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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pileated Discrimination

The Pileated is the largest and most distinctive Union Bay woodpecker.  Did you know that the word pileated means having a crest on top of its head. Even when the skies are gray and the light is dim seeing a red-crested PW can inspire awe and make your heart race. This photo was taken on Foster Island on Wednesday (12/26/12). The PW is going to great lengths and depths in search of food. The word on the street is that they prefer (or discriminate in favor of) carpenter ants.
Did you know that the gender of the PW is nearly as distinctive as their species? Surprisingly, there may be just enough information in this photo to determine whether this is a male or female bird. It may help to click on the photo to see a larger version.

Can you determine the gender? Assuming you cannot, lets take a look at two other photos where the differences are a bit more obvious. Here is a photo taken nearby, but in August.
Here is another photo of this week's bird.
Do you see differences in the two photos? Note: The lack of sunlight and green leaves in the second photo are differences but they do not count for our purposes. The most obvious difference is in the crests of the two birds. In the last photo the red crest completely covers the forehead, while in the previous photo the forehead is black. This indicates the summer bird is female, while the winter bird is male.

Going back to the first photo you will notice that the forehead is not visible so this method could not be used to determine the gender of the bird. So there must be another method. Look at the last two photos once more to see if you can find any other differences in the birds.

If not, here is a photo of a male PW taken in September that makes this second method much more obvious.
This photo clearly displays the male bird's red malar stripe. Malar is just a fancy way to say cheek. Now if you return to the very first photo you can see a small red spot just below the eye. However with the head upside down the red spot is just above the eye. Granted this was a very small gender hint, but for the avid birder I suspect it was like a red flag waving in the woods. 

On a different note, Do you suppose that the physical and phonetical closeness of malar and molar is just coincidence?

Here is another interesting look at this week's bird.
This is most likely the only angle from which the malar stripes are visible on both sides of the head at once, possibly even more interesting is the sharpness of the beak. Especially when you consider how hard and often the bird buries its beak into a tree. If you take a look at the third photo you may notice that the beak does not appear quite so sharp when viewed from the side. The extra vertical depth must help strengthen the beak.

Though the next photo lacks beauty it is interesting to see the PW's slender tongue.

Finally, here are a couple of photos that have created a mystery for me. First of all here is a photo of a male bird seen last September.
The pattern of white feathers under the wings looks exactly like the painting in my field guide. However in this spring photo of a male bird leaving the nest the pattern looks very different.
Granted this poor photo was taken in very dim light, but still the trailing feathers seem light and the leading feathers under the wings seem dark. Maybe this is just an optical illusion caused by the angle, but I wonder if anyone else has seen a pattern like this on a PW.

Happy New Year!


Odds and Ends:

A parting shot.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Quest

What would qualify a bird to be the native, Union Bay Christmas Bird? It could be a bird that visits Union Bay only in during the winter. This swan for instance returned to Union Bay around the first of December.
By the way do you know whether this is a Trumpeter or a Tundra swan? If you would like to determine which it is you can read, Trumpeter vs TundraWhile beautifully white and elegant it still doesn't really make one think of Christmas, although it does make me think of snow.

(Speaking of birds and Christmas you might enjoy the following birds from the 12 Days of Christmas which popped up while doing research. Click here to see it. )

Given that Christmas colors are red and green maybe we should focus on birds that show us both colors. For fun you might try to list all the Union Bay birds you can think of that qualify.

There are a number of birds that almost qualify. These birds have green but their "red" coloring is reddish brown at best.
So we can discard the Mallard, the Northern Shoveler and the Green-winged Teal because their reddish color is not sufficiently red. Sadly, the Green Heron's colors must also fall in this category even though they are very complimentary.

What about hummingbirds? Does the Anna's hummingbird actually reflect red as well as its normal green?
Yes, it does reflect red sometimes, but it is generally more of a purple red so it still doesn't quite have that Christmas color feeling.

The Bufflehead generally appears to be a black and white bird. However when the light catches its iridescent feathers just right the Bufflehead seems to explode with color.
Still the reddish color is also more purple than red. Click on the photo to see a larger more colorful version.

What about the Common Merganser?
Now we are getting close. The green on the head is right and the red on the beak is almost right. The rest of the body doesn't make one think of Christmas. As a matter of fact the head and body actually don't even look like they belong together.

 What about the Wood Duck?
It has a crazy mixture of colors which tend to make one think of a child's toy that could be given as a Christmas gift.

The closer one looks the more the Wood Duck seems appropriate as the Christmas Bird from Union Bay. Not only does it have the green and red but it has a wild iridescence that can range through blue and purple as well. 

Does this make you wonder what causes some feathers to be iridescent? Here is one answer, Click Here (If you have trouble sleeping tonight, click on and try reading this link, iridescense.)

If you think of another bird you would like to recommend as the Union Bay Christmas Bird please send in an email with a photo or leave a comment below. The first photo of each new type of red and green, Christmas Bird will be added to the post with the name of its "discoverer".

Happy Holidays!


Odds and Ends:

By the way we had a Summer Tanager visit Seattle last week. If anyone has photos of this beautiful red bird and would like to share, please send them in and we will add them as well. Even though this bird lacks any green color, because it wandered so far from home to visit Seattle just before Christmas, it seems fair to consider it our honorary Christmas Bird of Seattle for 2012.

On another note, here is a Snowy Owl related email from a reader who is interesting for her premonition, location and philanthropy.

Hi Larry

I was staying at the 11th Avenue Inn on 11th Avenue ;-> in Seattle when the snowy owl was there.  Seeing the snowy owl was one of the highlights of my vacation.  She was absolutely beautiful!!!  She chowed down on the seagull as any number of us oh-ed and ah-ed about how wonderful she was.

One of the stranger twists of her "stay" for me, was the evening a photographer was taking pictures with a spotlight focused on the snowy owl.  I said I thought the bird must be injured or sick to let us get as close as we were to her.  He preceded to tell me how the snowy was fearless because she was the top of the food chain.  He might have been right but I was concerned about local dogs seeing her.

I was quite pleased to hear she had been picked up by the rescue organization. I am sending a donation to that organization.

So thank you so very much for your update on the snowy owl of 11th Ave!  I have wondered about her recovery since returning home.

Your own photos of snowy owls were WONDERFUL and your "guest's" photos of the green heron were also delightful!  Loved those red dragonflies :->!

Good birding
Munich, Germany

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Green Heron Hunting

Bill Anderson responded to the earlier post titled, "Great Blue Prey" by sending in the following Green Heron Hunting photos and story. A complete contributor posting including a biography section is new territory for Union Bay Watch. I hope you enjoy this change of pace.

Bill's Green Heron Hunting Story:

Last summer a fellow Edmonds bird photographer told me that he had seen a green heron in the small pond at Scriber Creek Park in nearby Lynnwood. On 8/30/12, my son Daren and I drove over to check it out. The heron was hidden in the shadows on the south side of the pond and flew across to the north side as we approached.  I snapped some photos of the heron in flight using the "walk & stalk" weapons of choice from my photo arsenal: a Canon 5D Mk III + 100-400L telephoto zoom lens.

The heron looked as though it were going to remain in the sunshine on the north side of the pond for awhile, so we returned to the pickup to drag out the heavy photo firepower: my long range package of a Canon 7D + 1.4 teleconverter + 2.8/400L telephoto lens mounted on a heavy duty tripod.  The cropped frame sensor of the 7D coupled with the 1.4 teleconverter gives me an economy class .35mm equivalent of a 4.0/876mm telephoto lens. 

The heron initially stalked dragonflies, some of which are visible in the photos.   

(Did you see the two red dragonflies in the previous photo? Larry)

It found a large bullfrog tadpole...

...which had not quite developed into a full grown adult ...

    ...and ate it.

The Frog Lady, whose shop is at the Edmonds Marina, told me that the bullfrog is an invasive species which threatens our native amphibian population, 

...so bravo for the heron. 

Bill Anderson's Birding Bio:

Larry: When and what inspired you to get interested in photographing birds? 

Bill: I have always been interested in nature since I was a kid and I began photographing trains back in the 70's.  It was only natural to take up photography after I retired nearly six years ago. Birds are all around us and the easiest of the wild creatures to find and photograph. Without the costs of purchasing and developing film, the new digital cameras make learning relatively easy and inexpensive after the initial capital investment in photography equipment.

Larry: Tell us about the one, single bird siting that you found most enjoyable?

Bill:  I find all bird sightings enjoyable.  One of my most memorable occurred last year when I spotted a snowy owl for the first time.  It was sitting on the roof of a house in Edmonds only about two miles from my home.

Larry: Are you an active member in any birding organizations or activities?

Bill:  I am on the planning committee of the annual Puget Bird Fest in Edmonds.

Larry: What books, software, birding gear, etc. would you recommend to someone who is interested but never done any birding?

Bill:  Being firmly rooted in the 20th century, I forego the latest electronic gadgets with the exception of my high end (Canon) digital camera equipment.  For our local birders, I recommend "Birds of the Puget Sound Region" by Bob Morse et al, which is available in many local book stores.  It is small enough to take to the field in the pocket of a jacket or cargo pants and it contains 99% of the birds you will see locally. Keep that heavy Sibley's at home on the bookshelf, as most of the birds in it are not found in our area. I also recommend local birders subscribe to "Tweeters", an internet bulletin board, where members report recent bird sightings in Washington and adjacent areas in Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia.   

I hope you enjoyed Bill's story as much as I did. Please let us know what you think.

Thank you!


Odds and Ends:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Capitol Hill Snowy - Freedom!

After weeks of anticipation the Capitol Hill Snowy Owl was released this morning! Her arrival to Volunteer Park was anticipated by a wide variety of Seattleites. 

The variety extended from Ambre's young son, Loren, who was dressed up as an owl...
(Thank you to Barbara Deihl for this very sweet photo and to see another shot (Click Here). 
...to bird watchers and photographers of both the amateur and professional variety. 

The hundreds of Seattleites at Volunteer Park respectfully left the Snowy Owl a grassy runway to freedom. 

There was a brief introduction.

Thank you to Doug Schurman for this photo and for three other in-flight photos below that display his name.

Then upon release the Snowy immediately took to the air, flying precisely down the middle of the runway.

 Thank you to Joe Sweeney for the next four photos, especially the first two which are so amazingly well balanced.

Her flight to freedom was truly majestic and beautiful. Thanks again to Doug Schurman for the next three photos.

Not surprisingly the Snowy was chased by a few of our Seattle crows. 

Still neither the people nor the crows seemed to bother the owl too much. With calm stately wing strokes she simply pulled up above the trees and disappeared to the northwest. Free at last.

The folks at Sarvey Wildlife Care Center obviously deserve tremendous credit for this rescue and rehabilitation. As this bird took to the air it looked nothing like the sad, hungry, injured bird we saw huddling above the remains of gull a few weeks ago. Today the Capitol Hill Snowy is clearly healthy, strong and ready to find her own way in the world. Thank you to Sarvey WCC, Kestral, Suzanne and all the others who give of their time and love.

As the Snowy flew to freedom the moment was truly magical. For me at least the beauty of the bird exceeded that of the most beautiful artwork. The fact that literally hundreds of people would turn out for this moment tells me there is hope for the future. Maybe we will be able to figure out how to co-exist with nature in a healthy way. The history of Union Bay has numerous examples of abusing nature and also some very special cases of restoration. Will we continue the restoration or the abuse? (If we could clean the water of Arboretum Creek enough for salmon to successfully spawn, it would be a clear indication that we have begun to learn how to co-exist with nature.)

Kestral from Sarvey Wildlife Care Center was surprised that so many people were interested in the Snowy Owl. We the people living around Union Bay have an opportunity to set a new standard for how nature is protected and nurtured within a modern, industrialized city. We have all read the thought, "Think Globally, Act Locally". Restoring Union Bay and Arboretum Creek, is a local opportunity to act. The better the bay is for fish the better it will be for birds and other wildlife as well.

In regards to photographing the Snowy Owl release I looked the wrong direction at the wrong moment and was only able to catch a couple of shots. I would love to publish more of the good photos that others took today. If you would like to see your CHS owl photos added to this post. Please send them to: 


I will give credit to the photographer and will attempt to keep extending this post as long as with photos keep coming. This will be a new experiment so please have patience with the process.

Thank you to all who shared this magical moment. Plus, a very special thanks to Joe Sweeney and Doug Schurman for sharing their exquisite photos!


More Photos:

The following photos are from Brian Cruess and give us another angle on the Snowy. Thank you to Brian!

Thank you to Barbara Deihl for sending in this link to photos of this and another Snowy Owl release.


Barbara also sent in these photo from Caryn Schutzler. Thank you both!!

Here is another link to the story:


Barbara just pointed out two more links to Snowy Owl stories. Thank you! Barbara

In case you missed these...

(Correction:  the owl was found in a residential/business area of Capitol Hill, not in Volunteer Park)