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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Birds Watching | The Art Show

The press release for the upcoming art exhibition, "Birds Watching".

Eva in Flight - November 25, 2013

SEATTLE, WA – Larry Hubbell, Artist, Author, Photographer and Sculptor, is best known for his Seattle nature blog, www.unionbaywatch.blogspot.com. In 2012 Larry’s story, Life After Eddie, introduced Seattle to two young eaglets growing up in the nest built by Eddie the Eagle, who lived and died on Union Bay. Larry’s first solo exhibition: “Birds Watching” opens at The Elisabeth C. Miller Library on January 4th, 2014. The show runs through February 15th 2015.

The goal of Larry’s art is to inspire harmony between humanity and nature. His current work is focused on enabling the citizens of Seattle to know and appreciate their natural neighbors. The beauty and the struggles of our local birds -- eagles, woodpeckers, herons and owls -- show how closely our lives are intertwined with theirs. The air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink are inseparable from the fate of the natural world. Larry believes, “Knowing and sustaining nature in our neighborhood is the first step toward ensuring the future of humanity”. 

Celebrate our local Seattle birds, the eagles Eva & Albert, the woodpecker Elvis, the heron called The Dragon Master and many others at:

The Elisabeth C. Miller Library
Center for Urban Horticulture
UW Botanic Gardens
3501 N.E. 41st Street
Seattle, WA 98145

Come and share refreshments with Larry at:

The Opening Reception
Friday January 10th
5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Note: Twenty-five percent of all purchases will be donated to the UW Botanic Gardens.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solstice Surprises

This week we are approaching the Winter Solstice e.g. the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.
Yesterday's dusting of snow should not have been much of surprise but none the less there were surprises to found if one ventured out into the cold around Union Bay.

This golden-crowned kinglet working among the snow-covered branches of a small hemlock was a bright little surprise. Its shiny yellow stripe was the sunniest sight of the day.

The snow did not seem to slow its flickering flight among the branches, but its feathers may have been fluffed out an extra millimeter or so.

North of Marsh Island this gadwall decided that climbing over the snow-covered logs was less effort than flying.

Still a little wing power was required to get the initial lift. The dark crisp colors of the gadwall feathers seemed a bit surprising. The greenish-brown on the top of the head seemed darker than usual and in particular the burnt red patch on the wings (also shown in the previous photo) seemed like a fine surprise.

Once the wings are folded back into their normal position the reddish patch is carefully hidden from the casual observer.

Far out over the middle of the bay an immature eagle, maybe Si'ahl, surprised the large raft of water birds. Its dark shape scattered the birds in all directions as they searched for safety.

Between Marsh and Foster Islands river otters appeared as if by magic. First one...

...then two...

...watching as well as watched.

They popped up one here, one there with surprising irregularity. It was hard to determine how many there were in the group. (The term "Otter Pops" would not leave my mind.) 

This photo shows two watching, one diving and bubbles on the far right of another that has already disappeared below the surface.

When this one popped up with food in its mouth it attracted some aerial attention.

Did you noticed the dark shape of the crow sitting on the railing? It spotted the potential food source even before the gull.

This tiny bird photographed north of Recycle Cycle, on Tuesday, was maybe the biggest pre-solstice surprise.

Twisting and turning it foraged among the leaves while generally keeping both feet on the ground.

Its colors were not especially brilliant, though the yellow below its rump is nice...

... it is not as "sunny" as the kinglet. Still this little bird is supposed to winter far from our snowy climes. It should be some place sunny like Florida or Cuba. Even its name, Palm Warbler, seems to imply sunshine. Why did it turn one way when all its mates went another direction? Apparently, it is a left-coast bird that flies to the beat of its own drummer...kind of like some of us.

I hope you have enjoyed these solstices surprises.

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


Saturday, December 14, 2013

You might as well be Dancing!

On Thursday as the sun struggled to rise above Union Bay there was a pink tint in the sky and a purple hue reflected in the ice on Duck Bay. This week The Pirate from Kingfisher Cove has spent a lot time in these tall cottonwoods looking north towards open water and potential prey. Given that Kingfisher Cove and Duck Bay were mostly frozen over this was not a surprise.

Albert and Eva were also seen sitting in their favorite cottonwood tree on Foster Island. 

They were also looking north, towards the Union Bay Natural Area, however their focus was undoubtably on the hundreds of birds seeming to form virtual rafts on Union Bay.

With the birds driven away from shore by the ice my attention turned to exploring new opportunities. Looking east from Foster Island, Eva and Albert's nest barely visible in the upper right, the frozen beaver canal through the wetlands looked inviting. 

When ice-free the canal is too shallow for a kayak and way too muddy to explore by foot. In the winter there would not be any nesting birds to disturb, so why not take a look? What surprises were hidden there? I wondered if the ice would hold while crossing from Foster Island?
Slowly creeping out on to the ice I found myself looking carefully for cracks or other signs of weakness in the ice.

This formation of frozen bubbles made me wonder how they were formed?

Clearly there is a vertical relationship between the bubbles, but did they form at the same time or over multiple days as the top of the water thawed and refroze. But how could the water be solid enough to hold and freeze a lower bubble while still allowing some air to flow through to form the next shape on top? Are the bubbles connected so that air can flow from one to the next?

A little further on these spots appeared on top of the ice. What caused them? Could they be bubbles that actually burst through to the surface of the ice just at the moment the ice froze? Or perhaps they are from the impact of nearly frozen raindrops?

It was also interesting to note that the ice seemed to struggle to form around wood. Why it that? Is it that the wood retains heat better than water so even after days of freezing temperatures the ice does not completely encase the wood? Or is it because the wood moves as the water level changes there by releasing a bit of energy and breaking the bonds of the ice? If that is true then what about the ice at the end of this little log?

How did it form so clean and clear if it was constantly being broken and reformed?

What about this leaf ? It seems to have helped form multiple layers of impressions in the ice and yet it does not appear to be embedded in the ice. So was it just chance that it was resting here?

Having crossed over to the beaver canal the fear of breaking through the ice subsided. 
A piece of wood gnawed clean and nearly cut in two provided evidence that the beaver had been working here during warmer weather.

These paw prints on the ice let me know some creature had passed this way after the ice had formed. My first thought was a raccoon had been out exploring the wetlands.

On the other hand these foot prints look like the hind feet of a beaver. Curious I would not have guessed the beaver would venture across the ice. I would have thought they might feel a bit like a fish out of water.

On the way back to Foster Island I noticed this turtle shell in the distance.

It made me wonder what was the story behind the shell? Was it empty and floating on the water when the ice formed and froze it in this location? or Did the turtle linger too long on a log near a slowly freezing pool of water? 

Did you notice how the shadow from the shell allows one to peer below the surface of the ice? Sometimes it is the absence of (reflected) light that helps us see.

You may be wondering how all this relates to the title of this post. Walking across the ice reminded me a a piece of art work my Mother gave me many years ago. It said something like, If you have to walk on thin ice, you might as well be dancing!

This positive philosophy sounds great in theory but when actually crossing ice I didn't really feel like dancing, however I was happy to explore another side of nature.

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


PS:  Here is one more interesting formation on the ice.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Deep Freeze at Kingfisher Cove

Are you curious how the creatures of Kingfisher Cove are handling the plummeting temperatures?
 This morning the cove was mostly covered in ice.

While a couple of days ago the cove was nearly ice free, 

even then there was still frost all around Union Bay.

By midday much of the frost melts off and birds seem to magically appear. However, not all the birds are very active. Those wishing to simply retain heat seem to know that a spherical shape exposes the least surface area and that sitting still burns the least amount of energy. It is a bit unclear where this heron is storing its head.

And even when he pops his head up he retains a lot of heat by not exposing his long neck to the cold. Other birds choose a similar strategy of ...

...sitting in the sun, fluffing their feathers and ...

...hunkering down into balls in order to retain their body heat.

However some birds remain rather active...

...even in the cold weather. The wood ducks, the gadwalls and some of the mallards seemed to work the shallowest ice-free zones...

...while the pied-billed grebes and the hooded mergansers stay out in deeper water with room for diving. Do you wonder if they have an instinct that keeps them from chasing fish under the ice. 

The female kingfisher comes in for a landing on one of her usual perches. However after a few moments of staring down at the ice decides...

...the fishing may be better above the ice-free portion of the cove and relocates appropriately.

This morning The Pirate passed over Kingfisher Cove rather quickly. 
He (or she) stopped for a few moments in a cottonwood high above the WSDOT peninsula before moving on to a tall tree on Foster Island. With the "best seat in the house" it watched the folks practicing ice hockey next to the southeast bridge to Foster Island.

Before too long the crows showed up to voice their displeasure at the hawk's presence. However after a few loquacious minutes and a couple of brave strafing runs the crows took their opinions and left.

On Friday morning the eagles were seen on Foster Island and at least for a time seemed to avoid their usual perches on the light poles, perhaps put off by the loud noise of the pile-driving from the 520 construction. This morning, with the pile driver at rest, Eva was back on her usual light pole. It will be curious to see how they respond as the noise gets closer and closer. In any case neither the eagles or the hawk seemed at all phased by the cold. Maybe the cold makes their prey slower and easier to catch.

On the whole the creatures of Kingfisher Cove seem to be adapting rather well to the cold and the ice, however having not seen the heron hunting makes one wonder, how the heron would handle these temperatures if they lasted for longer than a week or so.

Have a great day on Union Bay...were nature shivers in the city!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ripples of Power

On Monday, not too long after dawn, cormorants were on standby near the Waterfront Activities Center, waiting for the power of the sun to penetrate the fog.

A few birds did venture down to wait, on the "Apple-Cup" buoys, hoping for enough light to begin hunting for breakfast.

Nearby a bufflehead water-walked its way to flight and safety.

Wigeons huddled together as the weight of the fog on the water seemed to make waves nearly impossible.

Commuters were also on standby as they waited for President Obama and his entourage to reach the airport.

The sun, looking more like the moon, seemed mystified by the baffling clouds. The swans and the bittern that were sighted on Sunday were no where to be seen and the lack of sunlight was not exactly a photographer's dream. I paddled on feeling almost like the only human in the world. 

While a gull bathed nearby the quiet of nature bathed me in peace.

Eva tried to survey her domain no doubt frustrated that the fog was inhibiting her search for breakfast.

Momentary shafts of sunlight illuminate the dried cattails near Yesler Swamp,...

... a cottonwood at the Union Bay Natural Area and most likely some wigeons as well.

Faster than the camera could focus Eva headed north across the bay. She made a single pass across the surface of the water before turning south. It took her less effort and time to pickup breakfast than it would take for you to go get an egg McMuffin.
Eva landing on the log boom, where cormorants often dry their wings, with what looks to have been a wigeon. 

Before she can take a bite a pirate, possibly The Pirate from Kingfisher Cove, attempts to scare her away from her food. Eva flaps her wings once and the hawk decides to look for an easier meal. It makes one wonder, What the hawk was thinking? Possibly the hawk has a habit of scaring the cormorants, that often use this log, away from their fish. Apparently that concept does not scale up to large female eagles.

While Eva eats Albert nonchalantly waits near by. It would seem the pecking order on Union Bay is clear. Eva being fifty percent heavier than Albert is at the top.

However in less than 10 minutes Eva was full enough to allow Albert a turn.

Still power has its prerogatives and Eva takes along a choice morsel for desert.

A few minutes later a crow shows up. Being smarter than the hawk the crow simply gets in line to wait its turn.

As Albert moves away to inspect what else Eva has left behind the crow is rewarded for its patience.

Albert and Eva appear appropriately thankful after their meal. Clearly the Union Bay power pyramid starts with Eva, then Albert, the Pirate, the cormorants, the crows and some where near the bottom are the wigeons and the fish.

It gave me pause to compare Eva, the most powerful bird on Union Bay, to President Obama, the most powerful person on the planet. What Eva wants she simply takes. On the other hand on Sunday President Obama crossed over Union Bay and the worst thing we had to fear, was being stuck in traffic. It certainly makes one thankful for democracy.

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


PS: By the way in January the UW Botanical Gardens (by the Union Bay Natural Area) will be hosting my first solo art show at the Miller Library. There will be photos, paintings and a few sculptures. There will also be additional, unpublished eagle photos from this kayak trip as well.