The beginning of the New Year seems to be a period on the beach to look forward to renewal, a time to re-charge the battery of the inner soul, and time to reflect on the world outside the back yard. This is the season to tug on the old weatherproof boots, wool clothes, rain hat and grab a companionable dog or friend and head for the backroads. The leaves are stripped off the understory and alders so you can see all the sloughs, wetlands, ditches, swamps, marshes, bogs and fens where the magic of water is recharging the underground basins, filtering away the mud and runoff of chemicals to restore the balance of freshwater underground.
It is also in these quiet waters that one can observe the local Rodney Dangerfields who get no respect. Things like the Margaritifera falcate. Local folks call them “shell mussels.” Indeed, there are stories connected with the East Indian cigar makers brought to Aberdeen at the turn of the Century for the cigar industry who also made “pearl” buttons from sea mussel shells to earn extra money.
The beachers have a close connection to the various forms of water on their stomping grounds and freshwater mussels play an important role as they respond to changes in water quality. Gradual mussel die-offs or sudden mussel kills are reliable indicators of water pollution problems and other environmental health concerns.
Newcomers to Ocean Shores are often charmed to find these huge mussels growing on their docks, but are then horrified to learn, because of their water filtering abilities, they are inedible and filled with contamination and pollution, especially phosphates and other runoff from lawns.
For the fisher folk, the freshwater mussels are a good indicator of clean water, as their host fish include cutthroat trout, sea run salmon, rainbow, Chinook, coho, sockeye, steelhead and brook trout. The mussels are not just natural water purifiers. They also reduce turbidity and control nutrient levels.
The beach walkers often find their shells in water runoffs along the Pacific. The shells serve as attachment for algae and larvae, again indicating long-term aquatic health. Some live to be 100 years old and local tribes historically used the mussels for food, tools and adornment.
Another disrespected critter of the waters along the beach is the Pacific lamprey, an aquatic critter that is also a good indicator of healthy river systems. Once plentiful, their numbers are sagging. Perhaps some of the river fishers know where lampreys can be found in the north county area.
These 400 million year-old fresh water androgynous species don’t have bones, scales, or jaws but, boy howdy, do they have the ugliest mouths around. A true description defies words in a family newspaper, however, there is a tube product advertised that just might improve the looks of its sucker disc mouth.
Although they are called eels they are neither eel nor fish, but are so primitive, the jawless vertebrates are known as Agnatha. For the first several years, this eyeless larva lives like a worm in the mud or river sand. When its eyes develop, the sea lamprey goes down steam to mature, just like salmon.
One nasty habit they have is that, if given a chance, they will attach themselves to a fish, rotate their sucker disk and rotor-rooter their way inside if the fish is large enough to hold it.
The fresh water Pacific lamprey again, like salmon, are threatened by human activities such as agriculture, flood control, restricted fish passage, floodplain degradation, declining water quality and changing marine and climate conditions.
Howard Schaller is the project leader for the Columbia river Fisheries Program Office and the Western Lampreys Conservation Team leader working with tribes, state and federal agencies to put together a conservation approach. Perhaps this will lead to the Quinault folks again gathering, smoking and eating lamprey along with other old beach families.
Get clam happy
Speaking of shellfish, are you happy now? All the kvetching and moaning about razor clam seasons over the last year resulted in an unexpected whole week of late afternoon and early evening clam digging Jan. 8-14. So now it is time to remember what your Momma said, “Say thank you.”
Apply some honey instead of vinegar for next season’s digs. And for heaven’s sake go buy a lot of crab and help the crab fishers make up for such a late, late start to the season.
Owls on the prowl
In my last column I talked about owls. A story out of Burnaby, B.C., may give pause to folks with small dogs and cats. Barred owls, known for eating spotted owls, got into a “pitched battle” reported the “West Coast News,” with a woman walking her three Chihuahuas. When she fended it off, it retreated to a tree and then gave it two more tries, smacking her head the last time around.
Juvenile barred owls apparently don’t have a lot of sense when the weather gets cold and they are hungry. Heck, small dogs and cats look just as good as a rabbit to them.
Owls are attracted to city areas because of large rodent populations. That includes mice, rats and squirrels. On the beach, coyotes, eagles and great horned owls are getting hungry in the cold weather. The latter will be more so in early January as their nesting season begins.
It’s been the norm lately to see a large, male peregrine hunting the runoff on banks around the S-curves on Highway 109. Generally. they are diving like jets out on the beaches for their prey. Local folks going over to the I-5 corridor are happy to see the fields sporting trumpeter swans now. One pair is hiding out on the ocean swale on the way to the Quinault Casino.
Joe Schumacher, Quinault Indian Nation marine scientist, reports that sampling and documentation of surf smelt, Pacific herring, sand lance and rock sole is being conducted on the remote beaches. Since so little is known of the spawning times of these traditional food sources, the Hoh, Makah and Quileute are also collecting and studying sand, according to the Northwest Indian Fishing Commission News.
Quinault biologists Scott Mazzone and Alan Sarich are wading in hip boots collecting sand in the receding surf. The samples are taken to their offices in the QIN Natural Resources building where they are sieved and microscopically examined for the tiny one-millimeter eggs.
Beach finds bragging rights
For others out sand pounding, a tsunami debris tracking mobile app will allow posts of what walkers are finding or to see what others have found online at http://tinyurl.com/9pd6hu5
Bragging rights to beach finds can also be sent to the email listed at the end of the column. Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, the beachers’ favorite drift expert, can be reached at: CurtisEbbesmeyer@comcast.net
Funeral services were held Jan. 7 at the Taholah gym for a lovely lady, Shirley Ralston, who will be sorely missed for her love of the tribe’s people, their culture and heritage. The passing of a beloved matriarch is a sad time for many people along the beach.
Hit the road
Since this is the time of renewal, and for making memories, go get your best friend, whether man or beast, and take a drive out Powell Road up to Kirkpatrick Road, over past the lovely heart-shaped Carlisle bogs, past Aloha, and don’t forget to stop and look at the old, old NPRR bridge slumping into the rain-swollen creek near the Sternsville area. Take a gander at the Moclips River and go get a great noon meal up at the Taholah Merc. Perhaps the Copalis River will still be raging over the tidelands when you drive by.
It is high water like this that makes one remember when the river drained Lake Yakima in less than eight hours in the 1980s.
Take a good look at the many varieties of recharging water areas we, at the beach. We are so blessed to have them. But for heaven sakes, don’t bring me back a lamprey — just tell me about it.
You may contact Gene Woodwick at 360- 289-2805.