Summer programs focus on marine life of Salish Sea at Padilla Bay nature center

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 29, 2013 

With the success of summer programs such as Beach Seines and Mud Flat Safaris, the Padilla Bay nature center is expanding those programs and offering a wide range of classes and programs, many of them free.

Four Beach Seines are planned in July and August - where participants help drag a net through the intertidal zone to trap fish and other creatures - along with five Mud Flat Safaris, which are guided tours of the expansive eelgrass meadows exposed at extreme low tides in Padilla Bay, just a few miles south of Bellingham in Skagit County.

Mud Flat Safaris are scheduled from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, June 27; from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 6; from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 23; from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 3; and from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Aug. 20.

"People tend to think it's just for kids, but it's not," said Glen Alexander, education coordinator for the Breazeale Interpretive Center in Bay View, which is part of the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

"We take people out into the mud flats - it's a unique experience," Alexander said. "As the tide goes out, the entire bay empties. It's a huge mud flat ... it's shallow and soft and gooshy, but in places you can walk onto it."

Participants must register for Mud Flat Safaris, but no registration is required for the Beach Seines, which illustrate how scientists find samples for research. Beach Seines are 11 a.m. Friday, July 12; 1 p.m. Saturday, July 27; 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 10; and 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 23.

"As (the net) drags through the near-shore habitat, we see what we catch," Alexander said. "Some of the creatures we catch are fascinating," he said, citing in particular the slender pipefish, a cousin of the seahorse.

"They look exactly like eelgrass," he said. "They're so well camouflaged, it's quite amazing."

Although most Padilla Bay programs are free, registration is required for many of them and the popular offerings tend to fill quickly, Alexander said.

There's already an online waiting list for the "Wild Edible Plants" classes this weekend, but space was still available for the "Summer Bird Songs" programs on Friday, June 7, and Saturday, June15.

"It's a wonderful program," Alexander said.

Other classes and events include "Amazing Amphipods" and "Wiggling Worms" for the Mini Explorers group ages 3 to 5; and "Animal Tracks and Fantastic Fish" for Junior Ecologists, ages 6 to 9. There's also "Salamanders and Newts," which Alexander said is geared toward adults but would be appropriate for teens and well-behaved younger children with a special interest in the subject; "Watershed Words - for Teachers;" and "Art for Learning Watershed Science."

Also this summer is a free aquarium tour and fish feeding with the center's aquarist Mark Olson, scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, July 13. No registration is required.

Find those classes and others at padillabay.gov under the education heading or in the PDF newsletter, which is found at the website.

Register by calling 360-428-1558 or at padillabay.gov. Look for "education" along the top and then "program registration." Click on the "register here" hot link. Full classes will show "join a waiting list"; otherwise click "register online."

The Padilla Bay nature center, called the Breazeale Interpretive Center, is at 10441 Bay View-Edison Road in Bay View, just north of Bay View State Park. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, closed July 4. Staff members are available 7 days a week at padillabay.gov or 360-428-1558.

To get there, take Interstate 5 south to Bow Hill Road (exit No. 236) and head west through the village of Edison. Take a right Bayview-Edison Road just south of Edison and follow it to the center, keeping left at a three-way intersection.

Admission is free to the center (donations are accepted), which features natural history displays about the Salish Sea and has several aquariums that focus on the habitat of nearby Padilla Bay. There's a special room with activities geared toward children and access to the beach via a short trail. Free parking is plentiful and there are picnic tables and clean restrooms.

If you are participating in outdoor programs, remember to dress for the weather and that it can be cooler and breezier near the bay. Many participants find that old lace-up boots that can get wet and muddy are better for Mud Flat Safaris than are loose-fitting rubber boots. There's an outdoor faucet to rinse your feet afterward. Many program veterans bring clean shoes for the drive home and a plastic bag for muddy boots and socks.

Robert Mittendorf is a Herald copy editor and page designer. Contact him at 360-756-2805 or at robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com.

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