Saturday, September 17, 2011

Island County Class Trip: Entry one - 9/14 and 9/15

West Beach - Deception Pass State Park - Island County
Every fall, our ninth grade heads out for a class trip.  This has taken a lot of different forms (car camping, backpacking, cabins), but for several years now, we've been sticking with Deception Pass State Park, using the Cornet Bay Environmental Learning Center.  Some years I've driven the bus, some years I've ridden on the bus, but for the first time, I took my car along with a plan to head off at the end of the trip to bird Whidbey Island and take the ferry to Jefferson County. 

Throwing rocks - West
Beach, Deception Pass SP
Our drop off for the trip was at West Beach for lunch.  The rented buses dropped the group off, leaving us with our truck full of gear and a few faculty vehicles.  The best fun of this stop, and of nearly any trip to a rocky beach, was throwing rocks into the water.  Big ones to splash in the water, small ones to skip - I don't know why, but it seems like kids (and, I'll be honest, this includes me in this activity) love hucking rocks into water.  My arm actually still hurts a little from the skipping!

It wasn't terribly birdy - some Canada Geese and California Gulls - but we did have a Cooper's Hawk cruising along the forest edge at one point.  At the end of lunch, 100 9th graders left it cleaner than they found it, and started to hike along Cranberry Lake - crossing Highway 20, and down the road to Cornet Bay on the east end of the park.

Green Algae in Cranberry Lake - it didn't
smell as pretty as it looked...
It was interesting walking back along Cranberry Lake - there was algae in the lake, which was an interesting thing to explain to two of the boarding students from China - not a plant... not bacteria...  We made it over safely, at any rate, met with the ranger, and found cabins. 

Cornet Bay ELC
 The ELC at Cornet Bay has been a nice place to stay for the last few years.  There are a lot of different structured activities we've done with the kids through the years, but the down time has been nice as well - playing frisbee and football in the giant field, gazing out at the bay from the firepit, playing board games in the dining hall.  It's been a few years since it's been clear enough for stargazing during the fall trip, but it's certainly dark enough when it's clear!

Killdeer in Cornet Bay - the first shorebirds
I've seen there in three years.
In terms of wildlife, we've had a good mix of birds and other animals making their way through the campground, in and out of the bay, and in the surrounding woods.  The Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers in the bay are among the louder more noticable residents, as well as the Barred Owls at night (which I've had all three years now - only on the first night this year).  Deer made their way through the campground as well, and dark brings out the bats and raccoons.

At the end of the evening, I made a few laps of the field to make sure cabins were settling down, then it was back to my own, where I was out almost as soon as the head hit the pillow - waking only once to listen to the owls outside.

Double-crested Cormorants dropping into Cornet Bay
Day Two!

Song Sparrows woke me up early, so I walked the big field before most kids were up.  I've been surprised this fall with American Robin numbers - it seems like there are times in the fall where there are overwhelming numbers of them around, but not lately... I guess that's the value in sending the observations I make in to eBird.  It's a big database that you can use to track your observations, but is also a nice tool for the citizen scientist to contribute, helping to build a better understanding of birds by tracking their numbers and how they move during the year.  No Varied Thrushes here this morning either - where's my favorite bird?

Deception Pass from the bridge

A not very good picture of salal berries
We had our breakfast, then made our way from the ELC along the perimeter trail, under the bridge at Deception Pass, and down to West Beach.  This was a nice walk - we missed a lot of elevation gain and loss by skipping the summit trail, although even that one is fairly gentle as summits go!  I ended up with a young man who also knew his plants, and we ate some salal on the walk.  This was my first time eating the little purple berries, and I was surprised I hadn't caught on to them before.  They were a little tart, a little sweet.  He had used them at a camp to make a pie before!

Pigeon Guillemot
It wasn't very birdy on the walk - although I did get a Pacific Wren calling from the woods at one point.  The beach itself was a little better, with some alcids moving through the channel between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, including a Marbled Murrelet which drifted across my estimation of the county line as I sat and ate my burger from the grill on the beach. 

The beach was full of people fishing today, which was the first time that had happened on the trip.  Kids fought the urge (almost successfully) to throw rocks in the water, and found other things to do...

Very cool... :)
We finished lunch, hiked it back, and (from all reports) had a nice mix of activities and free time until late in the evening.
Whirlpools below Deception Pass

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