Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife on and around Union Bay and a higher level of harmony between humanity and nature.

(It is fine for educators and artists to use any of the photos on this blog as long as when publicly displaying the photo or related artwork the following comment is included, "The original photo sourced from http://unionbaywatch.blogspot.com".)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy Holidays!

After three years, I finally found a sapsucker in the Union Bay area. The hint of red on its chest, against the green foliage, seems fitting for a holiday post.

This red-breasted sapsucker has drilled hundreds of holes in its favorite tree in the Arboretum. 

The fresh sap flowing from the holes makes the bark dark and moist, while the older sap has hardened and turned white. 

The white streak in the top left corner is some of the older sap. Here the sapsucker is using its previous holes as "handholds". It is almost like the holes were made to fit. (You may also want notice the little sprig behind the bird's head.)

When the sapsucker leaves the tree, this small Anna's hummingbird comes to take advantage of the free flowing nectar.

My friend and master birder, Marcus Roening, says he usually sees the sapsuckers on young Western Red Cedars. I suspect the bark is thinner when the trees are young.

In this case, the bird has chosen a very unique tree.  You can tell from the sprig we noticed in the earlier photo that the tree is an evergreen. Can you guess what type it is? The bark is unusually thin compared to most native conifers. 

It turns out this is an introduced tree. It is a white fir from europe, which is only here because it is part of the Arboretum collection. With the thin bark, the year-round sap flow and the relatively large size of the tree, this woodpecker has found sapsucker heaven.

A few days later, the sapsucker moved to the left and created a second, parallel sap flow. The first flow reached all the way to the ground, approximately twelve feet below.

Surprisingly, this little bird is working within six feet of one of the busiest trails in the Arboretum. It has created hundreds, if not thousands, of holes and, yet, because it is relatively quiet and blends in well the sapsucker goes unnoticed.

 All the hard work means its wings are going unused, so…

…occasionally, the sapsucker takes a moment to stretch. To minimize the effort of holding on to the tree, the woodpecker uses its tail to support much of its weight.

This photo shows the wear and tear on the tips of the tail feathers. Marcus pointed out that the tips of the primary wing feathers, just above the tail, have tiny arcs of white on them: the white indicates new feathers and quickly wears away. Mature woodpeckers do not replace all their flight feathers at one time or they would be unable to fly during the process. Since this bird is showing white on all of its visible primaries, it is likely a young bird. 

By yesterday the bird had moved even further to the left. While the tree seems like a gold mine for the bird, the bird may not be such a wonderful thing for the tree. I wonder how long the tree will last.

One another note:
This female pine grosbeak came down from the mountains to visit the Arboretum this week.

Sadly, it seemed to prefer the shaded berries, so my photos are marginal at best.

Like many others, hoped to catch the grosbeak visiting the berries in the sun. This robin helped me imagine what I missed.

Parting Shot:
Speaking of missing things, can you see the bird in this photo?

Have a great day on Union Bay…where nature lives in the city!

Larry Hubbell

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Golden Gifts

Earlier this week, a couple of male, golden-crowned kinglets came down from the treetops to search for food at my eye level. The opportunity to view their raised orange crests, in the middle of their golden yellow crowns, felt like a gift.

Kinglets move incredibly quick. While searching for small insects, they flit from one branch to the next. It is very challenging to try and focus on a kinglet. As you can see, focusing on two kinglets is beyond my current capability.

The female also has a golden crown but lacks the bright orange crest. (You can hear the sound of a golden-crowned kinglet here on Cornell's All About Birds.) 

 Kinglets are on a constant quest for food.

They search high...

 …and low.

Normally, golden-crowned kinglets look for their little insect gifts in the upper branches of conifers, but given their metabolic rate, they occasionally venture out of their preferred habitat. Curiously, in these last two photos, the kinglet looks like a female but there is just the slightest hint of orangish-red near the back of the yellow crown. Maybe it is a young male just starting to grow a crest.

 Watching them work against the bright green of a conifer can be pleasing to the eye.

 They nearly hover…

 ...as they twist and turn…

…while approaching their prey.

Once their food is found they are immediately off…

…to the next most promising location.

Very rarely will they stop in the sunshine, when they do pause, it feels like a golden gift.

The ruby-crowned kinglet looks similar, but it is most easily distinguished by the lack of the black and white facial stripes, not to mention the missing golden crown. The ruby-crowned also differs in preferring to work low in the underbrush. It is interesting how both types of kinglets have found their own special niche. 

The crowning color on the male ruby-crowned can be difficult to see.

The "crown" is slender and the angle is seldom good. Maybe someday we will get to see a ruby-crowned with its crest raised. Planting native vegetation in your yard, or visiting the Arboretum, can improve your chances of catching a glimpse of a kinglet. If you look quickly, your golden gift can be observing the kinglet's crowning color.


Speaking of gifts, Connie Sidles, our local gifted birding poet, has just completed a new book, with artwork by Hiroko Seki.
This book comes highly recommended by the esteemed birder and educator, Dennis Paulson. I have not had a chance to read the book yet, but it is on my Christmas list. If you would like to learn more about it click here.


Thank you to all of the readers who replied with their sightings of Eva and Albert, the 520 eagles. Given the volume of responses, it would seem logical to conclude that the 520 construction does not appear to have impacted the eagles' daily hunting routine. Thank you for all of the updates!

Have a great day on Union Bay…where nature lives in the city!


Parting Shot:
Next week we will look into, who has been feeding this hummingbird?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dancing on The Wind!

Last Saturday was an unusual day on Union Bay. 

The brilliant sunshine was no match for the freezing temperatures and the frigid cold of the north wind. 

Normally the plant on this piling stands straight up.

Usually, dozens of cormorants catch the sun in this cottonwood on Montlake Cut, as shown in this photo from earlier in the month.

However on Saturday not a single bird was willing to try to ride the branches in the wind.

Instead the green-eyed birds sat in the sunshine along the south side of The Cut. This provided them some protection from the wind and their footing was significantly more stable.

Out on the water the wigeons and ring-necked ducks only seemed to move when an eagle passed over. When the ducks returned to the water it was not with their usual finesse due to the brisk wind and the rolling waves. 

When they needed to escape the buffeting, the buffleheads calmly dived, to the relative peace and safety of their underwater world.

The great blue heron huddled and hunted, out of the wind, behind the east end of Marsh Island.

The bridge to Foster Island broke the wind a bit, however in the one inch cracks between the sections of the bridge, the spray reached high enough to soak you to the waist.

The most surprising reaction to the cold wind came from the eagles.

The eagles twisted and turned as they chased after each other. The cold seemed irrelevant.

They took turns calling loudly in their strangely melodic voices. You can hear a similar, but softer, call here.

It seemed as if the strength of the wind inspired them…

… to sing and dance.

When another person attempted to cross the bridge I was surprised to find my lips too frozen to form words. This was not a problem for the eagles.

In the end one of the eagles decided to take a moment's rest. Apparently, even dancing on the wind can be tiring.


520 Update:
South of the old MOHAI museum the trees have been cleared and the section of the "Bridge to Nowhere" that crossed above 520 has been removed.

While on Foster Island the construction bridge, which will protect pedestrians while the new 520 bridge is built, is apparently progressing on schedule. The current plan is that by New Years Day we should be able to once again walk under 520 on Foster Island.

It does not seem like the construction is impacting the eagles too much as it is easy for them to follow their prey to a different location. I have not seen Eva and Albert sitting on the bridge or in their nest lately. This may be in part because I have been spending less time on Foster Island due to the construction. I would be curious to hear if anyone who regularly drives 520  has seen the eagles sitting on their normal lampposts during the last week or two. 
(My email is: ldhubbell at comcast dot net.)

Have a great day on Union Bay…where nature lives in the city!