June 9-15, 2024

Standing on the Full Edge of Summer

cedar waxwings
A tender moment with cedar waxwings. Photo by Tanja Tahca Thomas

Here at the leading edge of summer, there is a deep fullness to the days, with many birds, flowers, and countless types of insects being very active right now.

I was away on a research trip last week, and you can read about my trip here, but I'm glad to be back and sharing more nature notes with you. Please keep in mind that all the research and work it takes to pull these newsletters together is supported by your generous donations and paid subscriptions. Thank you for helping make all this possible!

Week in Review

What's up with the weather this year?! After a week of warm (almost hot), dry days, we woke up this morning to a fresh dusting of snow around the valley—and there's supposed to be frost on the valley floor tonight!!!

snow on hills
Fresh snow on June 15! Photo by David Lukas

I'll leave it to long-time gardeners to chime in and tell us if these conditions are unusual or not, but in terms of the natural world this is a fabulous time of the year. I went on a long walk in the dry hills around Twisp this week and I was astounded at how many singing birds, insects, and flowers are out right now!

And that's not even counting what's going on in the mid-elevation forests. I haven't hiked in the hills myself this year, but folks have posted a few photos on the Nature Notes Facebook group that suggest that spring is fully underway at higher and colder elevations. I can't wait to get up there.

Lewisia columbiana
Columbia lewisia is a very common mid-elevation flower. Photo by Greg Wright

The biggest surprise on my outings this week has been the sheer number and variety of insects that are out. I've seen snakeflies, bee flies, damselflies, a dazzling number of colorful wasps, bees, and flies, and so much more. I can't possibly include all of them in a newsletter, but I'm making a short video about the valley's shrub-steppe habitat that will feature many of the insects I'm seeing.

I've been so busy trying to photograph insects that I have to admit I've overlooked the larger animals that people have been posting about. For example, have you noticed that bucks are growing out their velvet-covered antlers?

mule deer
A new set of antlers! Photo by Faythe Tissell

Staying cool on a warm day. Photo by Chris Hoey

Observation of the Week: Blues

There are at least 12 species of blue butterflies in the Methow Valley, and you will observe them everywhere. It's not uncommon to see upwards of six at a time on the flowers of a single plant, and they seem to love the buckwheats that are blooming right now.

blue butterfly
Arrowhead blue on buckwheat. Photo by David Lukas

This can be a tough group of butterflies to identify, with little more than subtle differences between some species. Most people find it easier to just lump them all together as "blues" than figure out which species you're seeing.

blue butterfly
Boisduval blue hiding in grasses. Photo by David Lukas

The most interesting part of their life history is that their small green caterpillars form complex relationships with ants. The caterpillars ooze out nutritious droplets of honeydew that ants love, and in exchange the ants guard and protect the caterpillars from predators and parasites.

blue butterfly
Many blues have a range of orange spots as well. Photo by David Lukas

This relationship is so tight that, if the caterpillars feel threatened, they cry for help and ants rush over to rescue them. The caterpillar vocalizations are produced by stridulation (which is the same way that crickets make sounds).

Some of these caterpillars are also predators and they will eat aphids that ants are also protecting or eat ant eggs and larvae inside an ant nest, but caterpillar honeydew is so highly prized that the ants don't seem to mind.