March 3-9, 2024

A Bubble of Sun

Methow Valley
There's very little snow left in the Methow Valley (looking toward Robinson Mountain on the right). Photo by David Lukas

The stretch of perfect sunny days this week was but a tease of spring weather to come—you might have noticed that the forecast for the next three days calls for more snow and rain.

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Week in Review

western meadowlark
Hooray for western meadowlarks returning this week! Photo by Tanja Thomas

After a long winter of never-ending gray skies, the sunny days this week felt positively heavenly. It's still early in the spring, but there are already a lot of changes taking place.

bald eagle
Bald eagle standing at the edge of changing seasons. Photo by David Lukas

Cold nights that have dropped into the twenties, followed by warm, sunny days, have been creating strong temperature swings. This caused the ice on some of our local lakes to expand and contract, making wild sounds that many people have been hearing. On Thursday, I spent hours recording this singing ice and then explained this phenomenon in this article in my Lukas Guides newsletter.

David Lukas recording
Recording singing ice at Patterson Lake. Photo by David Lukas

Even as a handful of sagebrush buttercups are now blooming on open hillsides from the lower valley to nearly 3000 feet at the upper end of the valley, wax currant leaves have also started opening. These are the first, and most noticeable, changes in the vegetation that I've noticed so far.

sagebrush buttercups
Sagebrush buttercups appear to be the first flowers of the year. Photo by David Lukas

wax currant leaves
New wax currant leaves were easy to miss this week, but within days they'll be fully open. Photo by David Lukas

Many animals might be responding to the changing seasons right now, but birds are especially conspicuous. Large numbers of American robins have begun gathering on thawing soil in open fields, and I spotted a group of pygmy nuthatches calling loudly and chasing each other in circles around trees.

David Lukas
Watching pygmy nuthatches. Photo by David Lukas

I was also excited to find a female black-backed woodpecker flaking bark off a burned ponderosa pine, and then watch a male hairy woodpecker attempt to chase her away (she turned the tables and chased him away!).

Female black-backed woodpecker
Female black-backed woodpecker. Photo by David Lukas

two woodpeckers
A face-off between black-backed and hairy woodpecker. Photo by David Lukas

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Observation of the Week: Midges

Male midges can be recognized by their featherlike antenna. Photo by David Lukas

Midges are easily overlooked, and deeply misunderstood insects. They are commonly seen buzzing around in dense clouds and when midges swarm about your head most people immediately think they're being attacked by mosquitoes.

midge swarm
Have you ever found yourself standing inside a swarm of midges? Photo by David Lukas

In fact, midges are small, non-biting flies that gather to mate near conspicuous features in the landscape. A tall standing human represents a significant landmark for small flies, so we sometimes end up being a convenient place to gather.

midge swarm
Midge swarms are a common sight in the summer. Photo by David Lukas

Huge numbers of midge swarms appear during the summer and provide abundant food for many birds and bats. So, when I saw the first midges of the year on March 8, I started wondering if some midges make an appearance and start mating early in the year before their predators arrive?!

male midge
One lonely male midge in search of a female. Photo by David Lukas

This type of mating display is a called a "lek," and it's essentially a courting activity where large numbers of males dance together in hopes of catching the attention of passing females. Mosquitoes don't lek, so if you see a swirling cloud of small flies there's no cause for alarm.