November 12-18, 2023

An Icy Sparkle

snowy mountains
Hiking on an early winter day in the Methow Valley. Photo by David Lukas

A lovely week of frosty mornings, iced-over ponds, and sunny days.

Week in Review

This has been a fascinating year to observe the approach of winter in the absence of snow! Ponds and lakeshores have begun icing up as nighttime temperatures dip into the 20s, and mornings sparkle with sunlight reflecting on ice-covered leaves and grasses.

Ice crystals add a note of beauty each morning. Photo by Jack McLeod

And, given that it's almost winter, but leaves still aren't covered in snow, it's interesting to notice the many ways that bacteria, microbes, and fungi are beginning to attack and digest leaf tissue. You could easily overlook these processes but, when you start looking closely at leaves, it's like falling into another world.

Each winter there's a lot more going on in the natural world than you might realize! Please join me for a fascinating WINTER ECOLOGY TALK to learn more! The event is free, with donations requested. Winthrop Library on December 2 from 4-5:30 p.m.

This week of delightfully sunny days practically begged us to get outside and walk around a bit. The trails have remained mostly snow-free, and easy to walk, with fantastic views of snow-covered mountains in all directions.

aspen grove
What a lovely time of year to explore! Photo by David Lukas

There hasn't been a lot of animal activity lately, so it's common to go on long walks and see only a few birds, but at the same time I've been noticing small flocks of finches and groups of chickadees. There have also been a number of ducks on larger, ice-free lakes and rivers, along with some bald eagles, and a handful of other birds in forested areas.

9 trumpeter swans, mingling with a variety of ducks, at Big Twin Lake on November 14. Photo by David Lukas

pine grosbeaks
Several pine grosbeak flocks have been observed this week. Photo by Mark Robinson

Perhaps the biggest surprise was finding a mosquito in the house! I didn't get a photo and I wish I could have identified it because it would be interesting to learn what types of mosquitoes are active now.

Other recent observations have included a beetle flying around some snow, an active spider, a patch of tiny mushrooms that an animal had been eating, and signs of beavers gathering food for the winter.

beetle next to snow
This tiny beetle was spotted flying around patches of snow. Photo by David Lukas

winter spider
A very subtle, and hard to see, spider. Photo by David Lukas

mushroom stalks
Some animal has been eating these tiny mushrooms. Photo by David Lukas

beaver chewing
One of many trees recently cut down by beavers. Photo by David Lukas

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Observation of the Week: Salmon Carcasses

salmon carcass
Salmon carcass on Methow River. Photo by David Lukas

I was astonished to walk along the Methow River this week and discover a number of salmon carcasses washed up on the shore.

While this is interesting by itself, we often overlook the deeper ecological value of these carcasses.

salmon carcass
Bringing the ocean's energy to the Methow Valley. Photo by David Lukas

Salmon spend years living in the ocean, feasting on marine life and packing on pounds in preparation for epic journeys that take them far upriver and into the interior of North America.

salmon carcass
A salmon's sweep of life ends on the banks of the Methow River. Photo by David Lukas

These fish subsequently spawn and die, while a tremendous variety of animals, ranging from microbes to bears, rely on these carcasses for food. Ultimately, these nutrients end up in the soil, and end up feeding the forests growing along rivers.

river otters eating salmon
River otters discovering a cache of frozen salmon carcasses in the ice. Photo by Tom Forker

In essence, salmon deliver a significant quantity of marine nutrients, that they have spent years accumulating, to inland ecosystems. Historically, millions of salmon made this journey every year, and powered entire ecosystems with their bodies. Even with their numbers greatly reduced, salmon still make a significant contribution, and provide a valuable source of nutrients that help ecosystems remain healthy.