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

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tails of Entanglement

Last Sunday just before 8 a.m., Chester returned to the nest with food.

The young osprey were immediately attentive. I wonder if the association of father and food caused their mouth's to water.

Chester's work is never done, especially with three hungry young. He immediately returns to the skies. From the air he searches the bay for fish, while also watching for intruders approaching the nest. Lacey immediately put her head down and began parsing out the food.

Within five minutes the fish was virtually gone - except for the tail - which Lacey attempted to swallow.

Somehow the fishtail got jammed in the back of her mouth.

She offered the tail to one of her young.

The young normally remove fragments of food from the tip of her beak, so they had no clue what to do with the tail sticking out sideways - from the back of her mouth.

Lacey began hacking and coughing and flapping her wings. I wondered if the flapping was an instinctual reaction. It was almost like she was trying to back away from the problem.

It did not help. The fishtail did not budge.

The young lost interest. 

Note: The black spot in this photo is actually a meat-eating wasp attracted to the fragrance of fresh fish.

The flapping continued.

Those of us watching were getting seriously concerned. 

With the tail stuck in her mouth, she could not eat, feed the young and or focus on defending the nest.

I tried not to think about what would happen if Lacey did not survive. 

Later in the week, I would hear from Ray Holden about a current osprey nest in Olympia, where one of the parents died. All of their young disappeared, except one. With a lone parent doing everything - hunting, feeding and defending the nest - even a single survivor seems like a success story.

Lacey begins flying from one side of the nest to the other - obviously frustrated.

It is hard to appreciate the beauty of her wings under the circumstances, but it is amazing how something so large can be folded up so small. It makes me wonder if origami was inspired by wings. 

Lacey tries again with one of the young.

She even twists her head sideways.

She tries using her claw to pry the fishtail out.

At this point 35 minutes have passed since the tail first became lodged in her throat.

The young watch her carefully and lean away from her antics.

If you look back at the earlier post, Something to Celebrate, you can see a black cloth-like material on the right side of the nest. I mentioned to David Zuckerman, Manager of Horticulture at the UW Botanical Gardens, that scraps of manmade materials often entangle birds and can lead to their demise. Mr. Zuckerman spoke with the contractor at the Union Bay Natural Area, and for the last two weeks the site has been wonderfully tidy. Thank you to Mr. Zuckerman and the contractor - Matia-Jenson.

It would certainly be sadly ironic if we avoided the human refuse only to have a natural part of Lacey's diet end her life.

On a related note, last weekend Elaine Chuang sent in an email with a number of photos of this pied-billed grebe. 

Elaine's email stated:

"I just know you can help me. The other day I was on Foster Island but sadly wasn't able to linger long enough to discover what was actually going on here. Can you opine what is under this little PBGR? There seem to be at least four incredibly orange 'sticks' sticking out. In one or two shots, it looks as if these could be crustacean legs. Thanks! Elaine"

Off the top of my head, I could not come up with any immediate, obvious or logical explanation, however, I was lucky enough to meet with Martin Muller on Monday. Martin has spent a tremendous amount of time studying pied-billed grebes. If anyone on the planet would know what was going with this little grebe, it would be Martin.

Martin pointed out, "...They typically only haul out (other than on a nest) when they are stressed/diseased/impaired..." Otherwise a grebe is normally in the water, not up on a log like a duck. I decided to spend a little time looking for the grebe and the mysterious orange sticks. Neither Elaine nor I were able to spot the little bird again. 

I did find something with a similar shade of orange. In the middle of Foster Island an inexpensive, orange fencing material is being used to keep visitors out of the 520 construction area. Along the path I found a half a dozen "free-floating" scraps of the plastic fencing. The little scraps appear functionally equivalent to the plastic rings which are used to hold a six-pack of beer. I fear that this may have been what entangled the little grebe.

There is currently a lot of construction going on around Union Bay. There is all the work to replace the 520 Freeway, there is the new Loop Trail in the Arboretum and the 520 mitigation in the Union Bay Natural Area. If you find yourself visiting any of these sites, please keep your eyes pealed for any scraps of material that are "free-floating" in the environment. They should be immediately apprehended, any loops cut and the remainder safely disposed. You may also want to send an email to the folks at the Washington State Department of Transportation asking them to make sure this thin, cheap fencing material is being carefully policed. 

Their email address is:  SR520Bridge@wsdot.wa.gov

Happily, after 45 minutes of hacking, scratching, flapping and stress, Lacey finally freed herself from the fishtail.

The young were as hungry and attentive as always.

Chester returned with fish and everything else returned to normal. Although, I suspect that Lacey may have had a bit of a sore throat for a day or two. It is wonderful for our lives to be intertwined with nature, but we must take care not to entangle nature in the scraps of our modern society.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature shares our city!


Sunday, July 24, 2016

J Pod

Princess Angeline's latest offspring peaks over her back.

I must confess that A) I have never seen orcas before this week, B) my identifications are provisional and C) none of these photos were taken on Union Bay.

Earlier this month I spoke with a kind-hearted couple at the Union Bay Natural Area. They suggested that I might enjoy photographing orcas from Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island. Thank you both (Rick and Diana) for a wonderful suggestion!

Princess Angeline (J-17) was born in 1977 according to my documentation. My references were purchased at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor - you can see the titles below. Angeline's latest offspring (J-53) is less than one year old. One of the booklets mentioned that Angeline can also be seen in the "Free Willy" movies.

I found that the morning light was best for taking orca photos from Lime Kiln Point.

Sadly, I never did catch a whale doing a full body breach. My camera was never in focus and pointed in the right location at just the right time. After just thirteen hundred shots, I can say with confidence that photographing orcas is not as easy as falling off a log. 

Most often the orca's fin silently breaks the surface for just a moment or two, before once again sinking out of sight.

According to the documentation, the eldest of the J Pod orcas is Granny (J-2). She is believed to be 105 years old. It is hard to imagine her experience and knowledge. I think the saddle patch on the whale on the left looks a lot like Granny's photos, but I also see other orcas in the references who look similar.

Regardless of the precise identification, watching the orcas is truly awe-inspiring. The person next to us pointed out their smooth, gentle gracefulness, which I found both impressive and soothing.

I over heard researchers, sitting near by, mention seeing the whale Notch (J-47). This photo is a very close match to his documented photos. He is apparently named for the little notch halfway up the backside of his dorsal fin. According to what I read, he was first spotted in 2010. Wouldn't it be interesting to know how he got his notch.

I have learned that mature males can weigh as much as four tons. Unlike raptors, mature female orcas are smaller than the males. They average a dainty 3000 pounds. Note: Other sources list some much larger maximum weights for both genders. In either case, their power is evident in the bow waves they create when they put their heads down to dive.

Seeing three or four whales together makes me wonder how often single whales, as seen on the surface, are actually traveling with companions hidden beneath the waves.

No matter how large the whales are, or how close together, I never saw any sign of crowding or anger. They appear very well-mannered, almost civilized. The term "killer whale" certainly seems like a misnomer.

Later in the day, with the sun sinking behind them, they appeared as silhouettes. Their white markings become less obvious, however the notch on the dorsal fin on the far left still looks distinctive.

I have heard that orcas need about 200 pounds of salmon every day. My guess is that this whale has had its fill and is laying on its back and splashing its tail just for the fun of it.

During our limited visit, there appeared to be more playfulness later in the day.

 Swimming sideways also allows a flipper to be used...

...for splashing.

Sadly, most of the decline in resident orcas appears to be happening to this southern group - the J Pod. Twenty years ago there were nearly sixty whales in the pod, today the number is closer to thirty. They need abundant and healthy salmon. A pod of 30 eats about 6000 pounds a day. It makes me wonder if I am doing everything I can to help with salmon recovery. (Long live the Kings is a great local organization - focused on salmon recovery.)

I wonder how much longer J Pod will survive? Will our grandchildren get to see these beautiful creatures?

I am hoping this tail flip signifies "See you later", not "Good Bye."

Humans and orcas, trees and streams, salmon, sound or bay we are all interconnected pieces in the web of life. 

Have a great day on the Salish Sea...where J Pod struggles to survive! 


References used and purchased at the Whale Museum:

1) "The Southern Resident Community of Endangered Orcas", Family Groups 2016 - A Handy Reference Guide to the Family Groups in J, K and L Pods.

2) "2016 - Matriline ID Guide - J, K, L Pod" - Southern Resident Killer Whales

A Birding Challenge:

Just before the orcas arrived at Lime Kiln Point I caught a few photos of this gull.

This week's birding challenge is to identify both the gull... 

...and its food. Please include your sources and logic used. Honestly, I am hoping to learn some of the finer points of gull identification. My email is: LDHUBBELL at comcast dot net.

Bonus Photos:

This photo is looking southwest from San Juan island. That is Vancouver Island in the foreground. I am uncertain if that is the Olympic Mountains in the distance or a high point on Vancouver Island.

The distances involved exceeded the optical clarity of my lens. With the heat waves and everything involved the result is that this enlargement of the photo looks more like a painting than photo. I found it curiously interesting.