Nature Watch: Nature Rolls the Dice
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.
Will February’s weather be cold and icy or wet and warm? Much is at stake: trees and shrubs that produce early blossoms risk frost damage.
Frigid temperatures are also hazardous for local fauna. Anna’s Hummingbirds attempting early nesting may lose their broods. Particularly vulnerable are the egg masses northwestern salamanders are attaching to underwater sticks in ponds this month.
Some parts of nature are unaffected by short-term cold snaps. Groups of Dungeness crabs are beginning to migrate upslope to shallower waters, while tidepool sculpins are egg-laying near shore.
Whatever the weather, our native Humboldt’s flying squirrels and Douglas squirrels become noticeably more active this month. Listen for the former’s “chittering” calls after dark in conifer woods.
The vast majority of growth and reproduction, however, is still on hold until weather conditions stabilize and nature is no longer rolling the dice.
Flora: Osoberry, Oemleria cerasiformis (a.k.a. Indian Plum)
Osoberry is a shrub with purplish-brown bark, reaching a height of 17 feet. Leaves are 2 to 5 inches long, oval, with sharply-pointed tips. Hanging clusters of white flowers emerge before the leaves. Pollination is performed by flies that are out before the appearance of bees. The blooms become peach-colored berries that will turn bluish-black, attracting a number of our bird species. Look for these early-bloomers in open forests and along roadsides.
Fauna: Northern River Otter, Lontra canadensis
Members of the weasel family, river otters can attain a length of 4 ½ feet and weigh up to 40 pounds. The brownish body has a broad, flat head and short legs. The thick tail makes up about ⅓ of their total length.
River otters adapt quite easily to the ocean and are extremely mobile on land or in water. Their loping gait allows them to hit 18 mph on land, and their sinuous bodies and muscular legs produce a swim speed of 6 mph. Fish are detected by sight or – if the water is clouded – by feel with their sensitive whiskers.
Otter pups are born as early as February, in dens dug into banks, beneath fallen trees, or under buildings.