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

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Swans

On Union Bay, when the cottonwood leaves have fallen and a cold north wind begins to blow, it is time to watch for the return of the Trumpeter Swans. When our local landscape is at its most desolate, their brilliant white feathers and elegant curves provide a refreshing source of beauty.

They spend much of their time preening, cleaning and sleeping. Occasionally, they also can be seen floating with their tails in the air, like huge, white, twenty-five-pound ducks. Like Mallards, they feed on submerged vegetation. However, their long necks enable them to reach food which most other waterfowl can only dream about. 

After quietly working my way into position, I was hoping to spend a few hours observing the swans. When a raft of American Coots floated into the picture, they provided an interesting contrast. Coots are small dark birds with white bills, while Trumpeter Swans are large white birds with dark bills. Coots also feed on submerged vegetation, however, they do not dabble. Coots dive for their food. The coots have lobbed toes to help propel their dives, in contrast, swans have webbed feet.

By the way, Trumpeter Swans have a special way of keeping their eggs warm. Instead of simply sitting on their eggs, they cover them with their large webbed feet. Thank you too, All About Birds, for this interesting fact.

Trumpeter Swans breed primarily in southeast Alaska and northeast British Columbia. Their cousins the Tundra Swans breed much further north e.g. in the tundra. According to the maps of Birdweb, in North America, the most likely time and place to find both Tundra and Trumpeter Swans is Western Washington in the winter.

I was both happy and sad to see one of the swans begin pumping her wings. I actually cannot identify any physical differences between the male and female swans. However, I have read that the males are larger and tend to guard the nests when their female is on eggs. The bird on the right sure seemed like he was on guard duty to me, even though this is clearly not nesting season.

I feel lucky, anytime I can catch a photo of a swan with its wings extended. However, I also feared the swan on the left was preparing to move away. I wondered if the influx of coots was irritating the swans. 

The third swan, seen in the initial photos, had already abandoned the little mud island.

The coots did not attack the swans, but apparently, swans do not like to be crowded. In a calm, stately procession the swans slowly paddled away. 

Can you identify the third species of black and white bird is this photo? The answer will be provided below.

In spite of my disappointment, I felt like the influx of coots was a bit of a compliment. Apparently, as long as I was quietly anchored, the coots regarded my kayak as part of the landscape. Just one of the many small islands that pop up as the winter water level descends.

Scientifically, I know that islands don't float. Emotionally, I was beginning to wonder if this little island would sink. It certainly disappeared beneath the onslaught of coots.


After a while, one of the local Bald Eagles must have flown past. The coots abandoned ship. 


For years, I have tried to secure photos which clearly document the thrashing confusion when coots flush. These photos may be better than most of my others, but they are still not quite as crisp as I would like. One thing is clear, a coot's exit strategy is the complete opposite of a swan's.

Maybe next week, I will show photos of why coots get so excited when a Bald Eagle flies over. 

This behavior is also in contrast to the way I have seen Trumpeter Swan respond. A couple of years ago, I watched a Bald Eagle pass directly above relaxing swans. The swans did not even flinch. I am guessing, they may be too large for an eagle to handle.

After the coots moved on the Trumpeter Swans circled slowly around the bay.

They ended up another on the small winter island where they resumed their preening and cleaning.

Most every day, during the last week, I have seen only two or three swans on Union Bay. Although, on Friday around noon, I saw one sitting on an island while three more came in flying low. It was fun to see their distant white shapes as they flew north from Webster Point. I suspect they fly around the point to save the energy required to fly up and over Laurelhurst.

During the next few weeks, it will be great fun to watch and see how many Trumpeters appear on Union Bay. In years past, the most I ever remember is fourteen. I certainly hope their numbers continue to grow.

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

Larry

PS: The third species, in the photo above, was a male Bufflehead.


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 species of bird is this? Are they native to Union Bay?














Scroll down for the answer.










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These are European Starlings. Their name makes it clear they are not native to North America. Click Here to read an interesting account of their North American history and their impact.










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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





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Friday, November 30, 2018

Freedom

Early on Thursday afternoon, to the east of Rockport, a snow-covered section of the Cascades peaked through the clouds and the sun's warmth began to take a bit of the chill out of the mountain air. After nearly five months of rest and rehabilitation, Charlie's graduation day arrived. 

Charlie was the first offspring of Monty and Marsha, the adult eagles pictured above, to leave their nest, beside Union Bay. Technically, we might say the nest left Charlie. A branch broke, the nest shifted and partially fell, and so did Charlie. In the process, the young eagle's pelvis was cracked. Even though the eaglet was nearly as large as an adult, Charlie had not yet learned to fly. A young, flightless and injured eagle on the ground is in trouble. You may read more about Charlie's early struggles, and even see some of his 'baby' pictures, by Clicking Here.

In a more remote location, Charlie would have been highly unlikely to survive. Luckily, Monty and Marsha choose to build their nest in Seattle. Because the nest was in a populated area, it enabled a kindhearted neighbor, to make a timely call to The Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood, and Charlie was rescued.

Initially, Jeff Brown from PAWS was uncertain whether the eagle's pelvis would heal. With food, shelter and time Charlie recovered and learned to fly. Thursday was Charlie's chance to return to the wild.

By the way, Jeff mentioned that Charlie's measurements indicate he is too large to be a male Bald Eagle. Charlie is a female, who might be more appropriately named Charlotte. Jeff and the other employees, volunteers and supporters of PAWS in Lynnwood should be congratulated. Once again, they have not only saved a beautiful young creature from almost certain death, they have invested nearly five months of professional care and support, which should enable Charlotte to survive on her own. 

Yesterday, Jeff Brown prepared for Charlotte's release. While in captivity the eagle was cared for from a distance. As little human contact as possible was critical so that Charlotte could maintain her healthy fear of humans.

As the river rolled calmly past anticipation built. A pair of adult Bald Eagles watched from a treetop on the distant shore as Charlotte took to the air.

Charlotte's freedom flight was a majestic sight. It will be another four years or so before she is fully mature and ready to reproduce. Still, at this age, she is full-sized and, hopefully, fully-capable and ready to take on the world.

Charlotte circled upriver and then turned and headed downstream.

As she passed by, the band on her right leg and her huge talons were obvious. Hopefully, she finds plenty of salmon returning to the river in the near future. It is hard to imagine a better time or place for a young eagle to achieve independence.

As Charlotte began to disappear in the distance she descended closer and closer to the water.

In one of my last photos, she touched down. As we watched she splashed her way closer to the distant shore. Never having seen an eagle released before, I was concerned about her drowning. Later, Jeff mentioned that Jim Watson, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife scientist who also watched the process, was very reassuring. Apparently, he has seen other young eagles enter the water and survive.

It was certainly exciting to see Charlotte flying free. I hope she grabbed a fish, paddled her way to shore and had a nice meal. I suspect for Jeff and the folks from PAWS watching her disappear in the distance was a little bit like watching a child leave home. You do everything you can to help them prepare to face the world on their own, you feel pride at their obvious capabilities but there is still a good deal of apprehension about the challenges they may face.

We are all wishing Charlotte the best in her new adventures.

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

Larry

PS: If you would like to see the KIRO 7 video coverage, from Joanna Small, Click Here.


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.



Which one of these cones is most likely to be from one of two species native to Washington state? Which of the two species would have included Union Bay in its historical range?













Scroll down for the answer.










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Both of the following two trees have cones which could be close to 3 inches in length, similar to the cone on the left.

Sitka Spruce: Is found in moist, low elevations sites in Western Washington, like Union Bay.

Engelmann Spruce: Is found in higher and drier elevations in Washington, like the east side of the Cascades.









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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





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Monday, November 26, 2018

Persistence

While heading home, after a visit to the Union Bay Natural Area on Saturday, I thought my 'birding' for the day was done. I was wrong. It was just before 3 p.m. when a startled dogwalker pointed out this avian interaction and visually suggested restraint.

I assume, the Cooper's Hawk had just captured the Rock Pigeon, otherwise, there would have been a lot more feathers surrounding the scene.

The hawk mantled the prey, e.g. it used its wings and tail to hide the pigeon, while it continued to pluck feathers. Mantling reduces the chances of a larger predator seeing and stealing the meal. The list of creatures who could easily disturb a small hawk is long. At a minimum, it includes our local Bald Eagles, a passing Red-tailed Hawk, Gulls and of course American Crows. 


In addition, a Raccoon, a Coyote, a River Otter or even an off-leash Dog could easily scare a small, male Cooper's Hawk off of its prey. All of these potential interlopers have been seen around Union Bay. The hawk's cautionary instinct is not a frivolous behavior, however, the plucking seemed a bit presumptuous.


The plump pigeon was still actively objecting to the idea of being a belated Thanksgiving dinner for an inexperienced young hawk. Since a Rock Pigeon and a male Cooper's Hawk can be similar in weight the result of their interaction was not a foregone conclusion.

For the young hawk, a meal of this size might make the difference between surviving the winter, or not. The struggle continued. With each passing moment, the young hawk's predatory skills seemed to increase, while the odds for the pigeon decreased.

With a smaller bird, like a Dark-eyed Junco, the hawk's talons would be relatively longer. This would enable the hawk to quickly pierce a vital organ and dispatch the prey far more quickly and humanely. 

On the flip side, the similar size of the two birds still gave the pigeon a chance.

When another inadvertent pedestrian approached too close, the Cooper's Hawk momentarily released its prey. A larger or more experienced hawk might have attempted to carry its meal to an elevated perch. The large, horizontal, moss-covered branches of a Big-leaf Maple tree are prime feeding sites for experienced Cooper's Hawks. The upper branches of maple trees provide cover from airborne interlopers, while the elevation of the mid-level branches slows down the approach of most mammals.

Given a split second of respite, the pigeon flew. The pigeon's instincts were good. It dived into a nearby thicket of cattails, bushes and small trees. The hawk gave chase but the highly motivated pigeon dived deeply and hid well.

After about five minutes, the hungry young hawk popped out of the thicket with just one, small, downy feather stuck to its bill. 

The persistent little hawk seemed to consider its options while listening for any sound of the pigeon attempting to escape its fate. Given the hawk's persistence, I am thinking we should call him, 'Percy'.

After a few moments of rest, Percy turned and clearly considered resuming the hunt. From this angle, we can see that his crop, the area just below the throat, is still relatively small. The crop enables predatory birds to consume their prey, fairly quickly, before retiring to a safer location to digest their meal. Somewhat, similar to sitting on the couch and watching a football game after consuming your Thanksgiving Dinner. 

If you read last week's post, you know the vertical stripes on the chest of the hawk tell us this is a first-year bird, but how do we know it is a male. In this case, the answer is related to the 'jewelry' on the hawk's left leg.

This particular hawk was 'banded' by a team from the Urban Raptor Conservancy (URC) on July 17th, 2018, in Laurelhurst. Given that female raptors are generally larger than males, the team deduced this bird was a male Cooper's Hawk and banded it with a purple band on the left leg. With females, they use an orange band on the right leg.


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In addition to studying Cooper's Hawks and Peregrine Falcons, Ed Deal explains that the Urban Raptor Conservancy is embarking on a new project, 

'Right now our primary focus is on fundraising for our cooperative study with PAWS - testing dead raptors for rat poison residues. Our goal is to determine the baseline level of exposure in hawks and owls in Western WA......which has never been done.  We have enough money to send off a test batch of 5 samples to make sure all systems work.  We hope to get that done in the next week or two.  PAWS has 35 more samples in the deep freeze....at $100 a sample we have a lot of grant writing and fundraising ahead of us...'

Today, Cooper's Hawks, Barred Owls, Bald Eagles (and sometimes even pets) consume live rats who may carry rodenticides within their bloodstreams. The bioaccumulation of rodenticides can easily kill predatory creatures. A critical step to reducing this inadvertent destruction is to prove the frequency and existence of the poison. You can help by donating via the Urban Raptor Conservancy website, please Click Here.

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Percy dove back into the thicket.

Initially, he was visible among the many small red branches.

As he moved lower into the cattails he became harder to follow. Soon, he disappeared completely. An occasional abnormal wiggling of the cattails was the only clue that the hunt continued. I watched and waited.

Finally, more than twenty minutes, after the Rock Pigeon's escape, Percy appeared with the pigeon in tow.

As the young hawk began to eat I realized this was another unique opportunity. I wondered, How long would it take for a Cooper's Hawk to consume a full meal? Ten minutes passed.

By the way, I promise not to expose you to any of the more explicit photos.

Twenty minutes passed. Between each bite, the young hawk would raise up and check for potential intruders. Thirty minutes passed and the pace of his eating did not change.

After 50 minutes, the hawk's crop was quite visibly extended.

 I was beginning to wonder if Percy would ever get full.

Finally, after an hour of feeding, he took a few last looks at the remains of the meal before flying off to the northeast. Percy quickly disappeared in the direction of the Union Bay Natural Area.

It turns out that a full meal for a Cooper's Hawk is similar in length to a human lunch hour. Of course, about half of that time was spent watching for potential bullies and thieves. Surprisingly, while sitting on the ground and fully exposed, Percy ate the full meal without interruption. This was not the safest choice, but it worked. Percy still has a lot to learn but with continued luck and his natural persistence he has a chance to survive the coming winter. Please keep your eyes open and watch for Percy. The numbers on his purple band are '2' over '4'. 

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 frog is this? Is it native to Union Bay? 













Scroll down for the answer.










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Frogs are not my area of expertise. However, I suspect the frog above is an American Bullfrog. They are not native to the West Coast. They are widespread and invasive. I believe they will even eat our smaller, native Pacific Tree Frogs.

Pacific Tree Frog








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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





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