With April evaporating into the past, May brings with it spectacular events that happen right under our noses.
Insect numbers along with species diversity are increasing as warmer days slowly build. Animals native to Walla Walla County are having young or are preparing to have them very soon. Mammals such as mule deer will drop their fawns by the end of this month. Yellow-bellied marmots, Columbian ground squirrels and yellow- pine chipmunks are a few of the many animals that are already taking care of their young.
May also is the month that 70 percent of the native flowers bloom in the Blue Mountains foothills. In the avian world, neo-tropic birds are arriving in large numbers to breed in the western Blue Mountains and along the Columbia, Snake, Walla Walla and Touchet rivers.
Millions of native protected birds are killed every year by human-caused factors, such as vehicles, glass windows, poisons, pollution, house cats, wire fences, tower anchoring lines, shooting and myriad other things. So when these native bird populations have an opportunity to rebuild their numbers by raising young, we should not disturb them. Instead, we should help their endeavor by providing habitat, protected forage sites, keeping cats in the house and otherwise protect them by being proactive.
Birds provide what are called environmental services — actions they do for their survival that benefit humankind. Such services include feeding on huge numbers of pest insects and weed seeds, including non-native invasive weed seeds such as yellow star thistle, which American goldfinches devour.
So if you have the opportunity to retain and protect habitat, water and cover for native birds, please do so.
Lets take a look at one neo-tropic migrant that arrives in Valley in late April. This is the spectacular, wonderfully beautiful lazuli bunting. It’s Latin name is Passerina amoena (AMMO- ee- nah), which when translated to English breaks down to “sparrow like” and “pleasing to the eye.” The buntings get their name after the lapis lazuli, a precious deep-blue stone favored by Egyptian pharos.
The bright blue males arrive first in late April or early May, often in large flocks. Three times I have seen flocks of more than 50 males feeding on millet. Twice over the years my wife and I have enjoyed seeing more than 60 in our yard during migration.
Not only are these birds eye-catching, but they also produce a great song. Theirs is the dominate song in many of the canyons of the interior West. If you go into Hells Canyon, Coppei Creek Canyon and Dry Creek Canyon in June you will hear their constant bubbling song.
The lazuli buntings depart from this county in early September and head south to the west coast of Mexico.
Watch for them and remember they require forage, water and great habitat to bring off their young. The 5.5 inch long bird is also protected under international law.
To potentially see this wild bird in your yard during their migration, place white proso millet on the ground in an area where they would be able to see any potential predators for some distance. As spring arrives and by early May, the buntings shift from eating winter seeds to feeding on soft bodied insects for protein in order to lay eggs and raise their four young.
I hope each of you get an opportunity to observe a lazuli bunting this spring and summer in our region. To increase your opportunity to see wildlife and native birds, join in field trips noted on the Audubon Society’s local Blue Mountain Chapter Facebook page. Also consider participating in a 2K event May 10 at the Jonathan Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center. You will have a chance to be outside and do great things.
Remember, life is good!
Mike Denny is president of the Blue Mountain chapter of the National Audubon Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org., or by calling 6-8 p.m. weekdays at 529-0080.