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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Rama - The Young Osprey

This is Hope, feeding her new nestling. I am estimating the little bird is around 3 weeks old. Given the height of the nest, it took a while for the small bird's head to become visible to those us below.

I am thinking the best name for this young bird is, Rama. Rama has both Hindu and Hebrew meanings, some of which may even seem appropriate. However, none of these definitions are my reason for suggesting this particular name.

By the way, this is apparently Hope's first successful nest and therefore her first parenting experience.

It might seem disappointing that Hope and her mate, Stewart, apparently have only one hatchling. However, on the positive side with just one in the nest, there will be no sibling competition. This young bird should get all the food it needs.

Even though the nest is near N.E. 45th Street, probably a quarter-mile north of Union Bay it does not seem to create any real issues for Stewart. I have read that Osprey can successfully nest many miles away from their fish supply.

After Rama hatched out, my friend Ronda and I were both surprised to see Hope restart her nest building forays. I looked it up in Birds of North America (citation below) and apparently, this is a common behavior among female Osprey. 

However, it does require a certain level of skill to safely add a four-foot-long forked branch to an active nest.

Apparently, this is a skill which Hope is still developing.

She ended up with the branch hooked under Rama's partially-grown left wing. Immediately, I started to worry. Would Rama get tossed out of the nest? Would the young Osprey be able to duck if the stick popped free? I remember as a child hearing, 'Be careful with that stick! You could put somebody's eye out.'

Since our local Osprey winter in Mexico, I often entertain the idea of giving them Spanish names. Since the Spanish word for branch is, Rama, it seems like a fitting name to me.

Two days later, on Thursday, I encountered another Osprey with a branch. When I first saw Chester, the male from the Union Bay Natural Area pair, he was calling loudly and circling above the University of Washington (UW) Baseball Field, with the branch in tow. Moments later he landed just north of their normal nesting platform. I wondered if he was intending to deliver the branch to the nest. (We still do not know for sure why Chester and Lacey did not attempt nesting this year.)

While Chester sat on the snag another male Osprey came south turned in a half-circle, around Chester, and then headed back north. I could not see the markings on the head but given the proximity and the lack of reaction from Chester I suspect it was Stewart.

The other day Ronda mentioned reading that second-year, male Osprey often return to the area near their parent's nest to set up their own territory. Since Stewart and Hope first attempt to build a nest was in 2018 that would imply the Stewart might actually be one of the two males from Chester and Lacey's original Union Bay brood in 2016. This also might help explain why Chester's reaction to Stewart was so low-key. You can read more about 2016 brood in the post called 'The Un-Snipe'.

After a few minutes to rest, Chester took off with the branch. Initially, he appeared to be headed toward the nesting platform, but if so he overshot.

Chester headed out over Union Bay before circling back as he rose higher into the air. The circling continued.

For close to five minutes he continued to circle and rise, circle and rise. He must have been well over a thousand feet in the air. I could barely see him with my naked eye and I could no longer see the branch, without help from my camera and lens.

Once he reached a sufficient height Chester began diving, straight down.

The dives were followed by momentarily turning horizontal. The gravitational pull on the long branch must have been quite strong when he hit the bottom of each dive.

None the less, Chester held on to the stick and used his speed to turn vertical. He stayed in the vertical position for so long I suspect he almost came to a stop. Then he repeated the same 'J' dive over and over as he approached the ground. Click Here to see a similar process recorded in a video by Martin Muller - from the Urban Raptor Conservancy.

Ultimately, Chester returned to one of the UW light poles which he had been circling earlier.

I checked the time stamps on my photos. He held on to the same branch for over fifteen minutes. Most impressive was that after resting on the dead snag he carried the branch in the air non-stop for over seven and a half minutes, while either climbing or diving. 

Last year, I watched him do a similar set of dives, which at the time I called an Air Dance. (Apparently, it is more often referred to as a Sky Dance.) Click Here to read that story. The previous air dance was different in a number of ways. It was in the Spring instead of Summer. He was carrying food not a stick and it was done directly in front of Lacey. It was clearly part of their annual courtship process.

This time, I did not notice Lacey in attendance, we are past the courtship time of year and he was carrying a stick not food. I am really uncertain what the Branch Dance was all about. However, male Osprey who have a nest which fails, like Chester and Lacey, are said to sometimes build a new nest in the area before heading south for the winter. I hope the fixation on the branch, and the display over Union Bay, indicates Chester will try nest-building somewhere close.

Flashing back to Rama and Hope, she ultimately wiggled the branch out from under Rama's wing, without doing any apparent damage.

Hope then turned and placed the branch on the east side of the nest. It sure is wonderful to see another young Osprey growing up near Union Bay, especially since Chester and Lacey will not have young of their own this year. Hopefully, this summer the fish will be plentiful and next year we end up with two successfully nesting pairs of Osprey.

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

Speaking of fish, Friends of Arboretum Creek is hosting a Community Meeting this coming Monday (details below). We are hoping to enhance the stream with year-round water flow which will benefit fish, birds and the surrounding ecosystem. I certainly hope you are able to attend!

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


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. 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.





Are Raccoons native to the Pacific Northwest? 

These were seen, earlier this week, just south of the Conibear Rowing House.










Scroll down for the answer.














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














Raccoons: They are native and they look cute but they can be challenging. If you want to see a delightful set of videos, including young raccoons and birds, please Click Here. The link will take you to visit Dan Pedersen's blog which this week includes some incredible videos of young creatures provided by his partners Craig and Joy Johnson. I promise the videos will make you smile!











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




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, July 6, 2019

Hope's Challenge

This is Hope the female Osprey from the new nesting pair on the IMA light pole. The nest is on the south side of N.E. 45th St. directly across from the QFC in U-Village. It felt rather odd to hear the rumbling of buses and delivery trucks, along with honking horns and screeching brakes while I was taking these photos. However, perhaps the close proximity is just a step on our path towards achieving greater harmony with nature.


This is Hope's mate, Stewart, returning to defend the nest. Male ospreys generally have pure white chests, while the females, like Hope, usually have a necklace of dark spots strung across their chest. 

I believe this is Stewart and Hope's first true nesting attempt. Last year, they got a few dead branches to stick up among the lights but it was too little and too late to lay eggs and incubate. This year, even though the actual dimensions of the nest are somewhat hidden it appears to be of adequate size. If we assume Stewart has a wingspan of at least five feet then we can estimate that the nest is probably five or six feet across from east to west.

Given that the older and original Union Bay Osprey pair, Chester and Lacey, have chosen not to lay eggs this year, our only chance for local Osprey hatchlings rests with Stewart and Hope. Among those observing their progress, the tension is high and questions abound. 

Are the two young Osprey adequately skilled to be parents? Will they be able to chase away all the potential predatory birds, which would like to consume their eggs? Can they capture enough fish to feed themselves and their young? Will the local Bald Eagles allow them to keep a sufficient supply of the food they catch? Have their young hatched out already? On my July 4th photo expedition, I was hoping to answer some of these questions.

Earlier in the day, near Monty and Marsha's eagle nest on Montlake Cut, I met a young woman who suggested that Osprey have tufts on the back of their heads. It wasn't until I was taking this photo and saw how the wind pushed Stewart's feathers up that I realized what she was talking about. Suddenly, her comment made total sense. The mind is a funny thing, I have seen those upstanding feathers many times, but that particular view just wasn't in my default mental picture of an Osprey.

This photo shows Stewart leaving to hunt for fish. As he flew south towards Union Bay it was interesting to note how low he flew. He wasn't down near ground level, but he was often below the tops of the Cottonwood trees which lined the sides of his selected flight path. I wondered if this was an attempt to remain out of the sight of Talia and Russ, the Bald Eagles which have historically 'owned' the north side of Union Bay. The old saying, 'Out-of-sight, out-of-mind' may literally apply.

When Stewart returned from his hunting trip, his approach was hidden from me, but it appeared that he left food in the nest for Hope and possibly hatchlings as well.

Afterward, he walked out to his usual roosting spot on the east end of the light pole.

Once he was situated he began grooming himself. 

Moments later, the grooming stopped as Stewart burst off the light pole and began chasing a crow, which had apparently flown too close to the nest. It looked as those Stewart might chase the crow for a considerable distance until reinforcements showed up.

It was almost as if Stewart realized that with a growing crowd of crows his protective effort could be maximized at the nest. He immediately changed course and returned to the light pole.

During this episode, Hope stayed low down on the west side of the nest. You can just barely see the top of her head in this photo. 

For a few minutes, Stewart faced north, in the direction of the disappearing Crows.

Once he was sure the threat was gone, he turned in his usual direction and faced south towards Union Bay and the closest Bald Eagle nest.

With Stewart was back at the nest, Hope began gathering additional sticks.

Curiously, the closest dead trees, with upper branches which she could potentially break, were the same trees where I found the three North Flickers in last week's post.

The nesting instinct must have really kicked-in for Hope as she made numerous trips... 

...back and forth. Sometimes with a stick and sometimes without. Not every attempt was successful, but she never stayed away from the nest for long.

Curiously, similar to how Stewart almost always ended up on the east end of the light pole, Hope always landed to the west. From there, she would walk or hop her way back to the nest.

She did not limit herself to placing just the sticks she brought back, at times she appeared to be rearranging other furniture as well.

The most exciting moment was when she spotted a distant dark bird passing high overhead. I did not notice a white head or tail and really only saw a glimpse of the bird as it disappeared in the distance. Without any size perspective, I assumed it was an American Crow. 

Later, while looking at Hope's photos I noticed how every feather on her body seemed to be spread out and virtually standing at attention. She was really excited. Although I could not hear her call over the sound of the traffic, her mouth was open and I suspect she was vocalizing her displeasure as well.

When I looked closer at my one marginal photo of the disappearing bird I realized that just under the dark tail I could see large yellow feet. The talons of a young Bald Eagle. Hope chased after the bird until it was safely away from her nest.

Then, she immediately returned. As Ronda, another avid Osprey watcher, mentioned, 'If there was nothing in the nest she most likely would not be so intent on defending it.' I suspect that Hope's eggs have hatched and the young are still too small to be seen in such a high nest. Still, many of the questions from the beginning of this post now appear to have answers.

Are the two young Osprey adequately skilled to be parents? They appear to be making every effort with energy and enthusiasm. Quite possibly, yes.

Will they be able to chase away all the potential predatory birds which would like to consume their eggs or young? They are certainly trying and there appear to be a lot fewer eagles in the vicinity of their nest than compared with Chester and Lacey's nesting platform closer to Union Bay. 

Can they capture enough fish to feed themselves and their young? So far the adults both look happy and healthy, but this question will not be fully answered until their young are able to leave the nest and begin to hunt for themselves.

Will the local Bald Eagles allow them to keep a sufficient supply of the food they catch? Same answer as above.

Have their young hatched out already? I do not have proof positive, but it does appear that Hope is no longer sitting down in the middle of the nest like she did for the last month or so. I suspect this indicates that one or more of the young have hatched.


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

Friends of Arboretum Creek:

One of the biggest challenges for Osprey is their supply of fish. I have never seen an Osprey eat anything else. I really do not think they have any viable alternatives. Not only must they contend with Bald Eagles stealing the fish they catch. They must compete with River Otters, Double-crested Cormorants, Common Mergansers and Great Blue Herons. Plus, there are smaller birds, Belted Kingfishers, Green Herons, Hooded Mergansers and Pied-billed Grebes, etc., which reduce the supply of small fish before the fish can get large enough to feed Osprey.

One of the best things we can do for Osprey, and all of these other fish-eating birds, which are found around Union Bay, is positively increasing fish habitat. There are two obvious methods to increase habitat in the city. Either increase the quality of existing water, e.g. less pollution, lower temperature, better cover or increase the quantity of water and therefore the volume of habitat. For the last couple of years my friend Dave Galvin and I have been working on a restoration concept which we hope will do both.

On Monday, July 15th, we will be hosting the first community meeting for Friends of Arboretum Creek. The meeting will be:
  •  5 to 7 pm
  • Tatiuchi Room 
  • Japanese Garden,
  • 1075 Lake Washington Blvd East, 
In addition to sharing what we have learned about revitalizing Arboretum Creek, we will be discussing our upcoming design grant request, looking for community input, explaining how your voice can make a difference and sharing refreshments. Please reserve the time on your calendar! There will be additional information in the next post.


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


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.






Is this a native tree? The diameters of the fully mature leaves are approximately 3 or 4 inches.










Scroll down for the answer.














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















Vine Maple: When I was a young my grandfather worked in a sawmill in Oregon. When we were out in the woods one day, I remember asking him what type of tree this was. He responded as a lumberman, "Ah, that's just that old weed Vine Maple". It does not grow tall enough or straight enough to be used as lumber. However, the Native Americans used it to weave baskets and I find it to be one of the most beautiful trees in the understory of our Pacific Northwest forests. Often the brilliant green leaves of this native tree are temporarily illuminated by flickering shafts of sunlight penetrating the shadows between our native Douglas Fir and the Western Hemlock trees.











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




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, June 29, 2019

The Challenges of Youth

As we step into summer we can see and hear young birds all around us. The calls of juvenile crows lack the crisp, occasional 'Caw' of the adults. Their young voices are considerably more gentle and soft. However, there is no mistaking their repetitive and persistent 'cAhh, cAhh, cAhh' for anything other than begging.

Even if young crows never made a sound their pink gape, at the corners of their mouths, and their abnormally pale and reflective irises would give themselves away.

Young Northern Flickers provide both visual and auditory clues as well. This one was repetitively begging with a soft and gentle version of an adult's 'Clear, Clear, Clear' call.

Visually, the clues to this bird's youth include the short, white line of its gape and the faint, almost rusty red, color of its malar stripe. Adult male Northern Flickers, in the local Red-shafted subspecies, have a much more strikingly, vibrant red color on their cheeks, which we will see in following photos.

The persistent begging of the young woodpecker attracted this adult American Crow who settled onto the light directly above the young flicker's head. 

It is interesting to note the varying lengths of the crow's outer coverts. The bird is obviously molting. The shorter and darker feathers are the new ones. The older and browner feathers show the fading effects of extensive sunlight exposure.

Immediately, the young Northern Flicker scrunched itself down, as if it was trying to become one with the wood. Under the circumstances, the effectiveness of the deception was probably minimal. 

By the way, a variation on the first photo shows the flicker also has a hint of a faint reddish 'v' on the back of its head. This red coloring will also turn bright with time. Surprisingly, this feature is inherited from the locally less common, yellow-shafted subspecies of the Northern Flicker.

Maybe, the crow decided the young woodpecker was too large and healthy to make an easy meal or maybe it was encouraged to leave by the pair of Bald Eagles who suddenly began circling and calling overhead.

Quickly, the young flicker scurried to the far end of the crossbar. No doubt he was hoping, the surrounding foliage would provide some visual protection from the sharp-eyed eagles. The flicker's apparent attachment to the crossbar made me wonder about its ability to fly. Was it stuck on the telephone pole, while alternating between begging for food and advertising itself as an easy meal?

A few days later, I came across another young flicker that clearly knew how to fly. When I first noticed the bird it was perched in a tree with what were apparently two other members of its family. It followed its father's lead and flew down to the grass in front of me.

This young bird does not have any reddish tinges on its head so we can be assured it is a female. It has already lost its light-colored gape, so you may wonder, How can we be certain of its youth?

I was convinced by the adult male, when it choose to feed the young bird. 

The process was repeated multiple times. The adult was apparently collecting small ants and then regurgitating them deep into the inner recesses of its offspring. It is scary how close the sharp tip of the young bird's bill comes to the eye of the adult.

Notice how brightly the adult's malar stripe stands out compared to the young male in the earlier photos

After a few minutes, the third flicker also flew down from the tree. The 'v' on this bird's head was significantly more obvious. The genes from the yellow-shafted subspecies are apparently surprisingly well-spread among our local Northern Flickers.

From the fence top, the young male flew down to join the adult. The red on this bird is nearly a bright as the malar stripe on the adult behind it. None the less, I am assuming it was a juvenile bird because of the way it followed after the adult.

Curiously, the adult male did not exhibit a 'v' on the back of his head. However, the young male, which I am assuming to be his offspring, does have the 'v'. If my assumptions are correct then I am left to wonder, How did this genetic code get passed along? Could the adult male pass on a recessive gene that is expressed in its offspring? Could the mother pass on a male gene that is not displayed in females? or If neither of these are possible, Does the situation imply that the genetic father might have been different than the male who apparently fed and helped raise this younger male?

Ultimately, the young male watched the adult go on about its way without sharing. The adult seemed to be saying, 'Its time for you to find your own'. The adult's behavior seemed to reinforce the belief that this was a young male nearing maturity.

After the Eagles moved on, I returned to check on the young Northern Flicker hiding on the crossbar. He was sitting pretty, and quiet, still fairly well hidden back in the foliage. Survival is a curiously difficult challenge for the young. They want to call out to their parents, to encourage being fed, but they don't want to attract too much predatory attention. They don't want to expose their lack of flight skills but at the same time, they need to be practicing flying. Flying allows them to stay close to an adult which not only optimizes the efficiency of the parental gravy train but it also provides the youth with repetitive examples of an adult's predatory awareness plus they also learn how and where to find food.

Achieving maturity requires a delicate balance between a healthy appetite, learning new skills and adequate caution. The harsh truth is only those who successfully navigate the path between these competing demands will be able to pass on their genetic inheritance. Once again, I am amazed by the similarity of the challenges faced by all life on earth.          

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.






Are the butterfly and flower native or not?










Scroll down for the answer.














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













Western Tiger Swallowtail: The butterfly is native. Surprisingly, the most common plant that I have seen this specie utilizing lately is the invasive Himalayan Blackberry, as shown in the photo. Click on the red highlighted link (and then scroll down) to learn how to identify this invasive blackberry as opposed to the native blackberries which we want to retain and encourage.














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




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