Wow! It is the middle of spring and so many events are happening in Walla Walla County that it is hard to keep track of them.
This last week, the hummingbirds returned in force.
On the last day of April, we located two species of hummingbirds along the trail around Bennington Lake. We saw a Rufous hummingbird and several Calliope hummingbirds, which are the smallest, lightest weighted bird species in the lower 48 states.
These Calliope hummingbirds weigh in at just 1.9 grams, and yet they migrate 3,200 miles one way and can live up to eight years.
So, figure that these tiny birds can fly at 30 miles per hour in migration and up to 50 mph in display flights.
Other great shows that nature is putting on right now is the migration of hundreds of species of native bird species like Vaux’s swifts. Vaux rhymes with box.
These all-dark dynamos blast through life on scimitar-shaped wings and a cigar-shaped body at speeds past 50 mph with mouths open, smacking up flying insects.
We watched as 1,200 of these phenomenal fliers formed a vortex and whipped around over an open chimney one evening in College Place.
With hundreds of these swifts blasting past, uttering their high-pitched calls, they whip around in close quarters to each other at high speed.
These birds are forming up to roost for the night inside of a 10-foot tall chimney, where they hang onto the interior bricks with their tiny feet on very short legs. They all collect in rows, shoulder-to-shoulder, always looking up. Their heart rate slows, and they drop off to sleep awaiting the new morning.
I must say that as they drop down out of the sky it looks like the chimney vacuums these birds out of the air. Really amazing to see.
Other events that are going ongoing right now are the emergence of many species of bees, butterflies and hover flies — all great pollinators.
Another happening is the astounding shorebird migration from South America through the Pacific Northwest north to the Arctic tundra, where they nest.
With last month’s floods of the Walla Walla River drainage, many animals were displaced and yet took great advantage of the situation, especially south of Lowden and Touchet. Many crop fields were inundated and, as a result, many insects and rodents were exposed along with earthworms.
In one field, we observed 500 California gulls, 40 Northern pintail ducks and, un-expectantly, a flock of 31 Lesser Sandhill cranes that had landed in a flooded field feeding on mice and insects.
These big, regal birds were headed north to breed and raise their colts.
Also, the before this cool snap, we located our first Western Rattlesnake of the new year. It was 20 inches long and was stretched out along an isolated gravel road catching some rays.
These native snakes are valuable to the ecology in which they live, as they catch and eat rodents.
Unfortunately for many folks, this snake species causes great fear and apprehension along with the desire to render rattlers dead.
This is not a service needed unless this snake is in your yard or house. More folks get bit by trying to catch or kill these reptiles.
Rattlesnakes want nothing to do with humans and will quickly clear an area if they see you.
There is one thing that I would like to dispel, and that is the myth that you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by the number of buttons on their tail.
This is not so, as each button appears each time the snake sheds its skin. Some rattlers can shed their skins two to three times a year depending on the prey available to them. With longer, hotter summers and falls lasting well into November, who knows how many buttons rattlesnakes could have at the end of the year in this area.
If you come across a rattlesnake, just walk away and leave them alone
Remember, life is good!