Unbelievable as it seems, August 2020 is gone. The last few hours are passing as I write this column.
August has been extremely dry and, at times, hot with blowing dust and smoke from fires. The air quality poor and out in the west end of the county many native and invasive weeds are extremely stressed with a noticeable percentage dead for lack of rain.
Yet, despite the heat, dry winds and low soil moisture, several species of native plants are just beginning to bloom.
So, I want you to stop and think, how could this possibly be?
Right during the most extreme heat, dry, dust-blown weather plants like native sunflowers, snow buck wheat, gray and green rabbitbrush, sagebrush and desert asters all are bursting out of their buds into full bloom.
Large numbers of insects await this season of blooming plants in this desert.
Native bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, ants, flies, rodents and birds, along with wild and domesticated ungulates, all depend on this last flush of nectar and pollen before the first frosts of winter.
Some non-native, highly invasive plants that are also coming into bloom across the thousands of acres of disturbed soils and road sides in this county are Russian thistles, forage kosha, Yellow star thistle, rush-skeleton weed and purple loose-strife along the edges of wetlands to name a few.
These invasive weeds bloom now and are utilized by many native pollinators as well as the European honeybee.
Keep in mind that it is pollination that causes these plants to produce seeds and develop the next generations of their species.
As the daylight of the season shortens and air temps consistently lower, bird, insect and mammal migration proceeds, pulling many thousands of species off to the south and warmer weather.
Neo-tropical migrant birds have been migrating since late June.
Many young reptiles are also born and hatched during this early fall season, while there are still insects like grasshoppers, crickets and moths, along with other reptiles like small lizards and mammals like small mice.
One specific species of snake that produces young in August is a member of the colubrid family. It is the North American racer (coluber constrictor mormon).
In this county this subspecies of snake can reach 4 feet in length.
It is a persistent predator that hunts mice, lizards, other snakes and insects. It is an active hunter, sliding along with its head held up to a foot above the ground, depending on the length of its body.
They can move very fast.
The adults have a gray/brown dorsal color, with some almost steel blue gray. Their belly is pale yellow.
They have largish eyes and look almost intelligent.
They are active hunters and not ambush hunters. They have teeth, but are not venomous in any way and are capable of a good bite if not left alone.
Never intentionally injure or kill this snake species.
This is the only snake of the six species in Walla Walla County that as an adult reminds me of my childhood growing up in Zambia, Africa, and running into black mambas in and around our home.
The racer young are marvelous looking and do not look like the adults — or even the same species, starting with their length of 9-13 inches.
These young hatch from a clutch of 5-6 eggs which take up to 51 days to hatch under the protection of a burrow or old pile of brush over the nest and one of the adults hanging out in the area.
On the top of these young snakes’ heads are a set of false eyes and many stripes, lines and designs that are eye-catching.
From behind the head starts the most amazing narrow banding that goes all the way down to the vent with lighter banding fading to an olive gray by the end of the tail.
These small serpents have black tongues which they use to smell the air about them.
They are downright cool looking as juveniles and fierce looking adults.
Remember, life is good!