Spring brings end to era, rebirth to Valley life



Mike Denny

A Wall Flower in the Wallula Habitat Management Unit in Walla Walla County.

Walla Walla Symphony, BMA to host concert

The Blue Mountain Audubon has partnered with the Walla Walla Symphony for “A Little Summer Night Music,” a concert to to be held 7:30 p.m. April 15 at Whitman College’s Cordiner Hall. The peformance of works by Copland, Corigliano and Delius includes a piece that will be accompanied with wildlife images by nature photographer Paul Bannick. Tickets are available through the local Audubon Society, online at blumtn.org, and the Symphony at wwsymphony.com.

Time is a constant, but we humans change and age through the course of our lives. The creatures in the natural world are tied to generations as they replace each other in looks and actions that are much alike, such as ants in a colony.

We humans may look all alike at a distance but are unique as individuals up close. One very interesting and enduring human that I have had the privilege to meet has now pushed his life beyond 90 years.

I am speaking of Tom Lamb, who has hosted thousands of people over the years in his yard south of Dixie. The visitors came to watch the hundreds of hummingbirds he attracted to his yard every spring and summer. He allowed all of us to enter his property, and, with outstanding hospitality, explained his operation and how he kept hummingbirds fed and happy. Tom gave many hours of his time to visit with guests about hummingbirds and life in general.

But this gentle man is no longer able to host visitors in his yard, so this is the end of an era in the Walla Walla Valley. His family requests visitors to make appointments, and after this May this opportunity to share in the lives of hundreds of hummingbirds will end. For now, to make an appointment please contact his granddaughter Michelle Harmon at facebook.com/hummingbirdcrossing.

April just popped up like the daffodils the month coaxes from the warming soil, and the start of spring is a time when many hundreds of species are appearing on the landscape. So this month let’s consider an insect and a native plant.

One of my favorite insects is the darkling beetle, Eleodes obscura, a 1.7-inch-long black bug from the order Coleoptera, or “sheath wings.” A common name for them are “head-stander beetles,” after their habit of standing on their heads if brushed or bumped. This is a defensive move we will talk about a bit later.

There are 121 species of darkling beetles north of Mexico in the interior West. They develop underground from a pupa over winter and emerge as adults. Their hard outer wing covers are fused together to prevent their body from dehydrating under the warm spring sun.

Darklings feed on decaying vegetable matter and are considered detridal feeders. They are very common in arid areas until the ground heats up and then they head for any burrow or cavity in the ground that will get them out of the direct sun.

Their head-standing maneuver is part of an amazing defense system and is why they also are known as skunk beetles. Once they detect a rodent in the area they stand on their head and aim their tail end in the critter’s direction and lets go with a mixture of acids that hit the rodent right in the eyes, greatly discouraging any attack on the beetle.

But there are mice that have learned to counteract darklings that might spray. The mice simply grab beetles and jam their rear ends into the sand and proceed to eat it from the head down.

Darkling beetles are out and about all spring and summer and late into fall until the first hard freeze. So watch where you step this season as these big beetles go about feeding on plant litter.

The native plant for this month is a spectacular early-April bloomer that can grow to 14 inches high and produce long waxy looking leaves. It’s called a wallflower — a huge misnomer because its bright yellow flowers are eye catching not only to humans but also to many important pollinators that depend on the these desert plants.

So when you are out in the low-rainfall areas of Walla Walla County, please do not pick the flowers. So many native bees, wasps, flies and butterflies depend on the plant to feed on.

Remember, life is good.

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


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