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Nature on Trail: Red-Breasted Sapsucker, Pika, Bitterroot

Posted by Loren Drummond at May 21, 2013 03:10 PM |
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Northwest forests are teeming with life. On your next hike, look out for the red-breasted sapsucker, the pika, and bitterroot.

by Tami Asars

Bird: Watch for red-breasted sapsuckers at the top of conifers

Captain Obvious had some fun naming this bird. Not surprisingly, this colorful bird with a breast of brilliant red feathers is known for sucking sap from the wells it drills in living trees.

In spring, the females lay 4 to 7 snow-white eggs that eventually produce naked and helpless little chicks. Both parents play a role in feeding and protecting the young and in 26 to 28 days, the fledglings are ready to leave the nest.

Interestingly, hummingbirds have developed a symbiotic relationship with sapsuckers and rely on their holes for feeding sources.

This spring, when you hear a pecking sound high in the conifers, look closely. Often you’ll see a hummingbird hovering nearby, waiting for its turn at the feeding tree.


Beast: Keep your ears perked for the warning call of the pika

Pika - Tami Asars
Pikas are known for the screeches they make in their mountain homes.
“Eeeeepp!” This is the warning call of a small mammal called a pika, and is commonly heard near talus slopes. This rock-dwelling rodent, closely related to the hare, is 6 to 8 inches long with a round body and little ears. Pikas are active day and night, and do not hibernate.

In summer, pikas work on building a “haystack,” a pile of grasses, heather and wildflowers on which they feed through the cold winter months. Drying their haystack is key to keeping it preserved, so if you look closely, you may see a pile drying in the sun.

If wet weather comes along, they move it to a drier location.When they aren’t working on gathering food, they are often guarding their tunnels, keeping a close eye out for predators.


Bloom: Bitterroot add a touch of color to hikes amongst Washington’s sagebrush

Bitterroot - Tami Asars
Bitterroot, sometimes used for medicinal purposes, grows in dry desert landscapes.
The fragile, colorful and unexpected blooms of the bitterroot plant shout “spring is here” from hilltops in arid desert climates.

The root, bitter unless cooked (hence the name), was usually eaten with berries or meats for meals by Native Americans who depended on this plant for an extremely nutritious food source. It was claimed to sustain an active person for a whole day. Medicinal uses included infusions of the root to help relieve heart pain, to counteract the effect of poison ivy rash and even as a treatment for cold sores.

Today, the plants are used for landscaping in rock gardens or seen growing wild in Washington’s dry scabland and sagebrush areas.


nullThis article originally appeared in the May+Jun 2013 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Join WTA to get your one-year subscription.