January 14-20, 2024

Bits of Snow

frozen Methow River
Chewuch River iced over in Winthrop. Photo by David Lukas

A spell of bitter cold has finally subsided into a week of very welcome, but light snowstorms.

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Week in Review

Last week's below-zero temperatures put us into a deep freeze, with large areas of local rivers icing over.

ice on river
Ice forming on river. Photo by David Lukas

It was beautiful to see different kinds of ice formations on the rivers—and equally surprising how quickly much of this ice melted as temperatures climbed back into the low 20s!

ice crystals
Beautiful ice crystals along river. Photo by Andrea Milner

I shudder to think how hard last week's bitter temperatures must have been on the wildlife. In general, animals are adapted to survive these temperatures, but any animal that isn't feeling well isn't likely to survive.

bald eagle and swans
Bald eagle patiently waiting for a struggling trumpeter swan to die. Photo by David Lukas

Sadly, we witnessed that as a young trumpeter swan began struggling on the ice, then passed away during the coldest night of the week.

trumpeter swan carcass
Two days later. Photo by David Lukas

Fortunately, for skiers, wildlife, and the water table, we finally started getting some measurable snow this week. Snowpacks are essential for storing much-needed water that will slowly percolate into the soil as temperatures rise in the spring. And snowpacks also insulate the ground and provide safe places for small animals like mice and voles (we explored this idea in a recent newsletter here).

Otherwise, it's been a quiet week. One day I spent an hour and a half skiing at the Chickadee trailhead and didn't see or hear a single animal. As expected, most activity is still happening at the bird feeder with the usual assortment of chickadees (black-capped and mountain), nuthatches (pygmy and white-breasted), woodpeckers (hairy and downy), finches (house finch and goldfinch), and doves (mourning and Eurasian collared).

American goldfinch
Goldfinches will soon begin showing more of their bright yellow breeding colors. Photo by David Lukas

The only changes I've noticed have been an uptick in dark-eyed junco numbers, and the arrival of collared doves that I haven't seen in months. I was also pleased to see that pine grosbeaks are still hanging around in small numbers.

pine grosbeaks
Some pine grosbeaks are still in the Valley. Photo by David Lukas

Observation of the Week: Deer Issues

deer with growth
A doe with some type of growth or injury. Photo by David Lukas

I posted this photo of a deer with a large growth on the Nature Notes Facebook group this week, and it sparked a lively discussion about the different types of growths that people have observed on deer.

I'm not sure that we arrived at a consensus on what was happening in this photo, but many people mentioned fibromas (also known as deer warts) because they are often seen on deer in the Methow Valley.

deer fibromas
Typical appearance of fibromas. Photo by Tom Forker

Fibromas are small to large, wart-like growths caused by a naturally occurring virus. It's not clear how this virus is spread, either by biting insects or on surfaces in the environment, but there can be as many as 200 fibromas on a single deer.

Despite how horrible these growths look; they only rarely cause issues for the impacted animal and reportedly begin to regress after a couple months.

I was worried about this deer at first, but apparently other people have been seeing her for months, and she remains healthy and active, so that's a hopeful sign.

group of deer
Still hanging with the herd. Photo by David Lukas