Rare Rhododendron Forests


The native rhododendron, Washington’s state flower, is in glorious full bloom right now, and there is no place better to see it than on a drive out Coyle Road on the Toandos Peninsula. Here, over the past decade, biologists have discovered and mapped a globally rare type of rhododendron forest that represents the largest occurrence of its type left in the world! It seems only fitting for a county that celebrates the Rhododendron Festival.

Welcome to May

What a wonderful time this is to be immersed in springtime’s wonders with life growing all around us! Ferns are unfurling. Buds are spreading into new leaves. Flowers offer their color and fragrance to insects, encouraging the spread of genes into the next generation. And this is the peak of the spring bird migration in our area.  


The Arrival of Our Songbirds

by Ken Wilson

April is perhaps the most dramatic transition month for birds and birders. Between the beginning of April to the end of the month, there is probably a fivefold or tenfold increase in songbird numbers. This abundance continues into May, declining quite a bit as the migrants continue onward, leaving a still substantial number of songbirds that will breed here. Most of these spring migrants are our ‘neotropical’ birds, mostly smallish songbirds that spend more of their lives in Central and South America than they do in our Pacific Northwest.

Orange-crowned Warbler

But why the late April arrival? Birds time their breeding cycle so that their food supply, often the juicy caterpillars that nestlings digest easily, is most plentiful when the parents have nestlings to feed. By arriving in late April and early May, the birds have available the intervening weeks for establishing territories, mating, nest-building, and incubation. These migrants arrive on schedule, plus or minus a week or so. They are cued more by daylength than by the unpredictable fluctuations of temperature from one day to the next. Go for a walk in late April and May when birdsong occupies nearly every habitat. It’s not essential to identify each song because the enjoyment itself is worth it. But an absolute must is to download an app called Merlin Bird ID. It enables your smart-phone to listen to singing birds and is astoundingly accurate in identifying each individual. Merlin will permanently change your relationship to birds. And not just in April. Enjoy.

Wilson’s Warbler

Salmon, Cedar, Rock and Rain: Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

by Tim McNulty, Coauthor

Immature Bald Eagle at Mouth of Elwha River

In my essay, I explore the peninsula’s natural diversity from its geological origins through alpine, forest, riverine and coastal ecology. I review the peninsula’s epic conservation history, the threats posed by climate impacts, the future of the ecosystem and transformative role of restoration — from the Elwha dam removals through the Skokomish watershed and Hoh River restoration efforts to numerous salmon enhancement projects on the North Peninsula.

Western Redcedar

Along with my coauthors David Guterson and Lynda Mapes, seven Indigenous writers representing five Tribal nations tell stories of their peoples’ long-standing relationships with the peninsula’s land and waters and explore Tribal sovereignty, language revitalization, self-governance, and the Tribes’ spiritual relationship with this place. More than 30 photographers superbly capture the peninsula’s beauty and diversity.

Spotted Sandpiper at Mouth of Elwha River

Notes on Nettles

by Jeanmarie Morelli

Stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, are commonly found in moist sites and can shock the unsuspecting hiker. Often forming large patches under alder trees, they also grow along streams and disturbed sites. This time of year, the young shoots thrust upward from underground rhizomes. Later in the season, nettle plants grow to several feet tall when they produce either male or female inconspicuous flowers. Although nutritious plants, the stinging hairs covering the leaves deter browsing except by insect larvae, including the Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies.

Nettle shoots herald the arrival of spring and an opportunity for wildcrafting. Young plants can be mistaken for mint with pairs of dark green leaves growing in opposite pairs along the square stem. Wear gloves and use clippers. Steamed or boiled nettles can be a spinach substitute. It’s rich in iron. Try preparing a potato-leek soup with a stock of fresh nettle greens and miso. The nettle’s sting is contained in the hollow hairs filled with uric acid. The fresh foliage applied topically has an anti-inflammatory effect on sore joints. (I have found it quite effective on aching elbows.) The fresh plant includes an array of phytochemicals. A report from the NIH confirms: “… Urtica species exert excellent anti-rheumatoid arthritis, anti-gout, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antioxidant activities, all of which contribute to the protection of joints.”