rolf Cove, and the south entrance is the better of its two entrances. Anchorage can be tricky, but we witnessed many come in for a short walk, to fish, or to just enjoy a relaxing float in a very quiet cove for the afternoon. Many of the overnighters left and went touring around the island in their skiffs with motors. Jay and I thought about it, but we row our skiff and did not want to spend the rest of this sunny relaxing day fighting a current that was taking us south. There are signs around the Island reminding you to stay 200 yards away. Puffin Island lies to the East and is surrounded by off-shore reefs and wildlife taking in the heat from the sun.

Getting ashore is limited to the State Park Float. The beach along this shoreline is sandy and gets afternoon sun, which heats up the sand and beach logs for sitting and taking in the scene, unbelievable September weather in the San Juan Islands.

Sunset featured deep colors that silhouetted the Sucia Islands group.

NOTE: My Cruising Guide to the Puget Sound mentions fire pits. We saw some homemade makeshift pits, but fires are not allowed on the island

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