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

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Opportunity Knocks

Young osprey are one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.

This photo was taken in 2012 near the Ballard Locks. This nest was relocated from a nearby railroad trestle. The railroad company installed the pole & platform and moved the nest while the osprey were wintering in Central America. The next spring, the osprey easily adapted to the new location.

Note: U.S. osprey migrate to Central and South America each winter. Which means their young have a very small window of time to add weight, learn to fly, and develop enough strength to cover thousands of miles, in order to reach their winter feeding grounds (or waters). 

For the last month, a pair of osprey have been frequently feeding, mating and…

bringing nesting material to the light poles…

...above the new Husky Baseball Stadium. 

Osprey have consistently been seen around the Union Bay Natural Area, next to the baseball field, for at least 10 years (eBird). On May 13th, Dean Pearson, a groundskeeper for the UW Athletic Department, reported, "...They have been so much fun to watch. Lots of activity!…" 

However, falling branches and fish entrails may not be as fun for the fans as baseball bats and hot dogs. This creates a modern-day conundrum, how do we coexist with the osprey?

If you share your home with someone, you may have learned that understanding each other is the first step towards harmonious co-existence. If you only know one thing about osprey, it should be, osprey love fish. Fish are more than 99% of an osprey's diet. This photo shows an hovering osprey searching the waters of Union Bay for food. 

Osprey are specially adapted to capturing fish. When leaving a perch, the osprey's initial approach may look similar to an eagle's gentle swoop; however, unlike eagles, osprey dive straight down into the water.

Just prior to hitting the water at full speed, osprey throw their feet forward. With their legs parallel to their necks their talons hit the water first. Pads on their feet are covered with sharp spines (spicules) to secure the fish. Each foot also has a reversible toe which helps optimize their grip. 

Unlike eagles, osprey can dive as deep as three feet into the water. Their powerful wings,  water-resistant oils and relatively small bodies enable them to lift off with a fish, even after being fully submerged. Once airborne, osprey carry their catch aerodynamically aligned with their bodies, while eagles are indifferent to the airflow and often carry their prey parallel to their wings.

The water in front of the Shell House, just south of the baseball field, is relatively shallow and usually clear, which makes it very attractive to osprey. From their point of view, it is similar to a flashing neon sign that says, "Eat Here, Eat Here!"

The light poles provide the visibility the osprey desire for consuming the fish and nesting. Since the removal of the tall snags, along with the old-growth forest that previously surrounded Union Bay, the osprey have adapted. They are increasingly using man-made structures as nest sites. You can read more about it in this USGS fact sheet.

Here is an example: this photo was taken last year on Whidbey Island. This was an established nest above the track at the local high school. Jim Kaiser, from Osprey Solutions, said it weighed around 500 pounds. The school officials, no doubt, became concerned about the potential for falling nest material and the possible fire hazard, not to mention the biohazard from having excrement and fish parts on the track.

Last winter, Jim worked with the school and a number of other local organizations, e.g. Kitsap Audubon for one,  to erect a pole and platform at a more appropriate, nearby location. Yesterday, the South Whidbey Record reported, what my friend Dan Pedersen had already noted, the osprey have returned and are happily nesting at their new, safer, location.

Jim states it is easier, cleaner, and less expensive to attract the osprey to an appropriately located platform, before the osprey get their nest established. 

Immediately east of the baseball field, in the southwest portion of the Union Bay Natural Area, just south of the old parking lot, is one such location. The parking area is already scheduled for 520 environmental remediation. 

Last week, the osprey were seen hunting from one of the 520 cranes and in past years they have been seen hunting from snags in the area near the construction. It would seem appropriate to utilize a small portion of the 520 remediation funds to install a nesting platform for our Union Bay osprey.

The osprey would be the big winners in this situation; however, there would be others who would benefit as well;

  • The fans at the baseball field might still see the osprey, with binoculars, without experiencing the fallout. 
  • A nest in the the natural area would enhance the University of Washington Botanical Gardens experience. 
  • The citizens of Seattle would have the opportunity to annually observe the beauty of young nesting osprey. 
  • The nest would serve as a visual reminder of our success with environmental remediation for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
  • Finally, for years to come, students and educators at the University of Washington would have a living lesson of humanity in harmony with nature. 

Please consider forwarding a link to this post to anyone you know who may be able to help facilitate a solution for the osprey. Thank you!

Have a great day on Union Bay…where osprey hope to nest!


A small sample of nesting platforms provided by Jim Kaiser and Osprey Solutions:
Chambers Bay:


Cecil Moses Park, Duwamish River, King County:

Here is one more example in Tukwila.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New Eaglets in 520 Nest

A new pair of eaglets were barely visible in the Broadmoor nest, on Monday. 

Last year the 520 eagles, commonly called Eva and Albert, appeared to spend time on the eggs but no eaglets arrived. It is reassuring to once again see new life in the nest.

Happily, the eagles not only overcame last year's failed attempt, but also do not appear stressed or distracted by the 520 construction. They are even still hunting from the old 520 light poles.

The eaglets appear to be approximately 2 weeks ahead of schedule, when compared to this June 2nd photo from 2012.

It is interesting to note the condition of the young eaglet's wings. The initial "feather" covering looks more like soft warm fur. Warmth is important given the wind and exposure in the nest. The eaglets will grow and change rapidly over the next few weeks. By Independence Day the eaglets will look a lot more like the parents, although it will be four or five years before they are fully mature with white heads and tails.

On closer examination you can see the cores of new feathers beginning to extrude from the wings. These wings are not yet capable of flight, so it is critical that the young birds remain in the nest. The nest is about hundred feet above the ground. Even though the grass on the golf course looks soft, the eaglets would be unlikely to survive a fall. 

Albert watches when Eva returns with a fish. The waters of Union Bay are providing plenty of food for the growing family.

The young have apparently learned to eat on their own, as Eva did not parse out pieces as she has done in previous years.

She dropped the fish and flew to a perch just above the nest. Most of the time one or both of the parents remain in the nesting tree to protect the young. Crows have been the only creatures seen observing the nest. The crows are noisy, but they stay out of reach of the parent's beaks and talons.

On Tuesday evening, the nonstop parenting process continued.

Someone passing by remarked that the young eaglets look a bit like dinosaurs. The resemblance is amazing.

We are very lucky to share our city, and our planet, with these incredible creatures.

Eva must be able to tell the eaglets apart. I wonder if she has names for them? We cannot know her thoughts, but the mothering instinct is obvious. 

The 520 eagles had two eaglets in 2012, one in 2013 and apparently none in 2014. Their stories and photos can be viewed by clicking on the following links:



Have a great day on Union Bay…where eaglets live in the city!


Birding With Barry | Nisqually Wildlfie Refuge

Our visit to the refuge did not start out with our minds in the gutter.

The tree swallows... 

...on the other hand…

…were feeling frisky.

Our instructor, Barry Levine - Master Birder, provided a well-paced flow of relevant information to help us distinguish one bird from another. For instance the tree swallows do not have as much white on their cheek as the somewhat similar violet-green swallows. We signed up for Barry's class, e.g. Birding 201 - Intermediate Birding, through Seattle Audobon.

One of Barry's earliest birding inspirations involved seeing a cooper's hawk in action. While his most memorable birding experience was a 1989 trip to the Everglades with his future wife. Instantly, he was smiling as he talked about the incredible variety of birds he had seen through the Everglades fog. 

Speaking of cooper's hawks, during our initial class in Seattle, Barry gave us the opportunity to identify a number of stuffed birds, all of which died of natural causes and were not harmed in any way for our class. This was particularly valuable when comparing cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. These birds are very similar and very challenging to identify correctly. To learn more about these birds, Click Here.

Back at Nisqually, a crossbill sitting with his back to the sun, provided us a view of his distinctive profile.

A pair of cinnamon teals were a little less free with their profiles.

Although, shortly after we began our trip on the boardwalk the male provided not only his profile but also a flash of his speculum. Barry said the speculum is like a window in the wing, in this case it is green, in the case of gadwalls it is white and with mallards it is blue.

An american goldfinch also provided a profile view. Barry noted the notched tail and the conical bill to help us be certain it was a finch.

A song sparrow gathered cotton which was blowing down from the cottonwood trees. Barry pointed out the grey "eyebrow" and told us to look for the pinspot in the middle of its chest.

Meanwhile a marsh wren, with its speckled back, gathered…

…more substantial nesting materials...

..and flashed its short tail in our direction.

We saw slow growing lifeforms...

…plus the flash of a western tanager (see more tanagers here) who came down from the treetops to sample the salmonberries. 

Earlier, we had fleeting glimpses of a yellow warbler among the willow leaves. Barry taught us to listen for the "Sweet, Sweet, Sweet, I'm So Very Sweet" sound of its song. The bird was much faster than my camera. To see a yellow warbler photo and hear the sound of its song, Click Here.

A bit later a cedar waxwing was spotted. It was also eating salmonberries. The red "wax" on its wing is barely visible just below the obscuring leaf. If you click on this photo you may be able to see the yellow on the tip of its tail.

Beyond the boardwalk we encountered a female brown-headed cowbird.

 In the distance we saw dowitchers.

The debate over the shape of their bodies was aimed at determining whether they were the slightly more sleek short-billed or the lumpier long-billed dowitchers. Barry mentioned for most birders vocalization is the only way to positively identify which dowitcher you are looking at at this distance.

Just after this, with help from Brian and Matt, we also spotted an american bittern in-flight and a yellow-headed blackbird, however the birds were too quick to be photographed. None-the-less, they were wonderful and special birds to see.

The male rufous hummingbird sat with his back to the light which only provided us with a dim view of his distant brilliance.

Even further in the distance, a shy ruddy duck gave us a brief glimpse of its bright blue beak.

A mature bald eagle passed by with regal indifference to our earth-bound existence.

A bit closer, a savannah sparrow quietly showed off its only claim to brilliant coloring, e.g. one of its faintly yellow eyebrows.

The much more colorful common yellowthroat loudly proclaimed its territorial ambitions. Early on in our adventure Barry taught us to listen for the "Wichety, wichety, wichety" song of the yellowthroat, as we heard the sound repeated through out the day, it became a song we are unlikely to forget. To hear the sound, Click Here.

Later, a closer view of a common yellowthroat also showed the small insects it was hunting.

Surprisingly, when the brilliant yellowthroat turned its back among the dry reeds, it almost disappeared.

While we were watching the wildlife, the wildlife was also watching us. About the same time Barry spotted young hooded mergansers that were swiftly hidden by their mother.

Later, we saw a male gadwall and Barry mentioned the rufous coloring hidden beneath its wing along with its white speculum. To see examples, Click Here, and then look at the fourth and fifth photos in the post.

A spotted towhee, formally know as a rufous-sided towhee.

A downy woodpecker. To compare it with a hairy woodpecker, Click Here. 

We also saw a red-breasted sapsucker but it flew directly over our heads and was too fast for photos. An example from last winter in the Arboretum can be seen, Here.

Barry spotted this singular goose, which was the most unique bird we saw all day. Barry's research indicates this is a Greater White-fronted Goose/Canada Goose hybrid.

Birding can be a lifelong endeavor with no end to the learning opportunities, but taking a class from Master Birder can certainly be a great assistance to the process.

Have a great day!


Tanager Update:

I just read a wonderful piece on tanagers. It was written by Dan Pedersen, a Whidbey Island nature-loving author, photographer and friend. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Please follow the link below: