I have felt the winter solstice profoundly this year, a marker of both darkness and achievement, the doorway to light and the future. Weirdly, I am feeling optimistic at the end of December, looking forward to the new year. The week between Christmas and New Year’s day is inevitably one of lists – best movies, best books, highlights of the twelve months. The couple who deliver our papers (the Seattle and the New York Times) annually send a holiday card thanking us for our business and chronicling the wildlife seen in the early mornings along their route. I loved this year’s entry and so am sharing it. I was reminded of my own sightings on Tiger Mountain: my first bobcat; goldfinches, grosbeaks and cedar waxwings at the feeder along with the many year-rounders: four kinds of woodpeckers, Stellar’s jays, towhees, nuthatches and juncos, and several kinds of hummingbirds; a brown bear who visited our feeders in the middle of the night, standing on his hind legs to get to the seed. You can do worse than to judge the year by interactions with the natural world. Are you a hiker? Fly fisher? Traveler? What moments brought surprise and wonder this year, made you pause and simply relish being alive in this marvelous world?
From Kurt & Susan Strickland’s letter:
The guys at the Salmon Hatchery say they met their quota of 1.8 million Chinook eggs and 1.2 million Coho eggs. One of my enjoyments this year was observing a very large cutthroat trout from the hatchery bridge.
Animals spotted since my last letter include:
Owls – More numerous this year. They sometimes fly above my vehicle’s headlight beams, looking for rodents. Their winter-whit feathers came early this year.
Coyotes – Twice I have interrupted a dinner of house cats by these menacing pests. Another time, though, one was running away with a dead cat in its jaws.
Bears – Over a year ago, in one 75-minute period, I saw 5 bears…all in the city limits of Issaquah. This year though , wildlife officers have done a good job of live-trapping them, keeping their damage to a minimum.
Cougars – Once every 10 years or so, I spot them. This year, on Sept. 1st, coming down Tiger Mountain, my eye caught animal movement. In a 3-second time span, I saw not one but two young cougars about the size of medium dogs, looking off the road into the brush. (I think their mother was saying to her teenage kids, “get off the #*!@*% road.”) They have a large territory, and further up the mountain, above 1000 feet, one of my early-shift Boeing customer’s neighbors saw the mother & two cubs at 8 o’clock in the morning, crossing their lawn.
Frogs – our red-legged leopard frogs have come back. 3 years ago its numbers were decimated by a parasite, but this year full migration appeared strong.
Bullfrogs – Invasive species. Over a year ago, I saw a bullfrog & stopped my truck. It was so obese it could only jump about 1 foot. It reminded me of “Jabba the Hut” from the Star Wars Trilogy. I left it knowing it could become a raccoon dinner.
Raccoons – In the last 20 months they ate the baby squirrels in a nest outside my side window, as well as the Stellat Jay nest eggs. In town, up on Squak Mountain, about the 600 foot level, someone posted a sign at their mail stand, telling of a 50 pound raccoon advancing on people, in the daylight.
Arrogant Bobcats – 5…they do owwwn the road, don’t they?
Deer and Rabbist – Plentiful
Elk – The herd appears to be growing north of Highway 18. Last spring my headlights panned over a field with adult elk, and a number of calves popped up.
Beavers – At Four Lakes
Eagles – Up & down the valley
The beauty of this valley still astounds me. I’m coming to understand the reasoning behind why you put up with long drives and fight the time stresses of elsewhere …to be here.
Photos: Chinook salmon by Ingrid Taylar; Barred owl by A.J. Hand; McNugget from the blog of Larry & Kathleen Cragun