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

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Raven's Return

The post, The Mythical Raven, was inspired by my first-ever sighting of a Raven in the Arboretum. Both of which took place in March of this year. That initial post documented many of the critical differences between Common Ravens and American Crows.

During the following week, I spotted Ravens in the Arboretum, twice. However, it wasn't until this week, that I noticed an additional difference between the two species. If you look closely at the top of this Common Raven's bill you can see that the feathering near the forehead extends approximately halfway to the tip of the bill.

With an American Crow, the 'forehead' feathering reaches less than a third of the way to the tip. When the light is right, and especially with binoculars, this difference is quite obvious. 

The bill-size versus the size of the head is a bit more subtle. It seems as though the primary purpose of a Raven's head is to provide a site for holding the massive bill. With Crows, the opposite seems true. The head appears to be the larger more important body part, while the bill seems like a supporting actor.

Even without seeing the relative size of the bird, the shape of an extended tail, the length of the wings or hearing its voice, there should be no question in your mind which species is in this photo.

As the Raven took flight, it partially displayed its diamond or wedge-shaped tail, which is distinctly different from the fan-shape of a Crow's tail. 

Back in March, the primary, Raven-related questions on my mind were, Will they stay? Will they establish a territory? Will they build a nest and raise young?

Later, on the same day, I caught a filtered glimpse of one of them with a small twig in its mouth. I was hoping that it might be a sign of nest building.

My next sighting was roughly two weeks later in Interlaken Park.

Whenever I see a Raven it always seems like I hear it first. They are obviously intelligent and very careful, but they are also act shy. If they notice me watching them they tend to immediately move to a more hidden position. It is hard to understand why they are both consistently vocal and shy.

One of the special things about Interlaken Park is the slope. It is easy to stand at the edge of the park and look horizontally into the upper canopy which rises up out of the ravine. In this case, the Raven found a decomposing hole, most likely where a branch broke off years before. The Raven appeared to be inspecting the interior for small, tasty inhabitants.

The distance was such that I could not determine if the mission was successful or not.

There is certainly something magical about the untended beauty of Licorice ferns hanging from the moss-covered branches of Big-leaf Maple trees. The Raven apparently felt right at home.

About a week later, in mid-April, I took my last Spring photo of a Raven. It was in the Arboretum. I heard them at least once more passing west over Interlaken Park at the close of the day. Throughout the bulk of the summer, I did not see or hear Ravens anywhere in the Montlake or Union Bay neighborhoods. 

On September 6th, I caught my first Fall photo of a Raven, also in the Arboretum. Apparently, it was inspecting the bottom side of the branch for food. 

In mid-September, I saw another one.

Last week, I caught a distant photo as one called out.

 This week, I have seen them multiple times.


On Thursday, the Raven on the left was sitting on the branch when it was approached by the bird on the right. As the second Raven flew in towards the perched bird it was calling out. However, the sound was not their normal call. The sound was most similar to a high-pitched hiccuping. You can hear a similar Raven call by playing the last recording on All About Birds > Click Here. (The first recording is their 'normal' call.)

I have not read anything which explains the purpose of the odd-sounding call. In this case, the approaching bird appeared to be focused and apparently speaking to the perched bird. The perched bird sat and listened for a few moments before silently gliding off to a nearby tree. I wonder if the response was an example of actions speaking louder than words.

The return of the Ravens leaves me encouraged, curious and slightly apprehensive. On the positive side, their return makes me think this may be a young pair which is including the Arboretum in their initial territory. We may get to enjoy them as our newest neighbors for many years to come.

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Update:

Speaking of messages of hope during a challenging time, you will want to read an incredible post on the blog of my friend Dan Pedersen, Click Here

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I am curious whether the Ravens built a nest this year. Although, I doubt it. I do feel fairly certain they did not build one in the Arboretum. I realize they are intelligent enough to work quietly and it is possible I might have overlooked their nest building. However, I doubt they could have had young in a nest and spent a month or two bringing food to the nest, especially, if the young birds were begging to be fed, without anyone noticing their presence. (All About Birds says they lay three to seven eggs.)  

If they did nest this year, it seems likely it was somewhere other than the Arboretum. I would certainly like to know if you have seen more than two Ravens, at once, anywhere in the Montlake/Union Bay area.

I suspect a young pair of Ravens might take a year, or maybe even more, to settle into a territory, build a nest, and successfully feed and raise young. Similar to how it took the new Osprey pair, on the north side of Union Bay, two years to complete their nest and raise their first offspring.

While I am excited to regularly see Ravens in our area, I am apprehensive about how a new set of predators may impact the local eco-system. A friend mentioned watching the Ravens chasing after a Barred Owl in the Arboretum this Fall. I have to wonder if Hawks, Owls, Eagles, and Ravens can all successfully nest, hunt, and coexist in and around the Arboretum. The Ravens will certainly add pressure on other smaller, non-predatory birds, especially during nesting.

One of the most important things we can do, to help Ravens successfully co-exist, is working to improve the local eco-system and the abundance of life it supports. If you are a King County resident one important way to help is to write an email to the King County Council members asking for approval of the latest grant request from Friends of Arboretum Creek (FOAC). 

The FOAC design grant will determine the best method for reuniting Alder Creek with Arboretum Creek. More clean water in the stream will dramatically increase the potential for life in the Arboretum eco-system, while also increasing the capacity in the King County sewer. You can read about the project details by clicking on the highlighted link, above. 

You can easily send a letter of support by copying our FOAC Sample Letter. The Council will be voting on this request in early December. Your timely support may make all the difference!

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 bathing beauty native to Union Bay?

Here are a couple more photos to provide helpful hints.

What species is it?














Scroll down for the answer.














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Song Sparrow: This is one of our most common native birds, however, it can be challenging to identify when it appears to be a brown blur in the middle of a cloud of water droplets. This one was bathing in Arboretum Creek, earlier this week.






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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, November 10, 2019

Goldie?



Spotting Chip, our local male Pileated Woodpecker, this week was like running into an old friend. The sight of him brought a smile to my face. My pulse quickened in anticipation. I was hoping to learn more about his behavior, to make sure he looked healthy and maybe even find out if he and his mate were still together. They mate for life, but life is dangerous, especially in a city full of fast-moving vehicles.

The first thing I noticed was the residential cavity he was excavating. The hole was shaped like an egg. In my experience, the Local Pileated Woodpeckers generally create this shape when building nests or roost sites. When prospecting for food, e.g. primarily carpenter ants or beetle larva, their holes are generally shaped quite differently.


Here is an example of a feeding hole in a fairly healthy tree. Since the exterior wood has not begun to decay, the rectangular shape of the hole is fairly precise.

This photo shows a well-used, flat-bottomed nesting hole. As the birds enter and exit the holes, the holes tend to open up and the shape may evolve, somewhat. Young resident birds will also pick at the edges in their apparent impatience with the confines of the nest. This 2018 nest hole had seen a lot of use by this point. The young were almost ready to fledge. 

Above the nest, you can also see a fresh feeding excavation. Notice the bright color of the unoxidized wood. Locally, all the Union Bay nesting trees I have seen, have been in dead or dying Red Alder trees. When the trees reach their last stages of decay they become quite soft and just right for nest building or easy feeding.

November seems way too early for Chip to be nest building, even though this is a dead Red Alder tree. However, I have seen a Pileated Woodpecker excavate a new roosting site at this time of year. I suspect when the rains come and the winds start blowing, the snags that contain existing roosting sites are more likely to fall. Most likely this drives the need for new nightly sanctuaries.

After a few minutes, Chip called out while he worked. Much to my surprise, his mate answered. Chip's mate has been generally silent in the past. Seldom have I heard her make a sound. When Chip heard her response, many of his feathers became erect and he stopped work. Notice how his top knot is still partially erect. It is more obvious when compared with the previous photo. He certainly appeared to be listening.

A new friend found and pointed out the location of his mate. She was much closer to the ground and searching for food.

Females have black malar stripes on their cheeks, unlike the red on males. They both continued their efforts for a while before taking off and flying away.

I was able to visually track Chip and notice that he landed on a telephone pole. I ran uphill and around the ravine to get in position to watch what happened next.

After a short while, his mate landed on the pole below him. She quickly began 'hitching' her way up the pole. A Pileated will momentarily balance on their tail while both feet reach up to grab the pole (or a tree) at a higher level. Then, they pull themselves higher, set their tail again and repeat the process. This must use less energy than just flying up to the desired height. (They will often use the same process to reach the top of a tree or snag just before taking off to fly to the next tree.)

Each time they move up, the head stretches out away from the pole before they pull themselves up and in again.

I never got close enough to see the detailed makeup of Chip's mate. I would have liked to determine if she was the same female from last year, whom I called Goldie. Her forehead seemed darker, her irises might have been lighter and she sounded more vocal, but I could not be certain as the daylight began to fade. The changes may have been the result of growing maturity, or she may have been replaced by a different female. My photos were not crisp enough to confirm my impressions.

I watched every day for the rest of the week, hoping to come across them again and get a better look. Sadly, luck did not smile on my endeavor.

On the other hand, as I was leaving I noticed and photographed a primary feather from a Pileated Woodpecker.

It looks to me like this is the third primary feather given the ratio of roughly 40% white versus 60% black coloring and the specific arrangement of the colors. Also, given that the leading edge of the primary feathers is often smaller than the trailing edge, I believe this feather is from a righthand wing.

I am always amazed that nature has given them the ability to grow so many unique two-toned feathers. It is also incredibly interesting that the white is generally only visible from below and only when a bird is in flight. I wonder if its primary value is as a mating display.


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You can double-check my conclusion about the primary feather location by comparing the photographed feather with the set of primary wing feathers shown in the Feather Atlas. Click on the following link:



In the search criteria enter is the word 'Pileated' after the third label, e.g. 'Common Name'.

Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
Common Name: Pileated Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus

Finally, click on the button labeled: Search


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In the winter when the leaves have fallen, Pileated Woodpeckers are a bit easier to spot. However, given their rather large territories, it helps to be lucky.


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 the tree which produced these leaves native to Union Bay?

















Scroll down for the answer.














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Maidenhair Tree: It is not native to the Americas. However, it may be one of the oldest living tree species. It also may be more commonly known as Ginkgo biloba - which is also the scientific name. Clicking on the link will take you to the extensive Wikipedia write up, which I found very interesting.

Note: Reading about the Adverse Effects, as listed in Wikipedia, was enough to keep me from considering it as a dietary supplement.












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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, November 3, 2019

Louis' Debut

Pelicans are always awe-inspiring, but the clean, pristine look of an American White Pelican is especially amazing. I do think they look equally elegant...

... and awkward. From a proper distance, their size is deceptive. On average they weigh about three times as much as a Great Blue Heron, fifty percent more than a Bald Eagle and have a wingspan in the nine-foot neighborhood.

On Tuesday, October 15th, my friend Tom Cotner sent me a text. He was watching an American White Pelican on the north side of Union Bay. My only previous sighting of a Pelican, while at Union Bay, happened when one passed overhead. That highly elevated bird never missed a wingbeat and never came close to the water. Sadly, when I got Tom's message I was out of town. I suspected the current Pelican was probably migrating south. I assumed it would be gone before I could return.

A couple of weeks later, I started receiving photos of a Pelican at Union Bay, from multiple friends. Finally, on October 28th, while visiting the Union Bay Natural Area, I saw the Pelican sitting in the distance, outside Yesler Swamp. (Given the location, I suspect it had been around for the last two weeks.) Immediately, I began wondering if I could walk home and paddle back before the bird left. Surprisingly, I made it.

I am thinking we should call him, Louis. Technically, Louis may be Louisa. I do not know of any visual clues for determining the gender of an American White Pelican. If you would like a little challenge you might try to guess why I think Louis (or Louisa) is an appropriate name. I will explain later.

Louis must have found fish fairly plentiful on Union Bay. By late afternoon, his urge to feed was apparently satiated. 

It did seem odd to see just one Pelican by itself. 

My previous experience with American White Pelicans, on Whidbey Island, was with a group. Plus, online I found numerous stories about American White Pelicans hunting in groups. For example, paddling in a line and crowding fish against the shore in shallow water and then simultaneously dipping them out. 

In any case, Louis did not look lonely. He found a particularly well-placed piling, somewhat protected from the wind, and perfectly aligned with the afternoon sun.

Louis utilized his swan-like neck and his foot-long bill to reach seemingly impossible spots.

I wondered if the tip of the bill was flexible.

Later, I read that the tip is hard. It can make small wounds similar to paper cuts, according to a fisherman who tried to unhook from a mutually caught fish. This photo shows how surprisingly quick the bill tapers down at the end.

I also found it curious to note the clear color difference between the legs and the bill. I cannot imagine how it benefits Pelicans to have such brightly colored feet.

A Pelican's gular pouch, used to catch and retain fish, is its largest claim to fame and critical to its survival.

Sadly, for me, Louis began to put his pouch away and settle in for the night.

He remained alert...


...to any movement or sound, but he never shifted from his perch on the piling.

He became progressively quieter.

If my only sighting of Louis had been like this photo, I am not sure that I would have realized he was a pelican.

If you look closely, you can see that his eyelid is arranged quite differently from ours. It shuts in the upward direction. 

On Wednesday morning I paddled back over, just hoping the Louis was still there and might a bit more hungry and active. I was halfway across the bay when I noticed a large bird with an unusual wingbeat - almost none. It was Louis gliding over the shallow water on the north side of Union Bay. With his neck retracted and wings level, steady and outstretched he resembled a plane more than a bird.

His gliding and soaring capability is related to his approximately nine-foot wingspan. By comparison, a Trumpeter Swan weighs about fifty percent more and has a wingspan which is two feet shorter.

After doing a 180-degree turn, near the Conibear Rowing house, Louis returned and sat down near Yesler Swamp. 


Unlike Great Blue Herons, Pelicans have very short legs and wide webbed feet.

  Instead of slowly wading and watching for fish, Louis paddled, snorkeled and scooped.

Logically, the fish which pelicans catch are generally smaller than their pouch. This makes the fish hard to see and the process difficult to document.

Just before a Bald Eagle flew over, the wind began to blow from the east.

With surprisingly few steps, three I think, Louis took to the air. 

Have you wondered why their wingtips are black? I did, until I remembered Dennis Paulson teaching us that white feathers are the softer and wear faster. Maybe the value of black wingtips is that they last longer. Snow Geese also have black wingtips but, curiously, Trumpeter and Tundra Swans do not. I wonder why?

Louis headed east, no doubt using the breeze for lift. I watched him grow small in the distance as he circled up in a thermal above Laurelhurst. I have not seen him since. It may be a coincidence but later in the morning when I attempted to circle Elderberry Island I noticed I was breaking a thin sheet of ice. American White Pelicans are reported to prefer temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or better. I suspect Louis is on his way to warmer weather.

I am certainly glad to see my first American White Pelican fishing and resting on Union Bay. Hopefully, Louis enjoyed the visit and will stop in during his next migratory journey. 

By the way, I chose the name Louis because Louisiana is the only state which has a Pelican for its state bird.

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 tree native to Union Bay?

Maybe this closeup of the fruit will help you decide.














Scroll down for the answer.














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Pride of India: It is also known as the China Tree or the Golden Rain Tree. Last month, when someone asked me what kind of tree this was. I was dumbfounded. I had walked passed it for years without really noticing it. The fruit of this tree is about 2 and a half inches long, it is bladder-like with three partitions and it contains two or three small black seeds that are not quite pea-size. As two of the names imply, it is not native to Union Bay. 













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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