April in the Walla Walla Valley is a rush of new life


April is the month of new life. All about you are plants, insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians showing vigor and enthusiasm over every hour they live -- each looking to procreate.

Once again it all has to do with the increasing length of daylight and climbing ambient air temperatures. There are now many more species awake and moving than last month.

In the foothills of the Blue Mountains, just a couple hundred yards below the retreating snow line, is a reptile that is so interesting and amazing that I have to share it with you. It's the rubber boa, or two headed snake, named so because of its behavior when defensive.

It lives under large rotting logs, deep plant litter or in pocket gopher tunnel systems. These are burrowing snakes that spend most of their lives underground. It is only in April, May and early June that they surface in search of mates.

They are crepuscular, active in twilight, in their search for prey and mates. They grow to 23 inches long in the Blue Mountains and are a solid olive brown as adults on the dorsal surface and have a mostly yellow belly. As young they are a uniform reddish tan. Its eyes look like cat eyes in daylight, but become full and round in low light.

They are harmless to humans as they feed on small frogs, slugs, young mice and sometimes each other. They are smooth to the touch due to their very small scales. It is these very smooth small scales that allow them to slip through soil, leaf litter and rotting wood quietly and effortlessly.

When harassed by mice, birds or other small mammals on the surface, they often ball up and present their very stubby, rounded tail which most other animals take to be their heads. So that is what the birds peck and mice nip, leaving scars, while the boa's head is buried under the ball of its coils safe from attack.

This is a true boa that grabs its prey with its small teeth and wraps its coils around the animal to suffocate it. It then swallows it whole over time. It is a species that should be left alone when located because they are very important to the system in which they live.

Another important animal that is advertising its arrival in the Blue Mountains is the red-naped sapsucker.

These beautiful woodpeckers winter in the southwestern deserts, mountains and towns. They arrive from their migration to our area in the northern Blue Mountains in late March and by early April are announcing their presence to all that will listen.

With a rapid hammering on dead wood that stops suddenly and with a yaaay-yaaall cat-like call, this woodpecker starts to settle its new territory. It will excavate a fresh cavity in a dead tree and then begin to display to attract a female bird.

Red-naped sapsuckers create a series of sap wells in different willows, birch, alders and aspen which it then visits as it makes its rounds, sucking up the sugar filled sap and insects that are attracted to its wells it has drilled in these trees.

In the insect world, start watching for beautiful little blue butterflies, among which is the square-spotted little blue. These fast flying butterflies have a bright blue dorsal surface. They have a very early flight period and after late May are all but gone in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. All butterflies have flight periods and after they have laid their eggs they die only to be replaced by their young later that year or the next spring.

Remember that as the days warm up our county will be bursting with new life. Be careful what insects you kill as there are so many important insects out there that aid in this planets survival.

Life is good!

Mike Denny is vice president of the Blue Mountain chapter of the National Audubon Society. He can be reached at m.denny@charter.net., or by calling 6-8 p.m. weekdays at 529-0080.


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