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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Headless In Seattle

This headless owl photo, taken on Friday the 13th, certainly seems like a fitting introduction to today's post.


Personally, I find this photo a bit more chilling. I suspect this is precisely what a rat, rabbit or squirrel sees prior to its demise. The perfectly heart-shaped opening of the mouth most likely induces feelings of paralytic fear, not love. The suddenly sightless eyes are no longer needed once the prey is in 'hand'. The reflective blue nictitating membranes slide into place and protect one of the owl's most impressive superpowers - its night vision. Its other spooky powers include eerily silent flight and superb hearing. I wonder if Barred Owls can hear our hearts beating, even when we can't.

Another of the owl's spooky skills is the ability to twist it neck and head into seemly impossible angles. Secrets of owl skeletal design are explained on The Owl Pages.

I was lucky when the owl turned around. It provided the opportunity to see what happens when an owl's head disappears.

The owl uses its exceptionally flexible neck to reach over its back and preen feathers which would otherwise be inaccessible

Like most birds, the owl grasps a feather near its base and then pulls the length of the feather through its bill. 

This cleans, straightens and returns the interlocking velcro-like feather barbs into their optimal arrangement.

The owl does the same type of preening...

 ...on its more easily accessible feathers when the head is facing forward.

Sometimes accessing the correct feather requires moving a leg out of the way.

For head feathers, the talons become the only option. It would seem wise to close the eyes during such an endeavor. It makes me wonder if owls ever accidentally blind themselves with those deadly sharp talons.

It is interesting to note how the talons can be safely stored away. All the points fold inward like predatory origami. No doubt this is what happens when owls are feeding their young in the nest.

When birds hold their feathers erect it reminds me of humans shivering and having our hairs stand on end. I suppose for birds it allows easier access for preening.

These three photos make me think Scary...

 ...Sleepy...

 ...and Wise. My anthropomorphising makes me wonder where the owl left its walking-stick.

The owl was sitting near a major trail in the Arboretum on a lower branch of an oak tree. I found this unusual because they normally prefer to sleep through the day on the inner branches of Western Red Cedars, or some other dense conifer. They like to be hidden among the shadows and undisturbed while they snooze through the daylight hours.

In addition, Steller's Jays were busily harvesting acorns overhead and occasionally calling out indignantly about the deadly predator sitting silently below. After a while, I finally realized that the owl was consistently looking down at the ground. At first, I thought maybe a passing squirrel or something was attracting its attention.


Finally, I noticed the swarm of flies attracted to a brown body camouflaged among the pine cones and wood chips. Given the color of the fur I suspect it was the remains of a Rabbit. Most likely, the owl had eaten what it could and then being unable to carry the weight decided to spend the day overhead. Perhaps, it was prepared to defend its kill while waiting to feel the need for a second meal.

At times the owl closed it eyes and gave the impression of being oblivious.

Other times, with its wide-eyed stare it certainly seemed aware of every creature within earshot. It was obvious that the level of awareness was not mutual. I watched as humans, dogs and even squirrels passed by without noticing the deadly...

 ...and often headless-looking predator sitting silently overhead.

Congratulations on surviving Friday the 13th. Sadly, Halloween is coming.

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. 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 creature, seen in the Arboretum, a native?























Scroll down for the answer.














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Common Whitetail: Yes. Common Whitetails are native. The pure white tail indicates this is a male. For more information from our gifted and kind local expert, Dennis Paulson, click on the highlighted name.















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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, September 7, 2019

Growing Expectations

Rama, our newest Union Bay Osprey, is packing her bags - notice her bulging crop.


Hope, Rama's mother, has already headed south. Adult females may begin migration as much a month before the adult males, according to Birds of North America Online (see citation below).  Even though Ospreys mate for life they choose to winter separately, with the female apparently further to the south.

 You may want to notice the nearly uniform brown of Hope's wing feathers. 

In a hatch-year Osprey, like Rama, the brown wing feathers are trimmed out in a buff color which fades to white and then wears away or is replaced by the basic brown feathers of an adult.

Here is a late-June photo which shows Rama's father, Stewart, to our right. Hope is in the nest. This would have been just about the time Rama first broke out of her egg. 

Even though Stewart's chest feathers are bit ruffled they are not spotted with brown like Hope's. Mature males generally have pure white chests. In Rama's case, her chest is spotted like a female, however, in hatch-year birds, this may not be a reliable indication of gender.

This, early July photo, shows the parents from the backside, which makes their lack of white-trimmed feathering quite obvious. It was not long after this that I caught my first photos of Rama. You can see the photos and read the original post by Clicking Here.

By mid-August, Rama was not quite as large as Hope. Rama is on the left and Hope is on the nest. A young Osprey's rate of growth is phenomenal.

Their initial growth rate may only be surpassed by growing expectations.  Lately, I have not seen any of the four adult Osprey who have been 'summering' around Union Bay. Apparently, both of her parents have headed south. Rama appears to be totally on her own. If so, she must find all of her own food, watch out for predators, like Bald Eagles, and prepare for her first solo journey to Mexico. Surprisingly, this is not unusual for an Osprey - who is only two months old.

On Wednesday evening, Rama did exactly what she was supposed to be doing. She landed at the nest and ate a nice long meal. No doubt every calorie she consumed will improve her odds of successfully migrating south.

With wings spread and seen from behind, the light-colored trim on her feathers is even more obvious.

I am also always amazed by the length of an Osprey's wings, especially relative to their small slender bodies. They are the only local avian species, which I know of, that can dive out of the air, end up three feet underwater, grab a good-sized fish, then simply shake off the water and immediately take to the air. Their strength/lift to weight ratio certainly must put an eagle to shame.

After eating Rama moved out of the nest and over to the west end of the light pole. The white striping on the lamp-cover made it easy to predict her pending need for internal, spatial venting.

Afterward, she began twisting and turning and...


...exercising her wings. 
The day before my friend, Jeff, and I saw her stop and momentarily hover just above a paved drive north of the Union Bay Natural Area. It was odd behavior for that location. Adults tend to do their hovering above the water while waiting for a fish to approach the surface. Maybe Rama was just curious about something she had never seen before. 

The photo above actually catches another behavior which may indicate Rama's youth. Notice how her right-wing is pushing down while her left-wing is pushing back. I believe she is still refining her coordination. The good news is she is feeding herself and her parents evidently trusted her growing skills enough to leave her on her own.

Soon she flew off and took a spin above the IMA Soccer field. 

It is amazing to consider that she may have never flown further than a few miles but shortly she will leave on a journey during which she will travel thousands of miles. 

Birds of North America tells how young Osprey, carrying radio transmitters, have been tracked flying south over the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently, in spite of shifting winds and the lack of landmarks, the young birds stay on a fairly precise heading which takes them to their desired destination. They must have some type of internal compass.

Rama's nest site is immediately south of N.E. 45th Street and it is constantly buffeted with traffic noise and exhaust. For Hope and Stewart to select this site, and successfully raise her in this situation, demonstrates that Osprey can live quite closely with humans. Rama's success gives me hope. Maybe, humanity and nature can learn to live in harmony.

It feels like our future with nature, maybe somewhat similar to Rama's pending journey. She will be flying to an unknown location, while we are headed for an unknown future. Rama has the advantage of having an inborn compass. This week. I have been wondering what humanity might use as an inner compass to guide us as we strive to reach a harmonious relationship with nature?

In a word, I think our compass is empathy. To live in harmony with nature we must be aware and care about the lifeforms around us. On an individual basis, this is challenging - as a global human society the challenge can feel overwhelming.

Luckily, this week I was reminded of the United Nation's sustainable development goals. It is reassuring to know that there is a global organization, with empathy for humanity and nature. Essentially, they are building a map to lead the way. Click Here to learn more. On a global level, I think our number one opportunity to induce change is to vote for leaders with empathy for nature and us. 

Locally, we can also encourage our leaders to be empathetic and to help restore natural habitat in the city. This last week, Joshua Morris and Seattle Audubon graciously hosted a piece about restoring Arboretum Creek. Click Here to read how investing just a few moments of your time could really help!

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

Larry

Recommended Citation

Bierregaard, R. O., A. F. Poole, M. S. Martell, P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2016). Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.683


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 creature native, seen this week in the Union Bay Natural Area, a native?























Scroll down for the answer.














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












Praying Mantis:  I believe this is a non-native, European Praying Mantis. Click on the colored named to read a very interesting post about Praying Mantis'.


















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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, August 25, 2019

Life on the Lilies

Green Herons can be hard to find. They are relatively small (roughly crow-sized), their coloring is very effective as camouflage and they often sit perfectly still - even while hunting. You may have to look twice to see this one is in the grass just behind the lily pads.


The easiest way to spot a Green Heron is when they are out in the open. Before the lily pads reach full bloom, the herons are more likely to hunt from a stick or a log just above the water - often fairly close to shore.

They are most common around Union Bay during breeding season - May to October. If you are lucky, during the early part of the season, you might even see one gathering sticks to build a nest.

For me the best time to find Green Herons is from mid-August through mid-September. At which time, the primary place to find them is while hunting among the lily pads. The young are out of the nests and all family members should now be hunting for themselves. Many times, if you find the first one, and then look carefully, a second or third heron can be found somewhere nearby. Their consistent variations in color and age reinforce the idea that I am often seeing members of a single-family.

On Thursday, this young bird was hopping and leaping among the lily pads. Maybe not the best approach for catching a fish or a frog.

However, the leaping impatience of youth did seem to work at flushing up insects which it quickly consumed. 

As you look at these next few photos, you might want to make mental notes of the features which indicate this is a first-year heron.

I am not sure if we should include the flapping of wings as a youthful feature but we can certainly say it is characteristic of youth. 

This was the first time I remember noticing the fairly uniform gray underside to the wings.

The nearly constant movement of the young bird made it much easier to follow.

You might want to notice and compare the light-yellow color of the foot to the orange-yellow of the bill.

Previous posts, like The Secret Weapon in 2018, have mentioned the white triangles visible on the sides of the folded wings as indicators of youth. This year for the first time I noticed that a row (or two) of the triangles also appears where the wings meet the back. 

The two tufts of white feathers on the head might also be an indication of youth.

The white triangles are more obvious with the wings extended. From this angle, we can also see the faint double row along the edge of the back.

Friday, I happened to see an adult Green Heron. Even from the back the differences between the two birds were striking.

The adult's movements were far more serene. There was almost no flapping of wings even though it was hunting in virtually the same type of habitat.

The adult's feathers were much richer in color. It had no white triangles. Although, there was still some nice light edging to the wing feathers. 

The bill was mostly black instead of yellow. The sides of the neck lacked the vibrant white streaking of youth.

Only once, when it really needed to move quickly, did the adult raise his wings. 

It is interesting to note that the underside of the adult's wing is also uniformly gray.

The adult's flash of movement and wings was immediately followed by catching a fish.

As the fish struggled the adult remained relatively motionless. 

This approach is in stark contrast to Belted Kingfishers which also catch and eat fish in the same area. Before consuming a fish, kingfishers will often slam it against their perch until it ceases to resist.

The heron simply waited. It appeared to do nothing. 

By the way, notice how the adult heron's legs are much more golden than the faintly yellow legs of the young heron.

Apparently, the heron was waiting for fish to twist in just the right (or wrong) direction. 

With just the slightest tilt of the head, it swallowed. The whole process took just 15 seconds.

By the way, I believe this is an adult male because of the richness of the coloring. Females look very similar but are slightly more faded. This assumption was reinforced by seeing both a female and a first-year Green Heron hunting nearby.

This morning, I saw five Green Herons and two interesting episodes on Duck BayMy key trick to finding Green Herons on the lily pads is bringing my binoculars and slowly searching every square foot. 

In the first episode, one of the young herons flew at an adult (presumed) female as she was hunting. She turned the tables and chased the young one away. Apparently, as soon as they are full-sized and capable they need to be feeding themselves.

The second interaction was between a Belted Kingfisher and a young Green Heron. The heron was hunting in the shallows in an area which was apparently under one of the kingfisher's favorite perches. When the kingfisher flew up and landed it immediately began chattering non-stop. I suspect it was hoping to chase the heron away. After a few minutes, of raucous abuse the young Green Heron flew up and land on the same branch. The heron sat with its neck fully extended and stared at the kingfisher. The kingfisher quietly stared back while considering its options. After a few more moments, the smaller kingfisher 'blinked' and wisely chose to abandon the competition. 

I certainly hope you get the chance to get out and watch Green Herons as they search for life among the lilies.

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. 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. 

Are these dragonflies native to Union Bay?























Scroll down for the answer.














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














Yes. Both of these are native to Union Bay.















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




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