November 19-25, 2023

Cold but Delightful

frozen lake
Not much snow, but still cold. Photo by David Lukas

Another week of crisp, sunny days with perfect conditions for early winter hikes.

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The Week in Review

Methow Valley
A gorgeous early winter day in the Methow Valley. Photo by David Lukas

It's hard to know how long this stretch of delightful weather will last, but it sure has been nice to get out for some long walks and soak up this sun.

ice crystals on plant
The quiet beauty of the winter world. Photo by Jack McLeod

What I've been noticing is that animals seem to have settled into a quiet pattern of winter activity.

You might have spotted an occasional red squirrel darting across the trail or heard one scolding loudly from a distant branch. Normally, they sleep through cold, winter storms and come out on warmer sunny days, but this year they've remained active every day.

red squirrel
Red squirrels are probably using this warmer weather to look for more food. Photo by David Lukas

This is also the time of year when you'll spot bucks chasing does with one thing in mind. The biggest bucks are remarkable for their large racks of antlers and thick necks, and they often run around with wet noses and open mouths as they track a female's reproductive condition by her smell.

wild turkeys
A large group of wild turkeys at Pearrygin Lake. Photo by David Lukas

Late fall and early winter are when wild turkeys gather in large flocks and this is a great time to watch their behavior. If you want to know more about turkeys, check out my article in this week's Lukas Guides newsletter.

Please join me next Saturday for a Winter Ecology Talk! Photo by David Lukas
There's a lot more going on in the winter than you realize! Please join me for a fascinating WINTER ECOLOGY TALK to learn about the lives of our local plants and animals! This event is free, with donations appreciated. Winthrop Library on December 2 from 4-5:30 p.m.

Observation of the Week: Pine Grosbeaks

female pine grosbreak
Pine grosbeaks are a highly sought after bird! Photo by David Lukas

You might not realize it, but we are in the middle of a remarkable influx of pine grosbeaks this winter. These large, elusive finches live in high mountain forests and are rarely observed, but right now there are numerous groups in the Methow Valley, with dozens of birds hanging out in the campgrounds at Pearrygin Lake.

Birdwatchers eagerly seek out pine grosbeaks, and in fact one person has already contacted me about driving up from Portland, and today I met someone who drove over from Seattle to see our birds!

male pine grosbeak
Looking at this male grosbeak, you can tell why people want to find them. Photo by David Lukas

An unexpected movement of birds like this is called an "irruption," and it typically occurs in response to a shortage of food. There are reports of huge numbers of pine grosbeaks showing up, not just in the Methow Valley, but in unusual places all over the West, so something must be going on with their normal food supply.

Grosbeaks visiting the Methow Valley are devouring ash seeds at Pearrygin Lake, and this morning I was shocked to discover a large flock eating snowberries along Lester Road. This is the first time I've ever observed any bird eating snowberries.

pine grosbeak
Female grosbeak finding abundant food at Pearrygin Lake. Photo by David Lukas

If you get a chance, it's worth stopping at Pearrygin Lake to see these birds. Unless you're lucky, or spend a lot of time hiking in the mountains, this might be one of your best chances to see this unique finch.

pine grosbeaks at moonrise
Pine grosbeaks resting in the rising moon. Photo by David Lukas