Nature Watch: Nature in Stasis
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.
Autumnal bird migrations have ended. The only avian movements now are from one resource to another. Mammals, too, are in basic survival mode. The deer rut has ended and Townsend’s chipmunks are hibernating in burrows. Local bats have migrated or entered hibernation. Silver-haired bats and California myotis are among the species wintering here – the former may be sheltering in your wood pile. Deciduous trees and shrubs have set their buds and await longer, warmer days. Across the islands’ ecosystems, a period of inactivity called stasis has been reached.
Here’s a look at two species you might notice in December.
Flora: Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum
Not all non-conifer native trees and shrubs drop their leaves. Evergreen huckleberry grows to heights of two to ten feet. The small, shiny green leaves are egg or lance-shaped with toothed edges. Clusters of bell-shaped white to pink blossoms emerge in spring, developing into small dark berries. Thrushes, sparrows and towhees are just some of the birds that consume the fruit. Evergreen huckleberry is a coastal species that prefers forest openings where they offer excellent ground cover for birds, amphibians and small mammals.
Fauna: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Regulus satrapa
Our smallest wintering forest bird is also the most abundant. Golden-crowned Kinglets are 4 inches long and weigh less than a quarter of an ounce. They have a gray-olive back and white undersides. The black-edged crest is yellow on females and yellow with a flash of orange on the males.
Thousands of kinglets drop down from their breeding range in the North Cascades. Large flocks gather, moving through the trees to pick insect eggs from twigs and conifer needles. Their high-pitched calls can be heard as they forage. Kinglets are easily overlooked, yet they control insect populations and help maintain forest health.