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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Monday, September 6, 2021

Squirrels and Owls

Sometimes the momentary beauty of nature is astounding. This Barred Owl reminded me of an elderly grandmother pulling her shawl around her shoulders for warmth while drifting off to sleep in her rocker. 

However, looks can be deceiving. That cute yellow bill is used for tearing flesh and those sharp talons do more than grip branches. 

Here is a photo from a few days earlier that gives a better look at a Barred Owl's talons 

An Eastern Grey Squirrel is a common prey species for a Barred Owl, both here and back east - where both species originated.

When I first saw the owl it flew right over my head and landed on this snag directly in front of me. For a moment, it looked directly east at the nest I had been watching.

It was an Eastern Grey Squirrel nest, which was less than 20 feet from the owl. This squirrel, with a fragmented right ear, had just visited the nest and left. The hole in its ear might very well have been due to a close encounter with a Barred Owl - possibly even this particular one.

The squirrel's tail was missing some of its fur. I had no doubt this was a mature, hard-working squirrel doing its best to enable the next generation.

The Barred Owl moved slightly south, to a more shaded location, and began preening. It seemed oblivious to the nest. On the other hand, maybe it knew that the squirrels were out of reach.

Feathers can deflect water, provide camouflage, retain heat, enable flight (and therefore hunting) while also signaling sexual maturity and health. Plus, they help birds identify fellow members of their own species. For all of these reasons, their feathers need to be functional. Feather maintenance is critical to the owl's survival.

When feathers become ruffled or dirty birds will often grasp a single feather, near the base, and slowly pull it through their bill. This removes any unwanted material and realigns the barbs in the optimal arrangement.

There is often a brief moment before the feather is released and snaps back to its normal location when the individual feather can be clearly photographed in the bill.

I have seen at least two other squirrels in the nest. I believe the sleeping one on the right is fairly young and may not have ever left the nest yet. Eastern Grey Squirrels often have a second brood in August or September. 

The larger squirrel suddenly seemed to awaken. It took a closer look at Ginger, my daughter's dog, and then shoved the smaller squirrel deeper into the nest.

I suspect this one is a second adult - rather than an older sibling.

Walking home yesterday I heard and saw two different Eastern Grey Squirrels sitting in trees and crying "Wah, wah, wah". I suspect they were both young from Spring litters. They were apparently hoping their parents (or possibly a soft-hearted human) would feed them. 

With Barred Owls, Cooper's Hawks, and Common Ravens in the neighborhood, begging loudly does not seem like a successful survival technique.

When the first one noticed my focus, its survival instinct finally kicked in. It turned and scampered deeper into the foliage. I was left with this momentary view. Eastern Grey Squirrels may not be the most stunning creatures around but they do have moments of intriguing beauty.

Two years ago, in mid-September, I happened across this group of young ones. Can you find the body parts of the three different squirrels in this photo? 

There is the one on the right, with its nose down in the crotch of the tree. One is closer to the middle. We can only see its head presumably peaking out from the nest. The last one  is only partially visible. It is vertically aligned along the left side of the tree trunk and only its hindquarters and tail can be seen.

The young ones zipped back and forth around the tree.

They provided perfect examples of scampering and squirrelly. 

If Ginger and I don't get out for our daily walk, we start feeling a bit squirrelly as well.

In April of 2017, I saw two adults behaving similarly. Although, I suspect their motivation may have been related to reproduction rather than the playful, boundless energy of youth. In either case, squirrels need food to replenish and sustain their energy levels.

Most people associate squirrels with the consumption of seeds and nuts from pine cones and acorns. However, they also consume a wide variety of other foods.

This one is licking sap from wells created by a Red-Breasted Sapsucker.

This one appears to be hanging by its tail while securing and eating Sorbus berries. I suspect its hidden hind feet are actually helping it hold on.

In mid-Winter, this squirrel was eating the core from the blossom of a winter-flowering Camellia.

This one was eating the wing nuts from a Big Leaf Maple tree.

This one consumed a blossom from an introduced, winter-flowering Mahonia.

Before I left the Barred Owl move to a location where it could clearly see the entrance to the squirrel's next. A few hours later it was still sitting in the same spot. However, during the following three or four days I have seen no sign of the owl and only caught occasional glimpses of the squirrels in the nest.

Both creatures have moments of beauty, that we are lucky to enjoy. However, it is wise to remember they are actually involved in an ongoing life-and-death struggle to survive. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says most squirrels do not make it through the first Winter. However, if they survive they usually live for three to five years. 

Wild creatures will sometimes do surprising things to protect their young. When taking a walk in the park it is in our best interest to be watchful and alert. Paying attention can also be surprisingly interesting and compelling. 

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!

Larry

Going Native:

Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. 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. 

(By the way, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is extremely helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.

Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)

Another idea that integrates perfectly with living in harmony with nature is the concept of Forest Gardening. Apparently, Native Americans collected and nurtured dense multi-layered gardens of native herbs, plants, shrubs, and trees that produced food and herbal medicines. Even after 150 years of no maintenance, the gardens are essentially intact and the diversity of life remains significantly higher than in the surrounding forests. Click Here to learn more.






Did this leaf fall from a tree that is native to Union Bay?











Scroll down for the answer.











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











Stripebark Maple: Given that the only references I can find online to Acer Grosseri referenced a Snakebark Maple it would not have been fair to ask the name of this tree. However, since the leaf was caught in an invisible spiderweb and it made such a unique photo I still wanted to use it. So, the easier ask was, Does it look like a native leaf?

If you guessed a Paper Birch leaf you get partial credit. It does look similar. 

However, the precise answer is, "No". From what I can see the stem is much too long, and (according to Arno and Hammerly's "Northwest Trees") in Western Washington the Paper Birch was originally only native as far south as Everett, Washington.



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




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. Google never responded to my requests for help with this issue. Now, in 2021,
 the service is being discontinued.


In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:

                Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list. 

Thank you for your patience and interest!

My email address is: LDHubbell@Comcast.Net




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






Final photos:
It is amazing that trees can survive with so many Sapsucker holes.

Reusing an old Northern Flicker nest.

One more bite to help make it through the Winter.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Mystified

Last week, I saw this full-sized Osprey circling over the water next to the Union Bay Natural Area. To catch the fish, that they love, Osprey dive headfirst - as deep as three feet. So, patrolling the shallow water along the shore makes sense. Plants grow well next to the water. Insects find food in the lush foliage and occasionally fall. Struggling insects attract fish to the surface, which makes the fish easy targets for the Ospreys. 

The faint thin "necklace" of brown indicated this Osprey was most likely a female. The nearly perfect symmetry and the virtually pristine state of its feathers made me suspect it was a first-year bird.
 
To the west, on a light pole above the UW baseball field, I could hear and barely see another Osprey. The solid darkness of its outer wing confirmed this was a mature bird.

When the first Osprey passed near the light pole, I noted that the two birds accepted each other's presence without incident. I also saw the small rows of white edging, momentarily visible on the top of the flying bird's wings. This helped to confirm it was a first-year bird.

It seemed likely that these two were family members and most likely from the nest just to the north.

In April, I saw an Osprey stop to eat a fish at the nest above IMA Field 3. March and April are when most Ospreys return to Washington. They are no doubt hungry after flying 2000 miles from their wintering waters in Mexico.

For the third year in a row, Ospreys have nested and raised young on this light pole. Click Here to see last year's photos.

In July, I caught a few photos of the female (most likely Hope) and her two young - while they were still in the nest. The second young bird is mostly hidden by the sticks on the right.

If we zoom into the photo we can see the different colors of their irises'. The adult's irises are yellow while the young's are orange. This would be impossible to see with the naked eye, at least for me. 

I find it mysterious that Cooper's Hawks eyes shift from very pale to orange to red with age, while Osprey's go from orange to yellow as they mature. Almost everything in nature seems to exist for a reason. 

Do their lighter eyes help mature Osprey to see fish in the water? Do darker eyes help the adult Cooper's Hawks find food in the forest? If both of these happened to be true then why not start out with eyes of the optimal color? Could it be that the color changes exist to indicate their youth to other more mature birds? However, in both cases, there are much more obvious signs of their youth.

For example, an hour later, I observed this young Cooper's Hawk. Its youth is very clearly indicated by the vertical stripes on its chest.

Shortly thereafter a mature Cooper's Hawk arrived, with the obviously different horizontal barring on the chest.

This 2016 photo clearly displays the difference between the adult Osprey's purely dark outer feathering and its young offspring whose dark outer feathers were tipped with white edges. The subtlety of the iris color differences seems redundant. I suspect there may be something more that we do not know.

In this particular case, the iris color difference is almost impossible to see. Why? Since the young bird was flapping its wings, I suspect both birds involuntarily covered their irises with their nictitating membranes. These are partially translucent coverings that protect their eyes in moments when they might be easily damaged. These membranes also reduce our perception of their eye colors.

I find the mysteries and adaptations of nature are wonderfully enthralling and mystifying. Here is another example.

Just before seeing the Cooper's Hawks, I noticed this Coyote patrolling the shore of the Central Pond in the Union Bay Natural Area.

For a moment it started to explore the underbrush.

Immediately, the young Cooper's Hawk abandoned its hunting and flew up to an overhead branch.

The hawk circled around a few more times apparently agitated by the Coyote intrusion.

It finally settled down once again, but it stayed in the treetops.

Below, a second Coyote passed by. 

I have always thought of Coyotes as being fairly similar in their markings. Apparently, that is not totally true. Did you notice any differences between the two?

The first Coyote had a dark tip on its tail.

The second had a white tip. This seems unlikely to be a functional signal of youth due to the location. Perhaps, it is just a random mutation with no impact on the survival of the individuals. A Google search of images shows neither white nor black is unusual on a Coyote's tail. 

Rather than a sign of youth, maybe the whitetail on the Coyote is actually a sign of age? With humans and even dogs, white hair on the face or head is a clearly visible sign of age. Still, white on the tip of the tail would generally be hidden during a confrontation and so it would seem to be of little value. Actually, it might even be counter-productive for a Coyote to signal its advancing age.

On the other hand, if the color of an animal's tail has no impact on survival why do we have a species of White-tailed Deer and another nearby species of Black-tailed Deer in the Pacific Northwest?

Slightly to the south a young Green Heron, hunted and preened, seemingly obvious to the passing Coyotes and the flights of the young Cooper's Hawk.

Young Green Herons have little white triangles on their feathering which disappear as they mature. By the way, I believe August and September are the optimal months for seeing Green Herons on Union Bay. I recommend bringing binoculars and closely examining the lily pads.

Surprisingly, the young Cooper's Hawk flew almost directly in my direction. I have learned to look for anything that might explain sudden changes in behavior.

I turned and looked in the direction of the hawk's flight. A perched Merlin seemed to be its likely focus. In this photo, I believe the Merlin was in turn focused on another bird that was passing overhead.

Soon the approach of the Cooper's Hawk caught the Merlin's attention.

Momentarily, the Merlin abandoned the tree. However, it soon returned. For a time, both birds sat in the tree. This was interspersed with moments when the two chased each other out over the water. Their interaction seemed almost playful.

I did catch this photo of the young Cooper's Hawk apparently trying to intimidate the Merlin. On average Cooper's Hawks weigh about twice as much as Merlins. However, Merlins belong to the Falcon family and I suspect they can fly circles around Cooper's Hawks.

Shortly, thereafter the adult Cooper's Hawk showed up and the Merlin abandoned its "playtime". My first thought was that the adult hawk was one of the parents from the nearby Cooper's Hawk nest - checking up on its young.

However, a closeup of the bird's leg revealed, unlike the local adult Cooper's Hawks, this bird was unbanded. Since it was not a parent of the young hawk, I wondered why had it approached the other two birds? Why did it come and sit in the same tree? Was it looking for food? 

I find that being mystified and impressed by the behavior and beauty of the creatures around us is particularly refreshing in these times of uncertainty.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!

Larry

ps: Click Here for another perspective on canine colors.

Going Native:

Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. 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. 

(By the way, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is extremely helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.

Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)

Another idea that integrates perfectly with living in harmony with nature is the concept of Forest Gardening. Apparently, Native Americans collected and nurtured dense multi-layered gardens of native herbs, plants, shrubs, and trees that produced food and herbal medicines. Even after 150 years of no maintenance, the gardens are essentially intact and the diversity of life remains significantly higher than in the surrounding forests. Click Here to learn more.




What are the four species of plants in front of this tree trunk? Is each native to Union Bay?











Scroll down for the answer.









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



Starting right in the middle of the trunk:

    Low Oregon Grape - Mahonia nervosa

Up and to the left:

   Beaked Hazelnut - Corylus cornuta

Up and to the right:

    Indian Plum - Oemleria cerasiformis

Down and to the right:

    Salal - Gaultheria shallow

These plants are all native to Union Bay and the Pacific Northwest. As is the tree:

    Western Red Cedar - Thuja plicate


    


.




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




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. Google never responded to my requests for help with this issue. Now, in 2021,
 the service is being discontinued.


In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:

                Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list. 

Thank you for your patience and interest!

My email address is: LDHubbell@Comcast.Net




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






Final photos:


I believe the brown color of the back indicates this is either a female or an immature Merlin.