May 19-25, 2024

Hard to imagine that spring is here

Silver Star Mountain
Snow on Silver Star Mountain. Photo by Mark Nelson

If it wasn't for a few flowers and birds, it might be hard to know that it's actually spring right now.

Week in Review

Last week's theme of wind, cold, and rain continued into this week, leaving me to wonder what's happening with the spring this year?! In fact, temperatures dropped into the 30s and valley hillsides were blanketed with new snow on one particularly wild night this week, and that doesn't even count the other days of cold winds and cloudy skies.

snow on hills
New snow on May 22. Photo by David Lukas

At the same time, sharp-eyed observers have been making some remarkable observations, so this week's newsletter is a visual celebration of these sightings. May these images remind us of nature's continued exuberance in the face of challenging spring conditions.

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There seem to be three waves of flowers happening right now: a new crop of flowers emerging as the shrub-steppe hillsides begin to dry out, flowers popping up in shaded mid-elevation forests, and early flowers following the melting snow on mountain peaks.

mariposa lily
Lyall's mariposa lily is a favorite flower of shrub-steppe habitats. Photo by Julie Hentrich

death camas
The aptly named death camas is a common flower on dry hillsides and other habitats. Photo by Katherine Gunn Bennett

mountain lady's-slipper
The mountain lady's-slipper is a classic flower of moist shaded forest areas. Photo by Leah Knowles

glacier lily
Glacier lilies and spring beauties use energy stored in their bulbs to flower at the edges of melting snowfields. Photo by Mark Nelson

Notable sightings this week included a wide variety of birds, including some especially beautiful species that are either sticking around to breed or are continuing to migrate north.

eared grebes
Check out these eared grebes stopping at Pearrygin Lake! Photo by Libby Schreiner

blue-winged teal
Or this cinnamon teal! Photo by Libby Schreiner

The grebes could have historically nested around marshy lakes in the Methow Valley but there are too many boats and people now, so they only stop briefly on their way to other nesting areas. On the other hand, we have some beautiful birds that do nest here, including a number of brightly colored warblers.

yellow warbler
Once you learn the song of the yellow warbler, you'll find that these birds are very common in the Methow Valley. Photo by Pat Leigh

macgillivray's warbler
MacGillivray's warblers sing loudly but remain well hidden and are very hard to spot. Photo by Pat Leigh

american redstart
Another well-hidden warbler is the American redstart, which favors streamside forests. Photo by Libby Schreiner

Observation of the Week: A Vote for Dandelions?

Is your yard looking like this right now? Photo by David Lukas

Despite my best efforts, dandelions have taken over our yard. It makes the yard look messy, but they are going to seed right now, and I've been astonished to see how many birds this has been attracting.

golden-crowned sparrow
Golden-crowned sparrow in full breeding plumage stopping to feast on dandelion seeds. Photo by David Lukas

I guess that dandelion seeds are irresistible to more types of birds than I'd imagined, because we have red finches, goldfinches, sparrows, blackbirds, starlings, and cowbirds all milling around the yard at the same time.

The attraction must be that the dandelion seeds are abundant, easily handled, found in open areas, and located at bird height (though smaller birds have to make little hops to grab the seed heads!).

Starling and brown-headed cowbirds. Photo by David Lukas

lark sparrow
Lark sparrows have been coming right into the yard to eat dandelion seeds. Photo by David Lukas

Watching the buzz of activity around our yard has me rethinking my position on dandelions. Maybe this is a vote in favor of these common weeds?