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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

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:


  1. so cool that you share this Larry, thank you, Paul

    1. Paul,

      Thank you and you are welcome!


  2. Wonderful! Thank you. I read your posts immediately when I see a new one.

    1. I am glad you enjoy my efforts. There is lots to learn but I am certainly having fun along the way. Thanks again! Larry

  3. Ducklings!? My favorite. :) Great shots as always and quite the array of winged friends. Nice job Larry. :)

    1. Aimee,

      Thank you! I am glad the ducklings survived.


  4. Thanks again for these pictures and the survey of our nearby wildlife. It is wonderful that we have so many birds in the neighborhood. Paula

  5. What is amazing is that these 29 species are less than 20% of the total number of species seen on Union Bay last year. You can learn more in the February 2013 post titled, State of the Union Bay. Happy Earth Day!

  6. What a pleasure your pictures are!

  7. I love it, and last year's. Thanks for taking the time to document and type it all up.

    1. You are welcome. You are also correct in your assumption, this did take a longer than normal amount of time to write it up. Hopefully, it will help inspire folks to slow down and take a look at the beauty of the natural world. It is amazing what is happening all around us. :-)

  8. There are cliff swallows nesting under the IMA building, between the dock and the playing field to the north side of the building. Maybe they moved?

    1. Thank you. I was just wondering about them yesterday.