Spider Collector's Journal (27th page: 2017) Copyright © 2017 by Rod Crawford
Here's the 27th page of narratives of fun (and not so fun)
trips to collect spiders for research at the Burke
Museum, some accompanied by capable field volunteers: Laurel Ramseyer and new recruits. Most also appeared in Scarabogram, newsletter of "Scarabs:
The Bug Society." Dates of field trips head each paragraph. Maps showing
the location of sites within Washington state follow the grid system outlined
in the Washington
Spider Checklist. RETURN
Where you see this button in a field trip account, click it to get a page of collecting site photos!
31 III 2017: After nearly 5 months without field work, favorable conditions finally came together for a short excursion to an area in north Snohomish County that should be reachable by bus, but isn't. Laurel (on her way to a hike with partner Marie Rose) dropped me off at the driveway to historic Zion Cemetery near Silvana. In the past, we've never had a problem with public access to cemeteries for spider collecting; but this one was prominently posted "No Trespassing." (I did venture in just far enough for a quick photo of the 1890 "Little White Church"). I'd hoped also to access gravel bars on the adjacent Stillaguamish River, but they were underwater leaving only slick mud banks. But on the plus side, the Pioneer Highway bridge had lots of niches for web-makers and an adjacent forest tract proved accessible, though at only one point (the rest was on the wrong side of a very active stream in Jackson Gulch).
In all, I sampled six microhabitats, only three of those being reasonably productive. First and foremost I spent 2-3 hours sifting the abundant maple litter in the forest tract, "hiding in plain sight" rather close to the highway. Many cars passed, but only one stopped and backed up: "Did I see what I thought I saw?" But they didn't get out and ask silly questions, praise be! The litter got me 10 spider species, plus assorted other creatures. Next I sifted some moss, which was lackluster and added only one species. Fern foliage, however, was rather productive and added six species. On aerial photos this forest tract looked rather extensive, but as I stood at the bottom of the slope I saw a human head drift by (at bicycle speed) right at the top, so evidently there was something private up there. I scouted around for grassy habitats and finally found some decent grass at the edge of a pasture, adding 3 species. Back at the cemetery entrance, foliage of cedar trees added nothing new at all, and none of the wolf spiders in the grass was mature. But the bridge abutments and adjacent structures added 5 more species for a total of 24. The day had been semi-sunny off and on, and cool but not cold. And was it ever nice to be out in the field again! Laurel picked me up right on time to the very minute. Postscript: one week later Laurel picked up pitfall traps I'd set here for her; alas, they contained no spiders!
4 IV 2017: In cloudy but dry weather, Laurel and I headed for Rapjohn Lake in southern Pierce County, site of the only public access tract in another "hole" in my collection coverage. The origin of the unique name Rapjohn seems to be lost in the mists of time. Anyway, we arrived in good time and Laurel began tapping Douglas-fir cones (present in some numbers) while I strolled up the access road beating conifer foliage. I happened to meet the man who lived on the south side of the narrow public tract (he was walking his dog) and received permission to collect on the private land on that side; meanwhile, Laurel encountered the north-side neighbor who was similarly friendly, so we had a good tract to collect in. Besides the friendly neighbors, the site was also notably peaceful (on a clear day, we would have had a nice view too). I had soon beat 9 spider species from Douglas-fir and red cedar. Understory (salal, fern and Oregon-grape) added 5-6 more. Meanwhile, Laurel had added 2 more species from fir cones and 3 more from the public outhouse and other buildings.
I spent the bulk of the afternoon sifting. First, there was a nice deposit of litter under planted poplar trees beside the parking area. Nasty blackberry intertwined the area and I didn't get my litter sample without scratches, but 7 spider species resulted, including a Scotinella I don't recognize at all! Next, I sifted a bed of moss behind some horsetails in the lakeside marsh. It wasn't a bog (the moss was growing on soil) but very productive, adding 6 species. Finally, maple litter on the neighbor's land was only moderately productive, adding 3 species not taken otherwise. Finally, with the dew off the grass, Laurel and I swept the marshy lakeside meadows, adding 8 species; the best catch (in Laurel's sweep) was a Glyphesis microspider, previously taken only once at a lake about 1 mile to the southwest of Rapjohn! We were just getting ready to head for home when the first raindrops fell. On the way, we stopped at my 2014 Seeley Lake site to set some pitfalls for Laurel's crab spider project (result, one spider, no crab spiders). Total catch from Rapjohn Lake, a very nice 39-43 species.
21 IV 2017: On possibly the loveliest day so far this spring, Laurel and I headed across the pass to pick up an undersampled area just off the I-90 freeway near Ellensburg. Available tracts here included a large field belonging to the county, a dense belt of cottonwood along the Yakima River, a pine stand along a retention pond on the freeway side of the river — and the local HQ of the Washington State Patrol! I started off to sweep the county field. Since last year much of it had been taken over for gravel storage, but there was still enough field for a sweep sample, not very diverse but including an uncommon microspider. A pile of large cobbles had 2 good species active in the sun but few spiders under the rocks, where instead I found 2 blue-tailed skinks! Across the road, the police had planted some young pines whose foliage added 2 more species; later, Laurel tapped pine cones here getting 2 species she hadn't taken at her first cone site near the freeway, which was exceptionally productive getting 9 species and more than 1.5 individual spiders per cone (see her account).
I expected to get a good sample sifting cottonwood litter by the river, and I wasn't disappointed. I probably spent 3 hours sifting, getting litter from slopes, flats, and perched on stumps and tree boles. Just about the time Laurel joined me after her first pine site, I discovered I didn't have the vial containing my first 2 hours' sift sample. I knew it couldn't be more than a few feet away, but we spent around 15 minutes searching without result. Finally I found it inside the bag of not-yet-sifted litter! The full litter sample had 11 spider species and assorted other good things. The most remarkable, though, was a male of the common telemid Usofila pacifica; I've seen hundreds of females of this spider (possibly parthenogenic) but this is only my second male! Laurel had also taken much better under-rock spiders at her site than I had in my rockpile. Having a nice sample of 32-34 good species, we headed for our customary Mountain High burgers, then home.
29 IV 2017: Hooray, Jerry Austin finally managed to connect with another field trip! Laurel, Jerry and I headed south on this mostly-cloudy day because that was where the least rain chance was, "only" 20%. After some discussion, we picked a trip plan near the Lewis County town of Vader (my father's birthplace, as it happens), at the edge of the Willapa Hills. Parking outside the gate of a tree farm that allows recreational access, I collected mostly in the rich, natural riparian zone of Brim Creek. Fern understory gave me at least 10 species (other understory types were less productive). Moss on trees added 4 and alder-maple litter added 6 more. Meanwhile, Jerry and Laurel had added 5 more species from various habitats including the gate we'd parked behind. An adjacent clearcut, probably no more than 2 years old, had lots of Pardosa vancouveri wolf spiders, 3 more species that I swept from grass and 2 more that Laurel found under roadside stones.
While I did my riparian sampling and Jerry wandered about doing his own thing, Laurel hiked a half-mile north to an older clearing shown on the topo map. It was probably an old farm or orchard, since it features a number of very ancient, not-quite-dead apple trees. Here she sampled moss and lichen on cascara buckthorn branches, Douglas-fir foliage (finally found some here, the trees elsewhere had no low branches), ground active spiders and the adjacent forest understory, adding 9 more species for a fine total of 42. We had considered moving to a nearby area after finishing at Brim Creek, but intermittent sprinkles through the afternoon were harbingers of the coming downpour, so we contented ourselves with having nailed our main goal.
3 V 2017: On another trip with Laurel to pine cone country, we zigzagged through the rectilinear road network NE of Ellensburg to the end of a county road at the crossing of Naneum Creek. The main place to park was a school bus turnaround; fortunately, no school bus ever showed up although it was a school day. Partly-cloudy skies gradually cleared for a pleasantly warm afternoon. This time I started by sifting cottonwood litter, finding the spiders sparse but very good with 11 species, three of them uncommon and one decidely rare, an undescribed Orchestina (Oonopidae) that I got both sexes of. An irrigation canal branches off the creek at this point but fortunately we could cross it on a culvert; one of Laurel's pine trees was on the other side, adding 4 species from the cones. I added 2 from pine foliage and Laurel got 2 others from understory and antelope brush. Her second pine cone sample, from roadside trees, added 3 more species including the newly introduced zodariid, Zodarion rubidum, which seems to be extending its range very rapidly! She also added 5 more from the bridge railings.
260 meters north of us (up a gated road into Ellensburg city property) was an isolated, tall Douglas-fir tree, and I next worked my way up to it sweeping the Juncus, grass and dandelions of a very extensive, lush riparian meadow. The sweep sample added 5 species, but once I got to the tree, pickings there were slim, with one additional species under rocks, nothing new from tree foliage nor Douglas-fir cones that I talked Laurel into sampling, and only a "house pseudoscorpion" in a promising-looking barn. It was certainly a beautiful, peaceful spot though. Laurel and I each found one (different) wolf spider species beside the creek. In all, we collected 36 species here, all different from an old 3-species sample taken nearby. On the way, we had also stopped at Indian John Rest Area along I-90 to sample pine cones there; among others, this produced yet another Orchestina! After a day of hard, productive work we fully deserved our customary burgers.
9 V 2017: It was a field trip with Laurel Ramseyer for the 4th week in a row! On this sunny, if somewhat hazy, day we selected a Puget Sound destination, Hartstene (a.k.a. Harstine) Island, on the far side of the Key Peninsula from Tacoma. About half as big as the well-known Vashon Island (with 1/10 the population), and reached by a bridge, Hartstene is so obscure that no one I told about our trip had ever heard of it. About half the island is accessible timberland, so collecting habitats were easy to find; our first stop was so productive we saved the others for another day. First, a roadside sweep got me 5 species in a few minutes. Laurel, on this same roadside, turned over boards and bark chunks, getting two Callobius species, one of them uncommon, and tapped 100 Douglas-fir cones adding 4 species not otherwise taken. I crossed a 5-year-old clearcut, where wolf spiders were running, and spent some time in an alder grove that had a very diverse understory (from which I beat 12 species); I also got decent leaf litter and moss samples.
Back across the clearcut (recently planted with red cedar), I was beating conifer foliage (13 species) when Laurel rejoined me, beating salal foliage for 12 species. Both of us got nice adult specimens of the tiny Trogloneta in our shrub beats. The vegetation produced 5 jumping spider species. Laurel also added the flat crab spider Bassaniana utahensis from under the bark of a standing dead tree, making 44 species in all from Hartstene Island where none were known before.
To conclude our day, we stopped at the landward end of the island bridge in Latimer's Landing County Park. Here, Laurel found adult Zygiella x-notata orbweavers on the dock while I checked out the beach and consolidated-till bluff. Various spiders had webs in small erosion pockets in the bluff face, including adult Calymmaria, juvenile "American house spiders," and a small, possibly introduced theridiid (Achaearanea or related) that I don't recognize at all, possibly the most interesting spider of the trip.
19 V 2017: Back to pine country, actually a bit east of pine country, but our destination (a recreation area, once private, now owned by Grant Public Utilities) clearly had many planted trees in the steppe surroundings, and I hoped there would be pines. There were, just two! Leaving Laurel tapping Ponderosa pine cones, I headed up the artificial "cove" (flooded by Wanapum Dam) to riparian habitats at the head, around the mouth of Johnson Creek. Here I swept numerous spiders from tall riparian meadows; alas, a lot turned out to be juvenile even this late in the season, but I did get 8 species. Sifting litter of non-native elms and maples got me just one species, Phrurotimpus borealis. Across the creek at the south canyon wall, I added 4 species from sagebrush and rabbitbrush. At this point Laurel rejoined me, having taken a super-rich sample from the parking lot pine cones — but the vial didn't seem to be in her pocket! (She later found it in the car). As she headed up the south side of the cove to visit the second pine tree, a non-native black pine by the main road, I began turning over rocks.
Having taken a few decent under-rock spiders and the common scorpion of the area, Paruroctonus boreus, I turned over my next rock, then set a personal record for standing backward broad jump. There was an unexpected rattlesnake, first I've ever found under rocks! Back at the parking lot, I beat planted spruce trees while waiting for Laurel; on her return, she sampled pine foliage and we were about ready to go. The best specimens were an unfamiliar male Dictyna from the black-pine cones and an unfamiliar Sitticus jumping spider from the outhouse. In all, even counting 4 old prior records, we only brought this area up to 25 species. I'm glad we decided against hiking westward into more natural, drier habitats; based on how we did in this lush riparian zone, we probably would have taken less than 20 species to the west.
25 V 2017: Today, I hoped to bag two areas in western Skagit County that both had some prior spider records. First, a short stop at Edgewater Park along the Skagit River in the city of Mount Vernon. Due to a wrong turn, we ended up at the park boat launch rather than the natural area I was aiming for. Can't complain though, Laurel found a non-native black pine tree and tapped 40 pine cones, adding a species, and I added 7 more species from Douglas-fir foliage plus another from understory by the river. A last stop (the park restroom) brought the area sample from 19 to 28 species.
For some time, I'd wanted to collect at the Skagit Land Trust's Minkler Lake Preserve, east of Sedro Woolley. It appeared that the best access would be via the Cascade Trail, a county rail-trail that runs along the south edge of the preserve. We parked where the trail crosses Hoehn Road and began hiking, as I swept trailside grass, getting 4 species. On the way, we passed a nonchalant-appearing killdeer that was nesting right beside the trail! Just passing out of farmland, we paused at the trail bridge over Wiseman Creek; Laurel took 7 species from this and a subsequent bridge, including 2 interesting range extensions for introduced spiders. Now we were at the edge of the preserve land. But this stretch of the preserve is mainly a trail-free alder swamp, moreover with plenty of horrid Himalayan blackberry. We got perhaps 50 meters into the preserve along a drainage channel at one point, but mostly had to collect along the trail right-of-way. This involved much beating of shrub understory (for 8 spider species and one introduced harvestman). At one point there were 3 trailside maple trees; two of these had decent leaf litter that added 6 spider species and assorted other things (the third tree had ants in the litter). Moss added three more species.
We still needed a spot with conifer cones for Laurel to tap (the only 2 fir trees along the trail were surrounded by swamp water), so we hiked back to the car (the killdeer was still there) and headed north to the intersection of Minkler Road, where some people had a nice grove of fir trees in their yard. But the lawn was too neat, no cones! West toward the actual lake, we passed a short tract of Preserve land fronting on the road and this looked promising, lots of planted young conifers (Douglas-firs, spruces and a pine). Cones were in short supply there too but Laurel found plenty on the roadside across the way, adding a species. Meanwhile I hit the jackpot with conifer foliage that had 8 good species, making 33 (36 with old records). The arachno-fauna of this area has a high proportion of introduced species, and what little we could see of the Minkler Preserve is well-stocked with invasive plants, but I understand restoration efforts are in progress. Good luck to the restorers!
3 VI 2017: On new volunteer Chris Smitelli's first field trip, I hoped to collect near South Prairie Creek in an obscure corner of national forest northwest of Mt. Rainier. On the way there we passed some people doing an organized "run" — right along the state highway! Arrived at Wilkeson, some misty drizzle spattered the windshield, despite a dry weather forecast. But we forged on up an increasingly pothole-filled road. Finally, within a mile or two of our goal, we had to admit it was actually raining, the road and foliage were soaked, and collecting prospects dim. Hoping for drier conditions, we turned around and headed for an alternate, lowland goal.
Without further problems, we arrived at the Chehalis-Western Trail (a former railroad) about a mile south of Woodard Bay north of Olympia, before 1 pm. Weather was still mostly cloudy, but dry. The roadside where we parked had lush grassy verge (with buttercups) on both sides, so we began by sweeping. Good choice; over a hundred meters or so of roadside we swept no less than 13 species, including some non-natives but also the rare native Cyclosa turbinata (see album). An adjacent, accessible woodland tract had a giant maple tree, three giant red cedars and partly-nettle, partly-fern understory. We added 7 species from maple litter, 2 more from moss on the trunk, and 8 more from the understory, while people passing on the adjacent trail couldn't detect us due to a tall blackberry thicket between. An aerial web in the woods gave us the other local Cyclosa, C. conica.
Next we hiked south on the actual trail from our access point at 56th Avenue. Very peaceful rural surroundings with farms and no traffic noise, but invasive blackberry mostly blocked us from any habitat, particularly conifer foliage of which we managed to beat only a few boughs. By this time the clouds had parted letting sunlight through, but we never found any wolf spiders. So back to 56th, and northward where it was a very different story, much less blackberry and trailsides featuring native plants like salal, Oregon-grape and thimbleberry. The salal alone added 5 more species. A little farther north there was enough western hemlock foliage to beat that we added 4 more species. Reaching the trail's end at Woodard Bay, we turned around and on the way back, spotted some lush siftable moss; however, this had no species we hadn't taken from the moss on the big maple, and besides the mosquitos from an ajacent wetland were starting to swarm! Heading for home, we had a fine sample of 40 species despite the late start due to weather failure.
7 VI 2017: On my second field trip with Chris Smitelli, we drove 13 miles up Sultan Basin Road (off Stevens Pass Highway), which I had believed was gated long before that point. In fact, it was paved most of the way! After we crossed the 121.7 grid line, the road just kept going, so we continued even beyond the maps I brought, all the way to a parking lot at Olney Pass (where waters drain SW to Olney Creek and NE to Spada Lake in the Everett city watershed). In the hazy sunlight, a green field right beside the parking lot was swarming with spiders: two Pardosa species and two crab spiders on the move, and 11 others to be swept from grass and buttercups. Next we moved to an adjacent alder grove where a spring fed a little brook. We didn't know it, but a short walk down this brook would have brought us to the lake! Unfortunately there was practically no alder leaf litter in the grove. However, Chris got big wads of moss (rather dusty from the adjacent road) off the trees. Plenty of spiders but only 3 species (mainly Ethobuella tuonops) in the moss.
Walking back westward along the road, I checked out other alder stands: still no litter! Driving in, we had glimpsed marshy meadows beside the Olney Pass pond, but they were too difficult to reach down a very steep, brush-covered bank. A pair of large herons found access easy: they can fly! Soon we reached our planned second collecting site, a side road leading to a new (no more than a year old) clearcut where I'd glimpsed lots of conifer foliage while driving in. Here we finally found some leaf litter, alder mixed with hemlock needles, in a roadside stand. It added 3 spider species.
The clearcut conifer foliage was a disappointment; most of it was unreachable, at the top of another steep bank. What we did reach gave us 9 species, 4 of them adding to the list. In the clearcut itself, just as I'd hoped, we each found one jumping spider species active on a log. Mine was the bizarre-looking "Popeye spider," Habronattus oregonensis. There were plenty of wolf spiders here too, as far as I could tell the same two Pardosa species we found in the meadow. In an adjacent mid-aged western hemlock stand, we swept understory and sampled aerial webs, adding 3 more species to the list. Then I noticed that some old, giant stumps and snags from the original logging were scattered about. We were at only 2000 feet elevation here, lower than the best dead-wood collecting, but I decided to try it. For this elevation, it wasn't bad at all, adding 5 species including several Bathyphantes keenii, plus some great native ethopolid centipedes. Finally, we continued down the slope to the cool ravine bottom where the headwaters creek draining the pass pond ran through lush riparian shrubs and herbs. Sweeping here gave us two additional species. In all, we took a solid sample of 36 spider species, mostly native, and access was amazingly easy.
23 VI 2017: After a 2-week gap (caused by weather, absent volunteers and other problems), I finally realized my plan of collecting in montane forest halfway up Mt. Pilchuck, a well-known Snohomish County peak. Jerry Austin drove, and we reached our destination, a pair of old forest rock quarries, without incident. Target-shooters occupied the first quarry (it later turned out to be too hot and dry anyway), so we proceeded to the second. This one is partly overgrown with alder and seems to have permanent seeps of water, making apparently long-term puddles in the old road (with extensive aquatic insect faunas) and even an amazing little pocket Sphagnum bog back in the quarry. The only fly in the ointment was a population of beautiful but bloodthirsty medium-big deer flies, similar to the album image.
Jerry collected two wolf spider species but didn't find any ground-active jumping spiders. All the conifer foliage was western hemlock, producing 8-9 species. The roadside understory had these same species, dominated by water-loving Tetragnatha versicolor. The pocket bog in the quarry, obviously not very old, yielded 3 species to sifting, none of them bog-specific but all adding to the sample. I managed to scrape together one bag of alder litter from an adjacent grove, and it added 4 more species, all different. Jerry found Zelotes fratris under a rock, and half-an-hour's dead-wood tapping in the adjacent forest produced only two identifiable species. Thankfully, no deer flies in the forest shade! Up to this point, we had only 20 species for the site.
I had hoped to find maple litter and a sweeping site up a second side road that led across Rotary Creek to an old clearcut. What side road? For the first 100 feet, the blocked side road appeared to be walkable as a trail, but then the "trail" vanished in impenetrable brush! So, we drove on up the main Mt. Pilchuck road looking for habitats. In 1.3 miles, there was enough grassy roadside verge to get a sweep sample, and this added (I thought) 7 species; in reality only 4. Meanwhile, Jerry found an area of very productive rocks, mostly duplicating species taken at the quarry but adding a Tarentula kochii with a nice big egg sac. Armed with at least 25 species (and 2 more for the area in an older collection), we descended the mountain, still not finding any good maple trees but stopping at scenic Hawthorn Creek for a photo op and near the Heather Lake trailhead for a ripe salmonberry snack.
Hooray, the 2017 field year is well under way! Stay tuned!