Examine the creatures that inhabit the lush eelgrass meadows of the Salish Sea during special programs this summer at the Breazeale Interpretive Center in the Skagit County town of Bay View.
Mud Flat Safaris and Beach Seines are two programs offered several times during the next two months at the center, which is part of the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Both programs are free and open to all ages, but the Mud Flat Safaris are limited to groups of 20 with advance registration.
"Many types of juvenile fish live in these shallow waters," said Glen Alexander, education coordinator at the center.
Half-hour Beach Seine programs will be conducted at Bay View State Park, about a quarter-mile south of the Breazeale Center on Bay View-Edison Road. Parking requires an annual Discover Pass or a day-use fee of $10. There's free parking at the Breazeale Center.
Beach Seines are 10 a.m. Thursday, June 28; 11 a.m. July 12; 1 p.m. July 24; 11 a.m. Aug.11; and 3 p.m. Aug. 22. There's no need to register and no limit on the number of participants.
"It's an interesting activity. We put a net in the water and people help pull the net back to the beach and we see what's in it. We quite commonly catch shrimp and many types of small fish called 'forage fish.'"
Sometimes the netted creatures are kept for further study or to display in the center's aquariums, but mostly they go right back into the water, Alexander said.
Beach Seine participants should expect to see such species as three-spine stickleback, perch, and pipefish, a favorite of Alexander's.
"They are totally fascinating, because they are related to seahorses," and the males carry the young as seahorses do, he said.
Pipefish are well-camouflaged, too - resembling a blade of eelgrass, their primary habitat.
"They look just like eelgrass," Alexander said. "When I walk in the eelgrass - I've been working here 20 years and I've never seen one. But we catch them in the net."
Mud Flat Safaris - which require an extreme low tide - are 10 a.m. to noon July 3; 12:30-2:30 p.m. July 21; 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 1; and 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 30. Register by calling 360-737-3234 or online at padillabay.gov. The program starts with a presentation at the Breazeale Center, and then participants walk to the shore of nearby Padilla Bay.
It's almost like wading into an aquarium, Alexander said.
"In some ways, it's like a meadow on land. You get a greater variety of organisms, such as sea slugs, isopods and hydroids (a kind of jellyfish)," Alexander said. Expect to see juvenile salmon and herring, too.
Participants in both programs should dress appropriately for the weather - it can be cooler on the bay. For Mud Flat Safaris, it's best to wear lace-up shoes or boots that can get muddy and wet. It's handy to bring a change of shoes and a plastic bag to hold your muddy things. There's a place to rinse your boots and feet at the Breazeale Center.
For directions and other information about the Breazeale Center, call 360-737-3234 or go online to padillabay.gov.
EXTREME LOW TIDES
Shorelines around Whatcom and Skagit counties offer a fascinating look at intertidal life during the daytime minus tides that occur in June, July and August. You'll find excellent self-guided tide-pooling opportunities at Rosario Beach in Deception Pass State Park or at Wildcat Cove in Larrabee State Park. The shoreline at the Breazeale Center or at Bay View State Park offer access to the eelgrass meadows of Padilla Bay.
To find the times and heights of tides along local coastlines, go online to saltwatertides.com, following the links to Washington state and local beaches. There's also a tide chart at padillabay.gov.