With January 2021 wrapped up, and is down history’s rabbit hole, our world has witnessed stunning and fearsome things.
COVID-19 keeps knocking us about even while the sounds of approaching vaccines bring hope of a world resistant to this devastating pandemic.
The natural world, too, has seen all kinds of changes as our climate warms the polar ice caps, we keep clearing out habitat and ground waters are vanishing.
Some species of wild bird numbers continue to dwindle across this country.
Our health, our diets and our hope for the future on this planet need our attention right now.
So, let us talk about the upside of outside, and how time spent outside brings stress relief and appreciation of the natural world that sustains all of us with clean water, air and living soils.
Getting outside is natural and allows us to be stewards of this county in which we live.
I keep finding evidence of changing conditions and species that are shifting around to locate optimal habitat and forage base.
Every year, I am finding new plant and animal species popping up in Walla Walla County that were unheard of when I first arrived in 1978.
So, such an event has been unfolding quietly under our noses unnoticed by most folks zipping through their day-to-day lives.
It all started on Dec. 17-26, 1977, when a species of jay was observed at a feeder that had never been seen in southeastern Washington or Walla Walla County before.
Dr. Earl Fleck happened to look out at his bird feeder and there was a Western scrub jay.
This 11-inch-long bird had an ashy-gray mantle, sky blue wings, tail, neck, cap and a streaked white throat and bib along with a noticeable white stripe above its dark eyes.
The good doctor could hardly believe what he was looking at.
Then, 43 years passed and not another Western zcrub jay was seen or heard of in this county.
On Sept. 28, 2020, MerryLynn Denny was out birding at the Millet Pond in the Wallula wildlife area on McNary National Wildlife Refuge when a California scrub jay appeared in front of her — yes, a California scrub jay as the name had been changed from Western scrub jay to California by the American Ornithologists Union and their taxonomic governing committee on March 18, 2018.
This jay allowed MerryLynn a great view for a few moments, and then vanished into the willows and cottonwoods never to be seen again.
She called me to share her great discovery, as it was a first for her in Walla Walla County and would have been a county-first for me.
I never did see it.
Then, on Jan. 16, Dr. Bob and Mary Betz were birding in and around Touchet when, suddenly, they stumbled into three California scrub jays.
They took photos and reported these birds.
The next morning, MerryLynn and I, along with many other birders, got to see these beautiful new birds to us.
It was extremely exciting to at last see California scrub jays here in Walla Walla County.
This species has been moving north and have nested below McNary Dam for more than 13 years. They are now in Kennewick and Prosser.
So, what is pushing them north and east?
Be on the lookout for these beauties in your yard or on your feeders. Please report them to us.
Another interesting record was broken this second week of January.
On the 14th, it was 46 degrees and had been almost into the mid-sixties for several days.
So, we checked a spot in Wallula Gap to see if any native wild flowers had started blooming.
Sure enough, there blooming up through the Sandburg’s blue bunchgrass were two blooming salt and pepper lomatiums.
These plants produce a flower head comprised of 12-15 micro-blooms with white petals with purple centers.
This broke my long-standing record for early blooming native wildflowers of Jan. 19 — this was the 14th of January, 2021.
Earliest date ever here over the last 42 years for me.
These subtle changes are happening all over the natural world as the weather patterns continue to shift and change.
How do pollinators adjust to these changes with flower species blooming much earlier?
Remember, life is good!