Writing on the Wild Side #18 – An Ibis and a Rose in the Mix
By Mike Denny: What a grand spring season it is here this year in the Walla Walla River Basin- you should see it, all of the natural world is alive and generating young for the future. This beautiful and unique basin hosts many hundreds of species that bring a wonderful spark of diversified life that allows all types of valuable natural systems to function, like a well-engineered functioning machine. Walla Walla County is well worth your timely visit this season. The native wild flowers are exploding with bright colors and bringing on the next generations of life giving plants. Migrant birds are arriving every night and beautiful butterflies are all about.
There is a native plant that is eye catching this time of year. It stands around five and a half feet high and often seven feet across. It has dark burgundy colored stems and tiny little thorns here and there on those stems. Its vivid green foliage accents its blooming mass of two-inch-wide pale to dark pink flowers. It is a multi-floral rose species known by its tribal name of Nootka Rose. This spectacular plant grows along trails around Bennington Lake, up along roads in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, along the trails in the Fort Walla Walla Park and along all the rivers and streams in this basin. In full bloom you will be hard pressed to beat its spectacular bright colors. Even the yellow rose of Texas may have a stretch in beating this vision of beauty, the pink rose of Walla Walla. Many hundreds of eye catching pink blooms now cover most of these bushes. What a sight to view and enjoy. The native bees are going nuts over this massive bloom and pollinating these flowers as fast as they can. With over 450 species of native bees here on top of all the flies, butterflies, beetles and ants these bright pink flowers are humming with excited insects. So when you arrive here in this outstanding river basin by all means bring your camera and don’t miss these special native roses! Make it a special point to smell these wonderful native roses. One word of caution do not get confused with the highly invasive European multi-floral rose that also grows here. This invasive weed is also covered with spectacular pink-white blooms this time of year, but one big difference, it’s stems are covered with very large, very sharp thorns that can rip and puncture if you are not careful. So enjoy these many thousands of wonderful pink blooms while they last-by early June they are all gone and rose hips have replaced them.
Some 17 years ago this river basin had an amazing event occur in the natural world. This region was invaded by drought refugees in the form of a large wetland loving, sickle-billed bird species. They came out of California, Nevada and southern Oregon fleeing the parched lakes and wetlands they require to nest and breed. These absolutely spectacular birds are known as white-faced ibis. This is now the only ibis species rarely located in Washington State. Yes, an ibis known as the sacred ibis was thought of so highly by ancient Egyptians that they mummified thousands of these very unique birds for their trip into the afterlife. Birders to the end and beyond. White-faced ibis stand 23 inches high and have a wing span of 36 inches. Their wings are iridescent green with highlights of blue. Their bodies are deep chestnut red, the eyes are red, and their face is white with a white ring around the whole base of the 9 to 10-inch-long de-curved pale bill. These beautiful birds normally arrive in this river basin in small numbers in early May along with the shorebird migration from the south. They fly around in strings with their red and pink jointed legs held straight out behind the tail. The bill is a tool used to probe deep into mud for invertebrates and also used like forceps in catching tadpoles, small fish and insects. If you would like to chance upon this unbelievable native ibis head west on HWY 12 out to the Wallula HMU just north and east of the Wallula junction, cross the Walla Walla River bridge and turn right on North Shore Dr.-go 2.1 miles on this gravel road to the Millet Pond-Good Luck!
Remember Walla Walla has to be seen to be believed.
Thank-you Mike Denny