Writing on the Wild Side #17 – The Color and Texture of Life
By Mike Denny: What an amazing place to be alive in April! The Walla Walla River Basin is eye poppingly beautiful this early spring month. The winter wheat around the valley is vivid green, the dogwood, cherry, apple and plum trees are covered with blooms and pollinating bees. This year looks really breath taking as thousands of wild flowers are in yellows, white, blues and purples from the Wallula Gap east up into the Blue Mountains. The streets of Walla Walla are worth a good morning walk to feel the pulse of life all around you. March left us in this region with rain and more snow, so our summer water supply looks good.
The natural world in this southeast corner of Washington State is well on its way in fulfilling its prime mission in life and that is to produce young and replace themselves. Wild plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals all are alive and preparing for the future of each species during this important reproductive season.
The bull elk are in the process of growing their great antlers – right now the antlers are covered in a protective membrane that looks like crushed milk chocolate, brown velvet fuzz. Think of these big antlers as tube balloons slowly filling over time with air and expanding out and away from the head sideways and up, splitting off the main beam with each tine looking like a round bulbous root end. These Elk bulls often hang out in small groups this time of the year. To see these big regal native deer, take an evening drive up into the foothills east of Walla Walla. These big members of the deer family are also known by their local tribal name of Wapiti.
The native birds are all preparing to nest or are already nesting. Most migratory song birds have yet to arrive in this basin, but many species will start announcing their arrival very soon. Get up early and take a walk out to Whitman Mission National Historic site or around Pioneer Park in the middle of town, or at Fort Walla Walla Park off Myra Rd. All these areas are wonderful walking and wildlife observing sites. In the foothills of the Blue Mountains are many resident and migratory birds that are present. One is the Great Gray Owl. A native protected owl that hunts voles, pocket gophers and chipmunks. These large spectacular birds are one species in the Blue Mountains that bring charm and amazement to those that get an opportunity to observe them. It is special creatures like the Great Gray Owl that bring just that spark of life to this region and add greatly to this areas wonderful assets.
The conifers are also producing new growth and flowering with new cones. Watch the many local trees and see for yourself the large array of species specific flowers and interesting strategies each tree uses to pollinate its flowers. Look them over and try and figure out how these flowers work to attract pollinators. Never forget the vital importance of all pollinators like bees, flies, beetles, ants, birds, bats and rodents.
So get outside and be alert and aware of all the other life forms that share this most beautiful area of Washington State. Remember that great habitat and wildlife conservation starts with you.
We are so very fortunate to live, visit and wander around in this county. Enjoy it and share it with others.