June 16-22, 2024

Slow Steps into Simmering Summer

sunset light
Common nighthawk and sunset over Robinson Mountain. Photo by David Lukas

Making it through a week so full of extremes that it's hard to capture everything in a single newsletter.

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Week in Review

It seems as if we experienced a bit of everything this week: passing downpours, hailstorms in the mountains, thunder, and gorgeous sunsets—with a few hot spells thrown in for good measure. And through it all there's been so much going on in the natural world!

Hiking in a hailstorm near Loup Loup Summit this week. Photo by David Lukas

I don't even know where to start with describing all the activity going on right now. Over several outings this week, I took hundreds of photos and made many audio recordings of birds and insects. All I can say is that there's a lot to see this time of year!

robber fly
One of the many robber flies I've been noticing on my walks. Photo by David Lukas

At the same time, there was a discussion on the Facebook group about the seemingly low numbers of many common insects. This was sparked by a report of baby swallows dying and questions about whether there's been enough food for birds this year. For example, it doesn't seem like we've had hardly any mosquitoes, house flies, or yellowjackets and this must be true for many other insects as well.

baby swallows
Baby swallows on a bird nest web cam. Photo by Heidi De Laubenfels

However, on one walk along the river, I was still delighted at how many types of insects I was able to find, ranging from dozens of tiger beetles running back and forth on the wet sand, to countless native flies and wasps, to damselflies and butterflies.

tiger beetle
I believe this is a western tiger beetle. Photo by David Lukas

wasp on daisy
A gorgeous little wasp on a daisy. Photo by David Lukas

western forktail
Use our damselfly guide to identify damselflies like this western forktail. Photo by David Lukas

western tiger swallowtail
After many failed attempts, I managed to photograph this western tiger swallowtail flying along the river's edge. Photo by David Lukas

It might be a matter of a few lucky sightings, but have there been more fence lizards than usual this summer? I consider myself fortunate to see 1-2 of these lizards in a single year, but this week I've seen as many as four on a single walk. I've also spotted a northern alligator lizard, and a horned lizard, so it's been a good year for lizards.

fence lizard
A very pregnant female western fence lizard at her burrow. Unfortunately, she's on a trail where people ride horses, so I'm worried that she and her eggs are going to be crushed. Photo by David Lukas

This is also the time of year when there are many baby birds leaving the nest, and a lot of these babies can be heard loudly begging. I also had one lovely experience where a baby black-capped chickadee tried to fly past me in a strong wind but couldn't make any headway, so it ended up hovering in one spot right next to me.

baby chickadee
Baby black-capped chickadee catching its breath after battling the wind. Photo by David Lukas

Thickets of lush green trees are brimming over with singing birds right now, and along the Methow River there were red-eyed vireos and yellow warblers providing a continuous background soundtrack behind loudly calling yellow-breasted chats. Chats are large, beautiful warblers that sing loudly but are almost impossible to spot so I'll include this snippet of this hidden bird you might be hearing.

Yellow breasted chat

Observation of the Week: Black Cottonwood

One fun aspect of producing a weekly newsletter is looking at last year's issue for this same week and noticing that we were seeing cottonwood seeds blowing around at the same time last year.

cottonwood seeds
Tis the season for cottonwood seeds. Photo by David Lukas

Cottonwoods are mercurial, fast-growing trees that mirror the dynamic energy of the rivers they grow along. They grow quickly, produce huge numbers of seeds, and are easily felled by winds and floods.

cottonwood trees
Cottonwood branches and logs are a vital component of riverside habitats. Photo by David Lukas

Because rivers are fickle, with dramatic swings in water levels, cottonwoods try to make it through their entire life cycle as quickly as possible. This also means that they're absorbing and processing a tremendous amount of sun energy and nutrients and making those elements available to other plants and animals.

cottonwood seedlings
Immense numbers of cottonwood seedlings sprouting on a wet riverbank.

It's fair to say that cottonwood trees help hold together the ecological web along our rivers so it's worth honoring this very important tree.