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

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Pirate of Kingfisher Cove

For the last month a pirate has been visiting Union Bay. One must admit this hawk has a swashbuckling look with the skirt of warm feathers around its feet. In September this Red-Tailed Hawk was last seen inspecting a fenced backyard belonging to the owner of a small dog. 

During the last few weeks the bird has moved across the street and has been hunting from high above Kingfisher Cove.
Kingfisher Cove is my name for the body of water to the west of the "Bridge-to-Nowhere". The bridge is west of the 520-South off-ramp that terminates in the Arboretum. This little bay is a popular, summertime swimming hole for adventurous young people. 

During the rest of the year kingfishers love to sit in the lower branches of half fallen dead snags while watching for unsuspecting fish in the shallow water, hence the name Kingfisher Cove.
Curiously the resident Kingfisher this fall is a female.

Last year it was more common to see a male kingfisher at the cove.
Did you notice how they differ? The male Belted Kingfisher lacks the second lower, reddish belt that the female has.

Earlier this month the female Kingfisher was seen circling around the Red-Tailed Hawk calling out in alarm. The kingfisher's call is loud and memorable (Click here to listen to one.) but it did not seem to disturb the hawk at all. The Red-Tailed Hawk also has a very memorable call. You have most likely heard its call while at the movies. (Click here to hear one.)
The Red-Tail is most commonly seen on light poles near our freeways. Where it watches for mice, voles and other small mammals. However Red-Tailed Hawks are very opportunistic and will also eat birds, fish and most any other creature it can catch. There have been stories of chickens roaming free just on the north side of 520 (near the old MOHAI) which may be another reason for the RT to visit this area.

Having a number of different hunting strategies has enabled the RT to adapt and survive in almost every corner of North America. There is even a very well-known RT in New York City. (Click here to read more about Pale Male.)

One of the Red-Tailed Hawk's hunting strategies is to steal food from other birds. While there is most likely a wide-variety of food for the RT at Kingfisher's Cove one still must wonder if the hawk is hoping to catch the Kingfisher or like a pirate steal the tiny fish that the Kingfisher catches. 

If you happen to visit the southwest corner of Union Bay keep an eye out for The Pirate of Kingfisher's Cove, you might even get to see it in action.

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


PS: It might also be interesting to watch for any interaction between the RT and our resident Bald Eagles. Some websites say the RT will chase eagles if they near its nest, but I have yet to spot a pair of RTs or a RT nest near Union Bay. In addition I have never seen the RT come even remotely close to the eagles, however they both visit Foster Island occasionally.

On another note it seems like October has been a grey and cloudy month. I just happened to catch a brief moment of sunshine that illuminated these snags against the cloudy sky.  There are no birds in this photo but it does feel a bit like a rainbow to me, e.g. a promise of sunshine to come.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stop, Look & Listen

Yesterday, Birds at the Burke, was a wonderful experience for anyone with the slightest interest in birds. If I understood correctly the Burke has the largest collection of bird specimens in the world, which is an incredible research opportunity and within walking distance of Union Bay. 

It would be impossible to say which guest speaker was the most interesting. However Tom Daniel's presentation about how birds fly was especially memorable. In particular the hovering hummingbird presentation. It turns out that the hummingbird's wings are actually more similar to our wrists and hands rather than our shoulders and arms. This allows the hummingbird to turn the wing over at the end of each stroke. Which means that regardless of whether the stroke is forward or backward it provides lift. In other words there is no wasted return stroke, both directions are power strokes. If you hold your hands out and up to each side of you body, with your elbows against your sides and then trace horizontal figure eights in the air you will be imitating the motion of the hummingbird's wings. If you where a bit lighter, with feathers instead of fingers, you would be hovering at this point. :-)

One of the questions asked during my presentation was how do woodpeckers know when there are insects inside of trees. This morning's research of the web provided a number of alternative options. Which included:

  1. Watching insects, like ants, traveling into the tree,
  2. Seeing holes the insects make to get into the tree,
  3. Being able to hear the insects moving about inside the tree (widely accepted),
  4. Drumming on the tree to hear if it is hollow which indicates insects have been here.
This discussion centered around Elvis and some of his work last winter. Still the following photos of a female Downy Woodpecker (DW), seen last week near last spring's nesting spot, show a similar method for finding food as well. Note: Cornell says that the female DWs are relegated to searching the trunks and larger branches when a male DW is present. Curiously if you look at the branch sizes in the last springs photos you will see the male prefers to find food on the smaller branches. He is seen on the tree trunk only when he is returning to the nest, usually with food. 

In any case as you look at these new photos see if you get the impression that the female DW is searching for food using the Stop, Look and Listen technique.

Also of interest is the natural camouflage of the DW. 
The feet nearly disappear. The spots on the back look similar to the bright spots on the trees bark and the coloring on the back of the head makes the shape of a head difficult to pick out.
Even up close the "camo" is still fairly effective.

Looking for food in all the right places.

Finally when the DW reaches the top of the snag the search begins for the next best tree.

If you missed Birds at the Burke this year you should make a note to watch for it next year. There were lots of activities for children as well. Including getting to hold and touch bird specimens, draw birds with the guidance of excellent illustrators and a host of expert birders who were all happily sharing their knowledge.

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


PS: In the previous post are 20 pictures of mostly common birds found around Union Bay. If you have not taken the challenge you could time yourself to find out how long it takes you to determine all 20 types of birds. Feel free to post your time in the comments section. For birders you should also note the gender of each bird in the photos when possible. For master birders please help point out the age of the birds when possible. Good Luck!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Birds at the Burke

Next Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. (Oct. 19th 2013) I will be presenting some of my favorite bird photos, videos and stories as part of the first annual "Birds at the Burke". In the process I will be asking questions about birds I have photographed around Union Bay. I am also hoping to give away a few photos as well.

In this post I am including a variety of photos and hoping you will let me know which birds you would like to hear more about next week at the Burke. In addition these birds are un-named, until the post script, so you can test your bird recognition skills as well.

Number 1:

Number 2:

Number 3:

Number 4:

Number 5:

Number 6:

Number 7:

Number 8:

Number 9:

Number 10:

Number 11:

Number 12:

Number 13:

Number 14:

Number 15:

Number 16:

Number 17:

Number 18:

Number 19:

Number 20:

Have a great day on Union Bay...and I hope to see you at the Burke next Saturday!



1. Bald Eagle
2. Bald Eaglets
3. Cedar Waxwing
4. Green Heron
5. American Bittern
6. Western Grebe
7. Kildeer
8. Great Blue Heron
9. Anna's Hummingbird - Male
10. Wood Duck - Male
11. Pileated Woodpecker - Male (Elvis)
12. Downy Woodpecker - Male
13. Hooded Merganser - Male In front, Female behind
14. Common Merganser - Male
15. Cooper's Hawk - FY (due to orange eyes)
16. Flickers - Male above, Female below
17. Pied-billed Grebe & young
18. Mallard - Female with ducklings
19. Peregrine Falcon - FY
20. Barred Owl - Juvenile

Sunday, October 6, 2013

520 Eagles? | Waxwing Invasion

Last Sunday was my first sighting in weeks of Eva and Albert in their nest. They have been seen in and around the nest 4 or 5 times this week.
Yesterday Albert was photographed sitting in his favorite cottonwood tree on the south shore of Union Bay.

The eagles have been "on vacation" or at least away from Union Bay and the nest for roughly 2 months. This is similar to what happened last year. No one seems to know precisely where they go. Dan Reiff suggests that many eagles go to the upper river watersheds for a couple of months. After spending 4 or 5 months tending the eggs and the eaglets in the nest it seems logical that the adults would need to get away. Still it makes one wonder, Where do they go?, Do they go to the same place every year?, Is it instinct or do they follow  a food source, like maybe salmon?

Here is one of the last photos taken towards the end of July, just before they left.
Si'ahl was the lone eaglet (and fledgling) from the Broadmoor nest this year and he looks very different from the adults. It will be four or five years before he matures and develops the white head and tail. Also similar to last year the adults returned without their young. Si'ahl may not be mature but young eagles apparently get only 4 or 5 months of coddling and then they are on their own.

One week is not an adequate sample size to say much about changes in eagle behavior. However it does seem odd to have not seen either of the adults sitting on the the 520 lamp posts this week. Not being a 520 commuter it could be I have just been missing the opportune moments or it could be that the new 520 construction is causing the eagles to avoid their old haunt. If you are a 520 commuter it would be wonderful to hear your next week's worth of 520 eagle sitings or sightings e.g. which mornings and evenings you spot the eagles on the bridge.

In the past Eva has tended to be on the bridge more often than Albert and he could often be found in the cottonwood where he was yesterday. Although there have been times when both birds were on 520 lamp posts at the same time. It will be very curious to find out if they return to sitting and hunting from 520 as they have in the past. If they don't, Will they still keep the nest? Will we still be able to call them the 520 eagles? We will just have to watch and wait to find out the answers.

On Friday Cedar Waxwings invaded a hedge (Could this be a Laurel hedge?)  along the east side of the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary. 
The waxwings are migrating south to warmer weather and looking for fruitful feasts along the way.

On Friday they found the fruit they wanted. 
The mottled coloring on the breast of this bird indicates it is an immature bird. 

The mature birds have more of a smooth yellow breast. This bird also shows one little drop of "red wax" on the wing tip. 

Seeing only a single dot of red makes one wonder if later in the fall more of these red drops will appear. (You can see more in this post from last November. Click Here In this post the Waxwings were eating Hawthorn berries in November. Which could imply that they will be hanging around Union Bay for another month or two.)

On Saturday morning dozens of Waxwings were sitting in the sun near the top of an alder tree in the Arboretum. 
How many waxwings can you see in the photo?

Every few moments one or more of the birds would fly across Foster Island Road to feed on the berries of a Black Gum Tree. The Waxwings do not seem to mind at all that this North American tree is not a native of the Northwest.
The Waxwings are not very particular about which fruit they eat, as long as the fruit is ripe and fits in their mouths. 

On Friday and Saturday a Flicker was seen hanging around the Waxwings. At one point it chased one of the Waxwings from the Gum tree back to the Alder. Maybe the Flickers are just too big to sit on twigs and pick their own fruit like the Waxwings. It must be irritating to watch the smaller Waxwings eating their fill of food that only needs to be picked.

Actually in this case with so many Waxwings feeding all at once it looks like it is raining fruit.

It has certainly been a beautiful weekend and a wonderful time for waxwings and eagles to be returning to Union Bay.

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

Larry Hubbell

PS: By the way I counted 9 Waxwings in the 8th photo.