WENATCHEE NATURALIST STORIES: CHAPTER 9

Chelsea Evans is a young professional who has choose to return to her hometown of Cashmere.

Chelsea Evans

Chelsea Evans

She jumped into last fall’s evening Wenatchee Naturalist course while working her day-job at Upper Valley MEND where she serves as the Community Harvest Gleaning Coordinator. This is a regional project that helps increase fresh produce in the Community Cupboard and other food banks, connecting farmers, gardeners, and local volunteers.

I know you’ll enjoy reading Chelsea’s non-fiction piece that introduces the critters who share her yard.

The Wenatchee Naturalist class has taught me how to see, observe, and appreciate every bit of the natural environment.  It has opened up a new sense of awe and wonderment and I marvel at the complexity of our local habitats.  I also have a new appreciation for all seasons.  For example, I used to view November as a dreary, slimy, gray month.  But now when I see the bare stems of all the plants that have lost their foliage and the wet, slimy leaves on the ground, instead of seeing a mess, I think about the incredible insect habitat these stems and leaves will provide.  When I look at the bare bitterbrush behind my house I think about the important food source they provide for the mule deer who will nibble on these plants for meager meals to sustain them through the winter.  The brown and the gray that I’ve seen as the hallmarks of the month of November now appear vibrant and teeming with life.

Mule deer outside Chelsea's window

Mule deer outside Chelsea’s window

I chose the hill behind my house as my field observation site because I had only recently moved there and hadn’t had time to explore.  I have been able to identify many native plant species just on the other side of my fence, including buckbrush, blue elderberry, red osier dogwood, ponderosa pine, and Douglas-fir.  After learning about mammals I was ecstatic to be able to identify pocket gopher tracks in the snow.  I had honestly never really looked at the birds outside my window, but have now identified six species and hope to be able to identify many more.  I’m still working on identifying all those little brown birds!  I have spotted deer, elk, coyote, and even a cougar. 

Merriam's Turkey in Chelan Couny Photo: Dave Hillestad

Merriam’s Turkey in Chelan Couny Photo: Dave Hillestad

But my favorite species to observe has been the flock of 50 wild turkeys who fly up to roost each night in my landlord’s tree.  I love learning their patterns and habits.  Each night at dusk, 15 turkeys break off from the group to hike across my driveway single-file and then on up the hill to their roosting tree.  The remaining 35 turkeys use my driveway as a launch pad to fly up in my landlord’s tree to roost.  In the morning they all fly down from the trees to begin their day of foraging and pecking. 

Merriam's turkey Photo: Dave Hillestad

Merriam’s turkey Photo: Dave Hillestad

The males puff themselves up, fan their tails, waddle about and drag their wings on the ground to look tough.  Well, this is my interpretation at least.  I look forward to a lifetime of observation, discovery, and community service to preserve the precious natural environment around us. 

Chelsea’s essay triggered me to do a little bit of research on wild turkey which are a non-native introduced game species in Washington.  Between 1960-1990, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife actively introduced three subspecies of wild turkey throughout Washington with the goal of providing a new hunting opportunities.  The subspecies we see in Chelan County is Merriam’s turkey that is native to conifer forests and canyons of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.  In winter, flocks use a traditional roosting area, selecting the largest tree in a grove and aiming to roost as high up as possible.  They feed in early morning and late evening, seeking grass seeds, ponderosa pine seeds, insects, plants, and fruits.  You can learn more by reading the WDFW’s “The Basics of Turkey Hunting in Washington.”  The ethics of introducing game species often results in unintended consequences.  For wild turkey in Washington,  large flocks can result nuisances to landowners and more troubling, wild turkey prey on eggs of ground-nesting native birds.

If you’d like to join Chelsea and learn about common wildlife in our area, check out the “Learn 10” webpage that has visuals and games for learning 100 local common species.

Leave a Reply