Archive for February, 2011


Tuesday, March 1, 2011
7:00 – 8:30 p.m.

Center for Urban Horticulture

Friends of Yesler Swamp and UW Botanic Gardens invite the community to join in planning for the future of Yesler Swamp, a 6.4-acre site near the corner of NE 41st and Surber Drive.

Meet our design and environmental team from SB&A Landscape Architects – team leader Chuck Warsinske, wetlands scientist Diane Brewster, and project landscape architect Laura Davis.

For more information, contact us at or visit our website at

¡Habrá intérprete de español!

Meeting accommodation for persons with disabilities available upon request.

This project is funded in part by a Neighborhood Matching Fund award of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.


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Although they are known for their raucous willingness to tell off the whole world in no uncertain terms, Steller’s Jays have their gentler, more reserved side. As a matter of fact, these flamboyant blue and black-crested jays have an almost Victorian sense of modesty, at least when it comes to bathing.

The Victorians, you may recall, believed that people should expose almost no skin in public beyond their faces, necks, and hands. Ankle-showing was strictly taboo, not to mention exposing anything higher up the ladder, so to speak. People in Victorian times did not even have legs. At best, they had limbs, and then only covered ones.

Yet the Victorians recognized that people needed to get some exercise, and swimming was very good exercise indeed. So at seaside resorts, the beaches would be lined with bathing machines for rent. The bathing machines looked like gypsy wagons, with horses in the front and stairs in the back. A customer would enter the wagon fully clothed and change into a bathing costume in the dark. Then the covered wagon would be backed down the beach until its steps were in the sea, at which point, the suitably costumed client would open the back door, climb down the steps, and enter the water. By the time anyone on shore could see the bather, he or she was already waist-deep in the ocean.

Yesterday at Yesler Cove, I inadvertently witnessed the Steller’s Jays’ version of a bathing machine. I was sitting on my camp stool on the edge of the cove, drinking in the serenity of a pond hidden from the city, protected from the winds, and completely screened from public view.  The only other living things around me were the inhabitants of Yesler Swamp:  A Great Blue Heron stood on a log across the way, still as a statue. A couple of Mallards dabbled in the mirror waters, and a few early-spring frogs peeped in the warmth of the sun. Deeper in the swamp, I could hear a few jays scolding, but I didn’t pay any attention because jays in the swamp always seem to be scolding someone.

Then, right over my head, passed a comet of blue and black feathers. It was a Steller’s Jay gliding in to perch on a dead branch on the far shore. He was soon joined by another jay and then another. The jays kept coming in a steady stream, like an invisible conveyor belt delivering finished jays to the shore. The birds were all congregating above a pool screened by numerous bare branches that dipped down into the water. One by one, they entered the pool and began to splash about. I counted up to eight at a time in the bathing area.

I froze, knowing if they became aware of me, they would all leave—irritated and scolding, no doubt. For half an hour, the birds took turns bathing in their secluded pool. Some of the jays flapped their wings energetically, throwing up exuberant streams of water. Others soaked themselves more sedately, patting the water with their wings and surely not washing behind their ears.

When they were done, the Steller’s Jays flew up into the high branches, where the sun could make the water drops glisten and eventually evaporate. There they perched, like living sapphires, as I breathed a quiet “oh” for such beauty in the world.

(For more stories and photos about Union Bay Natural Area, the reserve of which Yesler Swamp is a part, check out:

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More work for the weary

Saturday February 19 from 10-12noon, Kern Ewing, Jerry Gettel and Fred Hoffer are going to battle more blackberry below the grassy path off of NE 41st St and Surber Dr. Last month over twenty UW students cut and rooted out blackberry and we partially covered the area with willow stakes and mulch. In preparation for planting bushes between this site and the grass path, there is more work to be done and it would go faster with more people. Please bring your wheelbarrow, pick and effort in our fight to bring back the natives to Yesler Swamp.

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