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.”
We hope you’re enjoying all the daily transformations.
In this season of beauty and wonder, sometimes we come upon intriguing, even mysterious, natural phenomena. Last week, I (Wendy) was looking under plywood boards as part of the Land Trust’s “Amphibian Project,” and although no amphibians appeared yet this year, several tiny Red Alder cones had rolled under the soggy boards, many covered in minuscule, powder blue cup fungus. What species was this? Why only on these cones? I couldn’t find the answer in my field guide. Then to my surprise, mycologists on iNaturalist quickly identified it as Lachnum virgineum (Stalked Hairy Fairy Cup). One mystery solved.
I asked Dave what mysteries he ponders. He replied, “Wildlife tracks can be clear – as on a sandy beach or in the snow – or just a hint – as on forest litter. It’s often a real challenge to figure out who walked on that trail ahead of you. Taking a course on tracking is an excellent introduction to understanding what’s out there and sorting out marks, scratches, scat, and other wildlife signs.”
The April newsletter tells the story of another mystery, and how it was solved. There’s so much to observe and ponder on the Olympic Peninsula. Please let us know if you want to share any photos of any unsolved mysteries.
The earliest breeders are long-toed salamanders, northwestern salamanders, and northern red-legged frogs. It’s easy to miss these winter events because the secretive salamanders go about their activities in silence, and red-legged frogs call softly, often while completely submerged. You may discover the clumps of jelly-enclosed embryos of these amphibians in the water right now.
Rough-skinned newts can be seen plodding along in any month, especially during and after rainy weather. Watch out for them as they migrate across roads when temperatures are at least in the mid-40s F. Newts scatter single eggs in the water mostly in March and April.
Western toads generally wait for the warmer days of April or May before depositing their long strings of eggs in pond or lake shallows. Their unobtrusive vocalizations consist of soft chirps given by the males as they bump into one another at breeding sites. In summer, you may see countless thousands of tiny toadlets emerging from Anderson Lake.
Pacific treefrogs are our loudest amphibian. Boisterous choruses of vibrant “crek-ek” calls come and go over a relatively long season in late winter and spring. With a headlamp at night, you can spot males as they inflate their balloonlike vocal sac while calling. In the midst of a treefrog chorus, you might wish for earplugs to dampen the acoustic barrage!
Among our local amphibians, the most unique is the ensatina. These little forest-dwelling salamanders have no lungs, and they deposit their eggs on land (often in or under rotting logs), never in the water. The female stays with her eggs/embryos for a few months, until they hatch out into gill-less offspring that look like tiny adults, all set for a completely land-locked lifestyle. Fort Townsend State Park hosts an ample population of ensatinas.
Best of luck in your springtime searches for these intriguing “hidden jewels” of the forest!
Welcome everyone to “Sapsucker-Days”. From places unknown, during our very coldest bursts of winter, the sapsuckers arrive. The beautiful and idiosyncratic Red-breasted Sapsucker drills rows of pencil-diameter holes through the outer bark of tree trunks, and into the sap layer. Shortly thereafter, the bird revisits these holes to lick up the oozing sap.
Typically, you can walk for hours or days through our winter woods, and not find a single sapsucker. However, when temperatures drop into the 20s or lower for a stretch, these are the “Sapsucker-days.” You might even see two or three on a single trunk, even if you live in town. Milder temperatures eventually return, and the birds disappear. “Sapsucker-days” are history. Where they go, we do not know.
November is our best ‘Blue Hole’ month on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, when oftentimes overhead is a rainshadow enclave of blue surrounded by cloud. November is also our windiest month. November rainfall elsewhere on the Peninsula is generally two to four times greater than here. How frequent the weather forecast says rain, and all we see is blue! This month averages only four or five degrees warmer than December and January, so combine a moderate wind and cooler air temp, and the windchill makes for a wintery day.
Indifferent to the storms, seabirds are in abundance and a variety fly a thousand and more miles from the Arctic and subarctic to spend the winter here. Meanwhile, bird and mammal species prepare for winter: some of our summer birds fly south; eagles concentrate at salmon spawning streams; squirrels store food in clever hiding places; other species build up fat reserves; many insects survive as dormant eggs and larvae; miniscule shrews eat a lot every single day – even every single hour – sort of like we do. Evergreen trees are still photosynthesizing but more slowly. Deer antlers scar tree trunks. Mammals leave their tracks on muddy trails.
Autumn mushrooms arise with a great diversity in size, shape, and color. Though unpredictable from year to year, there’s a mushroom plenitude sandwiched between heavy rains and killing frosts. Look for Chlorociboria aeruginosa (Turquoise Elf Cup) growing on rotting, barkless wood on the forest floor. There’s a photo in the attached newsletter.
When strong tidal currents and strong wind oppose each other, don’t plan a ferry ride to Whidbey unless you have a motel room reserved over there. But it’s a great time to watch the turmoil from the beach at the Point Wilson lighthouse. And finally, despite short days, plan outside time for the serene days (and nights) that do commonly intervene between November’s storms.