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

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Pescatarians

They are back! Chester and Lacey, our Union Bay fish-loving osprey have returned from their separate winter vacations. I hope they enjoyed the easy life. I imagine they spent the winter eating sushi in the sunshine above a couple of Mexican beaches. 

On Tuesday, Lacey checked out last year's nesting platform. There have been some changes while she was gone. One minor change is the plants taking root in the nest. It looks like the nutrients left over from raising and feeding her young in 2016 have provided excellent fertilizer. 

Last year, the growth in the nest did not involve chlorophyll.

On Thursday evening, Lacey's meal was interrupted by mating. It looks like they are planning a new generation of young. Hopefully, all the changes around Union Bay do not deter them.

While they were gone, the 520 environmental remediation has killed invasive plants, planted native flora, installed irrigation pipes and created a new pond to replace the parking lot to the north of the nest.

The new plantings, along with this undisturbed grass near the Center for Urban Horticulture, have helped to provide fuel for a population explosion among the local rabbits.

In turn the rabbits have provided significant sustenance for the coyotes. The fence in the background is an attempt to protect the new, native plants from the rabbits.

The new pond has provided bathing and recreational facilities for the crows and the widespread removal of non-native plants has given the crows easier access to other bird's nests.

This crow appeared to be enjoying a robin's egg for breakfast on Tuesday. I suspect it is the intelligence of the crows which enables them to adapt and take advantage of new opportunities. In any case, the local crow population has clearly increased.

On Thursday, while Lacey was attempting to eat, the crows were constantly diving at her.

In this instance she mantled her food to protect it from the crows.

She was irritated by the non-stop harassment.

The crows stayed just out of reach. In spite of being harassed, Lacey continued to consume her fish.

After the mating, Chester started a high piercing call which ran the crows off, at least for a while. Chester has the lighter, whiter chest and Lacey has the necklace of brown - both of which help to explain their respective names and also help us to tell them apart.

This week I have been trying to prove to myself whether these two osprey truly are Chester and Lacey e.g. the same two adult osprey which nested here last year. Logically, it seems likely since the osprey would not want to build a new nest each year.

Last year by this time Chester and Lacey had gathered 'tons' of sticks and attempted to build a nest on the light poles above the baseball field. This year, I have not observed any nest building activity which implies to me they are planning to reuse their 2016 nesting platform. 

My challenge this week has been to try to isolate characteristics which would help me to identify each specific bird. My concept is that with good enough photos we should be able to identify individual birds. 

In this current year photo I can see that Lacey's dark eye stripe is thicker than Chester's and that a portion of it extends across her cheek just below the eye.

In this photo from Thursday, we can see that Chester's eyestripe is thinner and almost nonexistent under his eye.

In this 2016 photo, even looking at the opposite side of the head, it is clear that this bird looks like Chester and is obviously not Lacey.

Curiously, the patterns on top of their heads are unique as well. You may also notice that the head patterns are not symmetrical. I think these may be valuable for identification but they are much harder to observe.

Even in this more distant photo from 2016, the eye stripes provide consistent, observable identification.

I suppose one might argue that the differences we are seeing are gender related as opposed to individual characteristics.

This photo from August of 2016 shows Chester and Lacey's offspring around the time the young birds learned to fly. The eye stripes on each bird look unique to me and subtly different from their parents. I think this lends support to the idea that osprey's eye stripes can be used to identify individual birds. (One of these birds was female and the other two were male.)

In any case Spring has arrived and Lacey should begin sitting on eggs in the near future. Hopefully, we can observe the process without getting too close. The bench to the east of the platform is on slightly higher ground and provides the best views, especially with binoculars, while also giving the osprey a little breathing room. 

Have a great day on Union Bay...where osprey nest in the city!

Larry


Going Native:

Without a properly 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 each of these birds and determine whether or not they are Union Bay natives?

A) 


B)

C)






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Scroll down for answers

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A) Bald Eagle
B) Common Yellowthroat 
C) Cinnamon Teal

These birds are all native to Union Bay but I do not believe any of them are year-round residents. The bald eagle is a second year bird which Chester and Lacey promptly escorted out of their territory. The other two birds are migratory birds who have just arrived for the breeding season and will be heading south in the late summer or early fall.



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Bonnet

I find double-crested cormorants to be ugly and elegant, friendly and cantankerous, colorful and drab. Maybe they are like an avian 'Rhorshack-test' for our souls. 


We can focus on the richly-hued feathers of their folded wings...

...or we can dwell on the bone-colored bill, shaped like a pirate's hook, with which they lift their slimy prey from Davey's locker.

In our first photo we saw them sitting side by side in peaceful repose. I seldom see one without another nearby. On one hand they seem to love companionship but their need for personal space overrides all. Their normal spacing is slightly more than one neck length. To a cormorant, the best defense is a pre-emptive strike. 

I suspect the ragged look of this bird's tail may have been caused by the nips of its fellow cormorants. What I do not understand is why they consistently try to land so close to one another. Maybe a tight landing is an attempt to intimidate the seated bird and chase it off its perfect perch.

Cormorants are diving birds so they spend a great deal of time flying near the water's surface. Dipping their wingtips in the water would create drag and waste energy, so they avoid deep wing strokes. Whenever I see a cormorant flying I am reminded of the motion we use when we tickle someone. There is lots of action but the arc of the movement is very shallow. It makes me grin to watch a cormorant tickle the sky.

Often folks ask if white-breasted cormorants are a different species. Besides double-crested cormorants, we can also find the thinner-billed, pelagic and Brandt's cormorants on saltwater in Washington. We generally see only the double-crested on freshwater.

The light-breasted ones are immature double-crested cormorants. 

You can only see these birds and read the name so many times before you begin to ask, Where are the double crests?

This is the same bird we saw in a couple of the previous photos. The two little crests are only visible at the right angle and if the bird or the wind decides to raise them. 

Among the cormorants sitting above the UW baseball field yesterday, I could only see crests on about one in five birds. 

Sometimes the crests can make a sudden appearance.

I should also mention that the crests are for the most part a seasonal beautification - in order to attract mates. Clearly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Only in the last two weeks have I seen white crested cormorants on Union Bay. I knew they existed from internet photos, but I always thought they must live in some far off place - like Alaska.

I have not found any documentation which explains why some of the double-crested cormorants have crests of white while others have black.

Maybe we are in the middle of an evolutionary change. Could one color or the other be a mutation which will provide that portion of the population an advantage.

Are white crests the new 'in-color' among double-crested cormorants? In either case, if you want to see the latest fashion you will need to visit Union Bay in the near future. Cormorants are a bit like humans, it is only for a short time in Spring that they show off their Easter Bonnets. 

Have a Happy Easter on Union Bay...where cormorants flaunt their bonnets!

Larry


Going Native:

Without a functional 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 which of these Washington natives are most likely to be found on Union Bay?

A)


B)





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Scroll down for answers

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The first photo shows a double-crested cormorant. I intentionally left the exposure rather dark to focus attention on the most colorful parts of the bird. During breeding season the inside of their mouths can turn blue. This seems to emphasize the bright green eyes and the orangish-yellow bill base.

The birds in the second photo are also cormorants. They are each of a different saltwater species. The bird on the left is a Brandt's cormorant - notice the thick neck and the light blue-ish patch below the bill. The bird on the right is a pelagic cormorant - notice the thin elegant bill, the flash of white on the flank and the long tail.




























Saturday, April 8, 2017

Evergreen

 What is special about this bird species?

This is the American Goldfinch. It can also be called a willow goldfinch or an eastern goldfinch depending on where you live. It is a fine little bird. I respect both its unique golden beauty and its vegetarian diet. It has been our official state bird for over 60 years. My question is, why?

The history of how school children voted to choose the goldfinch over the the meadowlark as the state bird can be found by Clicking Here. The story answers the question of how this species was selected - but not why.

The goldfinch is not in any way unique to Washington. In fact, it is also the state bird of New Jersey and Iowa. During any given year the goldfinch can be found in every one of the 48 states which existed in 1951 - the year we selected the goldfinch as our avian representative. 

Why are symbols important? During this time of rapid growth, with new residents arriving daily, with retail malls and office buildings growing faster than western hemlocks, our state tree, it is easy to forget we are in the Evergreen State. 

suspect if we were instantaneously transported to an office, mall or street anywhere in the U. S. most of us would have a difficult time distinguishing one state from the next. To help keep us, our children and new state citizens connected with Washington, we need to be surrounded by the living symbols of our state.

I love Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier, The Olympics and both sides of The Cascades. From western red cedars to ponderosa pines, what truly makes Washington unique is the life which grows in these special places.


I believe, no other state in the lower forty eight, has a greater year-round population of this bird than Washington. Can you name this species, which was seen near the Keystone ferry? I can understand if this twisted view is bit confusing.

Does looking the bird square in the eye make it easier. Maybe not. For most of my life, I doubt I could have identified this bird and yet it lives all around us. It can even be found on both side of the Cascades.

The male and the female have a similar shape but especially in the Spring their coloring can be quite different. This makes sense because the mature male's primary function is to attract and inseminate a female. Females have the greater responsibility. They must safely incubate and raise the young. Not looking too flashy helps the females and their offspring to survive.

This bird is a male harlequin duck. I must admit I find the rich vibrant colors of breeding males mesmerizing. It seems easy to empathize with the attraction the females must feel.

Most of the year this bird species feeds in surf along our saltwater shores. By definition, that makes it a mariner. You could even say they are Mariner's Fans - how many of us have a baseball and a bat tattooed on the side of our head!

While I have not yet seen a harlequin duck on Union Bay eBird does show sightings nearby. When leaving Union Bay, you may select any direction you like, sooner or later you will pass a place where harlequins have been seen.

You might ask, 'How can that be? We do not have much saltwater in Eastern Washington.' The surprising answer is, harlequins reproduce in our mountains along freshwater streams. 

I can think of no other bird who's life is so intricately involved with both freshwater streams and saltwater surf. Harlequins reproduce in the Olympics, Cascades and even the Colville Forest in N.E. Washington, while wintering on Puget Sound, the strait of Juan De Fuca and along our Pacific Coast. The Harlequin Duck would certainly be my selection as the bird which best symbolizes the State of Washington.

Strong symbols can have a lasting impression. Even though technically unofficial, 'The Evergreen State' is one of my favorite terms. The term aptly communicates that forests are an essential part of Washington State. Similarly, 'The Emerald City' is an excellent attempt to remind us what is unique about Seattle.

This week I was lucky to attend the 'Neighborhood Flyways Symposium' at the Town Hall in Seattle. It was the kickoff of a four-year campaign to 'restore and connect the tree canopy across Seattle'. It is being sponsored by Seattle Audubon. Representatives from a number of local organizations participated, e.g. Seattle Parks Foundation, Urban Forest Carbon Registry, The Nature Conservancy, Seattle's Office for Sustainability and Environment and Seattle Public Utilities.

I learned that the City of Seattle is rapidly losing our evergreen status. If I heard correctly, we have gone from having nearly one-third of the city covered in trees to less than one quarter. In some urban areas, like South Lake Union, the number is down to only eight percent. How can we, residents of the Emerald City and the Evergreen State, retain our historical values if we cannot see a conifer while consuming our lunch.

I understand that there are tradeoffs. We are encouraging density in the city to spare urban sprawl. This is a wonderful goal. However, most residents of Washington state live or work in the cities. Won't citizens living in a world of concrete and glass ultimately lose their connection with nature. Once disconnected, won't we be more likely to vote for some needed convenience rather than concerning ourselves with 'remote' value of nature.

Sadly, low-income areas also have less trees than the average Seattle neighborhood. The way forward, to being a city and a state which truly treasures our local lifeforms and eco-systems will require hard work. We can not afford to leave any citizens or areas of our city without a connection to nature. None of us know all the answers yet. We need everyone working together and providing input if we are to save our unique relationship with nature. 
I hope the Flyways Symposium inspires a long, healthy and productive conversation about changes regarding trees and the future of our Evergreen State. 

A related question, which might be part of the conversation is, If we required green spaces on top of our new downtown buildings, and possibly on top of new apartment buildings as well, might the investment pay dividends in the long-term?

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Pileated Update:

Thank you to one and all who responded to last week's request for photos of female pileated woodpeckers. The initial response shows a surprising lack of red-eyed females. Please keep looking!

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

Larry

Imagine a future where stepping outside allows our children to smell either saltwater or sap...and a short walk enables them to watch harlequin ducks.


Going Native:

Without a functional 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 name these flowering plants? Are they native to Union Bay?

A)

B)





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Scroll down for answer

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Species highlighted in green are native to Union Bay.

B) Salmonberry

Both of these are native to Union Bay. Do you know which one is flowering now? Visit the Arboretum to find out. :-)