Owl Encounters

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Northern Pygmy-owl 10.14.21

Seeing owls is always an unexpected treat because their schedule is generally opposite of mine! But occasionally, one of the several species that live in the West Valley does pass my way in daylight. These predatory birds’ coloration blends in with their environment and makes them very hard to spot. With the exception of the diurnal Pygmy Owl, their wing feathers are structured to propel them silently through the air, and their ability to perch motionless and wait and listen for prey to reveal themselves are characteristics that are key to their success as hunters.

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Nomadic Winter Bird Visitors

pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Redpolls in West Valley 12.09.21

Northern winters can be tough!! Arctic temperatures, deep snow and ice-covered roads can be enough to send some of us south. Sometimes birds that typically live north of here head south, too, but it’s food shortages that prompt that decision, and they set out in search of better ‘pickings’ . Read on to see pictures of Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks, Bohemian Waxwings, and White-winged Crossbills that I have seen here in recent years.

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Three Gentians in the West Valley!

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

When I first heard the word “gentian”, it was in reference to a veterinary medicine that I needed to apply to a cow I was tending. It was called “Gentian Blue” and although I had little understanding of its role in healing my bovine, it was the most intense blue I had ever seen! Subsequently, my appreciation of the various hues of blue have been in reference to the blue of that medicine. It was many years before I moved to the west where I saw my first flower in the Gentian family, and I was amazed to learn that the green plant I saw was a Gentian! (Frasera speciosa). That one doesn’t grow in the West Valley, but here are some I have encountered here.

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Violet-green Swallows Raising a Family

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Violet-green Swallow (male)

John James Audubon described the diminutive (4.25″) Violet-green Swallow as “the most beautiful of all the genus hitherto discovered.” Indeed, there are few birds in our neighborhood that can compete when the sun illuminates the iridescent emerald green cape, amethyst and sapphire wings and back set off by a clean bright white belly, neck, and face. Read on for an account of one pair raising their young from a nest under the eaves.

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Great Spangled Fritillary Butterflies

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies on Musk Thistle (Carduus Nutans) 8..02.2020

The male of this species is bright orange and brown; the female is brown with a patterned cream-colored border. The host plant for the Fritillary caterpillars is the violet. That’s where the female will lay her eggs, so you may see her spending a lot of her 14 – 45 day life seeking out violets. The eggs hatch in 10 to 15 days. The caterpillar will feed on violet leaves and overwinter in the protection of vegetation near violets; in spring it will continue to munch on the new violet leaves until it forms a chrysalis. It goes through its final transformation in about 2 to 3 weeks before hatching out as a butterfly.

Bee? or Bee-Like?

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

As I write this on a rainy day in March, my mind is drawn to thoughts of spring, perhaps because just yesterday I was walking partly in mud, partly on ice, torn between the need for rubber boots or ice cleats. In a similar vein, in summer as I observe flowers and the insects that are drawn to them, I wonder whether I should beware of the stinger or relax and admire the industrious work of the flying creatures. In this article, I’ll share some helpful tips I have learned from researching that question.

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Woodpeckers in our Valley

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

3.08.21 Pileated Woodpecker work above Cliff Lake

Nobody has to ask, “What does a woodpecker do?” Only the Pileated Woodpecker does such a fantastic job of chiseling out their food and creating nests for themselves. Several species live in our area year ’round; some are migratory, and we see them in warmer months. Read on for stories about woodpeckers that I’ve observed in our area.

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Rabbit Tales

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Mountain Cottontail Silvilagus nuttallii 11.07.17

Over several years, I’ve been enjoying the company of small Mountain cottontails that have chosen to live near our home. Although I rarely see them when the ground is bare, I often see their tracks where I snowshoe or ski in winter. It’s their close proximity in winter that has given me the best sightings. I will share some pictures and tales of rabbit encounters in the following pages.

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Eye-Catching Foliose Lichens

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Elegant Sunburst Lichen (Xanthoria elegans) 11.15.21

Brighter than the Blanket flower that grows nearby in summer, this rock-dwelling lichen is a long-time resident on this carbonate-rich rock. Exposed to the elements, temperatures that range more than 100 degrees, with no shade to protect it and no roots to find water, this lichen grows about .4mm per year. It has probably taken about 150 years to attain its current size. The following article describes some fascinating facts about this and some other foliose (leafy) lichens in our area.

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Meet a Few Pelt Lichens

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Worldwide, there are about 100 species of Peltigera in the Foliose group of lichens; there are 23 species in the Rocky Mountains. But here in the West Valley, the number is much more manageable! In the following article, I will give some pointers I found helpful as my exploration has evolved.

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