Field Journal: Saltwater State Park CNC

The second day of the Seattle City Nature Challenge promised to be sunny and to make the most of it I headed again to the beach hoping to add to the biodiversity for Seattle. This time I went to Saltwater State Park, just south of Seattle. I had been there a couple of times before and remembered it was a rocky beach with a freshwater stream emptying out into Puget Sound. Again I arrived an hour or so before low tide and started to make my way down the rocky shore to the water’s edge.

Along the way I stopped to take a closer look at the rocks and patches of standing water. I found barnacles still active, their cirri waving in and out of their shells. As I observed them, I saw cirri, their legs, curling in and out as they filtered small particles from the water. In some of the standing water I also found several small hermit crabs. I flipped over a few large clam shells and underneath found more barnacles as well as a half shell with three flatworms hiding. Stuck on various shells and rocks were a just couple of small mussels and a larger number of limpets.

Out in the water I saw a flock of black birds and with my camera discovered they were Surf Scoters. There were also gulls everywhere. Further out in the water I spotted – and heard – Common Loons as well as Horned Grebes, Pigeon Guillemots and Barrow’s and Common Goldeneyes. As I watched the water I noticed something sliding through the surface and then I saw a fin. I got a quick shot good enough to see it was a Harbor Porpoise, a good addition to the City Nature Challenge. Shortly after I observed a Harbor Seal watching the people on the shore.

I waded through the water to the freshwater stream and as I stood in the mouth I noticed a crab walking by my boots. I dipped my hand in and pulled out a kelp crab. It’s sharp legs reached around my hand and dug in to hold on. I returned it to the water and shortly after noticed another. As I walked to the other side of the creek I soon noticed dozens of kelp crabs of varying sizes walking, hiding or standing in the water. Soon it was hard not to notice them and I found it easy to pick out their spidery legs among the rocks and seaweed.

I also noticed another animal which was likely plentiful, but I didn’t actually see. I knew it was there beneath the sand, because I found many empty shells. I encountered a half dozen empty moon snail shells as well as more than a dozen empty clam shells bearing the drilled hole the moon snail made before sucking out the occupant.

After examining the water I returned to the shoreline and starting investigating rocks. I found more shaggy mouse nudibranchs, some with eggs like I found at Alki Beach. I also found many hermit crabs and was inspired to learn more about them after watching them. Among the rocks I found more of the usual denizens; thatched barnacles, limpets, snails, bryozoans, shore crabs and tube worms. As I lifted one rock I heard a splashing sound and discovered a sculpin fish attempting to flop away from the sunlight.

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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist, writer and photographer based in Seattle. She is the author of a book about urban nature, coming Spring 2020 from Mountaineers Books. She writes freelance articles about natural history and has bylines in Crosscut, ParentMap, National Wildlife Magazine and others. On the side she writes fiction.

Kelly holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington.

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