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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, January 19, 2020

A Snow Challenge

On Monday and Tuesday, our Seattle weather was cold. 

During warm weather, we have two species of hummingbirds in our area. However, only one, the Anna's Hummingbird, is here during the winter. (Our native Rufous Hummingbird works hard to avoid the snow. They can migrate thousands of miles, from as far as Alaska to Mexico.)

It seems rather ironic that the migrating behavior associated with the term, Snow Bird, does not apply to the species which ends up sitting in the snow. 

Unlike Snow Geese, Snow Buntings or Snowy Owls, which have developed a significant white coloring associated with their extensive snow experience, the Anna's Hummingbirds generally seem to avoid the snow and have minimal use for white feathering. 

Their primarily green coloring seems more fitting as camouflage for a jungle bird. According to Birds of North America (BNA - citation below), the first Anna's Hummingbirds arrived in Washington state in 1964. Historically, they were primarily California birds which migrated relatively short distances e.g. up into nearby mountains during the summers.  

The expansion of exotic winter-blooming plants (like this unique hybrid of Asian Mahonia in the Arboretum's Winter Garden) and hummingbird feeders can be partially credited with attracting Anna's Hummingbirds to the Pacific Northwest. However, population growth in California may have been the underlying driving factor. 

BNA says, about the California population, 'The combination of extensive nonnative plantings, particularly eucalyptus (Eucalyptus) and tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca), plus widespread use of feeders, has undoubtedly played a major role in expanding populations of this hummingbird.'

Curiously, the current range maps for Anna's Hummingbirds are not perfectly aligned.

Birdweb's map for Washington state implies altitudinal and maybe some longitudinal migration. It shows breeding in the Puget Trough, primarily in heavily populated areas, and the birds moving up into the Cascades or out into less populated areas of Puget Sound during the non-breeding season. 

All About Birds overlooks this level of detail in Washington state. It shows breeding throughout the western portions of Washington, Oregon, California and southwest Arizona with latitudinal migration into British Columbia and Mexico. It also implies altitudinal migration in Northern California and Southern Oregon. 

Uncertainty is evident in comments from both sites. 

Birdweb says, 'In Washington, Anna's Hummingbird appears throughout the year. It is unclear whether this is due to migration or whether the birds we see in January are the same as those we see in June.'

All About Birds says, 'Unlike most North American hummingbirds, Anna's Hummingbirds either don't migrate or else migrate a very short distance to better feeding grounds.'

Could it be that, with their recent territorial expansion, the species has not yet settled on a single optimal pattern of migration? Maybe they will and maybe they won't. Life is dynamic, spell-binding and worthy of observation and study.

In any case, the Anna's Hummingbirds appear to be quite a competitive challenge for the Rufous Hummingbirds. The Anna's arrive at most breeding territories first and they spend less energy getting there. It is clearly to their advantage, as long as they can survive the winters.

Surprisingly, for a bird originating in California, Anna's Hummingbirds can enter a state of torpor, during especially cold weather. Looking closely at the bird from our first photo we can also see some behavioral adaptions to the cold. For example, the fluffed feathers and the eyes partially closed, both of which may help to retain heat.

Regarding a scientific temperature test BNA states, 'The torpid birds were inactive, feathers fluffed, eyes closed, bill pointed upward; 90 minutes were required for an immature, injured bird to enter torpor at an ambient temperature of 2 (degrees) C...' 

During the snowstorm, our outdoor temperature was in the same range, however, I did not see any hummingbirds which appeared to be in torpor. Most likely this was because there was an adequate supply of food, which provided sufficient energy to combat the cold. I did notice one other curious potentially, cold-related behavior, e.g. the whitish accumulation of nectar near the end of the bird's bill.

Occasionally, I also saw hummingbirds with their eyes fully closed, but it was the nectar that I found most thought-provoking. I cannot remember any avian species which allows its bill to get 'dirty' and stay that way. Cleanliness is critical to the health of almost all birds.

During the snowstorm, I also saw more male hummingbirds than females. Mature males have the dark hoods which reflect brilliantly when they are at just the right angle. They also tend to be more aggressive and territorial.

In addition to the whitish spec on the bill, the color of the tail feathers on Anna's Hummingbirds are also worth observing.

Sporadic red reflective feathers about the head - where the 'hood' will ultimately develop - are generally an indicator of an immature male.

Distinguishing young males from adult females can be tricky. Females generally only have red reflective feathers on their throats, although exceptions are possible. Since young males can sometimes reflect primarily from the neck area certainty is not always possible.

One exception is during the nesting season. You can be virtually positive that a bird with neck-only reflectors while sitting on a nest, is female. Males, and especially young males, do not normally participate in brooding.

Do these tail feathers differ from those you noticed earlier? 

Mature females have progressively larger white spots on the terminal ends of their outer tail feathers. Although, even here, immature males can sometimes have somewhat similar coloring. 

This final set of photos were taken, on Thursday, after the snow melted,

In these next three photos, the hummingbird was perched on the same branch as the male bird during the snowstorm (in photos six through eight). I suspect the bird in this photo is a female. She was wiping her bill on the branch e.g. feaking.

First, she wiped one side and then the other.

The result was a perfectly clean bill. Apparently, when the weather is cold cleanliness becomes a lower priority.

However, once things warm up a bit, their eyes open wide, their feathers are less fluffed and in general...

...they have more time and energy to keep their bills clean and functional.

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

Larry

Recommended Citation

Clark, C. J. and S. M. Russell (2012). Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.226


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. I hope 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 species does this bee belong to? Is it native to our area?












Scroll down for the answer.














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Black-tailed Bumble Bee: This Bombus Melanopygus was active in spite of the cold and appears to be native to most of the western half of North America. Click on the highlighted name of the bee to read more. I assume the hummingbirds leave the bees alone because of the danger from a sting. As explained in the next to last paragraph at The Hummingbird Society.














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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, January 11, 2020

A Winter Thrush

When we sense danger, like a bird, we may freeze for a moment. Our adrenaline pumps, our minds race and we rapidly consider alternative strategies of escape. I suspect the experience for birds is similar - but more intense. Since they are smaller than us, they have more to fear. Internally, I suspect they vibrate at a higher speed. I wonder if the average bird feels like a human who has consumed six cups of fully caffeinated coffee. Their survival depends on their constant awareness and split-second decisions. 

(When we startle a bird the best thing we can do is nothing. Don't move, don't make a noise, don't even stare. Wait and watch - out of the corner of your eye. When the bird returns to feeding, or whatever it was doing, then quietly and slowly move on or assume a more relaxed position.) 

Varied Thrush reproduce in forests, preferably old-growth forests. They are accustomed to clean air, dappled shadows, cool floating mists and silence. The city seems like an odd place to find them and yet they are often here. 

The American Robin, also a Thrush - e.g. a member of the Turdidae family - is a relative of similar size and color. In the fall, the Varied Thrush can occasionally be spotted in the city feeding with Robins on the same types of fruit. Given their preference for quiet the Varied Thrush are likely to be a bit more in the shadows and often further away then the Robins. They are elusive and shy.

September 30th is one of my earliest fall photos of a Varied Thrush. 

Even in October, the Varied Thrush still looks a little out of place when photographed in front of bright green leaves.

However, the fruit they find in the city must be virtually irresistible.

By mid-November, the leaves are turning to autumn colors. 

The Varied Thrush blend in beautifully among fall leaves. The male birds tend to have more black coloring, which I find most obvious around the face. (This is also true for American Robins.)

Among females, their 'black' coloring has more of a faded, brownish tone. No doubt it helps them blend in with their surroundings.

In my experience, I find the Varied Thrush generally silent during the late Fall and Winter. However, in the early Autumn, when walking through the Arboretum just after dawn, you can often hear their lonely, heartbreaking songs. The sounds transport me to the dim, sanctuary of an old-growth forest. These are the songs I would expect to hear on distant mountains especially during the early part of the breeding season. 

To me, the piercing song sounds like two gentle notes, just a half step apart and perfectly even in volume, and yet softly fighting for vibrational dominance. If you Click Here you will be transported to All About Birds where you can play a Gerrit Vyn recording. The second and third sets of tones seem most similar to our local birds. (For some odd reason if you want to replay the song more than once you must reload the page.)

In December, after most of the leaves have fallen, the Varied Thrushes are somewhat more obvious.

Their beauty feels like nature's reward for being out and about in cold, wet weather and looking closely at every bird which gives the cursory impression of being an American Robin.

By late December, the available fruit has diminished.

By January, the fruit is looking like raisins that have passed their prime.

I love this photo of their 'fruit-eating' tongue. It looks exactly like the tongue of a Cedar Waxwing and serves the same purpose. The 'fish hook' on the back of the tongue helps to push the fruit down their throats.

My latest in the year, city-photo of a Varied Thrush, shows a female on March the 4th. Which fits with the idea that males leave first to find and defend their breeding territories. Birds of North America states that 'Males arrive on breeding grounds earlier than females and begin singing almost immediately to establish territories.

The earliest reference given for this quote refers to, 'Jewett, S. G., W. P. Taylor, and J. W. Aldrich (1953). Birds of Washington State, University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington, USA.'

My friend and Master Birder, Dave Galvin, has noticed Varied Thrush appearing in the Cascade Mountains in late March and early April. He calls this vertical migration. Birds of North America concurs. It states, 'In much of its range, it appears that naevius (the coastal subspecies) migrates attitudinally from lowland areas to adjacent coastal mountains, but some north-south migration occurs as well.'

Seattle Audubon's Birdweb (under the 'Find in Washington' tab) shows that the Varied Thrush becomes uncommon in the Puget Trough between May and August. Since during the last few years I have seldom been in the mountains, I did not expect to find any breeding season photos of Varied Thrush in my database. However, in 2017, my friend Rob Thomas and I hiked through the center of the Olympic Mountains. 

Near Low Divide, elevation 3602', I photographed this young Varied Thrush. Notice how the feathers are short and of uniform length. Mature birds do not generally grow all new feathers at the same time. The brown coloring may indicate it is a female or it might be a young male who has not yet achieved breeding age or plumage.


Even young birds need to keep their feathers properly arranged and clean.

By visiting All About Birds, and scrolling down to the Conservation heading, you can see that Varied Thrush species have decreased in abundance by 73 percent between 1966 and 2015. This correlates with a decrease in old-growth forest, their prime breeding habitat. 

When we protect the forests around us we protect the richness of our life experience and that of future generations as well.

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

Larry


Recommended Citation

George, T. L. (2000). Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.541


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. I hope 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. 




Is this tree native to the Pacific Northwest? What species is it?













Scroll down for the answer.














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Western Hemlock: It is a common native tree that occurs generally to about 3500 feet, close to the elevation of the Low Divide in the Olympics. However, from what I read about the Olympics on Wikipedia, in the drier central and eastern portion of the Olympics, e.g. west of Mt. Olympus, Western Hemlocks extends significantly higher. 

In general, the easiest way to distinguish the Western Hemlock from the Mountain Hemlock is the size of their cones. The Western Hemlock cones are generally less than an inch in length while the Mountain Hemlock cones are usually longer than an inch. Although, since no cones are visible in this photo, this difference is not very helpful in this particular instance.












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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

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Holiday Feast!

On Christmas Eve, this Sapsucker was feasting on a Willow tree next to Duck Bay, at the northern end of the Arboretum. 

Learning to identify the life forms around us is certainly one of the first steps to appreciating our urban web of life. Since we are the dominant species on the planet, everything we do impacts our fellow creatures. Where we live, what we eat, drive and buy. The undisturbed habitat we leave in our yards, as well as the native seeds and fruits we allow to mature, can have a huge impact on our neighboring lifeforms. Understanding their needs will not only make our lives richer and healthier it is a critical step to a flourishing future for life on earth.

Take a closer look at the sapsucker (above), its holiday meal, and its surprising impact on the web of life.

To help with identification, let's compare this 2015 photo of a locally common Red-breasted Sapsucker. Does it look like the sapsucker in the first photo? What differences do you see? 

Most obvious is the redbreast on the 2015 bird. It is clearly what inspired its name. On the other hand, there is virtually no red on the chest of the 2019 sapsucker. 

This photo shows the only other species of sapsucker I have ever seen in Seattle. It is a, locally rare, Red-naped Sapsucker, also photographed in 2015. A third sapsucker, the Yellow-bellied, is even less likely in our area. Both of these species are known to interbreed with Red-breasted Sapsuckers and neither have red on their breasts.

It seems to me that this 2019 bird is most likely a hybrid between a Red-breasted and a Red-naped Sapsucker. However, the black mask surrounding the eye is rather puzzling. None of the four species of sapsuckers in North America have such a complete mask of black around the eyes. Three of the four have a black eye stripe running between white highlights, similar to the Red-naped Sapsucker. The Red-breasted Sapsucker is the exception.

This 2019 bird appears to be a unique individual. The black mask around the eye appears to be personal variation. Maybe this is how a new species begins. If this bird's unique DNA is passed on maybe someday its progeny will form another species. They might even be called, Black-masked Sapsuckers.

In any case, all the Sapsuckers have the ability to drill sap wells. They drill just deep enough to cause sap to flow out of the trees. Other creatures, like this Anna's Hummingbird, are wise enough to stop by and share in the meal, even though they lack the ability to create sap wells for themselves.

While hovering the hummingbird uses its tongue to lap up the sap. For the most part, the sap will only flow out of the tree while the sapsucker is keeping the wells open and functional. (Although, after this Sapsucker left the Hummingbird was seen a couple of days later checking for additional sap and/or insects.)

This photo shows that the two birds were aware of each other, neither one appeared particularly intimidated and both were perfectly willing to share their holiday meal.

Later, a Black-capped Chickadee stopped by to check out the possibilities. Chickadees do like insects and it is possible that a very small creature, trapped in the sap, may actually have been what attracted the Chickadee.

During these visits the Sapsucker had remained undisturbed. Its body was virtually stationary while feeding just below this branch. However, when it began turning its head and looking around I figured something was up.

As it moved away from its favorite set of wells I suspected a nearby predator.

With its head and neck extended the Sapsucker was clearly on alert.

A moment later, I noticed the Eastern Gray Squirrel. 

The Sapsucker, with its small crest erect, moved to a nearby perch. The Squirrel moved on up the trunk. Squirrels in the area can often be seen eating acorns but apparently, sap makes a nice dessert.

The Sapsucker moved again to a more extensively used location on a nearby portion of the tree. It appears the bark of the tree actually split apart along the vertical lines of previous sap wells. I believe this willow is a Salix Alba or White Willow, an Old World native, which helps explain why the sapsucker damage is so extensive. 

There are no Sapsuckers in the Old World. As you can see, this tree species never developed a thick protective bark, unlike our local Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars.

After the Eastern Gray Squirrel moved on the Sapsucker moved back to its preferred location.

Moments later a male Belted Kingfisher stopped in. I suspect all the commotion was just a bit much for the Kingfisher and it quickly flew. It chattered loudly and sounded a bit perturbed. I have never seen a Kingfisher eat anything but small fish so I suspect it was just looking for a quiet perch above the water and did not really want to share in the sap.

As the Kingfisher flew away, another surprise became apparent. This particular Willow Tree was obviously different from its neighbors. It still had some leaves on December 24th.

A couple of days later, when the sun came out for a moment, I caught this photo of the same tree. All the neighboring willows are bare. Their leaves have fallen and their sap has presumably stopped. This old fallen willow, with fresh sprouts, appears to be the only one in the area with leaves and sap still flowing. 

I have not seen the Sapsucker since the initial encounter. I suspect it was on its way south and when it saw the deciduous leaves and decided to stop for a holiday feast. In the winter, once all the deciduous leaves have dropped the Sapsuckers will switch to coniferous trees. I suspect that since deciduous trees have a smaller window for growth their summer sap flows faster. Maybe, this is why the Sapsuckers prefer deciduous trees during warm weather.

By the way, while Red-breasted Sapsuckers can be found in our area year-round it does not mean that the individual birds are year-round residents. The Range maps show that all Sapsuckers migrate. Since we are in the middle of the Red-breasted Sapsucker range must likely our summer Sapsuckers winter in California and our winter Sapsuckers breed in British Columbia.

I am amazed by the variety of life that the sap wells feed as well as the unique characteristics of both the individual Sapsucker and this specific White Willow tree. Back in 2015, I remember seeing raccoons sniffing around the bottom of a tree with active sap wells. I did not see them feeding at the wells but they sure looked like they were considering the idea. Nature is amazing!

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

Larry

PS: For more about Sapsuckers you can read last winter's post titled, 'Brilliance'.


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. I hope 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. 




A) Is this tree native to Union Bay? What species is it?

B) Is this tree native to Union Bay? What species is it?











Scroll down for the answer.














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Yes, both of these species are native to Union Bay and therefore better able to handle Sapsuckers than most Old World Trees.








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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