Padilla Bay newsletter

Our e-newsletter is published quarterly with current events, articles, and program information.

Pile of logs and sticks with leaves.

Our half-built wildlife shelter with a leafy corner for reptiles and amphibians

Sheltering wildlife

An acute observer on Padilla Bay's Upland Trail may notice a small brush pile tucked into the corner of the meadow. This is no random pile, but rather a carefully constructed shelter. Stewardship Coordinator Roger Fuller and a handful of staff spent a few hours in September creating a small creature haven.A good shelter pile is built using larger logs at the bottom, arranged in parallel lines, with a similar layer cross wise on top. This creates a lot of open cavities, cubby holes, and access entries for four-legged, crawling, and slithering critters. Next, think microclimates

Staff applied urban planning theory: diverse neighborhoods with good connections and varying amenities. In one corner they added a bunch of fresh pear leaves and small debris that will quickly start to decompose and create a dense, moist, cool, worm-and-insect-packed corner. Salamanders and dark-loving lounge lizards in general will love this. As they added layers, this corner continued to get a heavy dose of leaves and fine material. The rest of the base was left more open with spaces and cavities of varying sizes. Voles, shrews, rabbits, snakes, lizards, squirrels, and low-nesting birds like juncos, sparrows, and towhees can curl up in comfort in the filtered shade and dark, cool holes. Over time the big logs will get riddled with wood-boring beetle larvae, ants, and fungi, fueling the food web of the larger animals.

2 women emptying large tubs of leaves onto a brush pile

Putting the finishing touches on Padilla Bay's new wildlife shelter

Then Roger and crew added a couple of crossed layers of intermediate branches — the second floor condo. Low-nesting birds will love the dense, interconnected network of branches. They'll be protected from predators and elevated above the cold, moist ground, while also snacking on the small invertebrates attracted to the branches. In addition to the nesters, birds that usually perch higher in the canopy will seek out these low-to-the-ground habitats during windstorms or cold snaps.

An finally they piled on the small, leaf-covered branches that will provide a very dense anti-predator and foul weather blockade. This will provide a rain of organic material over the next couple years as all the leaves and twigs decompose and drop down through the pile, attracting the invertebrates that will thrive and feed the larger animals.

The pile is located near the edge of the forest, with exposure to the winter sun in the south. This will keep the pile a little warmer in winter, and in the summer when the open meadow is hot and parched, the interior will be a cool and moist refuge.

Three people standing under an arched aquarium.

The 2021-22 AmeriCorps team (left to right): Austin Countryman, Keiley Munsterman, and Angelica Lucchetto

Hello from Austin Countryman! I graduated from Western Washington University in June, and am now the new Education AmeriCorps for 2021-2022. I’m passionate about many things, most recently being Sunflower Star's tube feet and counting the number of snow geese on Bayview-Edison road. I’m excited about the opportunity to share my knowledge and excitement about the natural world, and can’t wait to interact with youth in the Skagit Valley community. 

Hi everyone! My name is Keiley Munsterman and I have joined as this year's Research Assistant. At this point, I am convinced that estuarine and marine-related research is what I want to do in my future career, so I'm excited to learn more about estuarine ecology while I am here. But I am most excited to learn about the eelgrass beds out in the bay. I am a huge plant lover, not because I am good at keeping plants alive, but because I love learning about different plant species around the world. You can call me an avid reader, and one of my biggest passions is studying different languages and cultures. I especially love learning about how other cultures view environmental issues.

My name is Angelica Lucchetto, and I’m so excited to be the 2021-2022 Natural Resources AmeriCorps at Padilla Bay. I’m passionate about reciprocating nature’s generosity through ecological restoration and conservation, as well as connecting other people with the outdoors. Estuarine habitats have always particularly fascinated me, so I’m thrilled to get the chance to learn more about them in this role. When I’m not battling invasive plants or knee deep in the mud flats, I love reading, hiking, and baking!

Glowing like aquatic fairy dust

by Chandler Colahan

About, about, in reel and rout
The death fires danced at night
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green and blue and white.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Waves glowing bright blue from bioluminescent plankton.

Summer brings one of the most magical natural wonders in the world to Padilla Bay. As water temperatures warm and plankton become plentiful, a food chain reaction is set in motion. Large numbers of a tiny single celled organism called Noctiluca can be found floating around the Salish Sea when conditions are just right.  These microscopic plankton, commonly known as sea sparkle, are a type of dinoflagellate. By day, blooms of Noctiluca (from Latin meaning night light) appear red in color and can make the water look like tomato soup. (Red tides caused by Noctiluca are not harmful to humans.) But it’s at night when these blooms really shine!

If Noctiluca are disturbed in the water, they can produce and emit a non-thermal light called bioluminescence.  This occurs when a light-emitting molecule and an enzyme react with oxygen within the cell. The process can be compared to the reaction of fuel, oxygen, and a lit match. The resulting combustion creates a flash of blue-green light.                                          

Many marine species and certain terrestrial species have the ability to produce bioluminescence, including jellyfish, fireflies, and even some fungi. Scientists believe organisms use bioluminescence for many different reasons. Some organisms use it to attract mates or prey. Others use it for defense. It is an important tool for all kinds of communication. The beautiful glowing displays are a true miracle of nature. There is no guarantee when Noctiluca blooms will occur, but your best chance to see it is on a clear, calm moonless summer night.  Run your hand through the water, look for the glittering light, and prepare to be amazed!