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

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Earth Day Ducklings

Monday was my second annual Earth Day Challenge. Each year the goal is to photograph as many different species of birds as possible, in and around Union Bay, between dawn and noon. The sunshine was brilliant and my curiosity was burning. Would I find the same types of birds in the same locations in which they were found last year. (Last year's quest can be seen for comparison by clicking here.)

Starting at Interlaken Park the Barred Owl was no where to be found, however a male Pileated Woodpecker was just returning to this year's nest.

Before leaving the park two other birds decided to reveal themselves. The first was a female flicker.

The second was an American Robin, who was sitting with the golden light of dawn shining through the surrounding leaves.

The next stop was to check on Eva (former mate of Eddie the Eagle) to see how she was doing with a new set of eggs in her "basket". She was her calm and regal self resting high in the nest above the Broadmoor golf course.

The next step was into the kayak to begin my counter-clockwise, circumnavigation of Union Bay. Before reaching the water I checked the top of a nearby pink flowering tree for a male hummingbird who likes to sit in sun on top of the tree. 
He usually keeps his back to the sun so I was very lucky to get this shot with the red reflecting from his face.

Just below "The Bridge to No Where" I slipped the kayak into the southwest corner of Union Bay. The next bird to reveal itself was a Pied-Billed Grebe who was searching for its slippery breakfast in the shallow waters of SW Union Bay.

Next a Chick-a-dee, dee, dee flittered past.

As I paddled west, just south a 520, three rock doves groomed themselves on one of the light poles.

Thank you to Phil Mattocks who noticed that this is a Greater Scaup and not a Ring-necked Duck which was feeding between Marsh and Foster Islands.

A few minutes later I happened upon this Canada Goose nesting between the northern and southern lanes of 520.
I got quite a charge out of her choice for a nesting location.

From there I passed to the east of the large beaver lodge and headed south along the edge of Foster Island. As I turned east I heard a crew of crows raising a racket. With the sun in my face and the noise of the crows in my ears it was very hard to figure out what was going on. Slowly I got close enough to see the focus of their attention.

Peering down from the small, unnamed island, to the south and west of Foster Island, was a Red-Tailed Hawk (RTH). A RTH has been visiting the area fairly regularly for the last few months, he does seem to stay to the north or west of Foster Island, which logically is the opposite side from the Broadmoor Eagles nest.

As I attempted to pass by the ruckus and get between the sun and the birds 
I became aware of Mallards swimming towards my kayak. It seemed as if they were coming to me for protection. Only at the last minute did I notice the ducklings and their mother.

The juvenile hawk (note the tail is not yet red) leaped off the branch and passed directly over the ducklings.

With the crows in hot pursuit the hawk left all six ducklings huddling safely beside their mother and continued north.

Turning to the east my next encounter was with this male Wood Duck in full breeding plumage.

Southeast of Foster Island this Sparrow peered into the water as if studying his or her reflection.

This Starling seemed to be standing guard not far from a Downy Woodpecker hole where Starling's were nesting a week or two ago.

The Red-Winged Blackbird (RWBB) was very vocal about my intrusion into his territory.

Unlike the RWBB this Bushtit was very quiet and focused solely on feeding.

Paddling quietly out of the marsh I was surprised to see this Hooded Merganser (HM) in the distance. Most of the HMs on Union Bay seem to disappear during the summer, this might be the last one until next winter.

High in an Alder tree the Stellar's Jay did his signature hop, hop, hop up the branch to a momentary perch in the sun.

Before heading north of 520 I took one last look back into the Beaver Lodge Marsh to see if there was anything I missed. Perched in a small tree and appearing to weave back and forth among the cattails was a small, bright patch of yellow, a male American Goldfinch.

On the north side of 520 the Cliff Swallow nests from 2012 were all gone and none of the swallows were anywhere to be seen, maybe next year.

On the log where the cormorants normally dry their wings a band of Common Mergansers enjoyed the morning sun.

On the north side of Union Bay hundreds if not thousands of Coots were proof that "birds of a feather, stick together."

Having already seen crows earlier this fellow does not count as another species of bird, but with his eye lid closed and reflecting the blue sky he does his best impression of turning a blind eye to me as I pass by.

Gadwalls swim nearby, bring my species count up to 24.

This next encounter did not increase the count but watching a crow being harassed by a bird in black (e.g. the RWBB) seems like a fair turn of events and an opportunity not to be missed.

Just to the west of the Union Bay Natural Area a Double-Crested Cormorant was sitting in the sun. Most people remember the Cormorant as the blackish bird they see drying its wings in the sun as they speed by on 520.

If you have looked at a Cormorant with binoculars you may have been surprised to notice the colors of its eyes and face.

However unless you are extremely observant and patient you may have never noticed the blue color. This is not a crystal clear photo but it does show the surprising flash of blue, inside the mouth of the Cormorant.

 The Tree Swallow was the only swallow seen this year.

The Buffleheads added one more species to the count.

Next came two Western Gulls.

The last species of bird seen just before noon was a Great Blue Heron.
This brought the total to 29 species which is down about ten percent from last year. It will be interesting to see as the spring continues if the birds, like the Cliff Swallows, that were seen on Earth Day last year show up later this year. Either way we are very lucky to live in a city were this variety of bird species can all be seen and photographically documented before noon in a single day.

Happy Earth Day!


Odds and Ends:

Also seen:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Young Love

Wood Ducks looking for love have many of the same experiences that we do. This male leaves no doubt about the strength of his feelings, but from the females point of view, maybe she questions his intentions or is less certain about her feelings for him.

Coming closer he seems to whisper sweet nothings in her ear.

But when he attempts to deliver "The Kiss" she pulls away, on the other hand at least she doesn't turn and run. Is she playing hard to get? Or maybe, just like with humans, when one partner becomes demanding the other just naturally pulls back.

Also like humans another factor in their relationships is the attractiveness of the partners. Somehow the males look more attractive when they are distracted with other tasks...

...or simply have other things on their minds.

Up close the mixture of colors, iridescent and otherwise, are truly impressive.

At first glance the female seems rather plain compared to the male. But a closer inspections shows that she has a number of subtle and attractive colors. If you would like an interesting challenge, close your eyes and in your mind count the number of colors you can remember on the female wood duck.

Generally one would think of female wood ducks as being brown and white. Clearly there are some additional colors. On the edge of the wing there are small but visible patches of blue and purple. Maybe the most subtle color is the hint of green on the top of the head. Did you notice the yellow coloring around the eye or on the foot? How about the black color of the eye and the beak? Did you come up with all seven colors?

As long as we are comparing colors take a look at differences in the last two photos. The coloring of the male and female heads are almost totally different. Here is one more challenge for you, What is the most significant similarity? (We'll come back to this later.)

After young love has run its course the next step, just like with humans, is finding a place that is just right for raising the young. A few weeks ago the Ducks in Trees post showed a female wood duck checking out a old flicker nest to see if it would meet her standards. 

These two females are actually checking out a much smaller nesting site.
On the opposite side of the this tree is a starling nest. It has been built in what appears to have originally been a Downy Woodpeckers nesting site. The access hole into the nest looks like it is about the size of a half dollar. There is no way the Wood Ducks could possibly fit in the nest, but once again just like humans, some things have to be learned the hard way.

This photo was taken as one of the females approached to inspect the starling nest.
Even though this photo lacks light and color there is something impressive about the graceful way she perches, its almost like she is dancing on the tree top.

This week the young birds were still looking for the perfect nesting site.

The male thinks maybe he has found it,

But it turns out that it is up to the female to do the actual home inspection, be sure to watch the process all the way to the end.

Clearly, wood ducks and humans share another quality, we both learn by trial and error. In case you are wondering it looks like the nesting box is already occupied and that the female in charge is not entertaining guests e.g. no room in the inn. Young love can certainly be challenging.

Have a great week!


Odds and Ends:

The most significant similarity between the heads of the male and female wood ducks, is not one of the colors, but rather the shape of their heads. The beaks are of similar size and proportion as are the eyes and for that matter the rest of their bodies as well.

Obviously when in the field watching their behavior, as mated pairs, following each other closely, staying side by side and inspecting nesting sites together these are the best indications that they are birds of a feather, so to speak.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Elvis Impersonator?

Nesting is the most delicate of times. The parents are constantly on alert.
Just like human parents they have multiple responsibilities. First there is selecting a mate, then building a nest and then guarding & raising the young. Each year, primarily, the male woodpecker builds a completely new nest. This can take from 3 to 6 weeks according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. After the nest is complete and the eggs are laid the work is not over. The birds take turns warming and defending the eggs. This of course cuts their feeding time in half.  Per Cornell it takes a bit over two weeks for the eggs to be incubated. Once the young are hatched it takes in the neighborhood of a month before the nestlings fledge (e.g. learn to fly). During this time not only must the parents defend the young and feed themselves but in addition they must gather and provide food for the young. This roughly six week period from eggs laid to fledging is the time of greatest risk and responsibility.

Predators, like crows, would love to consume the eggs or the nestlings. The photo above, taken yesterday, shows the male on alert. He is apparently warming the eggs while the female feeds. The following sequence of shots shows his constant vigilance.

When he hears crows in the area his call brings the female back to the nesting site.

Female pileated outside the nest.

After she leaves to continue feeding the crows fly almost directly over the nest. The male leaps outside the nest while loudly informing the crows that they are not welcome. 

See and hear the video here.

Feeling like he has made his point he returns to the warming work. 

Is this Elvis? or An Impersonator?

If you look closely it looks like this male may be the woodpecker we have been calling Elvis. He seems to have the distinctive mark on his left shoulder, however it is hard to be sure given the distance and the angle. If this is Elvis it is the first confirmed siting since early March. This would mean he would have had about five weeks to be focused on nest building, which fits well with the timing mentioned by the Cornell Lab.

If you would like to learn more about his distinctive mark it was covered in previous Elvis posts:

Elvis is in the Park

Elvis and the Redhead

Given the delicate situation and the heroic efforts of the parents it is important that we do not cause any additional stress during this time. When you are out and about if you happen to come across the nesting birds please remain a respectful distance. 

Just for fun here is one last photo. The light was just right, or just wrong depending on how you look at it, and the crest on the head of the female is nearly invisible. Someone mentioned yesterday that they saw a large silver bird with a red crest in the area. Given that pileated woodpeckers are the only large, red-crested birds in the area it seems likely that the light was playing tricks, kind of like this.

Have a great week!


Odds and Ends:

My friend Marcus and I visited the Ship Canal bridge yesterday to see if we could spot any activity in the Peregrine Falcon nest. The nest was empty however Marcus spotted one PF that landed on the power structure southwest of the bridge. Hopefully, a second falcon will show up in the near future.