Friday, April 18, 2014

Orcas Island Bird & Wildlife Festival: A Welcome New Island Tradition

"There he is!" cries our enthusiastic guide Natalie as a sleek peregrine falcon zips high overhead, silhouetted against the powder blue sky.

As part of the first annual Orcas Island Bird & Wildlife Festival, I'm on a marine bird watching boat tour with Deer Harbor Charters. We're in good hands with local naturalist Natalie Herner and Nate Averna, who grew up on Orcas and is working with his father Tom in the family business.

Here on the north side of the island, a pair of peregrines is building a nest on a cliff above the sea. While I've seen peregrines before, I've never seen a nest site.

But that's not all. Natalie points out lots of marine birds as our group scans the surrounding water and islands with binoculars glued to our hands and eyes. Surf scoters, pigeon guillemots, a few kinds of grebes, cormorants, showy harlequin ducks, lots of bald eagles, and more are spotted.

Naturalist Guide Natalie Herner points out a belted kingfisher in Deer Harbor.

When we pull away from Deer Harbor mid-morning on the southwest edge of Orcas Island, a marine cloud layer hangs low above. By the time we pass Jones Island to the west and are nearing Speiden Island, it's clearing to a sunny day. This is the San Juans after all, which are in a rain shadow and receive less than half the annual rainfall of Seattle to the south.

As we round to the west side of Speiden and slowly head back east, we're greeted by an unusual spring green.  This island is brown most of the year and grazed by exotic European deer and goats that were introduced for hunting decades ago by private owners, Natalie tells us.

Between soaring bald eagles and Bonaparte's gulls (pictured at the top of this post), we motor past clumps of sleek and shiny harbor seals sunning on rocky outcrops. They're checking us out, too.  Someone sees what looks like a pup, which is quite unusual this early in the season.

Harbor seals

I find these guys comical. Just look at those faces. :)

Rounding the easternmost tip of Speiden, a group of massive Steller sea lions are hanging out, with a couple big guys bellowing at each other. Although they are threatened up north in the Bering Sea, Natalie tells us this more southern (Eastern Distinct Population Segment) is doing okay and no longer listed as Threatened or Endangered.

Steller sea lions
After a couple hours, Nate picks up speed and we swing back to Deer Harbor through the Wasp Islands.  Natalie points out a few huge bald eagle nests and a big osprey nest on some of the islands we pass.

Sentinel Island, with British Columbia in the distance.

Osprey nest
Too soon our adventure is over, although we were out over 2 hours.  Nate expertly maneuvers the boat up to the dock back at Deer Harbor and we scramble off to the next adventure (another blog post soon!).  I've enjoyed sharing these few hours with several other birders, most more serious about birding than I am. 

Natalie and Nate, Deer Harbor Charters staff extraordinaire.
Many other naturalist led walks, lectures, and boat trips took place during the three-day festival.  Saturday evening we went to a lecture in Eastsound on Coastal Raptor Research, which was informative and sometimes funny (in a sweet science geek way:).

When You Go
After the first of the year or so, check the Birdfest website for details on next year's festival, which was sponsored this year by the friendly folks at the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce. In the meantime, you can go on trips with Deer Harbor Charters in the summer ahead.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Skiing in the Pacific Northwest: It's not too late!

Now that it's April, maybe you're thinking about hiking, gardening, surfing, or other warmer weather outdoors pursuits. 

Don't hang up those skis or boards yet! Late season skiing in the Northwest/B.C. can offer the best conditions of the season. 

Minimal or no lift lines - check
Longer and more bluebird days - check
Sometimes lots of fresh snow and less competition for freshies - check
Parking closer to the lifts - check 
Special deals on ticket prices - check

Some of my best skiing days ever have been late season. I still smile remembering that early June weekend at Whistler/Blackcomb, with over a foot of fresh snow and hardly anyone else on the mountain.

Run after run of freshies!  It was exhilarating and awesome. 

Just last Sunday a group of us had similar conditions at Crystal Mountain, less than 2 hours from Seattle. Big smiles all around.

On a bluebird day at Crystal last week, almost everyone (including me) stopped to take shots of Rainier....
...because Rainier is always so awe-inspiring.
So put off that yard work for a few days and head to the mountains to grab the last and maybe best weeks of the season. And then enjoy the spring and summer knowing you truly seized the snow days.

When You Go
Skiing extends well into the spring at several NW resorts.  Crystal Mountain is open daily until April 20, then weekends until May 18. Of course Mt. Hood just east or Portland is THE place for late season skiing, click here for links to all of the Hood ski areas and info. Mt. Bachelor in central Oregon is open daily until May 25. Up close to the Canadian border in Washington, Mt. Baker is open through April 20 and possibly longer. Mission Ridge above Wenatchee in central Washington is closing April 13.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tea off the Beaten Path

While I've blogged about tea houses before here at Pacific Northwest Seasons,  guest blogger Brenna Ciummo, who wrote today's post, has introduced me to some great new places to experience wonderful tea in and outside Seattle. Read on!

If you’re a tea drinker in the Puget Sound region, you've likely visited many of the popular tea houses in the area. If you haven’t, you definitely should. Even though Seattle is still primarily a coffee-based city, there are quite a few tea shops that are worth checking out. Whether you’re searching for a new place to stock up on interesting teas or want to find a quiet, offbeat tea house to add to your repertoire, here are a few hidden gems to add to your list.

Seattle Best Tea
Often described as one of the best Asian tea houses on the West Coast, Seattle Best Tea is the shop for you if love Chinese teas. Seattle Best Tea isn’t a cafĂ© where you can purchase a pot of tea and snack. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a great sense of community inside this International District store. There is always a seat at the tea tasting table for anyone who walks in, and Lydia (one of the shop’s owners), will work with you to find a tea that suits your tastes, while teaching you about the different types of tea along the way.  There is no pressure to purchase a tea, although with the large selection it's hard not to walk out of the store with at least a couple of teas. 

Village Eatery and Tea Company
If you head northeast from Seattle, you'll find Village Eatery and Tea Company tucked into the back corner of Country Village (a quaint, outdoor shopping center) in Bothell. They serve a tasty traditional high tea, with soup or salad, puff pastries, scones, tea sandwiches, and plenty of baked desserts. If you aren’t quite that hungry, there are also other English-style treats available, such as Cornish pasties and the Ploughman’s lunch. The shop has a wide selection of loose leaf tea, so if you’ve discovered a tea you enjoy, purchase it and brew at home. 

Experience Tea
Experience Tea
is not just a retail tea shop in Issaquah, but a place to learn more about the world of tea. You can purchase a variety of unique teas and teaware, and shop owner Roberta teaches everything from a general discovery class to classes that cover specific types of tea. There is even a custom tea blending class where you can create your own signature blend to take home. All of these classes include plenty of tea tasting! 

Baicha Tea Room
I hadn’t heard of this tearoom until recently, when I was talking about local tea houses  with a fellow tea lover who mentioned Biacha. Baicha Tea Room in Edmonds (20 minutes north of Seattle) serves a variety of the tea sandwiches I've grown to adore but that can be surprisingly hard to come by. The tea room also serves up delicious brunch and lunch fare and of course a great selection of teas. You’ll find traditional white, oolong, green, and black tea as well as a number of brews  unique to Baicha, such as wellness blends, flavored and scented teas, and even tea smoothies.

The Japanese Tea Garden

Maybe you've been to the Arboretum in Seattle's Madison Valley, but did you know that you can attend a Japanese tea ceremony there? From April through October, tea ceremonies are held in the Japanese Garden Shoseian Tea House on the third Saturday each month. The Chado demonstrations are free and no reservations are required, but if you would like to partake in a bowl of tea and sweets from the demonstration, you can purchase a $5 ticket at the garden booth. 

Savrika Tea
There are numerous modern yet cozy tea houses popping up to the north and to the east of Seattle besides Baicha. On my list to try is SavrikaTea in Kirkland, which opened in 2012 and claims to be “a modern tea room serving over 200 teas.” If the pictures are true, the shop looks like a great place to relax. While visiting these tea rooms may take a little extra effort if you live in Seattle proper, they are a great excuse to get out and explore the rest of the area. Plus, the tea and food at these shops are worth the trip!

Brenna Ciummo is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear and enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things coffee and tea. An avid tea drinker, she is always searching for new tearooms to explore.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Crystal Mountain Memories: RIP Chair 6/High Campbell Lift

If you're a Northwest skier, you probably already know that a piece of Pacific Northwest skiing history succumbed a few days ago to a massive avalanche at Crystal Mountain.  Beloved Chair 6, that sometimes thrilling and scary old slow double chairlift to the top of High Campbell, is no more.

Although it was apparently scheduled to be replaced this summer anyway with an updated  new lift, part of the charm of Chair 6 was that it was a remnant of days gone by.  How many times do you get to ski up to a lift line and yell "Single!"  anymore? Most ski areas these days have managed lines with roped lanes for singles.  

The lift ride alone was enough to scare some skiers from the steep, black diamond terrain it served. The sign saying Experts Only wasn't joking.

But the terrain, wow!  Not only Powder Bowl on the north side (remember the Enduro?), but Cambell Basin/High Campbell, and with some mellow climbing and traversing, the South Back (backcountry) and access to Avalanche Basin, the King, and Silver Basin.  Local skiers would vouch that terrain served by Chair 6 is the premier lift-served expert skiing experience in the Pacific Northwest.

The area that slid was on this north and east facing slope.
According to Crystal Pro Patroller Kim Kircher, who wrote the following on the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol blog in 2009:

...Chair 6.  It certainly is an icon here at Crystal.  Anyway, nowadays High Campbell Chair is most likely the reason many people ski and ride at Crystal.  The chair has served us well and indeed will be replaced soon .

Prescient words. (Click on Kim's name above to go to her blog post about setting off the avalanche and photos of the aftermath.) So next season there will be a new lift, which will be roomier at the top so you don't have to check with your lift partner and scramble left or right quickly when you unload. 

Viewing the aftermath, almost two weeks later.

But I'll miss Chair 6, its ramshackle little lift shack at the base, and the old-fashioned single lift line. And some memorable rides up with friends, new friends, and sometimes strange strangers.

Looking down to Chair 6 (you can see the lift line down there) and the path of the slide, slightly to skier's right.

Years ago one of the lifties at the base of Chair 6 used to blast a lot of Jimi Hendrix (another Pacific Northwest icon who was from Seattle). Whenever I hear his rendition of Dylan's All Along the Watchtower, I always think of loading Chair 6 and sunny, fantastic, challenging, thrilling days skiing High Campbell and beyond.

What are some of your Chair 6/High Campbell memories? I'd love to hear in the Comments below.

Thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ready to Spring in the Northwest

Too much work and not enough play has kept us away from posting here on Pacific Northwest Seasons the last few weeks. More soon! 

In the meantime, spring is really springing up around the region. I couldn't resist snapping this sweet patch of crocuses in the planting strip just outside the Java Bean coffee shop in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood.

What signs of spring have you seen in your neighborhood or wherever you've been outdoors the last few weeks?

Check back soon for a run-down on spring skiing here in the Northwest and learn about some great new teahouses around the Seattle area.

Happy trails.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The 'Tween Season: Late February in the Pacific Northwest

If you live in the Pacific Northwest (or almost anywhere in North America), aren't you ready for winter to loosen its grip?

Living in a temperate climate here west of the Cascades,  we Mossbacks are spared extreme cold like the frigid polar vortex, but the wet, gray, dark days seem to stretch on too long.  Many of us jet away to warmer, tropical or desert getaways.

By mid-February, however, the days are getting noticeably longer. Hallelujah! So we've got this 'tween thing going's dumping snow in the mountains and throwing major avalanches, while early spring flowers  are in bloom just an hour away in the lowlands. It's wildly diverse.

Yesterday I headed to the mountains for some skiing in the epic snowfall. Over 2 feet of fresh pow! I hoped to be doing this:

But avalanches and downed trees converged to make the day go more like this:

See that line of traffic?  We were turned around less than a mile from the Crystal Mountain turnoff. Mountain closed because a tree knocked out power to the whole mountain. We spent 5 hours driving up and back, covered 160 miles, including a 20-minute wait to use the loo at Wapiti Woolies in Greenwater, and no skiing.


So instead of moping, when I got home I took advantage of a break between storms and headed to nearby Carkeek Park. Nothing beats the frustration of hours in a car than a walk in the woods to witness early spring unfurling.

Right now the sweet, delicate snowdrops are in bloom just off the trail next to the historic Piper Orchard in the park. While these plants aren't native, these bulbs have spread in happy clumps throughout a patch of forest over the past century.

I hiked for over an hour through the lowland forest.  I heard lots of birds singing, felt a slight remnant breeze from the overnight storm, and generally enjoyed spying signs of spring, like the first shoots of this skunk cabbage beside the trail.

In a few months it will be several feet high and look like something that belongs in the tropics.

I once again appreciated our lush temperate rainforest abundance of moss and ferns, even though I couldn't enjoy the several feet of fresh snow just an hour away in the mountains. At least on this day.

While spring is charging at us, I'll head again to the snowy alpine mountains with 
my skis in a few days. Then I'll be  walking in the woods again.  Back and forth.

This proximity and diversity is one of the reasons I love living here.