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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Storm Watch

This morning, just before dawn, the sunlit moon looked somewhat egg-shaped in the western sky. I was waiting near Storm's new roost to see how she handled the sub-freezing temperatures. 

In case you did not read the previous post, this photo from last week shows Storm just outside her new roost in a cottonwood snag located near Foster island and Duck Bay.

For the first time this fall, on Thanksgiving morning ice extended across Duck Bay all the way to Nest Egg Island. 

Each morning since, has felt slightly colder.

This morning, as the sun turned the eastern sky pink, Storm peaked out of her roost. A bewick's wren moved silently around the tree below her. A spotted towhee "mewed" softly in the underbrush. A crow coming from the northwest landed in the top of Storm's tree. The crow was carrying human food, not doubt an Apple Cup leftover. 

Storm took turns glancing out at the frozen world and then shrinking back into the protective warmth of her roost. The feathers under her chin appeared to have a white frosting.

Over the period of thirty minutes, Storm slowly progressed, sticking her head out slightly farther with each external observation. 

During this time the sun gradually warmed the air and moisture formed into fog around Nest Egg Island. Nearly invisible, "the ghost" of a white gull drifted overhead. 

Storm silently sampled the air with her tongue before deciding on indoor work. The falling wood chips provided evidence of her efforts. Surprisingly, it turned out that I was not the only one watching out for Storm this week.

On Tuesday, not too long before sunset, I heard a mature male pileated calling softly. He flew directly in and landed in a tree top high above Storm's roost. Given our limited daylight it was actually just after 3 p.m. in the afternoon.

For ten minutes or so he looked in every possible direction.

While looking north, he suddenly began calling out in a very loud voice.

Faster than my eye could follow, Storm flew in from the north. She barely landed in a nearby tree before quickly moving to her roost.

Silently, she disappeared inside.

She glanced out a few times while the male kept watch above her.

Soon, the male moved to some distant cottonwoods. He appeared to feed for a few minutes before flying off in the direction of the Don Graham Visitor's Center. Whether he stopped or kept moving towards Interlake Park I could not see. 

In the past, I would normally assume a mature male pileated in this area was Elvis. For a year or two he even had a mark on his neck that allowed me to be positive of the identification. Elvis and his mate have raised young in Interlake Park for at least four years, and often feed together on Foster Island, in the Arboretum or even on top of light poles around Montlake.

All About Birds says, "A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round. It will defend the territory in all seasons, but will tolerate new arrivals during the winter." This male's behavior seems more than tolerant, it actually seems protective.

Elvis and Priscilla raised three young this spring. They hatched out two females and a male. One female was apparently hit by a vehicle on 23rd near Interlaken, and did not survive. 

The questions in my mind just keep on coming. Could this be the other young female? Is this male actually Elvis and is he still watching out for one of his progeny? Is this a second unrelated mature female encroaching on Elvis and Priscilla's territory? Has something happened to Priscilla? Is Elvis courting a new bride? Is this male not Elvis at all?, but a new male in the area? If this is a new male, has Elvis been replaced or is this new competition? Will there be a territorial dispute come spring? Who would have guessed there could so much mystery surrounding a Storm Watch.

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


Silhouette Challenge:

Can you determine what type of bird this is? The answer will be in next week's post.

Last week's silhouette belonged to a cooper's hawk. I can be positive because he was a banded bird that I have seen more than once. However, given the similarity between cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks, either answer deserves full credit. The predatory beak and the long tail should be indicative in this area.


  1. Wonderful as always, Larry! Thanks for the suspense -- we look forward to the next installment in the drama.

    1. Thank you! I am trying to figure out how to resolve some of the questions before spring. Either way it will be great fun learning more about the pileated woodpeckers.