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

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Circle of Life

The 2018 owlet in the Arboretum, who my friend Jeffery affectionately named, Bobo.

Baby pictures are almost universally appealing. Innocent, wide-eyed, fuzzy-headed little creatures are very hard to resist. 

In the Spring, I always enjoy the process of documenting and sharing photos of new life around Union Bay.

Nature's resilience, determination, and persistence is very impressive. In spite of our extensive urban development, the Union Bay neighborhood is shared by a wide variety of wild creatures, many of which the Barred Owls eat and some who eat Barred Owls.

To read Bobo's story and see more of his photos visit last year's post entitled:



This year, there have been at least two adult Barred Owls in the Arboretum and possibly more. Last month's post, The Quizzical Look, was also all about Barred Owls.

Barred Owls can be amazingly fearless. As long as we do not approach to closely.

It was fun to watch from a distance while this one considered a daytime snack.

Even though I got to watch this one resting, so far this year, I have not found a Barred Owl with a consistent, daily roosting location.


This Spring, even after the February snow melted, Bobo's nest site appeared to remain empty. If my memory is correct nesting should have begun a couple of weeks ago. I am hoping that the owls are nesting elsewhere. 


Sadly, the circle of life is a two-way street. Sometimes the predator becomes the prey. This week, I found the fresh remains of an adult Barred Owl near the nest site. 

I have been wondering what type of creature caught the Barred Owl. The list of suspects which come to mind include:

  a Raccoon,

a Coyote, 

a Bald Eagle and... 

a Great Horned Owl.

I have seen Bald Eagles hunting on the ground, but only where trees are sparse. I have also seen one lurking in the treetops above a Barred Owl nest site, but only when the young were close to leaving the nest and where the trees were fairly widely spaced. I believe the trees in this area are too dense and the trail is too close for a Bald Eagle. 

The closeness of the trail, and the fact that Barred Owls are most active under the cover of darkness implies to me that the Barred Owl was most likely consumed at night. So, I really doubt that a Bald Eagle was involved.

My next consideration was the Great Horned Owl. They are uncommon in the Arboretum, all though I did see one on the first of January. Still, I would expect a Great Horned Owl to have carried its food to an overhead branch, where it would be safer to feed.

I believe a Raccoon could kill a Barred Owl, but I have a hard time imagining it sneaking up and leaping on the owl without being heard. The most likely predator, in my mind, is the Coyote. 

There have been a number of Coyote sightings lately. Personally, I saw a healthy specimen leaving Foster Island just last week. With Mallards currently nesting in a variety of upland locations, I think the Coyotes have an added incentive to roam widely and inspect every possible location. Plus, in the area where I found the Barred Owl I saw and heard two rabbits loudly chasing each other not too long ago.

I have watched Coyotes stalking a rabbit before. I can easily imagine a Coyote slowly closing in on a rabbit when the Owl, unaware of the silent and hidden Coyote, swoops down hoping to catch the same meal. If it happened this way, the lucky Coyote would simply spring forward, as originally planned, but it would now have a new, larger target. 

Plus Ginger, my daughter's dog, was quiet and fearful when we found the site. This reaction is consistent with when she has smelled a Coyote in the past. It is not at all like her normal reaction of wild aggression whenever she smells a Raccoon.

Sadly, I doubt there will be young Barred Owls in the Arboretum this year. On a positive note, I have just heard about two other Barred Owls in nearby locations. From the description of the circumstances, these other owls are probably not part of the pair we have been discussing. It might just be possible for a new pair to form and eggs to be laid, but the timing is incredibly close for this year.

By next year, this obviously productive territory will almost certainly be repopulated by a pair of adult Barred Owls. I do believe it is just a matter of time until we see young owls in the Arboretum, again.

Twenty-four hours later, the remnants of the carcass were virtually gone, leaving mostly just scattered feathers. I am sure that many creatures and birds will use the feathers to line their nests. Nature does not waste. 


Just a few feet away, this Pacific Wren appears to be considering nesting in the same snag where the Barred Owls previously nested - although in a much smaller holeThe circle of life continues.


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News Flash!



The Arboretum will be hosting an Earth Day work party next Saturday! Alyssa Henry, Volunteer Programs Manager, from the Arboretum Foundation explains,

'We will be celebrating Earth Day in partnership with the Student Conservation Association, UWBG (University of Washington Botanic Gardens) and Seattle Parks and Recreation on Saturday, April 20th, 9am -1pm.

Meet at the Crabapple Meadow, south of the Visitors Center. Free coffee, breakfast snacks and Clif Bars will be provided, along with tools and gloves. Please wear layers and closed-toed shoes.

Volunteers will be spilt into groups for restoration projects all around the Arboretum from 9am - 1pm, then will return to Crabapple Meadow at 1pm for some light food and an opportunity to learn about the organizations and things going on around the Arboretum!'

You can sign up by:

I hope to see you there!

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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.







The two plants in this photo are somewhat similar looking. Do you know their names? Are they native to Union Bay?












Scroll down for the answer.












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Tall Oregon Grape: Is the native plant in the lower left side of the photo. It is flowering all around Union Bay and currently attracting hummingbirds.

English Holly: Is the invasive, non-native plant which is dominating from the upper right side of the photo.














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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, April 7, 2019

The Hidden Lives of Herons

Great Blue Herons are not particularly shy. They often hunt while simply standing quietly in full view. Even when strolling slowly through the water they generally make no pretense of hiding. However, when it comes to nesting and reproduction they manage to maintain a surprising level of secrecy.

This is especially amazing for birds with wingspans which can exceed six feet and urban nesting colonies which can include dozens, or sometimes even hundreds, of nests.

Our local Union Bay colony has only a couple dozen nests. Hopefully, when the 520 runoff is ultimately excluded from Union Bay, our local supply of fish will flourish and the Great Blue Herons will stage an epic comeback - not to mention the Osprey.

Most of the Heron's current nests are hidden away near the tops of Big Leaf Maple trees on the UW campus. In the photo above you can barely see a heron standing in her nest. She is the upper half of the small roundish dot, visible between the trees, and up to the left from the lamp.

Here is a close up of the same bird in the nest. According to what I have read the female Great Blue Herons generally, do the incubation. This assumption is my only basis for determining the gender of the bird. I am not aware of any plumage differences between males and females.

Note: I do not believe there are any twigs in the nest which are larger than the diameter of the heron's leg.

Here she is leaning out to secure another twig for the nest. The long neck is clearly useful for more than just snatching frogs and fish out of the water.

Nests are often reused from one year to the next. It appears that the males supply the bulk of the supplemental nesting materials.

The contrast between the materials used by Great Blue Herons versus... 

...Bald Eagles is dramatic. A Bald Eagle will occasionally break a cottonwood branch by striking it with their chest while flying at full speed. They will also try hanging upside down by their feet and swinging from a branch until it breaks.

Heron nesting material appears to be consistently smaller and lighter.

In addition, the native trees involved in their respective processes are different. Locally, Bald Eagles, usually nest in Black Cottonwoods while the Great Blue Herons seem to prefer Big Leaf Maples. For nesting materials, Bald Eagles prefer the upper branches from nearby Cottonwood trees.

On Tuesday, I watched numerous retrievals of twigs by Great Blue Herons. 

They would consistently land on the outer tips of an upper branch in a nearby Douglas Fir tree. Then with great care and precision, they would slowly walk down the branch.

Once the males were inside the bulk of the green foliage they would carefully extend their necks and slowly break off small dry twigs from inside the central, highly-shaded portion of the tree. I never saw a Great Blue Heron use its feet to remove or carry even the smallest twig.

Another surprise was watching a heron slowly and delicately extend his neck down from an overhead branch towards his mate. She stood and extended her neck up and out of the nest in order to meet the male halfway. At which point they carefully made the 'handoff' of the dry little twig.

By comparison, I have watched eagles land in the nest with a large branch and smack their mate in the head with a wing while attempting to retain their balance. Often eagles will lose control of the branch and simply watch it drop to the ground. The pile of new branches below the Montlake Cut eagle's nest is large enough to make a good start a second nest. The difference, in the nesting behaviors of the respective species, is striking. 

Yesterday afternoon, during the brilliant sunshine, I returned to the heron colony hoping to secure a brighter set of photos. I watched for a couple of hours, while the clouds slowly moved north. All I could see where tops of the female's heads as they sat in their nests.

Finally, as the sunlight diminished the female in this nest sat up and stretched.

Later still, her mate returned and perched just above the nest. At the time, I thought their extended feathers might have been evidence of wind in the treetops, even though I did not notice any wind at ground level.

Soon the male left his perch and headed towards a nearby Douglas Fir tree. I thought he was going to pluck off another one of those small dry twigs. My assumption was wrong.

Maybe I should get half-credit, at least he landed in the fir tree. 

However, when he returned to the nest he was carrying a short tip of green needles in the well-known, 'bottle-brush' arrangement.

Leaning forward the male carefully added the greenery to the nest.

Immediately, the herons began mating. The flurry of grey-blue feathers made the process discreet, although the concept of modesty seems to be a wholly human invention. 

It was only later while reviewing the photos that I remembered having seen two herons with all their plumes extended on their backs and chests. This photo, from 2016, shows a pair doing their mating dance on Union Bay. I suspect that instead of the wind-blowing what I saw yesterday was the herons raising their plumes and signaling their readiness to mate.

The next activity was the male securing the fresh tip of a Douglas Fir bough, which was immediately followed by mating. Could the gift of needles be part of the process? Would a dry twig have worked as well? I do not know.

Afterward, the male made four more round trips to the Douglas Fir tree. He secured another mouthful of green needles each time. The female apparently decided that once a day was plenty. She sat calmly in the middle of the nest, with her plumes laying low and did not provide him with any further opportunities.

In these photos, you can see that the catkins on the Big Leaf Maples are already out and the leaves are beginning to sprout and extend. In the near future, the reproductive lives of herons will once again be hidden from view. At which point, additional observations will have to wait until next year.

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 leaves only a half an inch long and tiny white 'urn-like' flowers is currently blooming. What is it called? 

Note: In case it helps, this photo was taken just west of the UW Great Blue Heron colony.








Scroll down for the answer.










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For an additional definition of the word, Click Here

By the way, I ran into a student, Nicholas I believe, who told me that an environmentally-oriented group at UW intends to remove the ivy below the heron's nests. After the nesting is finished, of course. Their intention is to enable the native seeds, still in the ground, to return to productivity. They believe this small patch of earth may be the only undisturbed topsoil on the campus. Hopefully, it will function as a seed bank replenishing the assorted diversity of flora that originally existed at this location. What a thoughtful and delightful idea!















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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 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.










***************

























***************




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