Nature Watch: Nature in a Hurry
About the author: Steve Ellis is a naturalist and Land Trust member who enjoys sharing his love of the natural world. His blog series, “Nature Watch,” will appear each month in “Habitchat,” chronicling native plants and wildlife you can expect to see during that particular time of year. We thank Steve for sharing his passion, illustrating the importance of island conservation.
Spring bird migration is a rushed event. The need to get to northern breeding grounds quickly to initiate the nesting process is paramount. Species such as Greater White-fronted Goose and Yellow-rumped Warbler race through this area, stopping only long enough to refuel.
Local Great Blue Herons are squeezed for time: eggs laid in April mean the young will be fully fledged and living on their own by September, just before the bad weather of autumn.
Coho salmon smolts are leaving the Skagit River and dashing to find sheltering places in Skagit and Dugualla bays.
Plants, too, feel the need to pick up the pace of leafing out and blooming. Pollinating insects have a wide banquet to choose from with wild strawberry, thrift, and trailing blackberry vying for the attention of early bumblebees. Nature’s pace can be frantic during this hurry-up month.
Only mammals seem unrushed. Raccoon cubs and coyote pups might be born now or in May. The young stay with their families for several months, so a few weeks either way hardly matters.
Photos: Bumblebee in Salmonberry flower by Martha Ellis | Salmonberry
Flora: Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis
The species name spectabilis means “spectacular.” When it comes to being showy, this raspberry relative has few equals.
Salmonberry rises to 12 feet on canes with prickly, golden-brown bark. The dark green leaves are divided into 3 leaflets and are pointed at the tips. Pink or magenta blossoms begin to emerge in March. They are 1.5 inches across and may be singular or in small clusters. By June, they become yellow or reddish berries.
Bumblebees and Rufous Hummingbirds seek nectar from the blooms. Multitudes of American Robin and Swainson’s Thrush are raised each year on the fruits, making this shrub one of the most important to wildlife in our area.
Look for salmonberry in moist places in forests and along roadsides.
Fauna: Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus
The majority of gray whales, having wintered in the Baja area, hurry northward to the rich feeding grounds off Alaska’s shores. About a dozen spend several months in our area.
Gray whales reach an adult length of 40 to 45 feet. They are overall grayish in color and lack the dorsal fin found on most whale species. Two blow holes produce a heart-shaped blow.
These magnificent creatures can be found feeding on ghost shrimp in Saratoga Passage, Port Susan, and along north Whidbey Island. Grays are often undernourished upon arrival, so keep your distance in order to prevent additional stress on these amazing mammals.