Nature on Trail: Cliff Swallow, Black-Tailed Deer, Sword Fern
Northwest forests are teeming with life—much of which may go overlooked or unseen. On your next hike, look out for the little things and discover something new on your favorite trails. Cliff swallows make a trip to Dry Falls Lake in Sun Lakes State Park worth a visit.
by Tami Asars
Northwest forests are teeming with life—much of which may go overlooked or unseen. On your next hike, look out for the little things and discover something new on your favorite trails.
Bird: Cliff swallows make a trip to Dry Falls Lake worth a visit
You’ve likely heard of the swallows’ annual return to Capistrano. Well, we have our own return of the cliff swallows right here in the Northwest! The high basalt cliffs of central Washington come alive with them after they make their way back to their breeding grounds in early April.
As the temperatures warm, the graceful flyers dip and swirl through the air, eating a variety of insects. Observers with good binoculars might see little heads popping out of feather-lined mud-ball nests, built by rolling tiny balls of mud piece by piece in their beaks, then securing them onto sheltered cliff walls.
There are many good places to see cliff swallows; Dry Falls Lake in Sun Lakes State Park offers excellent viewing opportunities.
Beast: Find black-tailed deer on trail or in your backyard
If you live on the west side of the Cascade crest and deer wander through your yard, it’s likely your four-legged friends are black-tailed deer. These casual grazers feed on just about anything they can find, including native grasses, salal, salmonberry, pearly everlasting, huckleberry and, yes, your prized petunias.
Look for newborn fawns from late May into June after a gestation period of six to seven months from the fall rut. Fawns have no scent for approximately the first week or so, giving the mother an opportunity to leave the youngster hidden as she hunts for nourishment to recover from its birth.
Look for black-tailed deer during dawn and dusk in wooded areas or grassy meadows.
Bloom: The sword fern saves you from stinging nettle
Most of us know the sword fern from the moist coniferous forest floors of the rainy Northwest. The rain provides a perfect climate of consistent moisture for these plants, which serve as natural ground cover happily growing in the acidic soils at the feet of evergreens.
Look for fiddleheads unrolling in mid- to late spring, looking at times like seahorses as they uncurl. Not only do sword ferns make for nice landscaping, these tough plants are fire resistant and even somewhat drought tolerant in hot summers.
Also, they have one other interesting use.The next time you get stung by a stinging nettle, grab a sword fern leaf and rub its underside against the affected area. It helps alleviate the burning sensation!
This article originally appeared in the Mar+Apr issue of Washington Trails magazine.