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

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Eagles Return

Monty and Marsha are back! Our local Bald eagles, who we watched build, populate and then lose their nest, have returned to Montlake. Once the nest was out of the tree and their young were out of the nest the adults apparently felt free to leave. I suspect they went searching for an alternative, end-of-summer food source. Hopefully, they located a crystal clear stream teeming with salmon. In any case, they look healthy and ready to embark on a whole new annual cycle of reproduction.

In previous posts, you may have read about their nest being built, the nest falling and finally about our attempts to return the healthier of the two young eagles to the nest site. If not you can read the stories by clicking on these links.


After the nest fell and the eagles disappeared, questions flooded my mind. Will we ever see their young again? Will the adults Monty and Marsha return to their newly established territory? If so, will they rebuild their nest? If they rebuild, will they build at the same site or choose an alternative?


As of this week, at least we know they have resumed occupation and control of their territory. Specifically, I watched them and the Talaris pair go airborne and defend their common border. It was like watching a flashback to the last winter and spring. 

I am often asked how I identify individual eagles. I must admit it is virtually impossible to be one hundred percent positive about any particular bird, without an identification band. However, there are hints and clues which help. For example, the three pairs of breeding eagles on Union Bay have specific territories which they defend. Primarily, the establishment and maintenance of their territories appear to be done by occupying favorite roosting spots, especially when a competing pair of eagles is nearby.

The photo above, from earlier this week, shows Monty and Marsha at their favorite perch on top of the Deodar Cedars immediately north of the University of Washington (UW) Waterfront Activities Center (WAC). 

Normally, when Monty and Marsha are in the cedars their northern neighbors come south and occupy the first Cottonwood tree immediately north of the cedars. This older pair of eagles, nest in a cottonwood tree on the old Talaris property just to the northeast of the Center For Urban Horticulture. I identify this pair by watching them travel back and forth between their nest site and this popular location where they defend their southern border.

In a related example, last January I watched them venture down to the shore, just north of the cottonwood, and pull up grass which they carried back to their nest site. 

Individually, within each pair of Bald Eagles, the males are generally the smaller bird. Looking at this photo and back at the photo of the Talaris pair in the cottonwood tree it is obvious that the smaller male is on the left in each photo.

In this photo of Monty and Marsha, it is less obvious which is the larger bird. However, there is another useful clue. The area around their eyes is slightly different. Let's take a closer look.

The bird on the left has a noticeably heavier 'eyebrow', which casts a sizable shadow.

The eagle on the right has almost no eyebrow and by comparison far fewer shadows around the eye. From experience, I know that Monty has fewer shadows and that Marsha has the more intimidating look. On a cautionary note, the angle of the bird's head relative to both the sun and the observer can change the perception of shadows. The nice thing about this particular photo is that both birds were looking in almost precisely the same direction at the same time.


Similarly, if we look back at this photo from December, early in their nest building process, their eyeshadows and size are still obvious and consistent. Once again Monty is on the left.

In this December photo, from a couple of days earlier, the minimal eyebrow seems obvious but distant. At this time another critical identifier for Monty was the feather gap in his right wing. He was in the process of regrowing one of his secondary flight feathers. This week one of the first things I attempted to do was to check whether the same secondary feather was still partially missing.

In this photo from Wednesday, we can see that one of his secondary feathers is not quite grown in. However, I believe it is the first secondary instead of the third. Apparently, the feather which was missing in December has been fully replaced and another one is getting close to full length. 

If I understand the numbering of eagle flight feathers the primaries are counted by starting with the most forward feather - what would be equivalent to our pointing finger. This is the first primary. The count then proceeds in increments of one as we circle around the end of the wing and back towards the body. The tenth feather is the final primary for Bald Eagles. After this point, the next eight feathers are the secondary flight feathers. 

Here is another shot of Monty coming in to land in the cedars next to Marsha on Thursday. Even though a branch obscures a portion of his wing it is possible to count around and determine that it is his first secondary feather which is not as long as the others.

About ten minutes earlier this extremely bold Great Blue Heron made my mouth drop with amazement. It landed on Monty and Marsha's favorite perch.

Moments before Monty had been on the same branch. I had to wonder was the Great Blue Heron unaware that eagles eat herons?

In late July an eagle-eyed neighbor spotted the carcass of a Great Blue Heron nestling hanging below Monty and Marsha's nest.

A few days later I noticed the leg of an adult-sized Great Blue Heron laying below the nest site. Clearly, Monty and Marsha will eat a lot more than fish. I have seen full-sized Mallard wings below the nest and I watched one of the adults bring a rat to feed their young.

As I watched the heron, I felt the shadow of an eagle pass over my head. The large predatory bird made a beeline for the cedars.

Luckily, the heron was paying attention and immediately abandoned its position.

When the eagle turned I was able to catch a quick photo. The dark tips of the tail feathers provided another surprise. This bird was not Monty or Marsha or any one of the other four resident Bald Eagles on Union Bay. The tail feathers on all the local resident eagles are completely white. I also noticed that this eagle's fifth primary on each wing was only halfway grown in. This bird is nearly mature and probably in its four or fifth year. 

The two references to 'the fifth' made me think of Beethoven's Fifth symphony - bop, bop, bop, boom. Which inspired the idea of calling this eagle, Beethoven. I doubt the established eagles will allow Beethoven to hang around long, but you might want to keep I eye out for the unique tail feathers and the partial grown missing primaries. This is a perfect example of how we can attempt to repeatedly identify a specific bird.

Clearly, my methods of identifying individual birds are not perfect. But the close observation of unique features while also paying attention to their habitual behaviors certainly increases our odds. My acronym for the process is UFAB. UFAB stands for Unique Features And Behaviors. 

On Thursday, as I watched, Monty and Marsha flew across the southwest portion of Union Bay and landed in one of their secondary perches - the tallest tree on Marsh Island. The distance and the angle of the light made my photograph useless, but this behavior was one I had seen many times before and it helped reinforce my belief that Monty and Marsha have returned to Union Bay.

By the way, Portage Bay is also inside Monty and Marsha's domain. I have watched them come and go between their nest site and Portage Bay multiple times.

I wonder, How soon will they begin building a new nest? Will they use the same tree they used last year? Will we see Beethoven again? The mysteries of eagles never end.

Can you guess which of one the four resident Bald Eagles, discussed in this post, is in this photo? The answer will be in the Going Native section below.

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.




From what type of trees did these leaves fall? Are they native to Union Bay?








Scroll down for the answer.

















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i believe the three types of trees and leaves, from top to bottom, are a leaf from an oak tree which originated in the eastern part of North American, possibly the Northern Red Oak, a leaf from a Black Cottonwood and a leaf from a Bigleaf Maple. The last two are native to Union Bay.








The last eagle photo shows Monty. The critical determining factors are his lack of eye shadows and he is sitting on the Deodar Cedar branches which are one of his favorite perches.


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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 work around is to setup 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



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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Waxwing Cuisine

Cedar Waxwings are one of my favorite birds. 

Cedar Waxwing feathers are beautifully muted with slowly shifting shades of color. I can see three exceptions to these artfully subtle transitions. The most obvious are their striking black masks, often outlined in white. The second is the vibrant yellow color on the terminal end of their tail feathers. The third exception is red waxy tips on their secondary wing feathers, which are also the visual highlight which inspired their name. Sadly, a fairly small percentage of Waxwings are endowed with these ruby red accessories.

This bird provides an interesting contrast to the bird in our first photo. What differences do you see? The crest is abbreviated. Plus, the tail feathers are shorter and staggered in length. The varied lengths of the rectrices show different stages of development. By replacing only a couple of tails feathers at a time the Waxwings retain functional tails during the molting process. 

A third indication of molting is the single red 'wax' tip, which is positioned surprisingly close to the bird's shoulder. I believe this is a secondary wing feather which is just starting to grow in. When you think about it this makes perfect sense. In order for the 'wax' to ultimately reside on the feathers tips, it must be the first portion of the feather to appear. 

Cedar Waxwings focus primarily on fruit in the fall. They seem to have two major criteria for their fruit selection. Apparently, it must be ripe and small. Waxwings appear to be completely unconcerned about where in the world their fruit originated. The color of the fruit also appears to be irrelevant. Here we see a bird interested in bright red berries. In the previous photo, the fruit was closer to pink.

This bird is fascinated with yellow fruit which has a slight orange tint. By the way, the vertical stripes on this bird's chest indicate it is in its first year of life.

On Monday, I watched a flock of fifty Cedar Waxwings descend on a single Japanese Ash tree (Sorbus alnifolia) in the Arboretum. The youngster on the right is preparing to consume a berry while the lump in its neighbor's throat shows the location of the fruit it just swallowed. 

Curiously, during the rest of the week I have not seen a single Waxwing in this particular tree. There are still plenty of berries but the flock has moved on. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any other local bird species which will focus on a particular tree or bush for a single feeding event and ignore it thereafter. I wonder how they decide when to move on? Do they have an experienced elder who leads the way? I have seen them visit the same tree in previous years.

During the spring and into summer, when ripe fruit is in short supply, waxwings tend to supplement their diet with insects. They will often perch on branches above water and impatiently watch for something appealing to fly by.

This and the previous photo were taken in Vancouver, WA, just last week. The sun was shining brightly. I did not know it then but in retrospect, it feels like that was the last week of summer. Maybe, the Waxwings felt the same way as they 'hawked' insects above Salmon Creek.

In the Arboretum, by Monday, our local flock was feeding almost exclusively on fruit, which is their primary fall and winter diet.

One of the few exceptions might have been this bird. I suspect it caught a glimpse of a protein-rich meal on wings and momentarily forget about the surrounding fruit.


Eating primarily fruit may cause the Waxwings to miss an essential element in their diet. In September of 2015, I noticed this group working in the mud. I suspect they were searching for a critical dietary supplement.

This bird appeared to work hard to ignore the passing insect and ultimately found a nice piece of fruit in this clump at the top of the tree.

By Wednesday, the Waxwings in the Arboretum had left the Japanese Ash behind and moved to a different Ash tree further to the south. They ignored all the other surrounding Ash (or Sorbus) trees. Apparently, the fruit on the neighboring trees was not yet sufficiently ripe.

This young bird caught my eye when it came in and hovered between the branches. All the others were darting in and landing near clumps of fruit. Swallowing a few berries and then momentarily retiring to a neighboring coniferous tree. This youngster had obviously been chasing a moving target. When it finally settled on a branch my photo revealed the spider in its beak. No doubt, it plucked the arachnid off what had been a well-placed web.

Among all the other fruit-eating Waxwings this bird stood out. With a huge clump of fresh fruit hanging directly in front of it, It chose to select this older, raisin-like piece of fruit. I wondered if it was an intentional choice.

When I watched the bird swallow the fruit I had to assume the selection was not accidental. 

Afterword, the bird assumed a rather odd, but proud-looking posture. 

Seconds later, it selected another piece of fruit which also appeared to be past its prime. I wondered why. Only after I received an email from Dave Galvin, my friend and Master Birder, did I get an inkling of a possible reason. The aged fruit may be slightly fermented. Perhaps, this bird likes its alcoholic. Click Here to read a story about inebriated Waxwings.

In my experience, most adult Waxwings appear to pick a piece a fruit and swallow it in two or three seconds. Here is another young bird who may be still refining its selection criteria. 

The first attempt at consumption causes the large juicy fruit to 'pop' up out of the beak.

The youngster catches the fruit and makes a valiant attempt at swallowing it whole.

However, the fruit is still just too big.

After seven seconds the young bird is still unwilling to give up on such a nice juicy piece of fruit.

The second effort is commendable.

The result is the still the same.

At seventeen seconds the young bird finally gets the tip of its tongue on the far side of the fruit. This enables the back of the hook-like tongue to press the fruit towards its throat.

However, the increased pressure does not overcome the restriction.

After twenty-eight seconds the fruit is starting to show a few dents and dings. 

The constant attempts at crushing and consumption are taking a toll on the fruit.

None the less, the fruit pops out of the grasping beak once more.

At thirty-four seconds into the process, the bird makes a final last ditch effort.

A moment later the fruit is finally just a lump in the bird's throat. An adult bird might easily have eaten ten smaller pieces of fruit in the same amount of time. Bigger isn't always better and apparently, experience counts even among Cedar Waxwings.

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.


What type of tree is this? Is it native to Union Bay?








Scroll down for the answer.













While not a native tree to the Western Hemisphere this Old World cedar is one of the most famous species of trees in the world. In the first photo the male cone is displayed. In this second photo, you can see the female cones on the left and additional male cones on the right.


Note: I believe the word cedar in the Cedar Waxwing's name refers to North American cedar trees, like the Western Red Cedar shown here, which I understand are unrelated to Old World cedars. 





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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 work around is to setup 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



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