Writing on the Wild Side #5: Spring: Life’s Kickstarter
By Mike Denny:
Here in beautiful Walla Walla County, where islands of native vegetation still survive and wildlife roams, you have a chance to catch a glimpse of three outstandingly mesmerizing wild flowers that bloom in the middle of March and then are gone until next spring. Everything in the natural world lives by a schedule that ensures each species survival. The desert plants and animals are trying to answer nature’s call to meet the weather shifts, produce flowers and establish territories. On February 25 my wife and I discovered three Side-blotch Lizards out sunning on a 64 degree afternoon in the western desert. The plants that have started to bloom are Shooting Stars, Sagebrush Buttercups and Salt and Pepper Lomatium. These native wild flowers are very important to early emerging insects that, due to the warmer weather, have burst out of their pupa and burrows in the ground. The very important group of insects to consider are the early pollinators such as flies, beetles, bumble bees, moths and ants. These super valuable insects sustain the native plants and pollinate their flowers. The shrub-steppe plant community is the native plant community in western Walla Walla County desert where precipitation averages about 8 inches annually whichmakes this arid quarter east of the Columbia River and Wallula Gap a true cold desert. Just think if it were not for the spring season there would be very little new life in this wonderful end of Walla Walla County!
This month also welcomes back a fascinating species of woodpecker that returns from southern California and northern Mexico. This very unique native bird species was assumed to be two separate species up until the late 19th century. The female was thought by most early American naturalists and ornithologists to be a completely different species of woodpecker from the beautiful black, red and white males. It was not until the early 1890s that it was discovered that both sapsuckers were the same species. This is a woodpecker that drills elongated wells in rows along a tree trunk. The living tree attempts to heal up these wounds by filling them with sap, this is all the sapsucker wants to happen as insects and sugars from the tree become this bird’s desired food. The Williamson’s Sapsucker is considered a neo-tropic migrant, though we have three winter records here in Walla Walla County. These sapsuckers excavate cavities in dead and living western Larch or Aspen and lay up to five white eggs. So as you explore the western Blue Mountains listen for the very quiet tapping of this native woodpecker. Walla Walla County is an outstanding area to explore using all your senses. Enjoy this naturally diverse landscape and all the native plants and animals that live here. Remember great conservation begins with you. Be in awe of life.
Thank you and remember that you have to see the Walla Walla area to believe it!
All photos provided by Mike Denny