Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Antidote

Golden-crowned Kinglets seldom pause during their fast-paced, flickering pursuit of food.

They easily defy the law of gravity, while momentarily hanging below branches or leaping up to snap an appetizer hiding overhead. Often, when their wings flash, I suspect it is less about lift and more about startling their prey. A moving creature is much easier to spot than one which is frozen in place.

Even when they find food it is so small and disappears so quickly that I seldom notice their success. When taking this photograph I completely overlooked this bird's tiny morsel of food. I wonder how many hundreds of lifeforms they catch in a day.

Their golden crowns may be their most noticeable attribute, but their most noticeable behavior is their inquisitive nature. They are always searching. They bounce around looking in every crevice and crack, as well as searching the underside of every branch.

Both the male and the female have golden crowns.

Only males frequently reveal just a hint of orange in the middle of their crown.

Far less often, e.g. when defending a territory or mate, the males make their opponents see 'red' by raising and revealing their hidden beauty. I suspect the bright color attracts female birds and repels the males. 

While reviewing these photos, I also noticed their golden yellow feet. 

It is amazing how our bodies and avian bodies are variations on a fairly similar pattern. The bones in our arms are similar to those in a bird's wings. The arrangement of our fingers is somewhat similar to their primary flight feathers and their alula is similar to our thumb. However, when it comes to their feet, and especially their legs, it is easy to misconstrue the similarities.

The point where a bird's lower leg attaches to their 'thigh' seems similar to our knee, except that it bends the wrong way

In fact, a bird's foot is most similar to our toes, their 'ankle' is similar to the joints at the ball of our foot. Their leg, or tarsus, is most similar to bones between the ball of our foot and our heel e.g. our tarsals and metatarsals. This means, what looks to us like a bird's knee, is actually most similar to our heel. 

Another interesting difference between humans and birds is that when a bird perches on a branch, the weight of their body, with the help of gravity and connecting ligaments, causes their toes to squeeze the branch. This means they do not usually have to use muscles to hold on to a branch. I believes this allows them to sleep or rest while expending minimal amounts of energy.

Thinking about their golden-yellow feet, started me wondering about the foot color of their cousins, the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Our local Ruby-crowned Kinglets have yellow feet in most of my photos. In this photo you can also see just a hint of the tiny red stripe which gives Ruby-crowned Kinglets their name. 

By the way, if you read my earlier post, Common Misperceptions, you would know that I find these two kinglet names wonderfully appropriate, because their names supply us with critical information which helps us to identify and distinguish the two species. 

Seattle Audubon's Birdweb.org (which focuses on Washington State) also mentions that Ruby-crowned Kinglets have yellow feet. 

Curiously, when I Google Ruby-crowned Kinglets I see mostly black or brownish feet in the photos, which appear from all across North America. This implies to me that yellow feet may be common in Washington but possibly not everywhere else. I wonder how this could be. 

Somewhere, I read that Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets on rare occasions may interbreed. Could some Golden-crowned Kinglet in the distant past have added golden feet into the genome of our local Ruby-crowned Kinglets?

Dennis Paulson supplied this photo which not only shows a Ruby-crowned Kinglet with black feet, it also displays the male bird's beautifully erect crown. Dennis suggested that perhaps the time of year is a factor in their foot color. Dennis noted that so far he has only seen dark feet on Ruby-crowned Kinglets, which he photographed during breeding season. Thank you, Dennis!

Another thought is maybe their diets impact the color of their feet. This seems like a long shot. However, in regard to feather color, scientists have discovered that the food which some birds eat, e.g. Northern Flickers and Cedar Waxwings, can make a difference. Click Here to read the story. 

The color of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet's feet may seem unimportant, especially when compared to the pressure and stress of modern life. However, if we want to live our lives surrounded by the wonders of nature, if we want to exist in harmony with the earth, if we want our children to have the opportunity to see the variety of creatures we see today, then at a minimum we must understand the life around us. Only through awareness and understanding will we learn to protect these innocent creatures from our human-centric progress.

If these goals seem a bit too lofty and distant, then you may want to focus on a more immediate benefit. It turns out that observing nature is a wonderful antidote to the stress and pain of modern life. It works for me. It also works for my friends, Dan Pedersen and Craig Johnson, whom I deeply respect. You may read their powerful and eloquent thoughts by Clicking Here

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

Larry

ps: For more proof of nature's benefits read these inspiring pieces provided by:





Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.


A)

B)







Scroll down to see the answer!






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A) Hutton's Vireo (HUVI)
B) Ruby-crowned Kinglet (RCKI)

Both of these bird species are native to Union Bay. At first glance, they can be rather challenging to tell apart. Below are few key comparisons. (Feel free to scroll back and forth between the photos and note the differences you spot, before reading the hints below.)






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Hutton's Vireo                             
Thick Bill
Eye Ring Breaks at Top Only
Darkest Feathers Between White Wingbars
Feet are Blue Gray



Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Thin Bill
Eye Ring Usually Appears to Break at Top and Bottom
Darkest Feathers Below Lower White Wingbar
Feet are Yellow, Brown or Black




The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net



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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Silence is Golden

The dark-eyed Goldie on the left and the bright-eyed Chip on the right.

In the fall, young pileated woodpeckers leave their parent's territory and strike out on their own. This reduction in the total number of pileated woodpeckers makes it harder for me to keep track of our resident adults, Goldie and Chip. Before the young leave, they generally stay fairly close to their parents, which is rather helpful from my perspective. I think the three young in 2017, more than doubled my odds of locating at least one of them. 

A few years ago, hearing the pileated woodpeckers call was another method to locate the resident adults during winter. Back then, Elvis and Priscilla - one of the preceding pairs  - were fairly vocal. While feeding, one of them would call out every few minutes and the other would respond. I always thought of these interactions as contact calls. The birds might be fifty yards apart, and not visible at all, but it seemed obvious that they wanted to know they were both safe and still together. Pileated woodpeckers mate for life and apparently Elvis and Priscilla took their vows seriously, and were apparently vocal about their feelings.

Curiously, I do not ever remember hearing Chip and Goldie performing a similar type of call and response. I was happily surprised on Thursday when I heard a pileated woodpecker calling loudly. The increasing volume told me the bird was approaching my location, near Montlake Cut. I was very glad that the lengthy calls continued even after the bird landed. I needed all the help I could get - looking up through the falling rain - to spot the dark bird hanging on the side of a large cottonwood tree.

The red forehead and malar stripe indicated I was watching a male pileated woodpecker. I suspected it was Chip, since I was well within his territory. Later, comparing current and previous photos, helped convince me this was Chip. 

His behavior was unusual. He simply hung on the drier side of the tree, not feeding and yet calling loudly every few minutes. A half an hour passed and I never heard the slightest response. 

At one point Chip raised his crest, displaying obvious excitement, and seemed to hide from something on the far side of the trunk. I never did see the apparent threat. I suspected it was a bird, but smaller than a red-tailed hawk. Last spring, while watching Chip excavate a nest site, I watched his reaction when a red-tailed hawk flew over. He went to the opposite side of the trunk and froze. This time he was very animated and kept peaking around the trunk first from the left and then from the right. Once the danger had passed, he resumed his calling.

Just as my patience was wearing thin, Chip came even closer. He flew down out of the cottonwood and into a willow next to the water's edge. As I turned to watch, I saw a silent flash of movement as another creature entered the willow from the opposite direction. I could not locate the second bird, while peering through the profusion of branches, 

Finally, a few moments later, the dark-eyed and silent Goldie revealed herself.

Chip moved down to an obviously fresh hole, in a clearly dead portion of the tree, and began excavating and eating. With his long bill finding food deep within the tree it was virtually impossible to see what he was eating. However, I suspected he was finding his favorite food, carpenter ants.

After a while he moved away from the prime feeding location and Goldie took a turn. I call her Goldie because of the golden-brown feathers on her forehead. Later, I also compared her current and previous photos, which proved to me that she was the same female I had been watching for the last year or so.

Anytime both of the woodpeckers moved away from the feeding site, a quick little Bewick's Wren would move in and try to catch a meal.

This would inspire a somewhat larger Song Sparrow to chase the wren away. Although, I never did see the sparrow actually settle in and catch any ants.

The wren on the other hand was quicker and far more persistent. It seemed to have a clear goal in mind.

The wren actually caught and subdued this fair-sized flying insect.

The wren's catch seemed to be the same as the creature in the upper left in this photo. I am guessing it was a termite, due to the wider mid-body, even though it did come up out of the same hole as the carpenter ants.

After a while, Goldie returned to the hole to feed some more.

Next, Chip returned and sidled his way over and gently took control of the feeding hole.

Pushed to the side, Goldie continued to search the area for ants which had escaped the initial attack.

In time Chip ate his fill and finally flew off to the north side of Montlake Cut, where he sat and occasionally called out.

Goldie returned to the prime feeding location and got her fill as well, before following Chip across The Cut. 

In the whole time, I never heard a single peep out of Goldie. She clearly can hear Chip and comes to his location, but apparently she does not feel a need to attract him. I have to respect her self-confidence. Even though I certainly would like to hear her vocalize, maybe her silence is helping to protect her from being caught by a predator - like a red-tailed hawk, a barred owl or a cooper's hawk. In which case, I must agree that her silence is golden.

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

Larry



Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with local, native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

A)

B)



















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Scroll down for the answers


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Both plants in this week's photos are Mahonia or Barberry.

A) I believe this is a non-native garden variety of Mahonia commonly called 'Charity'. You can learn more about this hybrid by Clicking Here

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Update: January 18th, 2018

I was informed today that are many types of winter-blooming mahonia hybrids. My new friend mentioned that there are three which we frequently see blooming in our area. They are called Charity, Winter Sun and Arthur Menzies. They bloom in roughly the same order they are listed. The first starting around November, the second around December and finally the third around January. Given the time of year the plant in my photo is most likely Arthur Menzies, and not Charity.

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B) This is the native Mahonia Nervosa referred to as Long-leafed Mahonia or Low Oregon Grape. You can learn more about this plant by Clicking Here.

One obvious clue that will help you to distinguish these plants is the time of year at which they bloom. Charity blooms here in early winter and is very attractive to Anna's Hummingbirds. Low Oregon Grape blooms in April and May. Charity, Winter Sun and Arthur Menzies are difficult plants for me. I love the fact that they bloom during our dark gray winters. I enjoy seeing hummingbirds, native Bushtits and Townsend's Warblers attracted to the plants during our short winter days. On the other hand, they do grow fairly tall and large, and they overshadow our native plants 






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The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net



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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Common Misperceptions

This exquisite duck is a male Common Goldeneye. I suspect he is practicing some aspect of his Spring mating ritual. This photo was taken at the west end of the Montlake Cut, where I have been consistently seeing goldeneyes, during the last week.

This is a female, Common Merganser. Every winter a few dozen of her species, settle in around the east end of Montlake Cut. The Cut, the man-made exit to the Lake Washington watershed, functions as a bottle-neck which concentrates migrating fish. Its shallow, uniformly clear bottom also helps to make the area an irresistible hunting site for diving ducks, like mergansers and goldeneyes. 

One way to help improve the survival of salmon (and potentially Orcas) might be to build a narrow shelf along the south side of The Cut, in a manner similar to the Elliot Bay Seawall. Hopefully, it would provide essential shelter for young salmon heading out to sea.

In the deciduous trees, on the north and south sides of Montlake Cut, I have been watching Common Redpolls. Poll is defined as head. The term redpoll is simply a subtle way of saying, redhead.

This week I was suddenly struck by the coincidence that all three of these species are described by the word, common. I believe names in particular, and language in general, are critical to our learning and thinking processes. At a minimum, I think a name should provide us with critical distinguishing information about a creature, or a place. The term redpoll is good, but redhead would be more explicit. 

The term goldeneye is helpful... 

...even though their eyes can be hard to distinguish without binoculars.

A male Common Merganser.

The term merganser relates to the Latin word, mergus, which means diver. Which is conceptually wonderful. However, given that Latin is no longer a commonly spoken language, it is slightly obscure. Of the three local mergansers, the Common Merganser has the largest bill. Changing this species' name to a Large-billed Merganser seems like it would be an improvement.

A previously used name for a merganser is, Sawtooth. This term describes the bird's serrated bill. The serrations help mergansers to secure the slippery fish, which sustain them. 

Similarly, Common Goldeneyes were sometimes called, Whistlers.

This name is due to the fact that their wings produce a whistling sound in flight.

It seems to me the word 'common' is a total waste. It provides no value in helping to describe any species. I believe it may actually damage our perception of these complex and amazing lifeforms. For example, when we refer to people as commoners we imply that they are of a lower rank, not particularly unique and possibly even of lessor value. Describing any life form as common tells us more about our limited perceptions and lack of creativity, than it does about the creatures which we are attempting to name. 

This is an old photo of our other goldeneye, a Barrow's Goldeneye. Noting the fairly large sequence of white markings on its back, this species might be better described as a Ladder-backed Goldeneye. Potential new names for the Common Goldeneyes, which would help to distinguish the two species, could be a Black-backed Goldeneye or a White-shouldered Goldeneye.

Another set of options, would be to name them based on their unique white facial markings. In both cases these new naming conventions might create a perception of gender bias, since they only apply to the males. 

Given that the females of the two species are very similar, I have been unable to conceive of useful names which distinguish the two species, while also helping to identify both the male and female within each species.

Hear is a photo of a male and a female Common Goldeneye. If you would like to provide an even better set of goldeneye names, without any perception of gender bias, hopefully this photo may help your creativity. Also, the yellow links in this post will take you to All About Birds, where you can find even more goldeneye photos.

By augmenting our perceptions, using telescopes and space probes, we have expanded our knowledge and should by now realize that the diverse forms of life on earth only seemed common because of our own limitations. Our probes have now traveled more than a hundred million miles and no where else in our solar system have we found similar lifeforms. We have spent millions of dollars scanning deep space hoping for signs of intelligent life - without any luck. All life on earth, and especially the wild creatures, are obviously unique, precious and rare, and becoming even more so.

If we are to evolve into a harmonious societywe must change the way we think about and treat our fellow creatures. Changing the way we describe other lifeforms seems like a logical place to start. 

No name will ever perfectly describe the complete beauty and complexity of any creature. Our goal should be refinement and improvement. We want to enable future generations to learn quickly and easily. I honestly believe a flourishing future for humanity may, at least in part, depend on how quickly our progeny are able to learn, know and care about their fellow lifeforms. 


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Another Opportunity:

This panoramic shot shows the new 520 pedestrian and bike path. You can see the path on both sides of this 180 degree photo. I took the photo last week on the first day that the new trail opened. It certainly provides a beautiful and interesting perspective on Union Bay. On the left is Marsh Island while Foster Island is on the right. The new path also reminds me of another language issue.

Dictionary.com defines pedestrian as a person walking and also as something lacking in vitality or imagination. In truth, walking is one of the healthiest forms of transportation. In my opinion people who walk are generally more vital than those who travel solely via automobiles, airplanes and trains. People who walk (as well as those who ride bikes) are not only improving their own health but they are also helping to reduce CO2 and global warming. I think when we call something or someone pedestrian, it should mean the complete opposite of the current definition. If any thing it is fossil-fueled transportation which should be considered lacking in vitality and imagination. I think the 'second' meaning of pedestrian should be redefined as, 'being full of life, optimism and hope.'

Have a great day - walking around Union Bay! 

Larry


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with local, native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to plant native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. My intention is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 


Is this Common Redpoll, and its tree of choice, native to Union Bay? 










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Scroll down for the answers


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The Common Redpoll is considered a winter native to Union Bay by some sources and not by others. My go-to source on the subject is Birdweb from Seattle Audubon. It says the Common Redpoll is 'irregular' around Puget Sound, primarily in the winter. Irregular is defined as being even less frequent than 'rare'. Given this, I personally do not consider a Common Redpoll a Union Bay native. All sources seem to agree that Common Redpolls breed primarily in the Arctic.

I believe the tree in question is a European Birch, although without leaves to study I am not positive. I found it on the east end of Shelby Street, just south of Montlake Cut. In any case, I remember Dennis Paulson telling me that, historically, our native paper birch trees did not exist south of Everett. As a result, it is my belief that the tree in question is not native to Union Bay - even if it happens to be a native North American Birch.

While standing under the tree to take the photo the flock of Redpolls fed so aggressively that the tiny seeds fell like snowflakes. When I got home my hat and backpack were still completely covered.




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The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net