It’s September, and there are still mosquitoes. They tend to become inactive below 50º F. So, although we enjoy our mild Septembers, unfortunately, mosquitoes do as well. Fortunately, they don’t fly when there’s a brisk breeze, and Port Townsend is nearly the windiest location in western Washington.
Dragonfly species change with the seasons, each species peaking in numbers at different times from spring through fall. So, keep an eye out for these often brightly iridescent and conspicuous creatures, because, as with birds, the species composition changes with the month.
The same is true with our butterfly species, with their diversity at a peak in spring and summer. There are still some species flying in September, and even a couple that are actively flying as adults through fall and into winter.
As for yellowjackets, I’m not seeing them yet. Each colony starts the year from a single queen that overwinters. And that queen can only raise a very small number of future workers, because there wouldn’t be a colony yet to feed them. The first generation of the newly emerging ones can now go out foraging, which means the queen can now raise more young. When these mature, the queen can lay yet more eggs because there are more yellowjackets to feed the larvae. Positive feedback loop. Exponential growth.
From 2014 to 2016, the Land Trust participated in the Fisher Monitoring Program at various sites on the Quimper Peninsula, following protocol established by the National Park Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Fishers are in the weasel family, about the size of a domestic cat. They are highly energetic and eat a variety of prey, including rabbits, mountain beavers, and even porcupines; plus, fishers are eaten by other predators, i.e., they are mesopredators.
Although no fishers were photographed here, we did get many other animals attracted to the bait, such as opossums (146x), black bears (25x), coyotes (12x), dogs (9x), a raccoon (1x), Steller’s Jays (7x), Vultures (2x), and Ravens (2x). A cougar, squirrels, and deer plus various birds were also photographed, but they were incidental to the baited tree. At each site, there was a motion-sensing camera placed 9-18ft from a tree with chicken bait plus lure and a triangular tunnel (called a cubby) that had brushes which could gather hair, allowing for individual identification of each animal via DNA.
This year on July 1, the Land Trust began the project again with two cameras each in the Snow Creek Forest, the Duckabush Riparian Forest, Valley View Forest, and one each in the Quimper Wildlife Corridor and at Chai-yahk-wh. At approximately 3-week intervals, the cameras will be checked until early September.
While we only have one species each of orca and elk in the Pacific NW, there are an estimated 245 described terrestrial slug and snail species sliming their way around here. Of these, there are a couple standouts one might see around the woods of Jefferson County.
The most dramatic and largest native Northwest snail is the Pacific sideband snail (Monadenia fidelis), with a shell diameter of 18-35 mm. Its flattened, coil shell sports bands of black, chestnut, and yellow around its perimeter. You may find them in the forest, particularly after a good rain. Living under leaf litter, they munch away at fungi and decaying organic matter, emitting a smell when disturbed. Maybe this is why another common name is the rotten garlic snail.
Our second charismatic snail candidate is the Oregon forest snail (Allogona townsendiana). Another flat, helix-shelled snail, it shares the same moist environment and diet as the Pacific sideband. As detritivores, they serve an important function by converting decaying matter into soil, a task they performed quite well prior to the appearance of the common earthworm, which first appeared in North America in the 1600s with European colonization. More snails are listed as threatened, endangered, or extinct than all birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish put together!
You are sitting quietly by a forest stream, or in your yard. A brilliant gem darts and hovers and then disappears. The hummingbird, named for the humming sound of its beating wings, brings a sudden glow to your face. John James Audubon described a hummingbird as a “glittering garment of the rainbow.”
Hummingbirds are found only in North and South America. They are mostly tropical and prefer lush vegetation and high humidity along the equator. The country that supports the largest number of hummingbirds is Ecuador, followed by Colombia.
The Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds are found along our Pacific coast. The Anna’s remains here all year. In contrast, the Rufous is a long-distance migrant traveling 4,000 miles from breeding grounds in Southeast Alaska, Washington, and Oregon to wintering areas in Mexico. Their return flight is inland over the Rocky Mountains. For that feat they have evolved into the fastest fliers for their small size at 30mph.
The throat feathers of hummingbirds are called the ‘gorget’. The term comes from days of old when a knight-in-armor wore a metallic collar or gorget to protect the throat. The color we see is due to iridescence and the reflection of light. And, the cool part is that individual female Rufous Hummingbirds, for example, can be identified by the individual color patterns on their throat. Though only males have a gorget, females do have patterns of bright color, as shown in these photographs.
The Guiding Committee of the Natural History Society misses organizing outings in nature. Since the pandemic began, and during its many phases, we have discussed how and when we could resume our outdoor explorations safely. When we do, there are many options. There is always so much to learn. In this newsletter, wildlife biologist Darrell Smith shares his observations of the ten or so bat species that share their homeland here on the Olympic Peninsula with us. Thank you, Darrell, and maybe the Natural History Society can even learn from you in person?
For the past three years, Darrell has been using what he calls “a marvelous little bat detector – an Echometer Pro, with a microphone module which plugs into a phone or tablet and uses a sophisticated application to identify bats by the unique characteristics of their ultrasonic calls.” He considers the bat classifier application to be very accurate, and since calls are recorded, they can be verified by other means. An example of a sonogram is attached. Darrell told us that he and his biologist wife, Lorna, have been able to identify all ten of the bat species native to the Peninsula just from their property in Cape George on Discovery Bay. He writes, “Bats, along with owls, hunt the nighttime sky for their insect prey from about early April to late November. I’ve been quite surprised to find that bats seem to be just about everywhere. Even in the middle of West Los Angeles, we’ve detected Mexican free-tailed bats flying high and swiftly overhead our daughter’s home.”