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

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Sitting Pretty

A single shaft of sunlight somehow winds its way through the big-leafed maples, gently circumventing the smaller leaves of the indian plum and lands squarely on the only place this little hummingbird had hoped to hide - her nest.

Its almost like she wears it. I can imagine she slips it over her head. A sweater made of moss 'n lichen - discreetly stitched with spider silk.

At the right angle, her iridescent feathers bloom into a rosy glow.

They do not hold a candle to the male's head dress. The female seeks solace in substance, rather than style.

She builds the nest, lays the eggs, protects and feeds the young and all the while working virtually non-stop. Who can blame a female if she occasionally needs to get away for a little "me-time". (Males seem to sit around and look pretty, until its time for a battle of egos.)

Stretching the neck seems like a good start. She looks up...

...and then she looks down - most likely with a cleansing breath.

She stretches the right foot...

...and then thoughtfully scratches her chin.

Then, she switches feet to do it again.

She even stretches her tongue. I have often wondered why a hummingbird will extend its tongue into the empty air. My first thought is, it must be similar to when we lick our lips - maybe a cleaning maneuver. I am curious whether they might be able to taste pollen in the air.

Then she does the classical wing & tail stretch.

This is followed by checking under her wing...

...and then an in-depth probing of ruffled feathers.

Surprisingly, her wings can be stretched down as well as up.

Next, we are treated to the full feather fluff.

This is followed by a ten feathered fan of the tail...

...and the don't-be-laughing-at-me look.

Ultimately, the me-time must come to an end.

A mother cannot be gone long.

There are mouths to feed.

A young bird is an eating machine...

...blindly devouring each drop of nectar placed deep within.

Only when the young have been satiated can a mother return to sitting pretty.

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


PS: A very special Thank You to everyone who responded with an email to Garrett - regarding the Marsh Island Trail.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Marsh Island Trail

A Union Bay Bald Eagle photographed from the Marsh Island Trail.

This morning Garrett Farrell, Project Manager with Seattle Parks and Recreation, explained that he is heading to Olympia this week seeking funds to upgrade the trail that connects Marsh Island to Foster Island in Union Bay. Portions of the trail float between the islands and major portions of the trail are submerged each Spring as the water level in the lake rises.

Garrett is hoping to raise the sinking portions of the trail so it does not require an annual reloading of wood chips to stay above the water line. The raised trail would also become ADA accessible and it would make wandering off the trail less likely. In addition, Garrett envisions funding to make sure the floating portions of the trail are safe, secure and functional.

Garrett assured me that his plan does not include any increase (or decrease) in the footprint of the trail. The same "side" spurs, docks and the view platform would still be accessible by foot like they are today.

A successful hunting expedition - photographed from the Marsh Island Trail. 

Garrett is in need of public support to show that the Marsh Island Trail is a community asset in need of funding and improvement. If you are a user of the Marsh Island Trail, please email Garrett and let him know you support his plan. 

He would like to know how you use the trail, e.g. birding, daily exercise, etc., and how often you use the trail. In addition, if the current setup causes you difficulty please communicate that as well. For birders it can be especially disappointing to attempt to visit the area during the Spring only to find you must ultimately turn back due to a submerged trail. This is particularly frustrating when you have to back track and circle around a mile or more to reach your intended destination.

Please email Garrett at: garrett.farrell@seattle.gov

Thank you for your support!


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Wonders of Spring

 One of the loudest proponents of Spring in the Union Bay Natural Area is the marsh wren.

The male Anna's Hummingbird is less vocal, but more visually outspoken.

The killdeer takes a more subtle approach.

While reviewing the photos, I momentarily wondered if this second killdeer was trying to trick me into thinking the rock was an egg.

It was nice to see Canada geese goslings during the last month.

One of the wonders of Spring is the simultaneous falling of cottonwood down and...

...the appearance of mallard ducklings. The seeds, hidden in the floating down, appear to be the ducklings first critical food source.

The dark-eyed junco in the midst of the hawthorn blossoms also creates an image of Spring.

At first I could not determine what the bird was doing.

As I looked closer, I noticed a small off-white worm.

The junco collected additional specimens as it flittered from one blossom to next.

I began to wonder how many little worms the junco could carry.

It must take a great deal of self-control to carry food around in your mouth without eating it.

The junco revealed its purpose when it flew to a nearby tree and began feeding a young fledgling. 

I was surprised to notice a number of differences between the young bird and the parent. The young bird's early plumage is sprinkled with speckles both above and below. Most of its coloring does not completely match the adult, including the color of the beak. Also, I see the head of the fledgling as closer to dark brown, as opposed to the gray-black on the adult.

I did find three areas where the colors of the two birds seem fairly consistent. Can you pick them out? My answers are displayed below the next photo.

In general, the most consistent factor in the fledgling's coloring is camouflage. It seems clear that this early plumage is designed to help the young bird survive during the early days  - while learning to fly and identify danger.

The three commonly colored areas I noticed are:

1) Their eyes,
2) Their legs and
3) Their white outer-tail feathers.

I admit that noticing items two and three from the photos is a bit of a challenge. 

The adult's pink legs are only visible in the first junco photo, while the fledgling's legs are visible in both of the last two photos.

A couple of weeks ago I learned that most birds retract their tail feathers in the same way. Most end up having their central feathers on top of the closed tail and their outer tail feathers fold into place underneath. This explains why a junco's tail appears dark from the top and light from below. In the next to last photo, the white outer tail feathers are visible on both birds.


Osprey Update:

Photo by Soo Hong Goh-Baus.

This week I received the following email.

Hi Larry,
New to this site.
This is my osprey picture on Tuesday morning.
Soo Hong Goh-Baus

Soo Hong, Thank you for the great capture! Not only have the osprey started the process of producing eggs, it looks like the eggs are laid and they are now taking turns brooding e.g. covering and protecting the eggs with their bodies.

This week, Jim Kaiser, the biologist from Osprey Solutions, sent in an email that stated, 

"The adult female was observed in incubation posture (laying horizontal  in the nest)..."

Thank you Jim! I too have been seeing the same posture and position all week.

Yesterday one of the adults brought a fish back to the nest.

The two birds traded the fish and apparently their responsibilities as well.

The hungry bird simply circled around and landed on the raised perch.

The fish was quickly consumed.

As I mentioned in the last post, Jim suggested we give the birds a little space - watching from the bench to the east of the platform - for the first few weeks while they get their eggs laid. Jim says that ultimately osprey are not nearly as shy as many other birds. This is good because everyone who passed the nest yesterday morning was clearly impressed and attracted by the sight of osprey. The excitement of seeing the birds nesting and feeding was almost like electricity in the air.

It has been a long tumultuous adventure for the osprey, but finally they appear to be approaching their goal of raising young on Union Bay. If you would like to read about their history here is a list of relevant posts.

Opportunity Knocks - May 2015 - The idea of a osprey nesting platform on Union Bay.

The Wildlife News - Sept 2015 - The osprey fail to use the new platform (page down to the middle of the post to see the update.)

Dancing With Osprey - April 2016 - The osprey return but choose to build on a light pole above the athletic fields - instead of on the designated nesting platform.

A Symbiotic Hope - April 2016 - The osprey nest is removed from the light pole.

Osprey Update - May 2016 - The osprey finally begin nest building on the platform in the Union Bay Natural Area.

Finally, this week nesting behavior is confirmed and it appears that eggs have been laid. In the coming weeks as you watch the osprey and this wonderful process unfold there are a number of participants who deserve our thanks.
  • Dean Pearson for championing the idea with the UW Athletic Department.
  • The UW Athletic Department for funding the platform and pole.
  • Fred Hoyt, David Zuckerman and the University of Washington Botanic Gardens for agreeing to host the platform, pole and osprey in the Union Bay Natural Area and
  • Jim Kaiser, from Osprey Solutions, for providing the guidance, knowledge and alternatives that enabled this ultimate success.

Thank you one and all!

Have a great day on Union Bay...where osprey nest in the city!


Monday, May 16, 2016

Osprey Update

Stephanie just sent in this beautiful photo and the following information.


I...wanted to let you know I saw one of the osprey bring multiple loads of mown grass to the nest last week. Another person I spoke with says she watched them copulating, but I did not see that part so can't confirm.  But definitely some nest building. Attached is a photo to confirm.

Love your blog

Stephanie Colony


Thank you for the awesome photo - perfectly timed - and wonderful information!



To Fellow Osprey Observers,

Jim Kaiser, from Osprey Solutions, mentioned that for the first few weeks we might want to watch the osprey from a slightly greater than normal distance. He suggested the bench just east of the nesting platform as an appropriate location. 

Especially in the early phase of nest building any feeling of harassment may cause the osprey to give up. I have found that if I look at a bird and it stares back it is showing concern about my presence. If instead the bird ignores me and continues with whatever it was doing then I believe I am at a good distance. Simply looking away from a bird often helps them feel at ease.

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


Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Aerie Life

Imagine the only life you have ever known has been in a six foot circle far above the earth. You are surrounded by activity. Most mornings, earthbound humans scurry off to work or school. Distant workers look like little ants as they construct the new 520 highway. Directly below you humans with the luxury of time, skip little white balls across the carefully manicured grass. None of this disturbs your regal repose. You rest above the world like a king on a throne.

Even in your awkward youthful state you know you were born to rule. Your parents bring you all the food you can eat. The menu makes it obvious they are apex predators. Figuratively and literally you are at the top of the food chain. A world full of opportunity stretches out below you. It is all just waiting for you to venture out and stake your claim. To the casual observer your life might seem as easy as a fairy tale. 

First thing in the morning, as the sunshine reaches the nest Albert, your father, welcomes the day with a long, loud melody. Having not yet learned to fly you have no choice but to listen. 

During the heat of the day you have no way to reach cool water to quench your thirst. Nor can you glide down to a shady shore just to cool off. When it is cold and wet you must simply endure the wind and rain. You are no longer small enough for your mother to keep you warm. 

As the sun rises, your father continues his music making. Maybe he is informing all those who can hear that he (and Eva) still rule the skies on the south side of Union Bay.

Your father's glance seems to imply, "Oh! Sorry, Did I wake you?"

You are grumpy and sleepy. Your sibling nips at your "nose" and somehow the fairy tale feeling escapes you.

After glancing around and finding no fresh food, you and your sibling attempt to go back to sleep.

As you retire, your mother comes down from her roost and lands in the nest.

Your father takes the opportunity to give up guard duty and slips out the backdoor.

In less than five minutes, you abandon your hope of sleep when your father returns with a new branch. Apparently, he feels dawn is a great time for remodeling.

After the initial installation, he is off to find another piece of lumber. 

Male bald eagles are 50% smaller than the females. It is easy to see in this photo that even though Albert is closer, he is clearly smaller than Eva. If we look closely at the king-of-the-sky analogy we find that Eva is the true ruler. Albert, her spouse, is more like a prince or royal husband.

Learning to fly is by far the largest challenge in store for young eaglets. Many do not survive their first attempt. It is all or nothing. Hopefully, during the next few weeks we will get to watch their learning process.

The lives of wild creatures only seem simple from a distance. Their habitat, every part of their body and every skill they must learn are critical to their survival. Fairy tales are easy to understand because they are presented in a simple fashion. The real world is complex and challenging. By paying attention to the creatures who surround us we learn how our choices impact their lives.


Frequently Asked Questions:

How old are the eaglets?

Since I was unable to see inside the nest I cannot state their age with precision. However I can offer my observations and estimates.

On March 5th Eva's behavior noticeably changed. She went from sitting around the edge of the nest or on a nearby branch to spending her time down in the middle of the nest - brooding. When viewed at a distance, only the top of her head was showing. (Occasionally, males also take turns sitting on the brood.) The change of behavior implied to me that Eva had laid her first egg. From what I have read the second egg would most likely have been laid within a day or two.

April 9th was 35 days after the first egg was laid, hypothetically. The incubation period listed on multiple sources is 34 to 36 days. However, for the first few weeks the young birds spend most of their time under the protection of their parents bodies. In addition, the depth of the nest makes seeing a small creature in the middle of the nest nearly impossible. So we have no way to see the eggs hatching or the very young eaglets in the nest.

On May 3rd I spotted a young eaglet's head showing above the edge of the nest for the first time. If my observations and estimations are correct that would make the young birds roughly 4 1/2  weeks old as of Friday, May 13th.

When will they leave the nest?

This varies depending on a number of factors. For one, since male eagles are smaller than females, it seems logical that the males mature faster. Maybe even more important the first bird to hatch is likely to get more food and therefore develop faster. There is no such thing as good manners among successful predators - the strongest eat longest - and first.

The average length of time before an eagle leaves the nest seems to be around 11 weeks, although there can be many weeks of variance. In 2012, the first time I saw a young eaglet in this nest was June 2nd. If we assume that eaglet's age as being three weeks old then we can estimate its age when it left the nest. If memory serves me right, the first eaglet left the nest around the end of July and its sibling left around the end of August. This would make them roughly 11 and 15 weeks old at the time they left the nest. Given the earlier start for this year's birds, I would tend to bet that they will leave the nest sometime in July. However, I would not be surprised to be wrong.

When will they mature?

The estimates I usually hear are four and a half to five years, at which point their heads and tails turn white and they begin looking seriously for a mate. This means these young eaglets will most likely mature in 2021.

What do they eat?

Their favorite food is fish. 

In addition to catching their own, they will also help themselves to fish caught by our Union Bay cormorants and osprey. A Madison Park neighbor reported seeing an eagle attempting to raid a crow's nest last week. I have also seen one catch a gull. Plus, I am sure small mammals would also meet their dietary requirements.

Given the predatory zeal in their eyes they seem to like all birds equally.

Spoiler Alert: If you have a soft spot for goslings you may want to skip the next photo.

My primary reason for including this photo is to show the size of the young eaglet's heads relative to the size of the gosling. Gosling bodies quickly grow larger than oranges. In this photo it is also impressive to see how Eva is using her wings to shade the young eaglets from the heat of the afternoon sun.

What could I do to help the eagles?

Finding ways to reduce water pollution - like driving less and installing rain gardens - will help salmon and other fish survive. Since fish are a primary food source they are critical to the eagles, as well as orcas, osprey and many other wild creatures. Lately, I have also been hearing how the nutrients from salmon even help the plants and trees of our forests.


Osprey Update:

Last Sunday morning, Jim Kaiser, from Osprey Solutions, reported seeing one of the osprey on the nesting platform, which was erected last year. I checked on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and both times one of the birds was on the pole or the platform. Finally, it looks like the osprey may be taking ownership. Sadly, I have not seen any sign of sticks being gathered or of a nest being built. However, this may be a step in the process. Hopefully, next year they will start out nesting on the platform instead of a light pole.

Parting Photo:

Have a great day on Union Bay...where eaglets are learning to rule!