Clark’s Nutcrackers are amazingly intelligent birds that have been linked to the Whitebark pine trees that are beleaguered by disease and beetles, but it appears that their resourcefulness is helping them transition to other sources of livelihood.
Spirited, social, active, acrobatic, gregarious, friendly. Maybe I should add ‘compassionate’- see the story below! Watching these little birds as they bounce along on the airwaves on their way to the bird feeder in the morning is mood-lifting. Always on the alert, head switching back and forth, they sound the first alarm when something of concern approaches.
Certhia americana is the only North American member of the Certhiidae (Treecreeper) family. Thanks to its long, thin tail, it measures 5.25 inches, but it appears to be about the same size as a Pygmy nuthatch, with which it could be confused. “A prisoner of the forest, the creeper seems unable to escape the gravitational pull of the tree trunk on which it creeps, ever upward” writes Bryan Pfeiffer. They live in mature coniferous forests, not wandering far afield.
We hit the jackpot on Nuthatch species– well, almost! Three of the four Nuthatch species in the US live here! We have Red-breasted, White-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches. While each has a favored tree species, our mixed forests are great places to see all of them. Nuthatches grab a seed, wedge it into a bark crevice and hammer it open as if using a hatchet – thus, their curious name! They are well-equipped for gleaning insects and seeds from all directions. Their clawed feet hook into bark providing sure traction as they cruise up, down, and around looking for food. While our environment provides everything they need, they are frequent visitors to bird feeders, gardens, and water holes, making even more opportunities to observe their acrobatic talents.
Winter is a good time to spot unusual things when the leaves are off and grasses are dry and beaten down by snow. Sometimes it just takes a splash of color that you wouldn’t expect to draw your attention to an unusual growth. The galls in this article all are caused by different insects but are benign, that is, they usually don’t harm the plant they are on.
Skip’s journal post about Pileated Woodpeckers inspired me to add a few more images and some of my observations of these unforgettable birds that the American Birding Association has named the 2021 Bird of the Year.
One of my passions is wildflowers, but the growing season of wildflowers is pretty short here in the West Valley. I have turned to lichens to help fill the void in colder months; it’s a fascinating venture. Neither plant nor animal, lichens are plentiful around here. One source reports there being 2500 species in the Pacific Northwest. Fossil records date them as long as 400 million years ago. Lichens can be found on the ground, on rocks, and on trees – both decaying and healthy. When you go out looking at lichens, I strongly recommend taking a hand lens because some of their most interesting features are almost microscopic!
Many birds migrate from a winter home to take advantage of an abundance of insects, longer periods of daylight for scavenging, and increased success in raising a brood in the north. As winter arrives and insects become scarce their survival depends on their returning to a warm climate where insects are available. Birds that depend on non-insect food sources and move from place to place in response to the availability of food sources, independent of season, are referred to as nomads. They often travel in flocks of the same species, searching out food, and moving on.
We are fortunate to have some versions of early plant life here in the West Valley. Ferns were one of the first vascular plants, but we have examples of even earlier plant development. Botrychiums are non-flowering, seedless vascular plants in the family Ophioglossaceae. Here are three that I have seen nearby.
Common Nighthawks are unobtrusive birds that don’t demand much attention but whose presence makes the environment a little more people-friendly. We may hear them without ever seeing them. They have evolved to hide from predators, and that may be what makes them so unknown to us.
Those confusing bugs! We have bugs that stink but are not stink bugs (Western Conifer Seed Bug), and we also have even more stinky bugs that are stink bugs. Some are agricultural pests; others may prey on other insects. Here are four native Stink Bugs that I have observed when I had the camera nearby.
With the onset of colder weather and more time inside, many of us start to feel sorry for the birds out there in the cold and fill up the feeders. Inviting avian visitors certainly has its rewards. Observing bird activity lifts our spirits; having birds close enough to get repeated good looks improves our ability to identify them; we feel like we’ve provided a bit of refuge them. There’s a thrill in seeing a new bird at your feeder! But with all such gestures comes responsibilities, unexpected outcomes and sometimes consequences.
Throughout the fall, as birds start moving from nesting sites toward warmer climates and more plentiful food sources, they teach us how they value our valley as many species gather in the harvested fields and in and around the several potholes for rest, food, and perhaps reunions before moving on.