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

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Other Heron

Union Bay has one more bird from the heron family besides the Great Blue and the Green Heron.

This bird is not as large as the Great Blue Heron, nor is it as small and colorful as the Green Heron. The most obvious way this heron is different than the others is its simple brown and white coloring.
On the other hand its yellow eyes and beak look a lot like the other Union Bay members of the heron family.

In addition its hunting behavior is very similar to the other two...
...however there are a number of ways in which this bird is unique. 

When first approached this bird put its beak straight up in the air and froze in place. 
Then very gently the bird swayed from left to right and back. It seemed like this bird was attempting a "Jedi" mind trick. As if via mental telepathy, it was saying, "You see only swaying grass, there is no bird in front of you." 

While the "Jedi" trick did not work (at least on me), it apparently worked in the bird's mind. The bird seemed to believe it had become invisible. After a few moments it simply turned and resumed its silent and stealthy hunting.

One of the most impressive parts of this bird is its sturdy feet and claws.

As the bird stalked along the water's edge it suddenly seemed to encounter something that startled it. For just a brief moment, feathers around its head and neck flared out in a manner that may be unique to this type of heron. It made the bird look larger and more intimidating.

A moment later the bird returned to its normal look and behavior.

Although this bird was seen at the Union Bay Natural Area it is usually heard, not seen. Its unique call sounds a bit like an old-fashioned, water pump as the water begins to flow. This member of the heron family is called the American Bittern

When you are near the water's edge on Union Bay be sure to look carefully at the swaying grass, you may be surprised by what you see.

Larry Hubbell

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Island Girl & Heron Update

Island Girl - On The Move:

Our last blog was about 69Z, a local, Seattle-born, non-migratory, American peregrine falcon. This week we are focusing on a different peregrine, named "Island Girl". Her picture and her incredible story are courtesy of Bud Anderson, the Falcon Research Group (FRG) and their Southern Cross Peregrine Project (SCPP).
Island Girl is a migratory falcon, belonging to the sub-species Falco peregrines tundra, which should give you a hint as to where she spent the summer. Specifically, she was on Baffin Island, which is north of Hudson Bay. The Google Earth photos of Baffin Island show tundra, ice and polar bears. 

Prior to her northward migration in April of 2009 the SCPP attached a solar-powered transmitter to Island Girl. Since that time she has flown over 60,000 miles and that just counts her migration miles. She generally spends just under 4 months migrating in any given year. 

During our summer, between her two annual migrations that average 8900 miles one way, she most likely lays eggs, protects them and then later hunts almost constantly to feed her young. Finally, once they are close to her body weight and size she must teach them to fly and hunt. So her time spent on the island up north is not a relaxing vacation prior to her second migration of the year. While her lifestyle is extremely challenging her reward for her efforts is having two summers every year and no winters.

As you read this story Island Girl is just beginning her 8th migration trip of nearly 9000 miles in less than 4 years. Her destination is south of Santiago, Chile. She leaves from latitude 64 and will end up at latitude -35. Through a combination of modern technology, hard work and dedication (on the part of Bud Anderson, the FRG and the Southern Cross Peregrine Project) you can follow Island Girl's progress. If you follow the link and then scroll to the bottom of the page you can see the map of Island Girl's flights. This flight information is updated up to 3 times a day, as long as solar-power is available.  

Bud is currently trapping peregrines on South Padre Island, Texas to support ongoing falcon research. You can read updates by Bud Anderson and his colleague Don McCall on the FRG blog. 

Green Heron Update from Union Bay:

On the second visit, after the Green Heron Yoga trip, the heron seemed a bit tentative and hesitant at first.

But this quickly passed as the heron headed to its favorite hunting spot.

After a few minutes of focused intensity the heron was rewarded for its efforts.

Not wanting to lose its first course the heron flew/hopped a few feet away from the water where it could safely arrange its meal into a single swallow.

Immediately it returned to the hunting log. After a few minutes the hunting process was disturbed by some noisy gadwalls flapping their wings and trying to impress their mates. 
The heron suddenly stood up and squawked loudly at the gadwalls.
Surprisingly, the gadwalls immediately calmed down.

 The heron went back to hunting. The second "fish" was caught in almost the same spot as the first one. However this time the heron took the second course and headed back to the peace and quiet of its roost in the cattails.

These fish seem to be a bit like eels, very long and skinny. If anyone has an idea what type of creature they are please leave a comment below.

Thank you and welcome to Fall on Union Bay!

Larry Hubbell

Question for a future blog:

What kind of bird lives among the cattails on Union Bay much like a Green Heron does, hunts like a Green Heron, is shaped a lot like a Green Heron, but is even more elusive than a Green Heron?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Fastest Birds on Earth

Peregrine Falcons are not just the fastest birds they are the fastest living creatures on earth. Their top, recorded speeds, when diving, are way over 200 miles per hour. Take a moment and check out this video

This photo shows the star of our story.
Plus the photo contains at least two clues about the story. Take a look and see if you can spot them. Note: The red brick in the foreground is not one of the clues.

Our story begins in the middle but it will all make sense in the end. In mid-September 2011, almost exactly one year ago. Carkeek Park seemed like a great place to do some watercolor painting.  At the southern end of the beach in the shade of a small tree I found a nice place to work while looking out over Puget Sound. 

I sat my camera on a log in front of me and proceeded to paint. The air was clean and cool, the water slapped against the beach and once when a bird of prey passed overhead all the gulls leapt off the beach and settled just off shore. The beach around me appeared to be completely empty of any living creature. My head was down focusing on my painting when suddenly I heard a very loud THUMP directly in front of me. Startled I looked up to see this scene.

I grabbed my camera and started shooting. The Peregrine Falcon had just landed on the beach but her landing was not the source of the noise. Your first hint from the photo was the "rock" just behind the Falcon. It is actually the body of a Rock Dove, more commonly known as a Pigeon. Our Falcon must have knocked the Rock Dove out of the air with an incredible amount of force to create such a loud sound.

Normally a peregrine hits its prey at high speed with a closed foot, which kills it and then turns in the air and grabs the body. It turns out this Falcon was a rather young bird, just learning to hunt, maybe it missed the grab part. 

Initially the Falcon began to pull the feathers off her lunch, but sadly she heard the clicking of my camera as I snapped these photos. 

She decided the beach was too crowded and proceeded to take her lunch elsewhere.

The effort required to lift the pigeon is clearly evident in this photo.

The second hint from the photo above was the band around the lower leg of the Falcon. As the Falcon takes to the air bands on both legs are visible.

With the software I had last year I could not actually read anything on the bands. At some point I got better software and then happened to look more closely at the photo.

While the enlarged photo is very blurry it turned out to be good enough. Last week I finally remembered to send a copy of the photo to Bud Anderson. Bud is a highly respected expert on falcons and his organization and website called the Falcon Research Group displays an incredible amount of knowledge and hard work.

Bud forwarded my photo to Chris Kanit and Ed Deal. The bird was identified as 69Z a chick that was banded in May of 2011. Here is a photo Ed took during the banding process.

Here is Ed's email about the banding experience:


Thanks for sharing the photo of that PEFA.........as Kanit points out, there were two birds banded in the Seattle area that had a Z in the band.....62-Z and 69-Z.   When I magnify your photo it sure looks like 69 and not 62......Mike MacDonald and I banded 69-Z as a three week old chick on 20 MAY 2011 at the I-5 Ship Canal Bridge nest.   She spent two weeks in rehab at Sarvey Wildlife Center and was released back at the nest site on 25 JUNE 2011.   Its nice to know she was still "out there" as of mid-SEPT 2011.   And great shot by the way.......thats a odd way to carry a pigeon! 
I've attached a photo of the four chicks, the Mom and Mike from 20 MAY 2011.   He's reaching for a pigeon band he saw in the nest box....I just missed getting a picture of Mom sinking her talons into Mike's forearm as he reached.

   Ed Deal

PS.  69-Z is a grand-daughter of Stewart and Belle, the WAMU pair.

More photos of this banding operation can be seen on Flicker. I personally find it to be a very courageous and amazing process. By the way if you stop, with a pair of binoculars, in the wide spot on the southwest walkway on the University Bridge you can see the top of the nesting box. Of the four concrete support piers (for I-5) near the waters edge, the nest box is above the one to the northeast. Ed expects the nest will be used again this spring. It will be exciting to watch even from a distance.

Back at the beach I felt incredibly lucky to watch this magnificent bird, with lunch "in hand", turn slowly to the south and fly away. At the last moment, with the peregrine already in retreat, one of the gulls suddenly got a bit brave. Squawking loudly it half-heartedly chased after the Falcon for a few wing beats.

Today I realize that I was even more lucky to see a banded bird. Ed says that Bud, Mike, himself and other volunteers have banded over 400 chicks in Washington state. We in Washington are very lucky to have such brave and industrious folks working in our state. 

That single little band of metal links 69Z to her birth place under the ship canal bridge. Which in turn tells us she was only 4 and half months old at the time of my photos. From this we know that she had just learned to hunt.  Which explains why she hadn't yet figured out the most aerodynamic way to carry her prey. It also links her to her father that was born on top of the Washington Mutual tower and to her grandparents (Stewart and Belle) that lived and raised young in downtown Seattle for many years.

On Bud's website you can learn more about the history of this family of falcons. Also don't miss the link at the bottom of that page that links to the chronology of births of falcons on the Washington Mutual tower.

Today's blog is intended as a heartfelt "Thank You!" to Bud, Ed, Mike, Chris and all the other volunteers that go to great lengths and heights to learn about the fastest birds on earth.


PS: If you take photos of peregrines please watch out for 69Z and her relatives. The first winter for a falcon is the most challenging, but we now know that 69Z had at least learned to hunt before she faced her first winter. Her aunts and uncles have been spotted in California, Oregon and the San Juan Islands. So 69Z could be hundreds of miles away or right outside your window!

Odds and Ends:

By the way another way to learn more about falcons is the excellent book, "Falcons of North America" by Kate Davis. Bud recommended the book and it is incredible. It is easy to read and yet it is wonderfully full of details plus great photos.

A very interesting link about peregrine falcons in Portland, Oregon was included in comment number three below. The link is:

I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Green Heron Yoga

It is easy to spend time on Foster Island or on Union Bay and never see a Green Heron. The Green Heron is the smaller, more reclusive cousin of Seattle's favorite bird the Great Blue Heron. When seen the Green Heron (GH) is often just a flash of movement among the cattails or two grey wings disappearing in the distance.

Occasionally, if one is very quiet, a GH may be seen for a few moments enjoying the Seattle sun.

On very rare occasions one may be invited to watch the performance of Green Heron Yoga. The first pose is by far the most common.

The Frog Finder:
While fairly intense this pose is just a warm up for what is to follow.

The Love Bird:

The Upturned Boat:

The Headless Horseman:

The Fred Astaire:

The Twisting Pretzel:

The Rockstar Rooster:
No hair gel was involved in the making of this photo.

The Praying Mantis:

The Choking Frog:

The Yawning Crow:

The Downward Looking Dog:

The Bashful Crane:

The Angry Goose:

The Rising Cobra:

The One Legged Crane:

The Heavy Load:

The Eagle Landing:

The Guiding Monkey:
As if to say, "When you get to Beaver Lodge Sanctuary head south to see the Eagle's nest."

Please do not attempt Green Heron Yoga at home. Only trained professionals can hold these poses without serious bodily damage.

Seriously, being able to share the peace, quiet and warmth of the early morning sun with such a beautiful creature is the most invigorating form of meditation possible. Hopefully, some of that inner peace and joy came through to you while viewing these photos.


PS: I would love to hear which pose is your favorite. If you would please leave your thoughts in the comments area below so everyone can read them. Thank you!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Young Birds - Black & White and Red on Top

Many young birds have nearly reached adult size and may be striking out on their own. An exception is this pair of young Pied-billed Grebes. 

They are still following their mother around and calling for food. Young peid-bills were seen in the spring as well. This may very well be the second batch of young for their mother in 2012. As they mature they will lose their black & white stripes and the red patches. These birds were spotted this week near the south east shore of Foster Island.

A few days later, on Saturday morning, another bird of similar coloring was spotted nearby. 
This Pileated Woodpecker (PW) seemed a bit small for a full grown adult. Could the sparseness of the red feathers indicate it is a young bird looking to establish its own territory?

While working away high in the Cottonwood trees the PW was interrupted by a second bird. The new bird came in very quickly and landed in the same tree as the woodpecker.
The curvature of the beak indicates this is a bird of prey. The small size (around 10" long) eliminates the Cooper's Hawk as a possibility, even though they are a very common bird of prey in this area. The shortness of the tail and the lack of white rump seems to eliminate the Sharp-shinned Hawk. The options seem to be a Kestrel or a Merlin. Which do you think it is?

In any case the PW was startled and flew to another cottonwood in the same stand.
The falcon evidently decided the PW was a bit too big of an undertaking and left to find easier prey.

The sharpness of the PW claws and beak not to mention its strength and size may explain it's lack of fear for the falcon.

The woodpecker calmly returned to it feeding.

This was followed by grooming.

The strength of the PW is demonstrated by its ability to hang upside down and still strike the tree hard enough to remove visible chunks of wood.

Another young bird apparently staking out it's territory is this Great Blue Heron.
Every morning for the last week it has been feeding in the area between the mouth of the Arboretum Creek and Elderberry Island. 

By the way it has been almost two weeks since any of the bald eagles have been seen near the Broadmoor nest. Once Eleanor learned to fly with confidence it seems she and the parents have left for a better place to hunt. Feel free to leave a comment below if you spot any of the bald eagles in the area or along 520. Of greatest interest would be a spotting of either of the young dark-headed eagle fledglings.

Thank you!


Odds and Ends:
If you have any idea what kind of the growth is on the opposite side of the tree, please leave a comment below.

Earlier this week Barb asked if Cedar Waxwings (CW) have two red spots on their backs. While walking through my dining room I spotted Connie Sidles book titled "Second Nature". On the cover is a CW with, sure enough, two bright red spots. While on lunch break I checked out some of my old CW photos and found one with tiny little red spots. Here it is:

I like the bright yellow at the end of the tail as well. If you want to check the great photo on Connie's book it is at:


Please excuse the quality of the following photo. I added it to show another Merlin photo with similar brown, triangle-like markings near the tail. I think this is conclusive evidence that the bird above was a Merlin.