By Joanna Bastian

It is official. The Carlton swimming hole is open. Oh, it is too cold, you say? There is snow still on the ground, you say? Pish posh!

I had stopped off at the Carlton Store on Friday afternoon and heard the summertime sound of “yahoos” coming from the iconic lower valley swimming hole. A lively group of polar bear-emulating humans had decided to take advantage of the iceberg-free water.

Store owner Jeff Lyman came into the little mercantile dripping wet and refreshed from his recent foray into the river sans fishing pole and waders. Later that afternoon, videos started popping up on Facebook with the polar bears challenging other people to get into the water and go swimming.

Meanwhile, downriver, several Methowians stood in the middle of the river shaking their heads. They had been in the water since early that morning. In fact they were in the water every single day since before Christmas, hands frozen to a fishing pole. And if you talk to them they might tell you a big fish story in which “swimming season” was all year long because that was the only way to get to school aside from walking uphill in the snow both ways.

In other lower valley news, my dogs are confused. I whistled for them the other morning and from the other side of the yard a bird repeated the whistle. I whistled again and the feathered fellow echoed my call. We had an entire conversation, the bird and I, he repeating whatever tone I called out. My poor dogs were not sure which way to go and spent the entire conversation running back and forth between the whistles, looking at me in utter confusion.

There is a new bird in our backyard that we have not seen before. It looks a cross between a robin and an oriole. A look in the Field Guide to Birds of North America identified it as a varied thrush, also called an Alaskan robin. The bird has a rust-colored breast with a bold stripe just below the neck. Males have a black stripe, females wear a grey stripe. A similar band lies across the eyes like a mask. The wings are striking, with bold patterns of slate, black and rust markings. had a recording of the varied thrush and it is the same as my dog-whistle. The dogs were as surprised as I was.

A quick phone call to Betty Hagenbuch confirmed the identification of the varied thrush. Betty noted that she, too, has seen an increase in avian numbers this year, as this bird migrates to higher elevations for the summer season.

I asked Betty if she had fed the hummingbirds during the winter — she had not, but a friend in Wenatchee keeps hummingbird feeders up all year long, as the Anna’s hummingbird tends to overwinter there. Betty and her husband, Ralph, suggested April 1 as a good time to start putting out hummingbird feeders for the other species that start coming up valley in the spring and summer: the calliope, rufous, and black-chinned.

We kept hearing what sounded like a baby hawk, and Betty mentioned that the Steller’s jay mimicked the red-tailed hawk. Besides the horrible off-key squawk and the high-pitched shriek, the Steller’s jay emits a very tuneful chatter. The blue-and-black bird is said to have gotten the feathered crest along its head when the mink tried to shoot it with an arrow and missed. To this day, the bird’s feathers are still ruffled.

In Betty’s neck of the river she has recently seen kingfishers, spotted towhees and goldfinches.

A slow hike with a pair of binoculars along Gold Creek revealed a hairy woodpecker, a flicker, a pileated woodpecker, chickadees and nuthatches.

To learn more about these birds, see pictures and hear their songs, visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology at

Happy bird-watching!