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

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Elvis is in the Park

Elvis is a male Pileated Woodpecker (PW) who has staked out a territory in the Washington Park Arboretum on the south side of Union Bay. The territory includes the south end of Foster Island and the area immediately to the west. Yesterday, Elvis was even sighted as far west as the south end of Portage Bay, in the area near the Montlake Community Center.

One might ask, Why call him Elvis? To begin with there is the "hair" and the striking good looks. If you would like to compare to the original Elvis, click here.  Kind of makes you wonder where Elvis Presley got the idea for his hairstyle.

Additional reasons for the name include being loud, proud and uninhibited by a crowd. Elvis seems to make his loudest call when he is moving between locations. This call can be heard at a fair distance and is an easy way to locate his general area. The first recording on the Cornell Birding Lab is virtually identical to the in-flight call Elvis makes. Click here to visit the site and listen to the call. You may want to learn the call of the Flicker as well since there are plenty of Flickers in the same area and their calls can be confusing. Click here to listen to the calls of the Northern Flicker.

On Monday Elvis spent time excavating a hole in a dead tree about 25 feet above the very busy trail to Foster Island. At least a dozen folks and their dogs stopped and watched in awe as Elvis sent a constant flow of wood chips to the ground. 
The wood chips formed a very visible half circle, with a diameter of over 20 feet, around the base of the tree. Neither the dogs barking nor people talking disturbed Elvis in the least.

If you are wondering how we know that Elvis is male and not a female you might want to investigate the post  Pileated Discrimination. Another question that comes to mind is, how can we be sure we are looking at Elvis as opposed to any other male PW? In an effort to sharpen your powers of observation see if you can spot the mark(s) that make Elvis uniquely identifiable. Note: Elvis is also in some of the photos in the prior post, mentioned above. The answer will be revealed in the Odds and Ends area at the end of this story.

It is also interesting that Elvis apparently does not yet have a mate, at least none has been sited. This leads one to wonder, will Elvis find a mate before spring? If so, will they build a nest near Union Bay? Will they raise young here this spring? Is there enough food in this area to support Elvis and a family?

There was a nest in Interlaken Park last spring with at least one nestling. Possibly, that nest was where Elvis was born. 

The Cornell Lab says that PW's tend to build new nests each year so we have no way of knowing where or if a new nest will be built near Union Bay. PW nests are often reused by other birds. In our area Flickers and Wood Ducks seem like prime candidates to move into the old nests.

Have you ever wondered how long it takes a PW to excavate a hole? To some degree it must depend on the quality of the wood and of course the size of the hole. Last Sunday Elvis spotted a couple of preexisting holes in rather healthy looking tree, he checked them out for insects before deciding to drill an exploratory hole just above them in hopes of finding more food. From start...
..to finish...
...it took Elvis less than 6 and a half minutes to create this head sized hole.

On Monday Elvis had opened this hole in just a couple of minutes.

However in less than two hours Elvis enlarged the same hole...

...to the point where he could climb into the tree.

This was in a dead and decaying portion of a tree and Elvis was stopping to eat on a regular basis. Most of the carpenter ants and termites that PWs feed on are found in "snags" like this. So it is wonderful that the Washington Park Arboretum leaves dead trees standing, since they are a critical part of a healthy ecosystem. 

I hope you enjoyed this week's post and will keep an eye out for Elvis when you visit the parks near Union Bay.

Happy Bird Watching!


Odds and Ends:

If you look at the white stripe running up and down the left side of Elvis's neck you can see a black mark near his shoulder that extends into the white area.
A similar mark is not as clearly visible, if at all, on the right side nor is this type of mark visible in any other photos of PWs that I have taken. This may not be the only mark unique to Elvis but it is fairly easy to see and appears to be reliable. If you happen to see or photograph Elvis please email the time, place and the photo or leave a comment at the end of this blog. It could be very educational for all of us to follow Elvis and find out if he takes a mate and raises young this spring.

Email to: ldhubbell at comcast dot net

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Best of 2012

The most popular stories of 2012 were about the 520 Eaglets, the Portage Bay Peregrine 69Z and the recovery of the Capitol Hill Snowy Owl. In the case of the eaglets the stories progressed from the first eaglet sighting, early in June, 
through the youngest eaglet learning to fly and leaving the nest in late August. In a sense one could say the eagle story actually started a year earlier when Eddie the Eagle, their mother's previous spouse, met his demise. 

There was only one Portage Bay Peregrine post, but the story linked to information that covered at least a year and a half.

The Snowy Owl coverage started with the Magical Snowy story in mid November and ended with the Capitol Hill Snowy's release in early December. 
Thank you to Doug Schurman and to all the various photographers that contributed to stories this year. Thank you to Barbara Deihl for inspiring additional follow up on the Capitol Hill Snowy Owl. If Barbara and Kestral, from Sarvey Wildlife Care Center, are successful in their bid to find and identify the Capitol Hill Snowy in the wild, there may be another chapter to the story in 2013.

There are however multiple ways of determining the the best of 2012. One of the rarest birds photographed in Washington State in 2012 was the McKays Bunting. It is one of only a couple thousand birds in the world. 
Normally these birds are only found on two small islands off the coast of Alaska this lonely bird was found at Ocean Shores.  

The Tufted Duck spotted on Union Bay is also an unusual vistor to Washington state. 
The tuft is that tiny bit of feathers sticking out behind its head.

The Akohekohe photographed in the Waikamoi Preserve on Maui in July is also extremely rare and endangered.

Another take on the best of 2012 is to select the best photos. Realizing this is personal preference here are my choices as the best of the UBW photos published each month.

January - The Trumpeter Swans:
There could be a Tundra Swan in the mix but it is not easily determined from this photo. Learn more here.

February - The McKay Bunting:

March - The Cooper's Hawk Eyeing its Prey:
Can you tell the difference between the Cooper's Hawk and the Sharp Shinned? Learn more here.

April - The Gosling in The Mirror:

May - The Osprey & The Crow:

June - Albert & The Gull:

July - A Pair of Endangered Hawaiian Nene:

August - Eaglet on the Edge of Fledging:

September - The Green Heron Grooming:

October - A Wood Duck (Male):

November - A Snowy Owl at Rest:

December - The Pileated Woodpecker (Male):

This year has been a great learning experience and a tremendous amount of fun. Thank you all for your interest and participation. Looking to the future, I hope to once again see sunshine in Seattle, crisp clean photos of wildlife and an increasing harmony between humanity and nature around Union Bay.

Feel free to leave a comment if you thought another story or photo belonged in the Best of 2012.

All the best to you and yours in 2013,


Skeletal Update:

Birds do have knees that bend just like humans. In a story earlier this month I mistakenly said that bird knees bend backwards. 
A number of better educated folks have pointed out this is not the case and here is the link to demonstrate were birds hide their knees. So if that is not a knee bending backwards, Which joint is it?

In other news, starting next Wednesday, The Seattle Times will begin partnering with Union Bay Watch in hopes of bringing our stories to the greater Seattle audience.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

& Red All Over

The name for last week's post ended up being Black and White, which were the major colors on the endangered Hawaiian Stilt found at the Kakolo Fish Pond. The pond is on the west side of the island and just north of Kona and barely above sea level. I have only seen this type of bird in one place on Kauai, in one place on Maui and in this one area on the Big Island.

The name for this week's post, "& Red All Over", comes from three Hawaiian Forest birds. Hundreds of years ago the Hawaiian islands were virtually covered in forests. There were two primary trees in these forests.  The trees were the Koa and the Ohi'a (pronounced "O-He-ah"). Generally, the Ohi'a tree has a beautiful red flower.
 This post is about three crimson birds whose color matches this flower.

Today the remaining native Hawaiian forests are generally found above four or five thousand feet. The introduction of cattle and pigs to Hawaii has been a major factor in destroying much of the Hawaiian forests, not to mention the rich, dark beauty of the Koa wood which even today is made into beautiful furnitureAt the same time there has been a corresponding decline in the number of forest birds in terms of absolute numbers and species. The accidental introduction of the mosquito and avian flu has not helped the forest birds either. At this time the cold nights in the the highland forests seem to be keeping the mosquitos away from the last of these unique forest birds. The native Hawaiian forest birds are found no where else on earth.

The most common of our three red birds is the Apapane, then the I'iwi (pronounced "E-E-vee") and the least common is the Akepa. The Apapane can be seen on Kauai, Maui and in multiple places on the Big Island, less often the I'Iwe can be found in similar areas. The Akepas are not nearly so wide spread, read more here.  One of the few places they can still be seen is in the Hakalua Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Hakalua means "many perches",  it is the first National Wildlife Refuge created for these forest birds. It is not open to the general public and is not easily accessible, however Ecotours are available from Hawaii Forest & Trail (HF&T).

Our visit to Hakalua started out a half hour north of Kona. Garry Dean, our guide, 
picked us up   at 7:15 am in a 12-14 person, specially-adapted four-wheel drive van. After a couple of hours of car birding and learning we reached our breakfast stop at around 6000 feet in the "saddle" between the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The next hour or so was spent covering 10 miles on a rugged rocky 4-wheel-drive-only road. Our single stop was to see a Hawaiian Hawk. 
This hawk is not one of the forest birds but it is only found on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Just after 11am we reached Hakalua. We stepped happily out of the vehicle to see endangered Hawaiian Nene casually feeding nearby.

As we packed the lunches provided by HF&T, an Apapane sang from the top of a nearby tree. 

The sunshine was brilliant and the temperature was relatively warm for being at 6000 or 7000 feet in elevation.

Garry explained the history of Hakalua. Before the NWR was created, cattle grazing in this area destroyed most of the native undergrowth, but many of the large old growth trees remained. Since the refuge was created in 1985, a tremendous effort has been taking place to replace the missing native undergrowth and add additional trees. A lot of non-native grass remains, however the native plants are clearly making a come back. A big part of the effort is maintaining the 400 miles of fencing needed to keep out non-native creatures. In addition to cows, pigs and goats also tear up and eat the native plants.

We enjoyed beautiful sunshine until just after lunch, surrounded by the sounds of wingbeats,  bird calls and passing views of the Apapane, 

the I'Ivi 

and the Amakihi. 
The Amikihi has a different strategy than our three red birds, it tends to blend in with the leaves instead of the flowers. There was however no sign of the Akepa.

After lunch the clouds blew in and the rain began to fall, which is not so surprising in a rainforest. What was surprising was how Garry simply ignored the rain and pushed on in search of the Akepa. Finally, in a small clearing deep below the canopy he spotted the Akepa. Gary worked hard to help us find and focus on the small red bird flitting about in the top of the the old growth trees. I got a few shots while trying to protect my camera from the rain. In the poor light and with the distances involved I honestly could not identify the bird through my view finder. I was actually wondering if it really was an Akepa. Since all I could see was a red bird, it could as easily have been an Apapane or an I'ivi. It wasn't until later when I was reviewing the photos that I could actually prove to myself that the bird was truly the Akepa. 
Although not a great photo it is clear the bird does not have the white rump of an Apapane or the orange beak of an I'Ivi. Garry's ability to lead us on such a long journey, to preserver in the face of bad roads and rain and actually find and see this small endangered and beautiful bird is truly impressive. 

On the way out we encountered one more bird I had never seen before, the Hawaiian Thrush. 

While this trip requires a commitment of time, dollars and effort (when many folks might be happier on the beach) it was truly worth it to see these extremely rare and endangered birds. Even though the Akepa was clearly the highlight of this trip, my personal favorite is the I'Ivi.
By the way, the Hawaiian raspberry has no natural enemies so it also has no thorns.

I hope you enjoyed this vicarious vacation. :-)


Monday, January 7, 2013

Black and White

Today’s photos are not from Union Bay. As a matter of fact the bird in the photos does not frequent Union Bay. Your challenge, should you accept it, is to determine the type of bird and for bonus points in which state the photos were taken. As usual the easiest clues to identify this bird are not in the first photo.
If this photo lacks enough information then scroll down for a more hints.

This photo shows the long thin black beak and just a hint of leg. It is almost a bit risqué. 
If you have traveled and seen this bird before then this photo most likely gave you all the information you needed. Still a bit more leg could help stir a distant or faded memory.

Isn’t this an incredibly elegant bird? Did you notice the beautiful red color of the eye? Would you like to see which way the knee bends?

Doesn't that make your knees hurt just to look at that photo. (For those of you who watched the Seahawks this weekend it even makes one feel a bit bad for RGIII.) 

UPDATE: Thank you to those who pointed out that bird knees do not bend backwards, we are simply looking at their ankles. Take a look at this diagram for the skinny on the bird knees.

Here is a shot that shows a foot.

Just in case you would think a second foot would be helpful.
The answer of course is that this is a Black-necked Stilt. Just looking at those legs would make a person think stilts even if they have never seen the bird before.

But in which state was this photo taken? You can find a hint by following this link reading the information at the Cornell Bird Lab. Your bonus for your hard work is the following photos at no extra charge. J

Did you figure out that this is the Hawaiian Black-necked Stilt? The key is that the black covers more of the malar (cheek) region than in other BnSs. The Hawaiian bird is endangered, unlike the far more common mainland versions.

Thank you for playing along.

Happy New Year!