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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Hints of Spring

March 1st may seem a bit early to be hunting for hints of Spring, but I found it a surprisingly warm, sunny and productive day. Spotting a Red-breasted Nuthatch excavating a nest hole in a dead branch was my first obvious hint.

If you look very close you can see a tiny speck of wood on the tip of the nuthatch's bill. It is hard to imagine the strength of the nesting urge which drives these small creatures to invest in such a labor intensive effort. On the positive side, I do think the dead branch is hollow which should make their job easier - the dark center in the middle of the fresh hole indicates to me that the heart of the branch is missing.

The coloring of this female nuthatch is very similar to a male's plumage. 

She is a bit lighter in some areas. Notice how her dark cap fades quickly away. This results in the reverse side of her neck being essentially the same color as her back. 

Later, the male took a turn. This photo shows that his dark cap extends much further down the neck and creates a fairly crisp transition to the blue-gray of his back. The extent of the black on his head also makes his white supercilium, or eyebrow, much more crisp than on the female.

Even when his head is totally upside down, the male appears to have no trouble visualizing 
the world.

Not far from the nuthatches this male Spotted Towhee was calling.

I believe the widely spread tail feathers are a territorial display proclaiming to other males, 'Stay away, I am uniquely strong and handsome. You can't compete with me!'

The towhee turned around and held his tail widely spread for a number of minutes. It was an obvious display which also indicates that Spring is coming.

Nearby, a male Northern Flicker softly pecked at the wood around a hole in a dead snag. In his case, there was no evidence of damage to the bark. I suspect his soft drumming was an auditory territorial display. Later, a female flicker came and inspected the hole. She did not actually go inside. Maybe she was just getting a progress report.

Another hint of Spring was evident when I watched Albert, the male Bald Eagle from the Broadmoor nest, pull a branch off a cottonwood tree and head back to the nest. Afterwords, each time I checked the nest both Albert and Eva were sticking close to home.

Later, I saw a crow who was also collecting nesting material. Luckily, the crow stopped to rest on the way to the nest. None the less, the little twig under the crow's foot, is a bit hard to see.

This female Mallard repeatedly took a little something from the water and then turned and walked back into the darkness behind her while the male waited patiently. I suspect she was building a nest.

Out on Foster Island, I found a number of birds bathing in a small puddle.

The European Starlings seemed to particularly enjoy the water, while I enjoyed their comical wet-feathered look. 

The light-colored feather edges are a sign of fresh new growth. Later in the year, the wear and tear of life will remove the soft, light-colored feather tips and the starlings will revert to their more usually uniform dark plumage.

 For now, as Spring approaches, I must admit the starlings are looking particularly attractive. By the way, the bluish tint at the base of the bills indicates these birds are male. Interestingly, females have a pink tint in the same location.

Also, since their bills turn yellow as the breeding season approaches, they provide another a hint that Spring is on the way.

The last early sign of Spring I observed was a pair of wood ducks circling around under one of our new Wood Duck boxes. They circled about, south of the Foster Island floating walkway as the sun began to set. Box number 8 can be seen from the east end of the walkway which connects Foster Island to Marsh Island. 

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

Larry Hubbell

Going Native:

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

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

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

Do you know this plant? Is it native to Union Bay?

Scroll down to see the answer!


Skunk Cabbage: Is a native plant, sometimes referred to as a Swamp Lantern. It is usually found in or very near water. Since it is flowering now, it is also an early sign of Spring. By April 1st it will be in full and fragrant bloom. At which point, you may find that you prefer to observe the large yellow blossoms from the upwind side.


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



  1. Thanks for taking us outdoors to enjoy the beautiful mbirds of Spring. Almost like being there.

    1. The next best thing, I hope. In either case - Thank You!

  2. Wonderful news of Spring! I totally enjoyed your photos and texts.
    Thank you so much.

    1. You are very welcome. Thank you for continuing to follow along.

  3. Excellent post on the Nuthatches, I've seen them many times rework a Downy Woodpecker hole to their liking but have never seen them build a hole from scratch so enjoyed your post very much.
    A little trivia about Nuthatches is they will many times take a twig and collect sap from an evergreen and paint it around the entrance of the hole, it's believed this deters pests and predators from bothering the nest hole, to avoid getting the sticky pitch on themselves they will fly up to and dive into the hole at the last second.
    Thanks for the posting, always enjoy them.
    Greg Hensen

    1. Greg,

      Thank you. That is really cool how they can recycle Downy nest sites. The sap collecting is also a very special nuthatch skill. You can see examples toward the end of the Dec. 12th, 2015 post.


      Thanks for the reminder!

      Happy Birding!