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

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Bittersweet

This week's post is dedicated to my younger brother, Brad Bowman (1967 - 2017).

Three years ago Brad, my son Nathan, and I hiked into Wolf Bar and spent a night beside the North Fork of the Quinault River in the Olympics. At the time, we were hoping my brother's health would recover enough to someday continue a week-long trek up the Quinault River over Low Divide and out along the Elwha RiverUnfortunately, Brad passed away this Spring before we got the chance.

Brad loved nature, family and photography. Those who knew Brad might think the previous sentence leaves out his love for animals and most specifically, his dogs. However, I am pretty sure Brad would have included his canine companions in the family category. You can see some of Brad's nature photos on Facebook.

Last week, accompanied by my friend Rob Thomas, we completed the Olympic hike my brother and I dreamed about. The air was crystal clear and the weather was perfect. Toward the end of the second full day of hiking we reached Low Divide. The elevation at the pass is around 3,600 feet - about 300 feet higher than Snoqualmie Pass. The surrounding peaks are above 6,000 feet. The cascading snowmelt creates this long, leaping waterfall - with a temperature only slightly above freezing.

The meadow at the pass was full of native flowers, like this red columbine.

The flowers of the glacier lilies were generally white with occasional pink blossoms.

The next morning I wandered the meadow at sunrise.

The white blossoms of the bear grass turned golden in the early morning light.

The indian paintbrush waited patiently for a native artist.

A thistle waited for warmth to inspire it to bloom.

This unknown flower, maybe a clematis, seemed to shiver in the shade hoping for early morning sunshine. Actually, I may have been the one doing the shivering.

Near camp, a young varied thrush waited for its parent to bring it food.

The adults were a bit more shy.

Nearby a hummingbird stretched in the morning sun.

As we left Low Divide, Rob and I passed the pristine waters of Lake Margaret. I suspect this was about the time we walked out of the Quinault watershed and into the north flowing watershed of the Elwha river. With three nights of camping both behind and in front of us, this mid-point in the hike is one of the more remote places in the Olympic National Park. It is interesting that the Olympic Mountains are one of the few 'radial' mountain ranges. The rivers running off of the Olympics radiate down and out in almost every possible direction. 

As we began our descent, the flowers kept appearing around us. The bunchberries made a mat of green with carefully spaced white blossoms.

This mother grouse watched me closely as I tried to catch a unobscured look at her lone offspring. The young bird scrambled off the trail and down the mountain side faster than I could focus my camera.

The tiger lily was less active, but still challenged me to find the optimal angle to display its beauty.

The next day when we attempted a side trip up to the Elwha Basin. This Douglas squirrel was not the least perturbed by our presence. It almost appeared to be standing guard. I wonder if it had a nest nearby.

Within a couple miles of the Elwha headwaters I spotted this tiny white, thumbnail-sized flower with a slightly pink cast. Nearby, the overgrown trail completely disappeared,

We heard the brilliant syncopated chattering songs of Pacific wrens at many points along the way.  

Nearby, we found this amazing yellow-orange growth. I cannot find a name for it in any of my books.

The hike required fording many streams. We found the crossings very refreshing for our hot and weary feet.

We were not the only ones walking beside the Elwha. A bear left its calling card next to the vanilla leaf and wild strawberries.

Our hiking slowed dramatically when we too stopped to taste the sweet little berries hidden below the foliage beside the trail.

At Mary's Falls I spotted a couple of interesting growths, but no waterfall. I believe this is called Indian pipe.

I am uncertain what type of mushroom this might be.

As the sun was falling in the west it highlighted this flycatcher. True to its name the flycatcher watched as the sunlight illuminated the wing membranes of passing insects. With their wings glowing a brilliant white, the unsuspecting flies were quickly consumed. The little bird returned to its perch and repeated the process with amazing speed and regularity.

As we neared the end of our journey, we passed this small stream - named Bowman Creek. It seemed a fitting way to finish the hike which I had originally hoped to complete with my brother, Brad.

Larry
























Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Ouzel's Eyelid

On Friday, above Snoqualmie Pass, this young bird begged for food. Did you notice how the yellow gape of the youngster provides a target for the parent.

Today, we call this species the American Dipper. I find this official name functional and appropriate. Dipper, describes the manner in which this species is almost constantly moving. They dip and dive below the surface of the churning white water while searching for food. They continue to flex their legs and dip their bodies anytime they momentarily stand on a rock, log, or shore. It is quite likely that any English-speaking person upon seeing this bird for the first time might call it a dipper. On the other hand, the name is not nearly as mysterious and musical as ouzel. 

In John Muir's writing, he, and others, referred to these birds as water-ouzels. No doubt this originated because our North American species behaves similarly to the european water-ouzel or dipper.  


John Muir's lengthy observations and poetic descriptions of this species' behavior are eloquent and beautiful. He clearly loved and respected water-ouzels. Mr. Muir stated, "The Ouzel alone of all birds dares to enter the white torrent. And though strictly terrestrial in structure, no other is so inseparably related to water, not even the duck, or the bold ocean albatross, or the stormy-petrel." You can read more of his work on the Sierra Club website.

The dipper's compact body, short tail, long strong toes, and powerful rounded wings are all adapted to searching for food while submerged underwater. This stream was filled with fresh snowmelt, only just slightly above freezing. Neither the cold, nor the force of the fast falling water deterred the dippers. I doubt any other species of North American bird would feed its young on a wet rock in the middle of such a cold, cascading, stream.

The day before, my friend Dave Galvin led us up above Red Pass. Dave is a man of many passions. I met Dave last fall when we both began the Seattle Audubon's Master Birder class. Last summer, Dave biked from the Pacific to the Atlantic ocean. (Click Here to read about the 5000 mile trip.) During the winter Dave likes to snowshoe and often ends up on top of Guye Peak - which is the symmetrical peak behind Dave. Dave also maintains the forest around the Sahalie Ski Club which is located on the south side of the peak.

Note: In the photo above, the light green meadows laying low in the distance are the Snoqualmie ski slopes.

At approximately 5000', there was only one small patch of snow left on the north side of Guye Peak. 

From Red Pass we also looked down on our camp, just to the right of the 'puddle' of melted snow. 

Given the dampness of the ground Dave suggested it had only been a few days since our campsite was completely covered in snow. It was quite clear where the water to feed the cold cascading streams was coming from.

It was less obvious where the water was headed. The size, scope and complexity of watersheds make they difficult to fully comprehend. Watersheds include all land which drains into a particular body of water. Generally, they center around rivers. As a result, watersheds seldom match our governmental boundaries. In fact, we often use rivers as visible boundaries - like the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

By cutting watersheds into pieces, e.g. cities, counties and states, we make the responsibility for managing the impact of humans on water extremely challenging. In my dream world, watersheds would be the basis for our governing organizations. In this fantasy, watershed, world, Snoqualmie Pass would be near the intersection of three 'states'.

We started our hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. In most areas, the snow melting on the east side of the trail flows down into the Yakima River, then into the Columbia and out to the Pacific. While snow or rain on the west side of the trail, flows into the Snoqualmie River which merges into the Snohomish and flows in to the Puget Sound, north of Everett. 

Just a mile or two southwest of Snoqualmie Pass, snow melts and flows into the Cedar River which in turn flows into Lake Washington. For the last 100 years, since the Montlake Cut was created, Lake Washington flows out through Union Bay and the Ballard Locks to Puget Sound. The same Cedar River also supplies our tap water in Seattle. 

The primary difference in water quality between our tap water and the water in Union Bay is the unintended metropolitan pollutants, with combined-sewer-overflows(CSO) being a prime example. Follow the CSO link to get a look at the scope of the issue.

Back at the stream we watched as the adult slipped into the cold swift water, to search for food. In John Muir's day I believe dippers where just as common in lowland streams as they are today in our pristine mountain flows.

Temporarily hidden from view, the adult is searching below the surface directly in front of its offspring. It appeared that the young one was calling loudly for more food but I doubt any living creature, including its parent, could hear the call above the noise of the rushing water.

From what I can ascertain, the only contrasting color, other than their pale legs, on an adult dipper is the white of their eyelids. On young birds there does appear to be some white on the trailing edge of their wings. Most likely, these white tips wear away soon after they enter the water and begin searching for food on their own.

It seems to me that if the bio-region concept of Cascadia takes hold, the most appropriate 'regional bird' might be the water-ouzel. After all, it is apparently the only bird to feed, live, and reproduce, full-time, in the cascading streams of the mountains which are central to this region. 

Note: The proposed bio-region of Cascadia, containing Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, would at least unite most of the Columbia River watershed into a single governmental entity.

If you happen to get away from the shores of Union Bay, I suggest searching for a fast flowing stream, the beautifully adapted water-ouzel, and the momentary flash of its bright, white eyelid.

Have a great day!

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.

In addition to his many other skills, Dave Galvin has also learned many of the native flowers which can be found soon after the snow melts in our Cascade Mountains. Here are a few examples. Do you know their names?

A)

B)

C)

D)















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Scroll down for the answers

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I must preface the answers by saying I am relying on my hearing and note taking - both of which can be suspect - to relay Dave's names of these flowers. If there are any errors in the naming I am sure it is mine.


A) Wild Strawberry (Frageria sp.)
B) Primarily Spreading Phlox (Phlox diffusa) with some Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.)
C) Creeping Penstamon (Penstemon Davidsonii)
D) Pink Mountain Heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis)















Sunday, July 2, 2017

Diamonds Are Optional

A lot can happen in a year. Chester and Lacey are now experienced Union Bay breeders. You can read about their unique, potentially first in a hundred years, experience in the post 'Something to Celebrate'. Since then they have separately completed their fall and spring migrations, covering thousands of miles. According to All About Birds osprey may fly as much as ten thousand miles per year. Chester and Lacey have returned to their Union Bay nest site and each other. Plus, Lacey started sitting on eggs around May 15th - just like last year. 

Currently, Lacey spends most of her time in the nest. Occasionally, she takes brief breaks. Sometimes, she flies figure eights around the nest to temporarily escape her maternal confinement. Last week, while Chester guarded the nest, Lacey flew over and snagged another dead branch to continue elevating the exterior of their avian nursery (see the photo above).

This photo was taken last year on July 10th. Given that Lacey began sitting at about the same time this year, we may be able to see the young in the nest sometime in the next week. According to All About Birds their incubation period is between 36 to 42 days. They are almost certainly beyond that time frame.

Most likely the young have already hatched and are simply not yet strong enough to hold their heads above the edge of the ever-rising nest. Clearly, the visibility bar is being raised this year. Notice the growth of the nest between this photo from last year and the current photos.

This year, Chester is once again consistently bringing food to the nest. This photo from last week, is an example of his hard work and willingness to put the family's well-being ahead of his own. He will often deliver food to the nest, then go back out and catch his own food before finally returning to sit nearby and eat.

This morning, Chester delivered a fish as usual. Lacey ate and possiby fed the young. The process was hidden to me. Finally, it appeared that Lacey covered the young to protect them from the early morning chill and seemed to settle in for some quiet time. 

During this time Chester had been watching from a nearby cottonwood tree. He often guards the nest from that elevated position. If Lacey sees a potential threat she will call out sharply and Chester will be the first to take to the air to defend the nest. 

While Lacey was resting quietly, Chester came to life and flew over to the nest. He landed, looked Lacey in the eye, and then picked up the remains of the fish and flew away to feed himself. In someways it was a rather brave maneuver because the female osprey can be as much twice as large as a male. They can also be rather possessive, especially of food intended for their young. Maybe it it is a sign that Lacey trusts Chester and his ability to deliver food. In any case, it is an osprey behavior I have never seen before.

An easy way to tell Lacey and Chester apart is by looking at their chests. Lacey has a dark 'necklace' which is scattered across her upper chest. Chester, in keeping with his name, has a chest of pure white

Chester and Lacey are particularly sensitive to any potential harassment from other predatory birds. Bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and even other osprey are consistently consider a threat.

This week, I watched Chester and Lacey escort a wandering and confused young eagle out of their airspace. I am sure the first-year eagle was much happier when it escaped their frantic attention and finally reached the Laurelhurst neighborhood.

Last October, I watched their daughter Kate chase off a red-tailed hawk, all by herself. Last summer I watched the parents drive off every eagle within eyesight and any other osprey which attempted to fly near the nest.

You can imagine my surprise when last week a third osprey came and landed in the nest. Even more astonishing was the lack of reaction from Chester and Lacey. They did not appear to be at all concerned. The only other osprey I have ever seen in their nest were their own young.

Can you see any differences between the bird above and Chester and Lacey? Personally, I think the neck on this third bird seems a bit more slender. Also, the thin delicate necklace is clearly different. It is much lighter than Lacey's necklace, while also unlike Chester's unmarked chest.

Here is a good view of Chester's chest, just prior to dropping off a delivery of sushi for Lacey's lunch.

The top of the third bird's head is also patterned differently than Chester or Lacey. Last year, Jim Kaiser, the osprey biologist who designed, built, and installed this nesting platform, told me about a study in Europe which demonstrated that osprey can be uniquely identified by the patterns on top of their heads. 

Chester and Lacey's mild-mannered acceptance of this third bird makes me think that it must be one of their offspring. The necklace implies the bird is most likely female. Last year, Chester and Lacey successfully raised three young. They had two males, which we called Wilbur and Orville, and a third sibling, their sister who we call Kate. In the prior year (2015), Chester and Lacey did not complete a nest and did not have any young. 

In Birds of North America (BNA) it says, 'Band returns (Henny and Van Velzen 1972, Poole and Agler 1987, Ewins and Houston 1992) and sightings of individuals on overwintering areas during the northern summer indicate first-year birds remain on overwintering grounds ca. 18 mo, only returning in their third calendar year. Osprey very rarely return to breeding grounds in the spring following their first migration south (AFP; M. McMillian, personal communication).'

All things considered, my best guess is that the third bird must be Kate. I can think of no other rational explanation for their combined behavior.

This photo was taken on October the 3rd, 2016 it shows a lonely Kate, all by herself. This photo was taken just prior to her migration south. She was the last of the five osprey to leave Union Bay. Possibly her hesitance to leave implies that she has a strong attachment to Union Bay. Maybe a special bond with her birthplace has brought her back. 

Some could argue that the pattern of Kate's coloring looks a bit different this year. I agree. My supposition is that she has completely replaced her juvenile plumage with slightly different patterns and colors. Frankly, I have no way to be positive whether the observed differences between the 2016 version of Kate and this year's third bird are consistent with normal osprey development.

There is however one thing of which I am fairly certain, whether our third bird is Kate or Not-Kate it seems only logical to conclude it is a member of Chester and Lacey's family. Most likely it has returned, in its first year, to the place of its birth (or hatching). If so, then it is, by the BNA definition, a rare bird behavior. 

Have a great day on Union Bay...where with luck you may see Kate in the sky - diamonds are optional!

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Update:


Breaking news just in from Doug Parrott:

Hi Larry,

I was at the Fill this am (Sunday) and there are as least two chicks in the Osprey nest. Their timing is just about right on from last year. By the way another great post. Attached photo from today.

Best,
Doug

Photo by Doug Parrot - July 2nd, 2017
Thank you! Doug


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Have a great day on 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. 


















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Scroll down for the answer

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Garden Loosestrife



This yellow invader is currently blooming in the Union Bay Natural Area. It spreads not just via the flowers but more importantly and invasively via the root system. The folks at the UW Botanical Gardens are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They do not have enough resources to eradicate the weed manually and the only cost effective means of controlling the weed is therefore an herbicide.






Recommended Citation

Bierregaard, Richard O., Alan F. Poole, Mark S. Martell, Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten.(2016).Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), 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/osprey