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

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Eagle Roles

During the first week of March, I noticed Eva and Albert, the Broadmoor Bald Eagle pair, perched above Duck Bay. They appeared to be enjoying the sunshine and each other's company. My best guess is, they were actually considering adding waterfowl to their morning menu.

Further to the northwest, Monty and Marsha were also sitting in the sun. The Montlake Cut pair were relaxing just beyond the invisible border which divides their neighboring territories. My impression is that the border aligns fairly close to the eastbound 520 on-ramp which originates in the Arboretum.

During fall and winter, it is common to find our local eagles paired-up and sitting quietly side-by-side. However, as the increasing solar intensity burns winter away, the local eagle behavior begins to change. Between now and autumn, there will not be many opportunities for the Eagles to get away from their nests and share relaxing moments sitting in the summer sun.

This is Monty and Marsha's new nest. It is about six feet below their original nest, which began to crumble last July. From our earthbound perspective, this new nest may look empty. I suspect it is not. The nest building, which we saw in last month's post, has virtually stopped. The nest has grown. It now appears to be fairly well-balanced and hopefully secure.

If you look closely you can faintly see small patches of white showing through the upper right portion of the nest. I believe this hint of white is reflecting from the feathers on Marsha or Monty's head.

On Tuesday, I first noticed what looked like nesting activity. From this angle, it seems obvious that one of the eagles has its head down in the middle of the nest, while the tips of its folded wings are pointed outward. I wondered what the eagle was doing? Was it simply adjusting the placement of a stick in the nest?

On Thursday, I caught a similar view. The nagging question in my mind was, had incubation begun? Was the eagle turning eggs to keep them uniformly warm? All I knew for certain was the eagle was focusing inward toward the middle of the nest.

Twenty minutes later, with her identifiable head showing, I could at least be positive that I was seeing Marsha in the nest.

Marsha's white head has a uniquely grayish-brown cast behind and below her eyes.

This close-up clearly displays her distinctive facial coloring.

A few moments later Monty arrived. When he landed just above the nest, Marsha abandoned her post and Monty took over duties in the nest. I have no way to actually see eggs in the nest, however, their clear exchange of roles convinced me that Monty and Marsha have initiated the parental process once again.

Yesterday, Monty appeared to be on-watch just a couple of trees away from the nest.

Marsha, on the other hand, was in the nest and voicing her displeasure with the crows overhead. It seems obvious, she is using her body to defend and protect eggs in the nest.

During the last year, Monty and Marsha seem to have learned a lot. The new nest is in the largest fork in the tree. The nest was started and completed about three weeks earlier than last year's nest. The timing of their egg-laying and incubation appears to be impeccable.

Although it is distant and difficult to see, one the of the Broadmoor Bald Eagles (Eva I presume) looks like she is also on eggs in her nest. Last year, I believe I first noticed Eva appearing to be on eggs on March 23rd. It sure looks like both nests are on a very similar schedule this year.

Given that it will take just over a month for the eggs to hatch, plus a week or two for the young to grow large enough to stand and be visible from the ground, I am estimating our first sighting of young eagles will be in the first or second week of May. If everything continues as expected, that would mean the young will be likely to be leaving the nest sometime in July. Wouldn't it be wonderful if one of their offspring learned to fly on Independence Day?


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A Wonderful Opportunity:

In the wonderful weekly post entitled 'Water Is Life', from my friends Dan Pedersen and Craig & Joy Johnson, mention the free screening of Craig and Joy's new movie, 'Birding Whidbey Island'. I was lucky enough to view an early release of the movie. The movie shows birding locations on Whidbey Island which I had never heard of and displays bird behaviors which I had never seen. Equally inspirational are Craig and Joy's absolute love and commitment to birds and nature. If you have the opportunity, I would highly recommend seeing this movie.

The movie will be shown at 2pm tomorrow, March 24th, and also (at 2pm) on March 31st at the Clyde Theatre in downtown Langley, WA.


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A Raven Update:

In the comments to last week's post, The Mythical Ravens, Ann recently wrote about seeing three ravens in Montlake this week. I am seeing one or two almost every day and very excited that they are still hanging around. Finding out about a third raven in the area triples the excitement.

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 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.







This wonderful native plant with the pinkish-red flowers is currently blooming. What is it called? 

Note: There are a couple of clues embedded in the first sentence.








Scroll down for the answer.










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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 workaround is to set up 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













Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Mythical Raven

The Raven and I exchanged glances at a great distance..

This week, for the first time in my life, I saw Ravens in the Arboretum. I was awe-struck. Words cannot explain my excitement, wonder, and reverence. I was lucky enough to see them on three consecutive days. It was like watching a myth come to life. 

Native Americans from the Pacific Northwest chose the Raven as the creator of the earth, the moon, and humanity. They also recognized the Raven's intelligence, referring to it to as, The Trickster. You can experience much more about The Raven and its relationship with the native Pacific Northwest culture at the Tillicum Village production on Blake Island. 

As the European culture expanded across North American Ravens learned to avoid humans. Unlike salmon, the Ravens were smart enough and capable enough to retire to more isolated regions. During my lifetime I have generally seen Ravens in areas like The Olympics, Crystal Ski Area, Snoqualmie Pass and near the Skagit River delta.

However, there are reports that Ravens are beginning to reappear in urban environments. Wild creatures are constantly striving and fighting to find new food sources and safe locations to raise their young. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens in the Arboretum find everything they need to become our permanent neighbors.

I suspect these two Ravens are a new pair, searching for a territory of their own. From a habitat perspective, the tall native trees of the Arboretum have attracted their attention. The next question is, Will they find an adequate supply of food? 

Ravens are omnivores. They will eat anything from fruit, eggs, and insects, to a vast variety of small creatures including roadkill. Anything we can do to help the smaller creatures thrive will ultimately benefit the Ravens.

Local residents can help by:
  1. Leaving dead snags, small piles of brush, leaves, spider webs, lichen and moss in our yards and parks - these provide nesting material and/or food sources for a variety of small creatures and birds.
  2. Retaining native plants - local creatures intuitively know how to utilize native flora.
  3. Facilitating multi-story environments, from ground cover to trees - a variety of species utilize each level of native habitat. Multiple stories multiplies productivity.
  4. Keeping bird feeders clean and full - healthy populations of small birds are critical to the natural food pyramid.
  5. Leaving chemicals at the store - rodenticides, herbicides, and pesticides are not selective killers. They can bioaccumulate and kill Owls, Hawks, Eagles, and Ravens.


A very common question is, How can you tell a Raven from Crow? There is a size difference. However, unless you see them close together it can be hard to judge. Crows generally weigh around a pound while Ravens can weigh up to four times as much. In this photo, the Raven is seated and the Crow is darting in to harass it. Also, note the shape of the Crow's tail.

Ravens, particularly in-flight, often display more of a diamond-shaped tail as opposed to the fan-shaped tail of a Crow. Although, at normal angles, the shape can be hard to judge. Raven's wings are also relatively longer and less rounded. You can easily compare with the previous photo.

Ravens have a much deeper voice. I hear 'Grawk' instead of the higher pitched 'Caw' of a Crow.

Click Here - to select and hear Raven sounds.

The first recording is the 'standard' sound of a Raven. The last recording is amazingly different. The first time I heard it in the wild I had great difficulty believing it came from a Raven - even though I was looking directly at the Raven at the time. 

Ravens can display obvious hackles. The long feathers extending out from the neck. These can be raised although when they are lowered they are basically invisible. In this case, the Raven's hackles were raised because it was irritated by the crow's harassment.

A Raven's bill is shaped differently than a Crow's. The tapering of a Raven's bill is rather subtle until after the halfway point. There is a distinct change in the angle of the tapering.

With Crows, the tapering begins at the head and the angle continues quite consistently all the way to the end.

Ravens tend to have a slower wing-beat and often glide and circle with their wings fully extended. Crows tend to have a very steady wing-beat and are often seen flying in a straight line, apparently headed toward a specific destination.

Good Luck! I certainly hope you get the chance to hear and see Ravens in the Arboretum!

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

Larry


Wood Duck Update:

Last week, while observing Wood Ducks and their boxes, Jeff Graham caught this great sequence on video. (Thank You, Jeff!) His friend and fellow Wood Duck observer David O. Wilbur kindly converted these frames to still photos.


Two Wood Duck hens with similar nesting priorities.

There can be only one - at least for the moment.

The second hen won the battle but not the war. 

Wood Ducks often lay eggs in nests other than their own. If the timing is right, the eggs can be successful and a higher level of genetic diversity is insured. If the timing is off, the eggs can end up being wasted primarily because they do not get properly incubated.


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.





Which native berry will this plant produce? I realize this may seem like an absurdly difficult challenge. However, during the Spring, when plants are just starting to bud, people often begin their gardening and planting. If we are to retain native plants we must learn to identify them even without their berries and leaves. In this case, look closely at the delicate habit of this plant. I believe it is really quite unique among native berries.








Scroll down for the answer.










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This is one of my favorite natives plants. Its light and delicate appearance can be savored just as much as the taste of its fruit.








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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 workaround is to set up 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, March 9, 2019

A Quizzical Look

The crisp, cold chill of the morning air cleared the cobwebs from my mind. When I am out and about, I imagine myself fully alert to the wildlife around me. However, I suspect that even at my best, I still miss more than I see. For example, while walking south through the Arboretum, during the early morning, I had no idea there was an owl hunting among the bushes in front of me. I was certainly surprised by the silent flurry of wings when the Barred Owl rose up from the ground and landed on a small branch.


The owl glanced at me and then resumed searching the surrounding trees. The owl's lack of interest in me seemed to imply that I was, 'Too big to eat and too noisy to be dangerous.'

My own thoughts were equal parts - excitement and relief. For many winters, I have been able to check-in on one of the Barred Owls on a daily basis. At some point, I had become aware of one of the resident owls' winter roost. A shaded, horizontal branch deep within a stand of Western Red Cedars was a consistently used spot where the owl silently snoozed through the daylight hours. 

Sadly for me, for the last two winters, the owl has apparently found a new resting location. I no longer have a clue where the owl takes its siestas. 

As a matter of fact, until I heard a Barred Owl calling just last week, the only owl I had seen in the Arboretum this year was this Great Horned Owl. Since Great Horned Owls are quite capable of eating smaller owls, seeing one always makes me a bit concerned for our resident Barred Owls. 

It was certainly a warm feeling of relief to see this healthy-looking Barred Owl going about its business. It reassured me that we still have a good chance of seeing young owlets later this year.

At this point, the owl seemed to be evaluating my daughter's dog, Ginger. The owl's apparent conclusion was, 'Smaller than the human, but still too big to catch and carry.'

Later, while looking at this photo, I was struck by the subtle asymmetry in the owl's facial disk. The disk is the area outlined by the dark brown stripe which surrounds the eyes and beak. This concave, saucer-shape helps Barred Owls to funnel sounds to their ears. Their specialized hearing complements their night vision and their exceptionally silent flight to make them superb nocturnal hunters.

I enjoy trying to identify the individual creatures which live and reside around Union Bay. I have not had much luck with the Barred Owls. So, as I looked at this photo I wondered, Could the elevated dark brown 'eyebrow' above the bird's right eye enable consistent identification? Is this quizzical look unique to this individual?

I began searching my database for Barred Owl photos. A found this 2014 photo which shows the brown stripe on the right side of this owl's face was also higher than the stripe on the left.

Among the 2015 photos, I found a picture of a hatch-year bird with the same facial arrangement.

When I looked closely at an adult photo, in the same year, the pattern repeated.

In 2016 I found the same quizzical look. Potentially, all of these adult photos could be of the same bird, since the pictures were taken in the Arboretum. However, it does seem unlikely that I might have repeatedly photographed only one of a pair of reproducing adults.

Plus, I know that in the case of hatch-year birds the comparison from one year to the next must be of different individuals. So, this 2016 hatch-year photo represents at least the third Barred Owl with the same type of asymmetry.

In addition, this photo shows two different young in that year, so that increases my tally to at least four different individuals.

I also found a 2017 photograph which displayed a Barred Owl with a similar pattern. 

Finally, here is a Barred Owl photographed last year in Interlaken Park which shows a similar facial arrangement. This repetitive pattern implies to me that, as a species, Barred Owls have asymmetrical facial disks. Not only am I unable to use this feature to identify an individual adult, but I find it incredibly humorous and humbling that I have photographed these birds for years without being conscious of this consistently quizzical look.

The obvious next question was, Why are their faces asymmetrical? I remember Dennis Paulson teaching us, in our Master Birder Class, that some owls have asymmetrical ear alignments. With ears at different heights, owls can determine more precisely both the vertical and horizontal location of their prey. 

I did not remember whether the ears of Barred Owls ears were aligned symmetrically or not. Looking online, I found the following posting regarding:


from The International Owl Center, in Minnesota, which confirmed some asymmetry in Barred Owl ear locations. (If you follow the link above, you can then scroll down to the third photo to read about the Barred Owl ears.) My best guess is that Barred Owl's asymmetrical faces are a functional reflection of and correlation with their ears being at different heights.

After another internet search, I found a post which gives even more details about owls and their specialized hearing. Plus, the commentary gives me the impression that the author shares my belief that the asymmetrical shape of Barred Owl faces is related to the location of their ears. 


I doubt that I will ever look at a Barred Owl again, without smiling at their oddly quizzical look.

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

Larry


Wood Duck Update:

In a perfect follow up to last week's post, my friend David G Olsen, sent in his photo of female Wood Duck inspecting Box #9 on the south side of Union Bay. This March 2nd photo is our first recorded box inspection by a Wood Duck in 2019. The hen is clearly intent on kicking off the 2019 breeding season. Way to go, David! Thank you!

Additional signs of Spring, seen this week, include Mallards mating and Bald Eagles and Crows gathering sticks for their respective nests. 


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.




What type of tree produces this cone? Is the tree native to Union Bay?







Scroll down for the answer.










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Western Red Cedar: Yes. It is native to Union Bay and the western side of the Cascades.










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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 workaround is to set up 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