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

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Life and Death in Interlaken

The Barred Owls in Interlaken Park have been an amazing source of inspiration for many years. 
If you have been lucky enough to watch the parents bring food to their young or…

...heard them calling back and forth or

...even just stopped to watch one of the birds doze somewhere near

...the nesting tree, you know what I mean.

Sadly, the male bird has become a casualty in the conflict between humans and rats. Earlier this week Kari Olson sent an email appropriately titled "Unintended Consequences".


Last Thursday Interlaken's male Barred Owl was found on the road near the nest site in the large cottonwood tree. It was in fatal distress and taken to a vet where it died from injesting a rat who had eaten rat poison. Where there are people, there are rats and where there are rats there are raptor's, pets and poisons.  

Last Saturday another forest steward and I planted trees in the Interlaken / Boren Park area where a grave yard of clematis vines lay strewn about, we commented to each other, "It smells like something's dead around here"...sure enough dead rats. The bodies were without magots or other clean up insects making good on the free meal. With this said, the vicinity of 19th Ave. E. & Interlaken Drive/Interlaken Blvd. does have a serious rat infestation taking place.

I am not sure how long it will take for the female to find another mate. No doubt we'll hear nightly owl hoots as they hunt rats or other critters…hopefully not poisoned.


Just a few days before Kari sent her email I met a man in Interlaken who said that in January of 2013 he found a dead adult owl in Boren Park with no visible external injuries. While we do not know for sure what caused the death of the 2013 owl it seems likely it might have been another case of unintended poisoning.

Given that we treasure the owls and do not want to live with the rats it would be wonderful if we could come up with a number of functional alternatives to rat poison. Over the last 25 years rats have tried to use our home for shelter twice. In both cases it was after contractors had completed their work but left an opening that allowed the rats access to a prime nesting spot e.g. the attic or the crawl space. 

The solution was the same in each situation. Seal the access points and then set out old-fashioned spring-loaded rat traps, baited with peanut butter. This required no poison and also had the added advantage that the rats did not crawl off into some remote, unknown area of the attic or crawl space where their odor would have been an unpleasant reminder of their passing.

This approach would have been more difficult if the rats had made it into the living space  where small children or pets could have sprung the traps. In that situation I can imagine building a shoebox-sized trap container with a hole that only a rat could enter. Feel free to add your own suggestions for other options in the comments below. 

The good news is a Barred Owl was back in the same roost in the hemlock tree this week. Last year the owls seemed to spend a lot of time in the cedar just southeast of the cottonwood. However for the last couple of weeks at least one of the owls has been roosting consistently in the tall hemlock which is more directly south of the cottonwood and on the west side of the small stream of water. 

It seems logical to assume the owl seen this week is the female, however we can hope she has attracted another mate already. The only way we will know for sure is if we watch to see if we can spot two owls at the same time. 
If you happen to see two of them, that would be great news to share in the comments section below.

Another unknown in this process is whether the female has already laid eggs or whether the male has already fertilized eggs she is carrying. If she ends up laying eggs on her own then it could be quite a struggle for her to feed herself and any young (like the one above) that may hatch out. Not to mention keeping the eggs warm, protecting the nest and feeding herself in the meantime.

On a more positive note, this week Wood Ducks have been searching for nesting sites south of Foster Island and…

...Chestnut-backed Chickadees have been working furiously at…

...cleaning out a nesting hole…

...near by.

Also even though the Downy Woodpeckers nesting tree fell this winter a male Downy has been hanging around near by and hopefully he and his mate will excavate a new nesting site.

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



Here is a link to suggestions from King County on how to deal with rats.


Here are some links I just found related to the EPA and their position on rat poison. 


They are attempting a ban on 12 products due to secondary poisoning and one of the manufacturers is fighting it. 


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bobby Socks to Buffleheads

Yesterday morning this Steller's Jay landed at the edge of the street to gather material for its nest. Cornell says they will use sticks, stems and moss to build their nests and that they are the only jay in North America that will also use mud to help hold it all together. Cornell also says, surprisingly, that they can live as long as 16 years.

It also sounds like there is a fair amount of variation in their coloring. In some areas the crests are blue instead of black and sometimes the markings above the beak are less obvious, this maybe due to the angle of the light. Birdweb says they maintain long-term, monogamous relationships with their mates.

It was amazing to watch how much nesting material this bird could hold.

As you can see, this jay got a full load before heading back to the nesting tree. But the most surprising thing about this encounter was the white color around the feet. Particularly in the first three photos it looks like this bird is wearing bobby socks.

I have no clue what is happening to this bird's legs. It reminds me of calcium build up that might happen from water running over a stone. When I google Steller's Jays, and even birds in general, I cannot find any similar examples. If you can shed light on this subject I would love to hear from you.

In the Arboretum there were other signs of spring, in addition to nest building, there are…
…Magnolia blossoms...

…ferns preparing to un-fiddle their heads…

…Oregon Grape getting some color….

…the flowering of this beautiful bush….

…it is unknown to me, but it was worth a close up.

At Duck Bay there were high speed landings and…

…a male Bufflehead….




…and just enjoying Spring.

At dawn, Elvis and his mate headed north as they left Interlaken Park. (The previous day they headed to the southeast. If they have a pattern it is not yet obvious.) It was late morning before I caught up to them on Foster Island. One bird circled as far east as Beaver Lodge Sanctuary before turning back. 

The Sanctuary is just north of Eva and Albert's Broadmoor nest where Eva has been spending a lot of time for the last couple of weeks. This is good news for those of us looking forward to eaglets in early June. By the way, she is not always obvious and often all that can be seen is just a spot of white from the top of her head.

Elvis and his mate spent 10 minutes mostly hidden, high in the dead cottonwoods just south of the southwest bridge to Foster Island. This was particularly delightful for a busload of young grade school children who yelled and pointed excitedly when for a brief moment the birds both landed mid-way down the trunk of the same tree. The woodpeckers looked like they were headed back towards Interlaken around lunch time.

Near the mouth of Arboretum Creek Skunk Cabbage were seeking the light and

…this tiny Creeper searched the moss…

….and the bark for food…

…while defying gravity in almost every way possible.

Nearby a male Mallard allowed this parting shot.

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


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Flit, Flicker & Flash

Spring is in the air! 

The flowers and the leaves on this Indian Plum are springing to life. All around us buds are growing and leaves are beginning to pop in existence. These are the last prime-time moments before the leaves hide most of the flit, flickering flash of the LBBs.

Little brown bird (LBB) is the term my friend uses to describe any small little bird that flickers and flits at the edge of perception before disappearing into the leaves. They don't even have to be brown to qualify for the term.

Here is a partial shot of one such bird.
Can you tell what type of bird it is?

These small, little birds may not be the fastest birds on earth but they are amazingly quick and very hard to track with your eye or camera. It seems like they can change direction not just in mid-air but in mid-thought as well.  

Sometimes they will even look you square in the eye, for the briefest of moments.

Here is a bit more of a hint.

This little bird is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet

It is easily distinguished from its relative the Golden-crowned KingletNote: By clicking on the bird names you can go to All About Birds where you can listen to their distinctive calls. 

Other LBBs have the annoying (and wonderful) habit of singing loudly from just a few feet away while often remaining completely invisible. Here are three types of wrens all photographed in the last month or so. One was found in the Arboretum, one was found in Interlaken Park and one in the Union Bay Natural Area. They are the Marsh Wren, the Pacific Wren and the Bewick's Wren. Can you tell which is which?

The wrens all have slightly downturned beaks and twitching tails that they usually hold upright. The Marsh Wren and the Bewick's Wren both have white eye stripes but the Bewick's has a longer tail and the Marsh Wren has black and white coloring on its back. The Pacific Wren has a darker chest and tummy than the other two. This makes the first bird the Bewick's Wren, the second the Marsh Wren and the last the Pacific Wren. Note: The Pacific Wren was formerly called the Winter Wren.

This LBB has a downturned beak like the wrens but its tail and its behavior are very different.   If you look closely you can see that the tail feathers are showing a lot of wear, similar to the tail feathers of a woodpecker. This bird flies from tree to tree. It usually lands on the trunk, instead of a branch, and creeps up the tree searching for food. The tail is used like a third leg to stablize its vertical position. Not surprisingly it is called a Brown Creeper.

Here are two more LBBs. They are both chickadees with black and white heads but they are not the same type of bird.

How are they different? The first is a Chestnut-backed Chickadee while the second is the more commonly seen Black-capped Chickadee. The CBC is more likely to be seen higher in the trees while the BCC can often be found a bit closer to eye level.

Last but not least in our display of flickering fast little birds is the Red-breasted Nuthatch.
If the sun breaks through this is a great time to go searching for the flit, flickering and flash of these little "brown" birds.

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


Here is one more parting shot. Which LBB is it?