May Brings Prairie Flowers and Coyote Puppies

Author: Whidbey Camano Land Trust | 05/08/20
       

Golden Paintbrush

Golden Paintbrush is an endangered prairie plant that generally starts to bloom in May on Whidbey Island. Photo by Jann Ledbetter.

May not only brings promises of beautiful native prairie plants in bloom, but coyote pups, too! Here’s a look at some things in nature that you may see or hear on Whidbey or Camano islands during the month of May:

Two native prairie plants spring into bloom: Camas and Golden Paintbrush

While the Land Trust’s Admiralty Inlet Preserve boasts many different native prairie wildflowers, camas and golden paintbrush are two of the favorites for nature lovers.

Camas with Bee

A bee lands on a camas flower at Admiralty Inlet Preserve this month.

Common camas (Camassia quamash) is one of the few native, wild blue flowers. In fact, famed explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were so impressed by the camas’s bloom along their trek on the Oregon Trail they describe the flower to be the same color as clear lake water. These clustered, star-shaped flowers are a part of the lily family.

Camas’ value doesn’t just lie in the beauty though. This native species is also well known for being an important traditional food for the native people of the Pacific Northwest. Often referred to as a “first food,” the bulbs are one of the first plants that can be harvested in the season. Though, if the bulbs aren’t prepared correctly, they can cause digestive distress.

Golden Paintbrush

Golden paintbrush at Admiralty Inlet Preserve.

Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) is the yellow, prairie cousin to the common Indian paintbrush. While various paintbrush flowers can be found from the deserts, to the mountains, and now on the prairie, there are only 12 known sites in the world where this endangered prairie plant naturally occurs.

Paintbrush is a hemi-parasitic plant. This means that the flower will feed off other plants to survive and thrive. As a result, preserving and restoring golden paintbrush will not succeed with planting the one species — the whole prairie needs to exist.

Golden paintbrush is also a favorite host plant for the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. Adult Taylor’s checkerspots emerge at the same time the paintbrush start blooming, providing an excellent safe place and food source fort the butterflies’ eggs and larvae. One of the major reasons this insect’s population started going extinct was due to loss of habitat. While there are no Taylor’s checkerspots on Whidbey Island, we hope our prairie restoration efforts will allow this beautiful butterfly find a home here.

Coyote

A coyote pauses on a Central Whidbey Island field. Photo by Jennifer Holmes.

From howls to yips: puppy season has arrived

It’s coyote puppy season! Starting at the end of April and into early May, coyote pups are coming out of their dens.

Coyotes, which historically were only found in sagebrush, mountain, and prairie habitats, can be spotted almost everywhere nowadays. One of the islands’ larger mammals, these adaptable canines can definitely be heard at night and sometimes seen during the day.

Mother coyotes will often create numerous den sites from digging holes to living under people’s sheds at the start of the year. This is done so the mother will be able to rotate between dens and minimize the risk of her young pups being found. This is extremely important because even though coyotes will have litters between four and five pups, many won’t survive past the first year.

Coyote pups are one of the lucky few wild animals who have both parents that care and forage for them. Only after a month, the pups are able to move around and eat meat. Around six months, the pups are nearly full grown and are trained by mom to search for their own food. By fall, the litter will often leave their parents to find their own territory. When the new year starts, these pups will be having litters of their own.

What Else You Might Observe in May

Bald Eagles are common visitors to farm fields on the islands right after fresh cuts of grass. They’re looking for an easy meal − generally small mammals, dead or alive, that are exposed after fields are cut. It’s not uncommon to see a dozen or more eagles in a field at one time right after a cut.

American White Pelicans also have begun making appearances on the islands in recent years during the spring and summer and can be seen as early as April. Deer Lagoon and the Land Trust’s Crockett Lake Preserve are two of their favorite places to feed on small fish.

 

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