The Forest Canopy in Western Washington: A Letter to Mom
Yellow Rhododendrons Above the Roof
Letter to Mom: The Levels of Canopy at Your House
First of all, this is not really a letter. It is an essay that I am posting online about the forest canopy in Western Washington state--up in the mountains slightly, in an area known by topographers as undifferentiated highlands (but, no sword fighting, sorry). So, if you were thinking this was going to be a newsy and cheerful letter, Mom, it will be, but it will appeal to the general bird- and nature-watching community--and not just to you. I'll send you a private email sometime.
And, just to let you know, not all of my essays will be letters to you. This might be the only one. The point of the letter is to answer you about the yellow rhododendrons.
The story is brief: those rhodies grew up against the gutter. We pulled them back from the house with a rope-and-stake system. They still couldn't get any sunlight. So, like everything at your house, they got gigantic and stuck their sticky heads back up above the roof-line. One day I went up in the loft and looked out that little sun roof thing up there, and there was this huge, cascade of yellow rhododendrons.
"I cannot believe I am encouraging someone in my family, someone older than me, to climb up on the roof and fool around. We are prone to falling while on the ground."
Across the Clearcut
Three Levels of Canopy That I Watched At Your House
That brings me to my point about the forest canopy at your house. Canopy-wise, there are three levels of 'watching nature' that I enjoyed during the decade that I lived there.
The first level is the ground.
The second is up on the lower branches of the trees and on any feeders you might have, depending on your attitude and opinions about feeders.
The third level is the one that I wanted to tell you about--as you can experience those first two from your front window (the enormous bay window that runs the length of one end of your house).
Looks like a 'Deforestation in Africa' Picture
It Is Almost Tropical All the Competition for Sunlight
The reason that the rhododendron story reminded me of your rooftop is that all the plants out there are competing for sunlight. So, the 'tops' of the sometimes-smaller plants go shooting up to above your roof in a lot of places. That means that the birds attracted to those plants when they are shorter (like when you clear a garden and plant one in full sunlight) are going to have moved up above the top of your field of vision from the bay window. And, I do realize that you often go outside to watch birds, and can just tilt your head up to see higher up into the canopy. But, how would you like to do it without tilting your head? And, what is higher up in the canopy that you would see if you did tilt your head up again while on the roof? It boggles the mind! Heh heh.
Mom's House is an Unofficial Sanctuary in the Region
Biggest Bird Sanctuary in the Area
Your property is one of the biggest 'sanctuaries' within about 7 or 8 miles of your house. By that, I mean that the birds that are fleeing from logging, construction, and farming within those 7 or 8 miles, are ending up at your house. That makes for a) fun and diverse bird watching experiences but b) having to be a witness to the struggle for that limited supply of resources. That is a really enjoyable place to live if you want to watch nature. Birds, and bears, and cougars, but mostly deer, at some point or another, come prancing, creeping, flying, and otherwise passing through your yard.
Should Mom Go Up on The Roof?
This article is advising the author's mother to get a ladder and climb up on her roof to do some nature watching. The author is 50. Should his mother go up on the roof?
View From the Roof
The Roof is Actually the Middle of the Canopy
You know that from the ground. But, did you know that from your roof, there is a whole other habitat or panorama of habitats to watch. I always wanted to put a viewing platform up there, but it is your house and not mine. So, that would have been rude. Plus, I cannot believe I am encouraging someone in my family, someone older than me, to climb up on the roof and fool around. We are prone to falling while on the ground. If you go on the roof, do it with caution. But you are an adult, and an American, so if you want to do it, do it--even if it is foolish!
Just kidding, but do be careful if you leave the safety of the loft and venture out onto the roof. Also, remember that there are rafters every foot and a half or so. Walk on those and not between them. If you want, we can plan a reunion of your sons to build a platform up there someday. Until that glorious moment, maybe a ladder?
Species of the Tree Top Mixed-Species Flock
- Golden-crowned Warbler
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Townsend's Warbler (rare at Mom's house)
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Chestnut-backed Chickadee
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- (maybe) White-breasted Nuthatch (but probably extirpated)
- Hutton's Vireo
- Warbling Vireo
- Orange-crowned Warbler
- Brown Creeper
Do Not Get Too Distracted by all the 'Nature to Watch' Up There
The main problem will be that while you are on the roof, you will be incredibly distracted by all of the 'nature' that you can see from up there. And, as I said, it is going to be a whole new group of animals (mainly birds). The birds from the lower levels, some of them at least, do pop up into the various levels of the canopy all the time. They are birds after all. But, the 'treetop flocks' as I like to call them (probably stealing it from my guidebook), rarely visit the ground or the lower branches level that is visible from the ground. When they do, they hide in the bushes mostly. These are flocks of tiny birds, like the Golden-crowned Warbler and the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. There are also supposed to be woodpeckers (Downy and Hairy are your locals--and Pileated, but not a real flock bird that one). I have not seen woodpeckers with the tree top mixed-species flocks at your house.
Male Western Tanager
Every Habitat Has a Species that Sings in the Treetops
Of course, the very tops of the trees are where the Western Tanager (usually one at a time, with the female off somewhere out of sight) and birds that like to sing to the sun hang out. There was at least one other species where the male like to hang out and sing in the sunlight, while the female was off--probably working, while he lazed around 'on guard duty.' If you know what the other species besides the Tanager is, let me know? An analogue to it in Southeast Missouri habitats, for instance, is the Cardinal. The Stellar's Jay is otherwise the analogue to the Cardinal back in Western Washington, so is that the other species I am thinking about?
Rooftop Events! Robins, Jays, and Hummingbirds!
The jays can be really annoying. But one of the treats you can get up on the roof during nesting season is battles between the American Robins and the Stellar Jays. Batman's sidekick is named Robin appropriately. A Robin guarding its nest is one of the most vicious animals in the woods (see it facing off with that cougar! -- just kidding).
And, speaking of treats, you can also see the full mating flight of the Rufous-throated Hummingbird from up there (I think they are really just called Rufous Hummingbirds, but I conflated the name and description into one word in my head).
In conclusion, mother, I am again concerned about recommending that you climb around on your roof. I have fantasies about coming out there and building a wooden staircase with a railing leading up onto a deck-like platform with benches and viewing stations. It will probably be more like a ladder, with some kick-boards leading up to a extremely-well-braced sheet of particle board. I will continue to imagine the first option until the reality of the second comes about.
Habitat Destruction or Creation: Nature Knows
© 2014 Brice A Matson