April 16-22, 2023

The winter that won't let go

Fresh spring snow in the Methow Valley
Fresh snow on the morning of April 18, photo by David Lukas

This seems to be turning into the winter that won't give up as fresh snow dropped nearly to the valley floor on multiple days, and cold hard winds with gloomy skies and scattered rain lingered for days.

Week in Review

While the temperatures and rain might feel cold to us, it still seems to have triggered the emergence of our first amphibians. There were multiple reports of singing spadefoot toads and pacific chorus frogs showing up at breeding ponds, while long-toed salamanders were spotted walking around in search of water.

Long-toed salamander
This long-toed salamander looks like it's full of eggs! Photo by Scott Stluka

On one of the sunny, warmer days both of our local garter snakes were spotted peeking their heads out of wintering spots among rocks near the Methow River. Both species have a prominent yellow stripe down their back, but the wandering garter snake has a slate-gray body with black spots, and the valley garter snake has a black body with red spots and a strong yellow and red wash.

garter snakes
Wandering garter snake in front, Valley garter snake in back, photo by David Lukas

The most prominent changes, however, have been the birds and there are almost too many new arrivals to list. It appears that both rufous and calliope hummingbirds arrived around April 17th. House wrens, ruby-crowned kinglets, and turkey vultures showed up around the same time. Half a dozen scaup, and a noisy flock of around 100 Canada geese appeared at Twin Lakes on April 19. The first rough-winged swallow was spotted on April 20.

Dana Visalli recorded his first yellow-rumped warbler of the year on April 16, and he provided this remarkable record of their arrival dates over the years:

  April 3, 2022

    April 7, 2005

    April 8, 2007

    April 8, 2009    

  April 9, 2012      

    April 10, 2018    

    April 13, 2017

    April 15, 2006

    April 16, 2023

  April 17, 2010

    April 17, 2011

    April 18, 2014

    April 20, 2013

    April 20, 2019

Another notable change has been the abrupt transformation of American goldfinches as they molt from their drab winter plumage into their brilliant lemon-yellow breeding colors. Notice in these pictures that they only molt their body feathers, while their wing and tail feathers remain unchanged.

And speaking of abrupt transformations, we have to mention how fast the ice melted off Big Twin Lake this week! Over two afternoons on April 17 and 18 the ice went from completely covering the lake (except for a small ring around the margins) to disappearing entirely. In this time-lapse video you can see the ice slowly melting on April 17, then quickly changing on April 18. It's dramatic!

Observation of the Week: Black lace-weaver

black lace-weaver spider
A black lace-weaver spider, photo by Jean Bodeau

A sighting of a black lace-weaver this week puts this remarkable spider on our radar. These relatively large (sometimes over half-an-inch long), dark brown spiders are native to Europe but are now widespread and common in North American and should be expected in the Methow Valley.

They favor buildings and human structures and are generally nocturnal, though you may readily see males as they wander in search of mates. You might also spot their unique cribellate webs which are notable for their bluish woolly appearance.

Unlike familiar spider webs, which are made of thick, sticky threads, cribellate webs are created as tiny spigots in the spider's abdomen squirt out thousands of microscopic silk strands that merge into a single, loosely tangled thread. This mass of tiny strands snags insect legs as they walk across the web rather than being sticky like other spider webs.

However, the incredible part of this spider's story is that they are matriphagous.

When a female lays eggs in the late summer she carefully tends them in a special nest, then as the spiderlings hatch she continues laying unfertile eggs to feed her babies for the first week of their lives.

But after her babies undergo their first molt a week later—she lowers her body onto her babies and lets them to eat her alive!!!

If you can handle watching this YouTube video, it's nature at its most gruesome and weird.

Upcoming Events

Artist Perri Howard and David Lukas will be offering a series of three naturalist sketchbook workshops on May 6, 13, and 27. These workshops will include several hours in the field observing and talking about local plants and animals, then several hours in the studio learning the art of turning nature observations into long-lasting sketchbook entries. Take one workshop or all three!
North-Central Washington Audubon is hosting a field trip on May 4th to Twisp ponds and Deadhorse Lake. Join Dj Jones and Jane Ramberg for a morning of birding at the Twisp ponds and to and from Deadhorse Lake. Many birds should be arriving from the south with a nice variety of songbirds and waterfowl to be seen. Please wear good walking shoes and expect to walk 2-4 miles over gently rolling trails and dirt roads. Bring binoculars, water and snacks as needed. Meet at 8am in the morning at the Methow Valley Community Center parking lot in Twisp and expect to be out for roughly 4 hours.Trip limited to 10 participants. Please email Dj Jones at djtrillium@icloud.com to register.