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

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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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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















Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Hermit

Spotting a bird in a tree filled with colorful fruit is always a treat. In the winter, when many species have gone south and most branches are bare, seeing a Hermit Thrush surrounded in purples and pinks is especially satisfying. In this case it was not a complete surprise.

Just a week ago, I photographed a Hermit Thrush in this same little tree. Like us birds can be creatures of habit. They often return to their favorite places, especially when the food is good. 

Unlike the vegans, in last week's post, Hermit Thrush tend to eat insects during breeding season and focus more on fruit when the weather gets cold. Although, I suspect that fruit is their second choice.

This bird could have been eating the fruit of the Spindle Tree, but it was hard to be sure. I could see the bird searching overhead. I could see the flurry of its wings as it leaped up among the branches. Its behavior reminded me of a Golden-crowned Kinglet nabbing insects from under the lacy branches of a Western Hemlock.

However, I simply could not see through the foliage of the Spindle Tree to determine what the bird was eating.

Thirty minutes earlier, I was lucky enough to actually see a Hermit Thrush consuming fruit in a nearby tree with a little less density


I suspect it may have been the same bird.

Hermit Thrush tend to breed high in the mountains and winter in warmer places. On the other hand their 'doppelgänger' - the Swainson's Thrush - tends to breed in our area and migrate far to the south during winter. In both species the upper side of the tail is reddish-brown. However, only on the Hermit Thrush does the back becomes a greysh-brown, without any hint of red.

The Hermit Thrush also has a habit of flicking its tail up in the air, drooping its wings to each side and letting its tail slowly descend. I wonder if this is a mechanism for startling prey. I would think that fluttering its wings might be a more efficient method.

Birds of North America (See citation below) provides another explanation for tail flicking. They imply that in a confrontation, between two Hermit Thrush, tail flicking may be a related to conflicting feelings. For example, if a bird is having difficulty choosing between fight or flight. 

The fruit of the Spindle Tree (Euonymus Europaeus) is beautiful and attractive with the bright orange seeds protruding out of its waxy pink sepals. It is easy to see how birds and humans can be attracted to the fruit, however the beauty is offset by the fact that it is poisonous to humans...

...but apparently harmless to birds. 

The Spindle Tree is named for its hardwood which was historically carved into spindles. A spindle is an old-fashioned device for spinning wool into yarn. This process became more efficient with the invention of the spinning wheel. However, I am sure a spindle would have been much easier to carry - especially if you were a weaver who traveled with your flock.

To learn more about the Spindle Tree, Click Hereand read this post from the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

If you take a Christmas walk through the Arboretum you may want to stop and search the Spindle Trees, who knows you may find a hermit hiding in the winter foliage.

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 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. 

On Thursday I spotted this bird swooping over the water just south of Marsh Island, catching insects in mid-air. One of the things I noticed, while it was in-flight, was the tail seemed a bit shorter than I expected. What species of bird is it? Is it a native to Union Bay? Can you guess its age?

For bonus points is the Spindle Tree native to our area?











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Scroll down for the answers


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I believe this is a young, female Barn Swallow. I am assuming female due to the mostly white breast and first-year bird due to the relatively short tail. It is native to Union Bay, but normally Barn Swallows are long gone at time of year. It should be somewhere in Central or South America by now. Hopefully, it catches a breeze which will move it at least a little further south. 

The Spindle Tree comes from the old world. Evidently, it was consider exceptionally useful and was apparently brought to North America hundreds of years ago.





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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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Recommended Citation

Dellinger, Rachel, Petra Bohall Wood, Peter W. Jones and Therese M. Donovan. 2012. Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.261


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Vegans

One of the benefits of winter is the lack of leaves, which reveals the hidden beauty of birds and branches. 

I find the white barring and delicate edging on the wings of the American Goldfinch very appealing. 

By the way, do you happen to see any hints regarding the gender of this bird?

On Thursday, I photographed this flock bathing in pools of sunshine and water near the newly opened Loop Trail, in the Washington Park Arboretum.

I felt rather lucky, when they moved to a less distracting location.

Bathing included tail flicking, wing splashing and swiftly-turning, head-down facial rotations. 

Still photography does not display movement, although, it can document the range of motion. This photo indicates a potential head rotation of more than 200 degrees. I suspect we might break our necks if we attempted to clean our faces with a similar side-to-side, head-thrashing maneuver.

A moment later, the finch assumed a rather nonchalant, business-as-normal attitude.

The clumping of the wet feathers reminds me of a dog after a bath. 

The finch generally seem to take turns bathing. I am not sure if this is a way to avoid catching a wing in the face or if the standing birds are keeping watch for predators. I guess, it could be some of both.

For a moment, the attraction of the water on a sunny day is just too much, and both birds give in to the urge to bath.

Among our local finches, the bright white patch of the underwing covert is unique to the American Goldfinch.

This summer photo from Port Townsend, also displays a white 'armpit'. This photo provides a visual introduction to another unique characteristic of the American Goldfinch. They are the only local finches which molt twice a year, which is why this summer male looks so different from winter males.

My understanding is that the dark spots on this winter bird's forehead may be the last of its summer feathers to be replaced with its subtle winter plumage. If so, then the tiny markings, just above the eye, indicate this bird is male.

Its golden, summer color has been nearly replaced and its bill is turning dark as well.

Female goldfinches lack black on their heads, in both summer and winter.

This is especially obvious when compared to the summer, or breeding, plumage of the male birds. Could it be that the extra effort to produce two plumages delays goldfinch reproduction? Unlike many other birds, American Goldfinch wait until June or even July to nest. All About Birds implies the delay is related to the timing and production of thistle and milkweed seeds. It is amazing how each species is uniquely adapted to fit into its particular intersection in the web of life.

In winter, I find the gender of American Goldfinches to be nearly impossible to determine.

Although, I wonder if these might be female birds searching for calcium or some other mineral which they will need to produce healthy eggs come Spring.

Another unique, and possibly rather appropriate, characteristic of our state bird is that they are vegans. In the summer they love the seeds of thistles, and in the winter I often see them in tops of local deciduous trees extracting alder or birch seeds, depending on the type of tree. 

Any insects or creatures which they consume, are thought to be unintentionally caught in the crossfire.

Given their no-holds-barred...

...voracious appetite for thistle seeds, it is quite understandable how accidental insect consumption might happen.

I used to think of thistles as useless weeds, but after watching the beauty of the goldfinch feeding, I am beginning to see the prickly plants in a whole new light.

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 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. 

Can you identify the the bird in the background, e.g. the one bird in the photo which is not a goldfinch? Is it native to Union Bay?






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Scroll down for the answers


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This is one of our native Dark-eyed Juncos. Since the head and hood are black, instead of grey, it is a male of the species. 





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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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