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

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Elderberry Whine

In early April, Goldie was looking well kept and healthy. I call her Goldie because of the golden feathers on her forehead. I find her to be a rather mysterious bird. In Birds of North America (BNA) it states, 

'Female...forehead to mid-crown generally appearing grayish or brownish but possibly tending toward yellow-brown in older birds.' 

This seems to imply that Goldie is an older bird. 

Note: You can view the BNA citation and credit at the end of this post,

Chip and Goldie feeding near their potential 2017 nest site.

Goldie is Chip's new mate. She's also new to his, and now their, Union Bay territory. His  previous mate, Storm, was mysterious in her own right, primarily because of her bright red irises. 

Thank You to the many readers who responded to my earlier request for photos showing the iris color of mature female pileated woodpeckers. Your responses have helped me to document that red-eyed pileated woodpeckers (including one male) exist between Union Bay and the Alderwood Mall area. All other documented photos and sightings I have been sent, both inside and outside of the Alderwood-to-Union Bay corridor, show only yellow irises on mature pileated woodpeckers. 

The primary exceptions are:

a) Very young birds with blue/gray irises which generally appear very dark except when in bright sunlight.

b) Brown or yellow-brownish irises in apparently juvenile or first-year females and

c) Goldie and Storm

In BNA the following statement is made regarding iris color, 

'Brown in Juveniles and first-year females; brownish yellow in first year males (B.L. Noel pers. comm.); yellow to golden in adult males and some females. Not known when iris in some females changes to yellow.'

I have photos showing that Storm's irises were red for at least three years. During which time she was obviously mature since each year she laid eggs and raised young. This is a situation which is at the least undocumented in BNA. You can see more photos of Storm and her young by clicking here.

Goldie's mystery is, how can she have a yellow/golden forehead, which is supposed to indicate she is an older bird, while she also has brown irises which, theoretically, indicate she is a first-year bird. I am trying to catch photos of Goldie on a regular basis so we can watch to see when and if her eye color ever changes to yellow or red.

In late March, Chip showed Goldie his progress on his partially finished new nest site.

In early April, Chip continued the construction process. You can read more about how important woodpeckers and standing snags are to our local wildlife by Clicking Here.

Here is one of my best, well-lit photos of Goldie's brown irises from around the same date.

A few days later, Goldie was in the nest and inspecting the surroundings. I suspect she laid her eggs sometime during the next few weeks.

It was the end of May before I actually saw a young bird. I am thinking it takes about a month for incubation and a few days after hatching for young birds to gain enough strength to stand at the entry hole and begin begging for food.

The next day I saw Chip leaving the nest with a very large fecal pouch. Clearly, parenting was under way. At this point I had only seen the one young bird and I was curious if there were more.

Within a couple of days, the young bird appeared to grow stronger and his colors became more vibrant. From the distribution of the colors it was obvious he was a male.

Two days later all three siblings appeared at the entry and began begging for food. The size and brighter colors implied to me that one of the males was clearly the elder sibling.

In this photo we can see some of the differences between the two young males. The red on the lower and larger bird is slightly brighter. There are also differences in the white of their superciliums, e.g. eye-lines. In the older male, who I started thinking of as 'Lewis', the thin white markings end behind the eye. In the younger male, who I call 'Clark', the white line actually terminates above the middle of the eye.

The same markings are consistently visible in this photo. We see Chip feeding Lewis on the left, while Goldie is feeding Clark on the right. This was the first time I ever remember seeing two adults feeding two different young at the same time. I think this may have happened because of the size of this snag. The mostly dead tree is large enough that both adults can perch and feed the young without being hidden behind the curvature of the trunk.

On the same day Chip also fed the young female. I have been calling her, 'Gawea', short for Sacagawea. Gawea has had a challenging time competing for food with her brothers. This was also the first time I have ever seen a young pileated turn upside down in a bid to be fed. There is no arguing with success.

The next day, in another first for me, I found Chip collecting red elderberries.

My immediate thought was, Is he eating the little red berries or collecting them to feed to the young?

Twenty minutes later, I saw Goldie bringing food to the nest. She was looking decidedly wet and unkept. The strain of finding food and feeding three young looked like it was beginning to show.

Ten minutes later, Chip answered my earlier question. Beside the white remnants of larva on his bill, he had also clearly regurgitated at least one of the red elderberries to feed to Lewis and Gawea. If you have not noticed, the female pileated woodpeckers do not have red on their foreheads or cheeks.

In this particular case, Gawea is pinned down and unable to get her share of the food.

My biggest pileated surprise happened last Saturday morning. I was laying in bed when I heard the call of a pileated outside my window. I rushed to the back deck and followed the sound, which was repeated multiple times. Across the fence, in the back yard of my neighbor, was Lewis the young pileated. He was clearly calling for his parents to bring him food.

This was my first notice that any of the young woodpeckers had fledged e.g. learned to fly. I knew he was at least a quarter of a mile from the nest. I doubted the parents could hear him, especially if they remained near his potentially unfledged siblings. I put a few blueberries out where Lewis could see them, but they only attracted crows.

An hour later I headed for the pileated nest hoping to determine if Clark and Gawea had also fledged. Two blocks from home I heard a pileated again and turned to find three of them on a telephone pole.

A closer inspection showed it was Lewis who was being fed by Goldie. You might want to notice the difference in the color of their red top knots. I find it is also interesting to see the difference in their 'black' feathers as well. Being fresh from the nest, Lewis has not been exposed to much sunlight or weather. This, and that fact that he and his feathers are much younger, has kept his feathers darker and obviously more fresh than Goldie's.

I found Clark in the nest. He was calling for food on an average of about once every thirty seconds. 

After about an hour, Chip finally arrived with food. Apparently Gawea had already left the nest. At this point not only do the parents have to feed themselves and three young, they also have to locate the young and potentially fly to three different locations to deliver food. An end to their ordeal is almost in sight. The young will now slowly begin to feed themselves, however I have seen young in the field being fed by parents as late as August.

On Saturday afternoon, I once again heard Lewis on my neighbor's property. This time he was on a telephone pole in the front yard - still begging for food.

Within two days Clark was gone and the nest has been silent ever since. I think the frequency of the young pileated calls for food steadily increases as they get closer and closer to fledging. The begging wasn't exactly a whining sound to me but it certainly seemed emotionally similar, which is why I titled this post, Elderberry Whine.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where woodpeckers whine 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. 

















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Red Elderberry

This is one of my favorite native plants. Lately, I have seen band-tailed pigeons and crows eating the berries, as well as the pileated woodpeckers. You should read the literature very carefully before deciding whether or not to eat the berries. It seems to me nature made them red for a reason. I choose to leave them for the birds.































Recommended Citation

Bull, Evelyn L. and Jerome A. Jackson.(2011).Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/pilwoo

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Eaglets At Play

By the middle of June in 2016, Eva and Albert's young eaglets were nearly as large as the parents and occasionally catching some wind above the nest. As the year progressed, I wondered if the construction of the new 520 bridge would have an impact on the adult's reproduction in 2017.


In early February, there wasn't much going in the eagles' nest. From a human perspective it was hard to imagine that it was time to prepare for Spring. However...

...a week later I saw fresh nesting material being delivered. 

Soon after, the eagles began mating.

The duet which followed their parental preparations sounded like music to my ears. Sadly, I was unable to decipher their vocalizations. I must say that to me they sounded rather proud. If my calculations are correct, about one week later Eva began laying eggs in the nest.

It was mid-March before I was able to catch a photo which confirmed the situation. That small white spec in the middle of the nest is the top of Eva's head. The rest of her body is sitting low in the nest covering eggs and maintaining the optimal temperature.

It was early in May before I actually saw the two young eaglets standing in the nest. After studying my photos and other online accounts I suspect that at this point the eaglets were approximately four or five weeks old.

The next day, a closer photo showed the tiny remains of white fuzz on the head of one of the eaglets.

Eva was alert and vocal while defending her young from the slightest perceived threat.

Once again I had the impression that they were proud of their efforts.

By mid-May, Albert was doing most of the hunting and Eva was tending the home fires.

 Eva's efforts included tearing off bite sized pieces of food and...

 ...offering them to the eaglets one piece at a time.

This photo shows the young eaglet's flight feathers just starting to develop.

A week later, one of the eaglets let me get a few quick shots in the early morning light.

It is obvious that the parents had begun the process of distancing themselves from their young. For the adult who is doing the baby-sitting, usually Eva, it must be a relief to move out of the nest. The adults are no longer needed to provide warmth or shade but they still provide protection from predators.

The beaks and talons of the inexperienced young birds are no doubt sharp enough to cause damage and may also motivate the adults to maintain some distance, whenever possible.

Earlier this week it was good to see that this year's eaglets are now also nearly as large as their parents. At this point, both adults may leave the nest for extended periods. I suspect they continue to watch the nest from a distance, however I do not think they are particularly concerned with the smaller creatures, e.g. crows, harassing their young. 

The young no longer require any assistance with eating. As a matter of fact, when Albert landed it looked like one of the eaglets grabbed the food from his talons and pulled it quickly into the middle of the nest.


This was done in one swift motion and ended with the young bird's wings spread across the nest from one parent to the other. The second sibling was left with a view of the first eaglet's backside and most likely not even a whiff of the food before it was gone. The development of predatory eagle behavior appears to be well on its way.

Apparently, the 520 construction had little or no impact on the adult's ability to reproduce. I suspect they may have done a little more land-based hunting than in previous years. Still, it is reassuring to watch them pass along their genes, in spite of our presence and activities.

My best estimate is that the eagles are about nine to ten weeks old and may fledge sometime between now and early July. If you happen to be driving east on the old 520 bridge, please watch the road very carefully, however you may catch a glimpse of one or more bald eagles on the light poles. You might check quickly to see if the head(s) are white. If not, you may be one of the first to see the eaglets after they leave the nest.

Learning to fly is very dangerous for young eagles and hunting from light poles above speeding vehicles is most likely the last thing they should be doing. However, since that is one of their parent's favorite hunting spots, it is a likely location for them to begin their airborne endeavors. Maybe in July we should ask for flashing signs on the 520 bridge - 'Slow - Eaglets At Play'.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where eaglets grow up in the city!

Larry

PS: If you have not see this video about a young red-tailed hawk that is being raised by bald eagles you should definitely check out this link:


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. 

A)

B)









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A) Nootka Rose
B) Himalayan or Evergreen Blackberry
Over the last couple of weeks the native Nootka Rose has been blooming around Union Bay. The first photo is from the south side of the Pinetum in the Arboretum.


The second photo is from the Union Bay Natural Area. I believe the white flowers in the photo are Himalayan Blackberries. Technically, I have not figured out how to tell the difference between the Himalayan and Evergreen blackberries, however they are both large, thorny, invasive, European berries which do not belong in North America. I have read that if the blackberry has stems larger than about one quarter of an inch, 13mm, it is an invasive.

These undesirable, but tasty, blackberries overgrow and shade out a variety of important native plants. For example, in the second photo you can see a single pink flower in the lower left corner. Do you recognize it? It is the flower of a Nootka Rose which is obviously being over run by the invasive blackberries. My suggestions for dealing with these berries is heavy gloves, boots, long sleeves and a shovel. Then dig them loose and pull them out by their roots. Burning is optional.















Saturday, June 3, 2017

Playing With Fire

In January I spotted this crow evaluating what looked like a piece of bone. I firmly believe crows will eat anything - as long as the item in question provides a remote hint of sustenance.


In the winter, they will dig under moss-covered branches looking for grubs or larva or anything that moves.

Anytime of year, they will search our garbage and will even steal bread from the ducks when small children attempt to feed waterfowl.

They will eat unidentifiable things. I suspect sometimes even they have no clue what they are eating.

Last year, I watched a crow pick up the body of a mole. At the time I had no idea how tough a mole's coat could be. I watched the crow twist, turn and stab at the body for almost seven minutes. The mole's fur was still unblemished when the crow carried it away.

Later, I watched a crow wrap a snake's body in its beak. Apparently, this was to reduce the swinging and sway in flight.

I have even seen a crow with a bottom fish, which must have been captured and brought to the surface by some other creature. 

Still, if you are a hungry crow, second-hand sushi sounds delightful

Young, hungry crows must learn the family creed at an early age. They consume whatever their parents provide. This photo was taken in July of last year at which point the young crow was as large as its parents, but still begging for food. The youngster's gape, the red area around its mouth, must have seemed like a bottomless pit to the parents.

This spring, I watched a crow with the fragment of a robin's shell still stuck to its beak. In addition to eggs, it seems like almost every year I hear about crows stealing young from the nest's of robins.

Last week I watched this crow lurking on a branch just slightly above a downy woodpecker's nest.

The tiny woodpeckers had been coming and going with great regularity.  With each trip they carried food inside for their young. I am not sure if a crow could actually reach inside and raid a downy's tiny nest. Still, I do get uneasy when it appears they might be considering the task. When the crow arrived, the trips stopped and the male downy remained in the nest with the young.


Imagine my surprise, and the crow's, when after a few minutes the downy male emerged from the nest with his mini-red-crest fully inflated. The little woodpecker hopped up to the top of the tree and then fired off the pinnacle, diving directly at the dumbfounded crow. It all happened far faster than I could record. But there was no doubt about the result. The crow decided he had somewhere else to be. The brave little downy returned to the young in the nest. 

Yesterday I again watched a crow sitting above another downy nest.

I saw both the mother and...

...the father bringing food.

I even watched as the father dutifully kept the nest clean by removing a relatively large fecal pouch. This time the curious crow flew off without an incident. 

The two downy nests are quite close and crows are quite smart. Could this have been the same crow I watched last week? If so, could the crow have learned a lesson from his experience? If not, could a different crow have heard the rumor - harassing a downy is like playing with fire.

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. 







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Scroll down for answer

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Bindweed:

There are two types of bindweed mentioned on the King County website. Neither one is native to the Pacific Northwest. This particular type has infested the area south of Elderberry Island in the Arboretum and is also in my garden at home. Because of the lighter leaf color I suspect this is the perennial Hedge Bindweed, also called Morning Glory. If you happen to know more about these plants than I do, please feel free to educate me. (ldhubbell@comcast.net) 

I do know the plant is a real pain. It grows up and around other plants, like our strawberries, and when you try and remove it - it 'binds' around the stem causing you to inadvertantly pull off perfect good strawberry leaves and berries before the bindweed breaks. In addition if you leave any part of the bindweed in the ground it sends out new shoots and starts growing again. Between this plant, the creeping buttercup (covered last week) and the himalayan blackberries the native understory is virtually gone near the mouth of Arboretum Creek.