August 6-12, 2023

Expect the Unexpected

August 6-12, 2023
The bounty of summer! Chokecherries heavy on the stem. Photo by David Lukas

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Week in Review

Last week I wrote about summer doldrums and needing to pay more attention to what's happening in the natural world. As promised, I took my own advice and pushed myself to look harder this week.

tumbleweeds along trail
It doesn't take an expert to notice how highly invasive tumbleweeds take over when they're not pulled and controlled, photo by David Lukas

One thing I discovered is that on a hot day it's better to go for a walk in the late afternoon or early evening after things cool down and shadows are lengthening across the valley floor. Plus, it seems the animals feel the same way because I saw a lot more activity than expected at this time of day.

horned lizard
Pygmy short-horned lizards can be found in the valley but seem to be restricted to a few locations, photo by Tanja Thomas

For example, I discovered a pair of eastern kingbirds, a bird I hardly know in the Methow Valley, actively feeding babies and defending a nest in an apple tree, and it's almost guaranteed that I would have overlooked this pair in the middle of the day.

Eastern kingbird
It was wonderful to find a pair of eastern kingbirds with an active nest, photo by David Lukas

I also discovered that Mormon crickets take advantage of these cooler temperatures to lay their eggs in the dirt of dusty trails. I imagine they hide in the heat of day, then come out into the open after the sun starts sinking.

Mormon cricket
Mormon cricket laying eggs on a trail, photo by David Lukas

One of the biggest surprises this week is that folks posted some unique and unexpected observations. Maybe it's just happenstance, but I believe these sightings are a sign of the changing seasons.

Great spangled fritillary
Female great spangled fritillaries look nothing like the bright orange males, this is a butterfly I've never seen so now I'm excited to look for them, photo by Agnes Almquist

One observation clearly linked to the season was a sighting of spiders showing up in a bathtub. Mid- to late-summer is the time of year when male spiders leave their webs and wander in search of females, so this is when you might notice unexpected spiders showing up in your house. But don't worry, you're not being invaded, it's just lonely males trying to find a mate before they die!

More expected, but still notable, was an uptick in rattlesnake reports. We are fortunate in the Methow Valley that there's a fairly high level of awareness and concern about the plight of rattlesnakes because rattlesnake populations are adversely impacted in areas where people fear and kill them. It's a pleasure to hear someone mention how they noticed a rattlesnake then gave it the space it deserves.

For much of the summer we've been watching tent caterpillars, and their tents are especially noticeable right now. These caterpillars have such a fascinating story that I will devote an entire issue of my Lukas Guides newsletter to this topic later this week. If you're interested in learning more, check out and subscribe to my newsletter here.

tent caterpillars
I've been documenting tent caterpillars this summer in anticipation of writing about them for my Lukas Guides newsletter, photo by David Lukas

Observation of the Week: Pacific Marten

Pacific marten
Martens can be recognized by their distinctive orange chest patch, photo by Gail Blundell

It's a red letter day when you spot a marten!

These large weasels are not exactly rare, but are rarely observed so it was remarkable that someone posted exceptional photos and a video of a marten observed at Washington Pass this week.

Based on the video, and the sounds this marten was making, it seemed to be a juvenile that was both curious and a little concerned at the same time.

Martens primarily use dense conifer forests but travel extensively throughout open subalpine forests and can be spotted on both the ground or in trees. They are best known for hunting red squirrels in trees, but they'll also hunt pikas among rocks and eat a wide range of berries.

Pacific marten
A young marten exploring its world, photo by Gail Blundell

These are solitary animals but 7 to 9.5 months after mating, females will give birth to 2-4 young in early summer and these young remain with their mother until September.

In all my years of hiking I've only seen two martens so this is definitely a special animal to look for!