Nature Sightings: April - May 2012

May 29, 2012 - Zach Schierl - Of Butterflies and Squirrels
large yellow and black butterfly
An Anise Swallowtail butterfly with ragged wings rests on a blade of grass at Whitman Mission.

NPS - Zach Schierl


This Anise Swallowtail butterfly was recently spotted alighting on a blade of grass near the Whitman Memorial. The Anise Swallowtail appears very similar to the Oregon Swallowtail. A few differences are that the Anise Swallowtail has a body and wings that are predominantly black with yellow stripes, while the Oregon Swallowtail is predominantly yellow with black stripes. The small black spots in the center of the yellow patches just below the body are also indicative of the Anise Swallowtail. The fact that this particular butterfly is missing several chunks of its wings (including the "tail" that makes the swallowtail family so easy to spot) makes identification even more difficult. This strikes at the importance of taking pictures of a hard-to-identify species, whether it be a butterfly, a bird, or a snake. Using this picture, Ranger Renee and I were able to notice details that I didn't notice in the field, helping us identify the butterfly.

two squirrels in a tree
Two Eastern Gray Squirrels chase each other through a tree on the Whitman Mission Grounds. While native to the eastern and midwestern United States, these squirrels have been introduced to the western U.S. and are now common at Whitman Mission and throughout the Walla Walla area.

NPS - Zach Schierl


May 13, 2012 - Renee Rusler - Easter Eggs in the Trees?

This morning as I was walking down the north side of the hill, gazing into the tree tops, a flash of yellow and red caught my eye. A male Western Tanager! With lemon yellow bodies and bright red heads, these robin sized birds are easy to identify. I searched for more of them, but instead of the yellow and red, I next caught a flash of blue, then a patch of orange. Easter may be past, but I felt I was hunting for brightly colored Easter eggs hidden by the leaves and branches of the trees. By the end of my search I had seen Western Tanagers, Lazuli Buntings (the flash of blue), Bullock's Orioles (the patch of orange), and American Goldfinches (smaller lemon yellow birds with a black patch on forehead).

The bright yellow and red in the branches is a male Western Tanager.
The bird that first caught my eye. Even though some of its face is blocked by a branch, the distinctive coloring makes it easy to identify.

NPS - Renee Rusler


May 1, 2012 - Renee Rusler - It's Turtle Time!
turtles sitting on floating board
Western Painted Turtles and Sliders are both in this photo. Can you tell which is which?

NPS - Renee Rusler


It's Turtle Time! When it gets warm the turtles clamber back onto the wooden platforms that float in the park's pond. These were seen this last weekend.

Two types of turtles live at Whitman Mission, the Western Painted Turtle and the Slider (an introduced turtle). Both kinds are in this photo. They can be challenging to tell apart since both have yellow stripes on their legs and head. Learn some ways to tell them apart or just sit back and enjoy watching them.


April 22, 2012 - Renee Rusler - Spring Has Sprung!
Fuchsia colored flowers totally cover a small crab apple tree.
Apple trees at the park are covered in pink or white flowers.

NPS - Renee Rusler

As my husband and I returned to the park after visiting the Southwest, we were greeted by a profusion of trees in full bloom. I was so happy! These flowering trees are my favorite part of spring and I thought I would miss it: the bright colors, the perfumed air, the hum of a thousand bees.

In addition to all the flowers, there are more birds on the park grounds. On Saturday a flock of American White Pelicans were seen circling above the park; over the past few years these birds have become a common sight in the spring and fall. Sunday morning four Northern Shovelers were swimming on the pond; Shovelers are a type of duck with a distinctive long, broad bill. Visitors reported seeing a variety of other birds including Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and even some Great Horned Owls.

close-up of 5-petaled apple flowers. Yellow stamen in center.
Close-up of white apple blossoms

NPS - Renee Rusler

Three Northern Shovelers float on the park's pond.
During the year a wide variety of ducks show up on the park's pond. On Sunday morning it was two pairs of Northern Shovelers (the 4th is not in the photo). They have long, broad bills which they use to scoop-up aquatic invertebrates.

NPS - Renee Rusler

Eight pelicans fly overhead
A few of the nearly 20 pelicans that circled over the park on Saturday. Look closely, these birds have bumps on their bills. These bumps are part of the American White Pelican's breeding attire.

NPS - Renee Rusler


After hearing that the owls were in the park, two visitors were especially keen on seeing one. They searched the tree tops. One spotted what she thought were the owl's distinctive ear tufts. But the yellow eyes that looked back down at them didn't belong to any owl.

Life is full of surprises!

Cat looks down from a nest in a tree
Not an Owl! This kitty has found a safe place to spend the day: in a bird's nest high up in a tree

NPS - Renee Rusler

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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Walla Walla, WA 99362


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