As I sit here writing this month’s column, the temperature is 67 degrees.
It is partly cloudy with warm rays of sunlight reaching the ground.
Crocus are blooming along with winter jasmin, snow drops and a lone viola in our yard. This last day of the first month of this new decade is warm!
So, you have to ask yourself what effects do this unseasonably warm weather have on the natural world locally?
Some observations I made while walking along Mill Creek from Rooks Park:
Mill Creek was higher than a week ago; this is due to rain and loss of snow cover higher in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
There was a light wind of 5-7 mph blowing off and on. Flying above the rushing waters of Mill Creek were many dozens of small caddisflies looking for mates. Then, in areas out of the wind were columns of dancing midges just above the warming earth.
Also saw several singing Bewick’s wrens perched on clumps of Nutka rose or snow berries.
These wonderful native wrens have only been in the Walla Walla Valley since 1979, when one was discovered on the Blue Mountain Audubon Christmas Bird Count. This delightful species has now spread to the northeast into the Saint Joe River Valley and on beyond Lake Chekolet in North Idaho.
Other observations this last day of January 2020 were the activity in the brown marmorated stink bug population as they climbed up the outside of our house.
This highly invasive pest has now established itself in the Walla Walla River basin.
They hibernate as adults in dark warm sites, then emerge when the air temps warm above 50 degrees.
This insect came to us from trade with China and Japan. They bite all fruits, berries and some vegetables, causing deformities and scars on everything they feed on.
This dark, half-inch long stink bug really thrives in sudden warm, moist winter months.
Warm snaps like on Jan. 30 cause the sap to flow in trees, brings earth worms to the surface and allows all kinds of flies, moths and small beetles a chance to become active and emerge from their underground pupa.
For many migrant birds, it is not the daylight air temps that cause them to migrate, but rather length of daylight.
So yes, it has warmed up alot, but the days still only change 1.4 minutes each 24 hours as we inch towards the start of spring months from now.
We have only had 11 days of freezing temps this winter.
So, watch for signs and effects these warm weather days are having on the area around you. How are plants and animals responding?
In western Walla Walla County right now are many thousands of waterfowl, and in these scores of ducks and geese are 20,000 mallards as well as 12,000 Northern pintail ducks and about 30,000 snow geese.
This spectacle can be witnessed at McNary National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on Burbank Slough.
There is also a great opportunity to see where art and science intersect through photography at the Sheehan Gallery on the Whitman College campus.
There are several superb, eye-catching photographic displays on the northern Blue Mountains and the Wallowas, all having to do with the importance of the role of fire in a forested landscape.
Many of these images are by John Marshall, the son of well-known biologist David
Marshall, with whom I had the privilege of contributing to a book on the birds of Oregon in 2003.
So, I would urge you to put in a visit to the Sheehan Gallery while this outstanding educational/artistic display is up for your review.
Remember, the first hints of early spring are already here.
Now go out and locate them.
Remember, life is good!