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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Shape Shifters

Green Herons are fairly shy and retiring birds. 

Generally, if you come remotely close, they will flush. Sometimes they dart back into the cattails and other times they will fly until they are out of sight. Then they land and stand a few inches above the water. They will stand in the same place for hours on end. Like an eagle perched in a cottonwood it might appear like they are doing nothing, but actually they are actively hunting. They are constantly scanning the water watching for small creatures that are unfortunate enough to swim with in their reach. 
(An example of a successful hunt can be seem here.)

This is unlike their larger relative the Great Blue Heron which hunts with a bit more activity. The GBH generally wades slowly and deliberately through the water while hunting from its greater height.

On Union Bay the Green Heron is most likely to be seen from a kayak or canoe while it sits close to the water at the base of the cattails. However its coloring, small size and motionless hunting style can make it a somewhat hard to spot.

Yesterday, this bird spent nearly an hour perched on the same stick waiting for its next meal to approach. But even a patient bird can get bored and need to stretch and look around. 
The photos above shows the most common shapes for a Green Heron. At first glance it appears to be a short-necked, short-legged and relatively-small bird. However unlike most other birds the GH is truly the master of its form.

When reaching to scratch its neck GH starts to give a hint about the length of its neck.

However the neck is a bit longer than one might expect.

This long neck most certainly helps them to catch fish that would seem to be safely out of reach. 

It can also be helpful with grooming....

...or when danger approaches.

Surprisingly from this view one can see that the GH's legs are also much longer than they appear as well.
The GH apparently has another surprising capability which I hope someday to see and photograph. According to Cornell the GH "..sometimes lure in fish using small items such as twigs or insects as bait."

Watching this heron shift and shape its body, as well as last year's post called, Green Heron Yoga, brought the book "Shape Shifting" by John Perkins to mind. The book describes three different types of shapeshifting e.g. social, personal and molecular. It goes beyond the bounds of science to a mystical concept of human shapeshifting. I find shapeshifting at the molecular level too much for me to believe. (Still while photographing this heron I did feel that from the birds point of view I was transformed from a potential threat into just an inert object floating on the water. So I guess I can kind of see where the concept comes from.)

Realistically, I do think we have the capability to reshape the way we live personally and as a society. If we are to protect beautiful creatures like these then we do need to shape shift into a sustainable society.

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


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Queen Fisher

After the beautiful sunlit days of June and July, August has been rather hot, humid and surprisingly cloudy. Sometimes in warm weather the only way to cool down is to take a bath. This bird is deeply involved in bathing, cleaning and drying out. Looking only at the first two photos can you determine what kind of bird has been photographed.
As a matter of fact not only is it a bit hard to determine the type of bird its even hard to figure out where it is hiding its head.

Here is another view.
What hints have you found about this bird? Its feet are facing forward so we must be seeing the top of its head. The size of the blackberry vine tells us the bird is fairly small.

What did you guess? 

Luckily, the bird flew out of the thicket for a brief stop.
Our little mystery bird turns out to be a Black-Capped Chickadee, having a bit of bad "hair" day.

Birds are not the only creatures around Union Bay that have been enjoying the water in August. In the cool of the evening a beaver came out of its lodge west of Foster Island to look for food.

Just to the west on the WSDOT peninsula a muskrat swam out of the water looking somewhat similar to the wet chickadee.

A few days later as the sun began to rise a mother raccoon... 

...and a half-grown youngster...

...worked the water's edge. They moved along the shore practically crawling over the top of one another. They were taking turns searching below each log along the way.

Yesterday morning along the shore of Foster island two raccoons were once again searching along the waters edge.

On neither occasion were the raccoons photographed with the food. However snails may be the only food source that would hold still and allow the raccoons to pry it out from under a log or rock.
If anyone can supply more information on this subject, like what type of food they have seen raccoons retrieve along the water's edge or the name of this snail, please leave a comment below. 

Last week on the same morning the raccoons were first seen a Pied-billed Grebe was spotted with food just east of Foster Island.
Curiously, the bird was able to hold its prey and call out for its young at the same time.  The grebe dove, swam and popped up in multiple different locations. Each time it came up with its prey hanging from its beak, it was still calling loudly and making no attempt to eat. It finally quit calling after it disappeared to the east. It must have finally located its offspring.

On the way back the sun broke through the clouds and this kingfisher perched in the sun, not far from the mouth of Arboretum Creek.

Since males have a single blue stripe across the chest and females have a second brown belly stripe it seemed like gender determination would be easy. See more here.
But what gender has a brownish-blue stripe? 

Maybe more photos will help.

With wings lifted.

A bit higher.
My best guess is that this is a young female who is in the process of growing her mature feathers. If so, the chest stripe will turn blue and the brown under her wings will grow down and around her belly. If anyone has better information to offer please feel free to leave a comment. 

By the way this bird was seen a second time this week and also again yesterday. Each time it was in the neighborhood of Elderberry Island, just north of the mouth of Arboretum Creek. It is very shy and will fly (and cry) almost as soon as it hears you or sees you move. If you would like to see it, go early and walk softly in the shadows. Check out branches from 5 to 25 feet, directly above the water. Binoculars will help as the Kingfisher is a fairly small bird. Rather than being called a female Kingfisher don't you think a "Queen Fisher" might be a better name. :-)

The parting shot for this week is simply a feather blowing across the water.
It does make one wonder if a feather like this inspired the invention of the sail.

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


Monday, August 19, 2013

An Open Letter | To Our Next Mayor

Dear Candidates,

Union Bay Watch is a Seattle blog devoted to, "promoting a higher level of harmony between humans and nature". The primary focus is on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city! There were over a hundred and fifty different species of birds seen around Union Bay last year. There were also 7 beavers lodges, 2 eagles nests, a colony of great blue herons, raccoons, coyotes, muskrats, osprey, tundra swans, pileated woodpeckers, barred owls and much, much more.

Union Bay is truly a natural gem, however there are issues. For example the water in the bay is too polluted for salmon to spawn and both creeks, Ravenna and Arboretum, pass through culverts and have seriously reduced water flow which stops salmon from spawning upstream. While Union Bay might someday set the standard for urban humans in harmony with nature there is more to Seattle than Union Bay. Lets dream bigger. Why couldn't Seattle be the first sustainable city of the 21st century?

While our city does need leadership that will help us address nature issues, there are other issues as well. We need to figure out how to:
  1. Ensure children in Seattle get a world class education,
  2. Ensure children in Seattle are not hungry,
  3. Ensure the homeless have places to sleep,
  4. Ensure the safety of our citizens,
  5. Encourage efficient and sustainable transportation,
  6. Promote the growth of new businesses in Seattle.... 
...while also becoming a sustainable city.

If you are elected mayor in what order would you address these issue? It is understood that these are high priority issues. We also know that resources are limited. A critical piece of leadership is understanding the relationships between these issues, knowing which problems are caused by others and of course knowing which issues should be solved first.

Answering this question may seem like a no win situation for a politician. Putting one issue in front of another might pit of one set of voters against another. However providing the guidance needed to make tough decisions is exactly what Seattle needs in a leader. Please show us that you are not just another politician dancing around the hard issues. Show us you are a leader. Please tell us your order of priority in addressing these issues and most importantly, why!

I promise to publish your responses exactly as they are written. 

Thank you for your thoughts.

Larry Hubbell
ldhubbell at comcast dot net

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Barred Owls | Young and Old

Barred Owls adapt. They go with the flow. 
 As global warming and climate change drive other creatures to extinction the Barred Owl will go where the hunting is good. They will live in your local park or in an old growth forest. Unlike the Spotted Owl they are not endangered, except by our efforts to save the Spotted Owl. Barred Owls are survivors. 

The bird on the left is a fledgling that hatched this year, notice the soft white "peach-fuzz". The adult bird, on the right, is one of its parents. The adult Barred Owl has vertical stripes on its chest while the adult Spotted Owl has horizontal bands. You can see the difference here.

The birds in today's post are from the Arboretum and Interlaken Parks.
One might assume this is a small, young owl peeking out of a nesting hole, however this is actually an adult owl protecting a nesting site in a very large tree.

A huge, Thank You! to Dan Reiff for helping to educate me about the Barred Owls and their behavior. One of the many things he pointed out is that the Barred Owls become active just after sunset.
This young bird, undisturbed by our presence, is waiting for its parents to bring it food.

The young bird is very observant...

...when the adult lands with a tasty snack.

The exchange is carried out without mishap...

...at least for the owls.
This took place early in the summer and since then this young owl and others like it have been developing and refining their hunting skills.

Owls have a number of special abilities and techniques that enable their superior hunting skills. For one thing their flight is virtually silent. Part of how they accomplish this has to do with the way the edges of their wing feathers are not all the same length. This "mixes up" of the air and apparently cancels out a lot of the sound. 

Some of the newer jet engines now have scallops around the trailing edges of their engines which also helps to reduce noise. According to an Boeing engineer these edges are sometimes call Turkey Feathers. It seems like Owl Feathers might be a more appropriate description. More information here.

Another technique owls use to hunt is moving their heads to triangulate and determine the precise location of the prey.

 All owls do this but the young birds seem to spend a lot of time practicing this technique.

During daylight hours the owls generally find a place to rest. They seem to alternate between having both eyes closed....

...one eye closed...

...or both eyes open if an interesting meal happens to be passing by.

Sometimes, just like you and I, they simply cannot suppress a yawn.

Did you yawn yet? :-)

They also spend time grooming their feathers.

But ultimately they use their superior vision and hearing to hunt at night and they spend their days sleeping peacefully on a branch just above your head.

So as you visit the parks around Union Bay be sure to glance up and look for the sleeping Barred Owls. As Dan pointed out they seem to prefer the more horizontal branches. May be it is hard to sleep when you are off balance.

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