April 30-May 6, 2023

Boom! Off and running...

Flooding Methow River
Record high runoff on the Methow River, photo by Trevin Leon

Things are happening so fast right now that it feels as if spring hit its full stride in a matter of hours.

Week in Review

What a crazy week this has been in the Methow Valley! Along with multiple days with temperatures in the high 80s, we had a day and night of fierce wind, and then the week ended with hard rain and an outrageous thunder and lightning storm.

lightning storm over North Cascades
Lightning illuminating the night sky over Goat Peak and Mt Robinson, photo by David Lukas

This rain is going to be fantastic for plants putting out flowers and sprouting green leaves...but you have to wonder if the hills could be any greener or have more balsamroot flowers than there already are! Just days ago, it felt like there were a mediocre number of wildflowers and now the wildflower displays are off the charts!

The week also started with an explosion of serviceberry flowers. At the beginning of the week, I spotted a single shrub with its distinctive constellation of shimmering white flowers, then the next day I began seeing entire hillsides of flowering serviceberry. It seemed to happen literally overnight. Did anyone else notice this too?

serviceberry flowers
Gleaming white serviceberry flowers with their distinctive long, wavy petals. Photo by Tanja Thomas

Warm, spring rains like we had at the end of the week are perfect for amphibians such as spadefoot toads and tiger salamanders who spend most of the year hiding in underground burrows. If you get a chance, on a night like this it's definitely worth getting out with a flashlight to see who's active.

spadefoot toad
The thrill of finding a spadefoot toad on a warm rainy night, photo by David Lukas

This has also been the week when the reptiles of the valley seemed to wake up. Our two species of garter snakes first appeared two weeks ago, but these are our hardiest reptiles so makes sense when they are observed early in the season. However, folks are now seeing rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, racers, and horned lizards as well.

horned lizard
Horned lizards are a rare and special sight found at only a few locations in the Methow Valley, photo by Sarah Schrock

Many people have also been noticing and commenting on bumble bee activity this week. This is the time of year when large, queen bumble bees are active and conspicuous as they start new nests. There are 21 confirmed, or expected, species of bumble bee found in the Methow Valley so we'll definitely feature bumble bees in a future newsletter and offer some tips on identifying and learning more about these amazing critters.

queen bumblebee
Vosnesensky (yellow-faced) bumble bee, photo by John Kolts

Birds are still among the most active and conspicuous animals being observed around the valley. More migrants arrived this week, including our first neotropical migrants. I spotted an orange-crowned warbler on May 2 and also heard a fragment of song that was likely a Cassin's vireo. Two days later I spotted my first chipping sparrow.

harlequin duck
Harlequin duck making an appearance on the Twisp River, photo by David Wilkinson

The most interesting mammal sighting this week was a snowshoe hare halfway through the transition from its white winter coat and its brown summer coat. Their white coats provide perfect camouflage in the winter, and their brown coats provide perfect camouflage in the summer, but these in-between times are really awkward for them.

snowshoe hare
Snowshoe hare looking decidedly awkward, photo by Paula Whipple

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Observation of the Week

Flooding Methow River
Record high waters in Winthrop, photo by Halley Hart

Without a doubt the observation of the week was the rapidly rising waters of the Methow River and its tributaries. Depending on your perspective, this was either frightening or awe-inspiring, but everywhere you go in the valley people seem to be stopping at vantage points to gawk and take pictures.

confluence of Twisp River and Methow River
Confluence of the Twisp and Methow Rivers, photo by Hilary Lyman

The level may not be at an all-time high, but it is record breaking for this time of year, and at the very least it's super impressive to see the boiling chocolate brown waters and large logs bouncing down the river. There are many spots where the water has come up high enough to be flowing freely through riverside forests of cottonwood trees.

If you want to track water levels, click the toggle in the box above to check out the resources compiled by Katherine Gunn Bennett.

Graph of Methow River flow on May 5 showing record level of 20100 cfs

It looks like these high waters are projected to peak on May 6 so let's hope that the worse is over. However, Dana Visalli made the sobering observation that this peak runoff is a month earlier than usual, which suggests that snow has melted off the mountains far too quickly...and that's never a good thing!

Upcoming Events

Artist Perri Howard and David Lukas will be offering two naturalist sketchbook workshops on May 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 both, but spaces are filling fast.
Are you interested in conservation and want to make a difference? If so, please consider volunteering for the 5-needle Pine Citizen Science Monitoring Program at Cutthroat Pass in the North Cascade Mountains of north-central Washington. This pilot project will focus on developing a long-term monitoring program in the North Cascade mountains to collect data and assess the status and trends of five-needle pines. The field work will occur on July 1-2, 2023. A 2-3 hour training session is planned in June 2023 in a forested environment near Winthrop, WA (exact date TBD). We are looking for 4–6 volunteers to assist with field work. Interested parties should fill out the contact form here: Five-needle Pine Project Contact Information. If you have questions please contact Aaron Wells at elfinwoodecology@gmail.com.