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

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Hidden Treasures


This week Union Bay Watch is proud to participate in the PNW Nature Blog Scavenger Hunt. 

Your goal is to answer a nature question on each of a variety of PNW nature blogs, just one question per blog.

The Union Bay Watch question is, "What treasure is scheduled to be hidden next to the ponds at the Union Bay Natural Area?"

To learn the rest of the questions and the other nature blog locations please visit:


Northern Flickers tend to blend in with their surroundings. From the back, while working in your yard, they might even be mistaken for a large robin. 

When you stop and take a closer look at our most common Union Bay woodpecker, you notice the richness of the alternating colors. You see the tan-brown on the back and top of the head, the grey of the face, the off-white of the belly highlighted by the random but somehow uniform black dots and in the males you notice the bright red malar stripe.

From the front you can see the black crescent that looks like a dark bib. If you watch closely when the flicker flies away, you will see a bright white rump as they ascend into the foliage of a tree. However unless you watch very closely, you are unlikely to see the flicker's hidden treasures.

Our local northern flickers only display their orange feathers when competing for mates or territory. These displays happen quickly and are not aimed at humans, so capturing the colors feels like finding a hidden treasure. This female is hoping to gain the affection of a male.

The male is interested in something but…

 …the question is…

 …Is he interested in either one of the females that are attempting to gain his attention? As you can see in this photo, the undersides of their wings are also covered in orange.

Maybe the male was just playing hard to get, because when one of the females gets closer, he does turn and provide her with his own tail display.

Although hidden to the camera, it looks as though the female is responding with a similar display. The other female immediately springs into action.

She drops to a lower position and begins a nearly upside down display, which is clearly aimed at the male.

 Although she gives her best effort, the male seems mesmerized with the closer female.

When the first female decides to do an aerial display, the second gives up and leaves.

I wonder if the bright orange shafts, displayed on the top side of the tail feathers, are the source of the red-shafted name for our local variety of the northern flicker. If so, it seems like a more appropriate name would be an orange-shafted northern flicker.

The beautiful colors and displays of the mating process end in nest making, egg laying and raising young. The young in the nest are the flicker's ultimate hidden treasure. Can you pick out the hidden treasure in this photo? 

Around The Bay:

The shorelines around the main ponds, at the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA), have historically provided food and rest for 29 species of migrating shorebirds. The planned 520 mitigation would cover and surround these shores with native plants, denying shorebirds a key stop in their migration. 

Click Here to read why local experts, Connie Sidles, Dr. Dennis Paulson and the Seattle Audubon, are against this portion of the mitigation.

Ironically, there are many other Union Bay shore areas which desperately need the native plants included in the mitigation plan

Examples include this shoreline on the southeast side of Foster Island (as pictured above) or the shoreline near the mouth of Arboretum Creek, which looks similar. These shores are covered with invasive ivy, holly and blackberries, unlike the shores of the ponds at the UBNA. The alternative shorelines would clearly benefit from the mitigation efforts.

Please sign the Seattle Audubon petition and ask the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to relocate the 520 shoreline mitigation work, which is currently planned for the ponds at the UBNA. The millions of dollars being spent should be applied where the need is clear and uncontested. Speak up for the shorebirds by asking WSDOT, "Please do not hide the treasured shores of the UBNA ponds."

Click Here to see shorebirds in action.

Click Here to sign the Seattle Audubon petition.

Have a great day on Union Bay…where shorebirds hope to migrate!



  1. Thank you for solving a mystery for me! I've occasionally found orange and black feathers on the ground and couldn't figure out where they had come from. They are so bright that they look like they could have fallen off a costume, but they were also clearly natural from their construction. I can't remember the time of year I've found them, but I think it was probably late spring or summer.

    1. You are welcome! I haven't study the molting times of flickers but I would guess they grow their new feathers in the late summer and fall so your timing makes sense to me. Have a great day!

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