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

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Honeysuckle Summer

This Black Twinberry is a honeysuckle with the scientific name Lonicera Involucrata. Year round it is not uncommon to see a Hummingbird perched on or near this plant, which is located on the edge of Duck Bay. 

(Thank you to Roy, a horticulturist in the Arboretum, who identified the Twinberry.)

A closer look makes it easy to see how the plant gets its name. The USDA fact sheet shows that the Black Twinberry is widely distributed. It ranges from Alaska to New Mexico to the Atlantic coast of Canada. It also mentions how hummingbirds love the nectar and the berries are eaten by a variety of native birds and mammals. 

The most surprising comments on the fact sheet relate to whether the plant is, or is not, good to eat. The sheet states,

"Ethnobotanic – Reports on the fruit vary from poisonous, to mildly toxic, to bitter and unpalatable, to edible and useful as food, depending on tribe, region or publication. The berry was used as a source of dye. Medicinal uses were many and varied among tribes. These included the leaves, berries or bark as a decoction, infusion, or poultice for sores, body cleansing, swellings, dandruff, wounds, infections, sore throats, paralysis, coughs, burns, itches, venereal diseases, boils, stomach troubles, pains of the legs or feet, arthritis, and sore eyes. Sometimes the leaves or bark were simply chewed for treating ailments or used as a ceremonial emetic (i.e. to induce vomiting)."

I am considering planting one in my yard. 

However, I think I will leave the nectar and the berries for the birds.

Surprisingly, this Black-Capped Chickadee appears to like the flowers just as much as the Hummingbird, even though the Chickadee is not well equipped to extract the nectar.

The Chickadee is, however, very persistent.

The hummingbirds can be a bit territorial.

Sometimes they chase the chickadees away, who then must settle for less appealing sites.

When the hummingbirds are full (and feeling fully in control) they often retire to a willow branch, just above the Twinberry, to do a little feather maintenance.

The upper parts of the willow attract other birds as well.

Can you identify this little bird?

Did you notice how carefully the bird observes the wasp?

 Even when the wasp flies almost directly over head it is carefully monitored.

I believe this little bird is a Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, even though it chose not to catch the wasp. It almost seemed like the wasp was teasing the Flycatcher.

Two days later a hummingbird was spotted on a nearby branch behaving a bit like the flycatcher. It was tracking something to its right side.

 A moment later it was tracking to the left. The lack of dark feathers around the neck and head makes one think this might be a juvenile bird.

 Suddenly it turns as another hummingbird comes into view.

The dark feathers on the neck of the second bird seem to imply it is an adult.

The younger bird flutters its wings, maybe the second bird was a parent trying to tease or entice the juvenile bird to fly.

Just across the water, on the southeast tip of Nest Egg Island, a Kingfisher perches in the early morning light.

The female bird (the burnt orange stripe indicates it is a female) stretches its wings before diving straight towards the camera. The rapid change in distance is too fast for the camera to track and keep in focus.

 But a moment later, after a small splash, the Kingfisher returns.

As she lands on the same perch it is obvious there is no fish in her beak. 

 Certainly she did not carry a fish in her tiny little talons. She must have missed her mark.

Somehow, just 3 seconds later, this fish appears. Evidently she caught it and kept it half swallowed as she flew back to the perch. Once back in her comfort zone she decided to bring it up and turn it around before finishing her meal.

In another few seconds the fish is gone and the Kingfisher is shaking off the water, like a dog after a bath.

Even though the Kingfisher is larger than the Hummingbird and the Flycatcher, it also keeps an eye on the sky. One reason why can be seen in the previous post

On Thursday morning the Kingfisher was heard angrily chattering as it circled this same perch. A larger bird staked a temporary claim to its prime hunting spot. The Kingfisher ultimately flew away to a less populated location.

Can you identify this bird?

It seems a bit nervous as it twists and turns. 

 It makes one wonder...

  ...if it was afraid of the smaller Kingfisher attacking from the backside.

Ultimately the young Green Heron decided this hunting spot was a bit too elevated for its tastes. 

Note: The stripes along the neck identify this as a juvenile. To compare it to an adult's neck you may want to check out the Shape Shifting post from last year.

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


Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Specialist

Some creatures survive because, like humans, they are generalists. They can do a number of different things quite well. For instance they can catch a variety of prey. This can come in handy when there is a shortage of one prey, they can simple switch to the next item on the menu.

However there are also creatures who are specialists and focus on a single food source, to the exclusion of almost all others. They fill a niche. A predatory niche aimed at a specific type of prey. These specialists usually have unique skills that allow them to procure their prey with a greater success rate than a generalist. One of the following three birds is a specialist. Do you know which one?

 A) A Cooper's Hawk 

B) An Osprey

C) A Bald Eagle

Please make your choice before proceeding.


This week an Osprey decided to try hunting on the south side of Union Bay. It landed on top of a relatively small snag on Oak Point just north of the mouth of Arboretum Creek. The Osprey is a specialist. Its primary prey is fish. Cornell says Cooper's Hawks will eat many types of birds, and in our area they eat small mammals as well. Bald Eagles will eat birds, mammals, fish and most likely any other creature they can catch (or steal).

One would think that a bird who focuses on fish would not be considered much of a threat by other birds, but this is not the case. In the photo on my masthead you can see an Osprey being chased away from Duck Bay by one of a number of Crows. That photo was taken in April when the Crows were nesting, so they may have been especially nervous. 

Nesting time for Crows has passed, but that did not stop our current Osprey from being harassed. Before the Osprey even landed, this Kingfisher began circling and calling with enough noise to the alert anyone one within earshot. Maybe the Kingfisher was angry because it did not want the competition. 

It makes one wonder why the concern, since Osprey would never catch the small little fish the Kingfishers eat. Basically the Osprey only catches fish that are around the size of the Kingfisher. Maybe the Kingfisher was really more concerned about its reputation.

Nearby, a Robin began a constant strident call for the duration of the Osprey's visit and soon a Stellar's Jay joined in. A Crow flew over, but surprisingly it simply ignored the Osprey. 

The Osprey, however, kept a watchful eye as the Crow passed by.

On the flip side, this modified Mallard kept a close eye on the Osprey as it and its mate passed underneath the Osprey's perch.

The Osprey's focus quickly returned to peering into the water in search of passing fish. The Osprey's special skills include diving feet first into the water, and going as much as three feet below the surface. The Eagle, on the other hand, normally only catches fish that are near the water's surface. Cornell also says the Osprey have a reversible toe which allows them to grasp with two talons on each side of their slippery prey. 

After an hour of patiently waiting and watching, the Osprey finally decides to make its move. By the way, it is interesting to note the color difference between the top of the Osprey and the underside. I suspect that when looking down on an Osprey which is flying over the water or land, the darker color is hard to pick out, while looking up at an Osprey circling against the sky, the lighter color is more difficult to see. This same dark and light pattern can be found on trout and salmon as well, most likely for the same reason.

One exception is the dark portion of the wing that is the furtherest forward in this photo. That area is referred to as the wrist. 

It is fun to try and imagine how the bones of the wings are actually structured in a pattern similar to our arms and hands.

At the last moment, the Osprey threw its feet forward and dived into the water. Sadly this happened behind a branch and out of sight. Much more sadly for the Osprey, it came up empty before heading back to the north side of Union Bay.

The Osprey are migratory birds, and in the next month or two they will be heading south. So if you would like to watch them in action, you should get out on the water as soon as possible. Some Osprey actually winter as far south as Argentina and Chile. In order for them to make a journey of that length, I suspect they must find food all along the way.

In parting, here is a photo, from two years ago, of a nest near the Ballard Locks. When we visited the nest earlier this month, it appeared to be empty. This made me wonder if a lack of fish is to blame.

If you are interested in protecting the Osprey's food sources, as well as our own, you may want to read this story published in the Seattle Times. Reverse decline of marine birds.

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