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

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Duckling Dreams

Imagine the innocence of a duckling's dream. Having only lived a short while, during which the world was full of sunshine and juicy little bugs, what else is there to want?

A few minutes earlier this little one had been following its mother among the lily pads.

When mother stopped to rest on a nearby log our duckling decided it was bath time.

The dreaming came just after the bathing and preening. A few moments later the young one decided it needed a little more protection.

It is hard to imagine a more secure situation.

Although occasionally it may become necessary...

... to remind her of your exact location.

You can almost hear the mother saying, "Sorry I was just trying to stretch a bit."

"Ah! Now that feels better!"

After all the excitement a bit more resting is required.


…the slightest sound brings the mother to full alertness.

However in the end they both get to catch a little shut eye. It is curious how nature works. The mallard ducklings have been out and about for as much as two months and are now nearly as large as their parents. On the other hand gadwalls, like these, seem to have waited much later to lay their eggs. Right now it seems like 9 out of every 10 young ducklings on Union Bay are gadwalls. It makes one wonder, Why? Is this a way for the young ducklings to have less competition for duckling food? Are the mallards just better adapted to handle some occasionally cold weather? or Are the mallards just more flexible and change their egg laying time depending on the weather?

Even among gadwalls there can be a lot a variation in reproduction. The photos above were all of a mother with a single duckling.

On Wednesday evening my wife and I spotted this female gadwall with a much larger collection of ducklings. How many do you see in this photo? Did you notice the variation in size and color? Cornell says that gadwalls lay one egg a day so there could be a significant difference in hatching time between the smallest and largest of these ducklings.  It also appears that the younger gadwall ducklings have lighter colored feathers than the older ones. 

While crossing open water the ducklings all stay tightly bunched. It seems like a logical survival technique. It makes one wonder if it is nature or nurture e.g. instinct or education.

One morning this week a young gadwall was found using a lily pad as a bath tub. Apparently gadwalls have a bathing instinct.

After a moment's thought…

…it almost looks as though the lily pad is being transformed into a boat. By the way I counted 14 ducklings in the photo above.

It is also interesting to note the difference in color between this mallard duckling and the gadwall ducklings, above.

By the Bay:

Sasha from the UW Botanic Gardens asked for me to mention this tour opportunity:

Saturday, August 16, 10am – 12pm
UW Botanic Gardens - Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 NE 41st St, Seattle, WA 98105

Professor Kern Ewing will lead you along trails through Yesler Swamp and the rest of the Union Bay Natural Area and we will see the swamp, other wetlands, grasslands, woodlands, shoreline, lakes and shorebird habitat.  We will look at different aged restoration projects, discuss the upcoming WashDOT mitigation activities, talk about plant species, visit different habitats, and cover different strategies for dealing with invasive plants.

Cost: $10; $15 after August 9th.

Register online, or call 206-685-8033

Parting Shot:

Just for fun can anyone identify where on Union Bay this old piling can be found? There is just something wonderful about nature making use of the things we leave behind.

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


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Predators & Prey

Last Saturday was a rather hot day around Union Bay. In the middle of the Arboretum one of this year's four young owls hid from the sun on the branch of a large rhododendron in the understory created by a grove of fir trees.

In spite of the shade the owl still appeared hot and lethargic. For quite sometime it held its wings away from its body, apparently trying to allow its body heat to escape.

When it awoke from its nap it was only to stretch a wing a little further and then return to its resting pose.

On Sunday one of the its siblings was found resting in the same general area. The white "fuzz" on their heads seems to indicate their youth. Also if you look closely at the diamond of white feathers above and between their eyes, you can see their patterns are really quite different.

It was also interesting to note that the young owls were no longer calling for their parents to bring them food, unlike the young crows all over our neighborhood. As a matter of fact a young kingfisher was seen and heard earlier this week, near Elderberry Island, calling for food and chasing its parent around, very similar to a young crow.

Taking the kayak out early on Monday the weather was still warm but the breeze on the water was very nice. This Bald Eagle near 520 provided an example of an older and larger predator than the young owls.

While this Great Blue Heron near Foster Island was the most active and focused predator of the morning.

On the north side of Union Bay this Osprey was very observant from its perch above the bay.

 After awhile, the Osprey needed to stretch its wings. It is interesting to compare the Osprey's method of stretching to that of the owl. The owls stretch down while the osprey stretches up. The Osprey's pose is very similar to its position when it dives into the water for fish e.g. feet first.

On Tuesday morning above Duck Bay this young female Kingfisher dove head first into the water to catch this fish. The bird is assumed to be young because the blue belt still has a bit of brown in it, while the second brown belt indicates it is female. It makes one wonder if this is the same bird that was chasing its mother for food a few days earlier.

Kingfishers are very skittish and fast, so catching a halfway decent photo in flight feels like a genuine accomplishment.

On the other side of Duck Bay, closer to Foster Island, this Great Blue Heron stalked through the lily pads. Apparently the lily pads do not obstruct the hunting process. 

Take a look at the size of the dark iris in the bird's eye.

Only a split second later the heron has spotted its next meal in the water below. Looking into the shade the iris expands to take in more light to aid in the hunting process.

The heron strikes and comes up with its prey, but it also comes up with one of the lily pads as well. The lily pads may not slow the hunting process but what about the eating? The heron turns slowly around as it ponders its dilemma. If it opens its mouth to allow the lily pad to drop the fish will surely escape, but on the other hand it cannot swallow the fish with the lily pad in the way.

Finally the heron turns its head sideways and allows the lily pad to fall while retaining its grip on the fish. Whether this solution was due to luck or logic is not known. However it does make one wonder, will the heron remember this solution the next time it encounters a similar problem?

In any case, there was no further delay in the demise of the finned one. Did you notice the duck watching the whole process from the safety of shore?

On Thursday morning another young owl was found in the same grove where the other two had been spotted. Notice that the markings on its forehead are different from both of the other birds. Another difference is that this bird is not sitting on a branch like to other two birds but is sitting in a relatively flat fork in a tree. Do you know why?

 A jogger passed by and the owl took to the air to find a higher location. As it flew it carried something in its talons.

Once it reached a sufficiently safe site it proceeded to finish its meal. With four young owls and two parents hunting in the Arboretum, the rats must be running scared.

The final predator spotted on Thursday was this Cooper's Hawk near the south end of the Arboretum. An hour later on the way back north the owl was still sitting on the same branch. Safe and full there was no need to move.

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


Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Mystical Isle of Puffins | Near the Salish Sea

Nearly 30 years ago my good friend Marcus and I traveled past Neah Bay to the edge of the Pacific hoping to see Puffins. If I saw them they were simply dark, distant dots that quickly faded from memory. Over the years I have often thought of traveling back to the far side of the Olympic Peninsula in hopes of getting a better look, but the distance and time required has restrained my initiative. Little did I know that the Puffins would nearly come to me.

Two weeks ago while visiting Fort Warden and taking photographs from the dock that holds the Marine Science Center, I noticed a hand written sign telling about Puffin Cruises. Imagine my surprise when I learned that there were Puffins less than half an hour away! The first two cruises, sponsored by the Science Center, were scheduled for the July 4th weekend. On the afternoon of July 5th, I walked on the Keystone Ferry (from Whidbey Island) and crossed over to Port Townsend to take my first Puffin Cruise. 

From the ferry deck I spotted this Tern with dinner "in-hand" and a number of Rhinoceros Auklets.

I boarded the cruise at Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend. On the cruise to the island the Auklets were even more plentiful than on the ferry ride. Their short stubby bodies and wings made it obvious that they have adapted to diving for fish under water. On the other hand, their relatively tiny wings lifting their less than delicate bodies seems to repudiate the laws of physics. 

As we neared the island, the onboard naturalist identified a Minke Whale as it swam about in Discovery Bay.

The naturalist provided a nearly constant, informative narrative about the creatures and the island. He explained that two dedicated and visionary women, Zella Schultz and Eleanor Stopps, share responsibility for the island's National Wildlife Refuge status. This status ensures that in the future the island will continue to provide a safe place for seabirds to lay their eggs and raise their young, as it did prior to Capt. Vancouver naming it Protection Island. The name refers to the fact that the island blocks the waves and the wind from coming straight into Discovery Bay, rather than the protection it provides to the eggs of the seabirds.

There is only one home left on the island, and for the rest of us we can only view the island from a distance of 200 yards or more. If you should decide to take the cruise be sure to bring your best binoculars because there is a lot to see.

The naturalist explained that deer regularly swim back and forth between the island and the mainland. Luckily, they are not a danger to the nesting birds or any of the other wildlife on the island.

What might appear to be driftwood on the beach turns out to be seals with their young. The pups appear to be fairly safe as long as they stay close to the adults.

Bald Eagles wait and watch for food. An isolated young seal might be just the meal they desire.

This eagle in the cave also seemed a bit odd to the seal watching from the water.

The biggest surprise of the cruise was sighting a pair of endangered Marbled Murrelets.

None-the-less the stars of the island show were these Tufted Puffins. The surprising brightness of their large bills and…

…the startling off-white tuffets of feathers behind their heads make them one of the oddest and most appealing creatures on earth.

The body design and wing span of the Tufted Puffin is very similar to the closely related Rhinoceros Auklet

Speaking of design, on the way home I noticed a Nissan Juke that reminded me of a Puffin. I would love to see a Juke painted with the Puffin's color scheme.

Someone on our cruise mentioned that they thought these two birds were both males because of their coloring. Reviewing a fellow traveler's Sibley Guide showed no distinction between male and female birds. Cornell does point out that they are much less colorful when not in breeding plumage. 

Even though Puffins are plentiful, they spend most of their lives at sea and only return to land to lay eggs and raise their young. Since their eggs (often only one) are laid in burrows in the ground they can be easily destroyed by a number of different mammals, which is why places like Protection Island are very special and unique. 

To visit this treasure that is practically on your doorstep (As the crow flies it is closer is to Seattle than Olympia.) check out this link to Puget Sound Express. There are only 3 weekends left.

Have a great day on Union Bay or Beyond!


Parting Shot:

This is a less than perfect photo but there is enough information to identify both of these birds, however maybe not the fish in the mouth of the first one. There are better photos with the names of these birds in either this post or the prior one, Can you tell what they are?