Year in Nature 2009

Here are some of the natural wonders you can expect to see in Whatcom County and surrounding areas this year.


Fairy shrimp and fingernail clams are hatched out and active in small, isolated wetland pools.

Snow becomes heavy in the mountains. It's a good time to find animal tracks, including elk, snowshoe hare, cougar and bobcat.

Mountain goats and elk move to lower elevations. A good place to spot mountain goats is the cliffs along the Baker River Trail.

Truffles are abundant in the woods. These fungi stay below the surface, releasing fragrances that entice animals to eat them, passing on the spores.

Mid-month snow geese from the Fraser Delta fly over Whatcom County to the Skagit Delta, making for tens of thousands of snow geese in the Skagit Delta.

Great horned owls start their deep, hooting mating calls.

Locally breeding bald eagles begin nesting. They either build a structure out of sticks or they add sticks to an old one.

Coho run in Thompson and Boyd creeks.

Late January, seawater is at its clearest, with less plankton than at any other time of year.


Barred owls start their mating calls.

Late in the month, bull kelp anchors to the sea floor, as deep as 30 feet down, and begins growing.

Alder catkins release pollen, making life miserable for allergy sufferers.

Indian plum blooms.

Tree swallows, among the first birds to migrate north for the summer, arrive.

Any night after heavy rain with a temperature over 50 degrees will see adult salamanders and frogs migrating toward breeding grounds.

Thousands of snow geese fly from the Skagit Delta to the Fraser Delta.

Tree frogs start their chorus.

Bald eagles lay eggs in the last days of February and the first days of March.


Budding black cottonwood fragrance fills the air with a sweet balsam scent.

If you walk close to a pond at the beginning of the month, you might hear a low murmuring sound. It's male red-legged frogs calling beneath the water for mates.

Red-flowering currant blooms.

Silver-spotted tiger moth caterpillars, which hatched in the fall and spent the winter huddled together in Douglas fir trees, begin to spread out.

Crustaceans, fish, mollusks and other sea creatures release thousands of tiny larvae into the plankton through March and April.

Ladybugs come out of hibernation.

Brant that winter in Mexico stop at Padilla Bay.

Great blue herons move to colonies.

Mid-month, violet-green swallows and rufous hummingbirds arrive.

Amphibian egg masses appear in ponds.

Trillium blooms.


Little brown myotis bats return from hibernacula, or their winter hibernation spots. (There's a nursery colony of hundreds of moms and their young in the attic of the Hovander House in Ferndale that can be seen during summer.)

California darners, the first dragonflies of the season, emerge from lakes and ponds.

Bald eagle eggs hatch. For two weeks, the parents take turns watching over the chicks. After that, the parents will go on hunting expeditions, leaving the chicks alone in the nest.April 8 is the average date for the last frost.

Great blue herons begin to nest. The male gathers sticks and the female weaves them into the nest. The female lays three to five eggs. Both parents help incubate them for about four weeks.

Big-leaf maples bloom.

Camas blooms in low-lying meadows.

Spawning time for Cherry Point herring begins, attracting flocks of surf scoters.

Gray whales migrate along the Washington coast on their way from Baja California to their summer feeding areas around the Bering Strait.

River flows rise as snow starts melting in the mountains. If heavy rains fall on the melting snow, flooding could result.

Snow geese leave by the end of the month.

This year's bull kelp reaches the water's surface.

In April and May, plankton is at its thickest in seawater.


Dunlin fly north.

Bears come out of hibernation.

Wood ducks and mallards fledge.

The first chicks hatch in great blue heron colonies.

Western grebes leave for the interior.

Local black-tailed deer start having fawns. If you see one alone, don't touch it. It most likely isn't abandoned.

Mid-month, the western tanager, a colorful songbird with a red head and yellow body, arrives. It is particularly drawn to cherry trees.

Pond lily blooms.

Trumpeter and tundra swans leave for the north.

Brant leave for their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

Southern resident orcas arrive in this area.

Steelhead and sea-run cutthroat trout run in Thompson and Boyd creeks through June.

Salmonberries fruit.

Cottonwoods begin to release their fluffy seeds.

Stinging nettles bloom.

Elk herds disperse at the end of the month. The cows each give birth to a single calf.

Mountain goats begin to have kids at the end of the month.


High summer in the bird world; all the summer birds have arrived from the tropics and the winter migrants have all left. This lasts at least until the end of the month when western sandpipers stop on their way south.

Late in the month, snow melts above the tree line.

As it melts, glacier lilies bloom.

First mosquitoes appear.

Indian pipe, spotted coralroot and other pale, parasitic plants emerge from woodland soil.

Serviceberries, wild strawberries, thimbleberries and red huckleberries fruit.

The Earth's position relative to the sun and moon bring extreme low tides - to the delight of beachcombers and the demise of sea creatures caught in the sun.


Toadlets of western toad emerge from the water. Don't touch; they're fragile. Places to see them: Silver Lake on the July 4 weekend, Hannegan Pass Trail, Yellow Aster Butte Trail, Elbow Lake Trail.

Wildflowers abundant in mountain meadows.

The plankton that causes red tide blooms in great numbers in some locations, causing build-ups of deadly poisons in nearby shellfish. In some places the problem persists into October.

Peak time for dragonflies.

Butterflies congregate on Yellow Aster Butte and other lower Cascade peaks.

Harbor seals pup. If you see a pup alone on a beach, do not approach it. Its mother will most likely return for it.

Big-leaf maple forms seeds.

The first young learn to fly in great blue heron colonies. For the next few weeks they hang around the nest where their parents feed them.

Bald eagle chicks learn to fly. They stay dependent on their parents, who will teach them to hunt over the next few weeks.

Moon jellies and fried egg jellies appear in local waters. In some places, such as East Sound on Orcas Island, they can form huge crowds.


Rufous hummingbirds move from lowlands to meadows above the tree line.

Paintbrush blooms in mountain meadows.

Perseid meteor shower peaks during the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 12. Get away from bright city lights and look northeast.

Mid-month, giant dampwood termites swarm and fly. Often wrongly called flying ants, these red insects are clumsy fliers.

A dinner plate-sized jelly called lion's mane booms in population.

Last young learn to fly in great blue heron colonies.

Chinook salmon run in Boyd Creek through September.

Rivers reach their lowest flows.


Blueberries fruit in the mountains.

Bears move through mountain meadows, eating blueberries.

Sockeye salmon run in Canyon Creek.

Mid-month, western grebes arrive for the winter. Once here, they replace their old feathers with new ones all at once - a molting process that could take up to a month and renders them flightless during that time. They instead swim around local waters, fishing.

Orb-weaving spiders reach peak size and mate.

Southern resident orcas leave at the end of the month.

Sub-alpine daisy blooms, bringing to an end the flowering season in the meadows above the tree line.

Two weeks after the first thorough rain of fall, mushrooms sprout, including chanterelles and boletes.


Early in the month, migrating birds of prey ride thermals near ridge tops.

Douglas fir cones open, releasing seeds to the wind.

When big-leaf maples lose their leaves, the mosses and licorice ferns on their branches start growing.

Fall colors are at their most brilliant in the mountains.

Rough-legged hawks arrive from the Arctic, along with a variety of hawks and owls that winter in the area.

Bulk of dunlin arrive.

Elk rut. This time of year, elk bulls often bugle.

Snow geese arrive mid-month.

Gray whales migrate south again.

Chinook, coho and chum salmon begin running on Whatcom Creek and continue into December.

Coho and chum begin running on Chuckanut Creek and continue into December.

Coho runs can be seen on Thompson and Boyd creeks and continue into December.

First major snow in the mountains by the end of the month.

First frost by the end of the month.

Brant arrive at Padilla Bay around Oct. 31.

Little brown myotis bats leave for their hibernacula, or their winter homes where they'll hibernate for five to six months. There, they go into a state of torpor in which their metabolism slows drastically.


Trumpeter swans arrive.

Flooding is common on warm, wet days this month, when heavy rain falls on melting snow.

Mosses mate, their sperm swimming through rainwater. Their spore bodies will form over the winter.

Every few years, snowy owls fly south to winter here.

Mid-month: Last flight of the autumn meadowhawk, last dragonfly of the season.

Varied thrushes appear in inhabited areas of the lowlands.

Hedgehog and matsutake mushrooms fruit.

Coho and chum begin running in the Nooksack River and Squalicum Creek and continue into December.

Chum begin running in Padden Creek and continue into December.

Coho begin running in Fish Trap Creek and continue into December.


Bears go into hibernation.

All overwintering birds have arrived.

Bald eagles congregate along the banks of the Nooksack and Skagit rivers, eating chum salmon that have spawned. They'll stay around, in diminishing numbers, until mid-February.

With the cold weather at the end of the month comes the bright red fruiting body of Sarcoscypha coccinea, the scarlet cup fungus, which grows on fallen hardwood branches.

The lowest winter low tides occur in the middle of the night - the best time to see unsuspecting sunflower stars and giant-pink sea stars of all sizes.

Sources: Shona Aitken, Glen Alexander, Herbert Brown, Roger Christophersen, Fred Daugert, Jim Edwards, Brady Green, Jennifer Hahn, Al Hanners, Heather Higgins-Aanes, Marie Hitchman, Vikki Jackson, Joe Meche, Todd Murray, Patricia Otto, Fred Rhoades, Doug Stark, Sylvia Thorpe, Terry Wahl, Bert Webber, Sue Webber, The Whale Museum at Friday Harbor, "The Sibley Guide to Birds," by David Allen Sibley, "Mushrooms Demystified," by David Arora, "A Birder's Guide to Washington," by Hal Opperman with contributions from members of the Washington Ornithological Society, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.