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

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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!



  1. Exceptional pictures!

    1. Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed them.

  2. Wow, great shots! I am amazed by the kingfisher in flight. They are truly tough to catch.

  3. Thank you! If the Kingfisher is nearly impossible to catch in-flight then swallows are impossible. What is frustrating about swallows is that they will fly super fast and just a few feet away from you and then they zoom back and forth from close to far away. Oh well, they keep us challenged. :-)