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

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Bandits and Birding

Thursday morning, I kayaked over to the Union Bay Natural Area to check on the osprey. Photos from the water are a bit more distant than land-based photos, but with the construction in-progress my options are limited. It turned out there were some unique benefits to being on the water.

For one thing it changes my perspective: the week before last, when I kayaked over, I caught this photo of a fish attempting to nose its way through the surface tension.

This week, I caught the nose and eye, of what I suspect is a turtle, just before it dived.

During both trips I found young great blue herons searching for food below the surface. Each time I also watched an osprey dive at the herons. The herons squawked loudly, obviously irritated, and moved a few feet away. 

On my first outing, I was able to identify the osprey as Lacey, the mother of our three young osprey. One dive was always enough to make her point. Something like, 'Keep your head down and do not even try flying near my nest!'

Lacey's efforts seem less necessary this week, since it appears all of her young have learned to fly.

Apparently, they still need to learn how to fish. On Thursday morning, their food focus was all about theft. When the sibling on the left landed, the bird on the right attempted to hide his fish, while also calling out defensively. Neither approach was effective.

The hungry bird sidled closer.

The sibling on the right gets 'up in arms', so to speak.

When the aggressor goes for the food, he gets a peck on the neck...

...but ultimately he secures his prize. I think once they've eaten they become less motivated to really fight for their food.

When a duck flushed nearby, the splashing and thrashing of wings distracted me from the osprey. I looked around trying to figure out what disturbed the ducks.

It turns out that during both visits a set of three masked bandits came creeping through the cattails, searching for food. You can't blame the ducks for deciding they had somewhere else to be. 

This week, I finally realized that the raccoons were offering me a birding opportunity. As long as I stayed a few yards a head of them, and remained very quiet, I should be able to photograph the birds they flushed out of the cattails.

My first success with this new strategy, was this scraggly marsh wren. It looks to me like it might be growing new feathers. I normally notice marsh wrens when they are declaring their territories in the Spring, so it seemed odd to watch this little bird silently circle out of the path of the bandits.

I was not the only one watching the raccoons. This little green-winged teal was watching carefully, from a respectful distance.

One of the raccoons, possibly the mother, notes my presence. She went back to searching for food, after determining I was not a threat.

At about the same time, the young female osprey began circling the nest, her siblings, and the prized fish.

One of the young of the raccoons lagged behind the others to eat some of the invasive, but tasty, Himalayan Blackberries.

  The young raccoon became a bit more exposed while attempting to catch up.

Just like human children, raccoons get easily distracted; as you can tell from my wandering discourse, so do I.

 When the young female lands, the male with the fish spreads his wings...

...and attempts to move his food to safety. Also, notice the male up above - who appears to be drying his wings. Maybe he was actually the one who caught the fish and I just missed his heroic effort. In any case he was the one who started out with the fish when I arrived.

Females are generally larger and this young bird is not at all nervous about taking what she wants. 

A tug-of-war ensues. The male tries to pull using one leg and flapping his wings. His sister plants both feet and pulls with her full body weight.

She wins. When his foot pulls free, the smaller male does a little 'Fred Astaire' dance to the right, and gives up the food without a fight.

I should have mentioned earlier that it looks like Chester and Lacey have two young males and a female. The males appear to have nearly pure white chests, like their father, and the young female has a more obvious necklace on her chest, like her mother. The female sibling is sitting down-below, with the fish.

The raccoons were not done with their breakfast stroll and twice more I noticed small birds which the masked bandits flushed from the cattails.

The small, brown, birds moved exceedingly quick and I never captured the desired photo. This is not surprising because Virginia Rails are very shy and retiring little birds. They circled away from the bandits only to immediately disappear behind them. 

Luckily, Peter Korch shared some excellent Virginia Rail photos he took last month, so you can see exactly what they look like. Thank you, Peter! 

Here are Peter's photos and comments:

This adult had a chick with it but left it in the cover of the reeds

My typical Virginia Rail sightings last about one second

 Nothing like posing for the camera

unique looking bird and a real treat to see


I agree completely. Thanks again! 


To My Readers,

Sorry, for the unusually long, circuitous post with food fights, fish eyes, scared herons, masked bandits and the wonderful Virginia Rails, but I could not find anything which I wanted to leave out.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where bandits and birding steal the show!



On Thursday, I also noticed this female mallard with an 'orange collar', just east of Husky Stadium.

Previously, I only remember seeing official bands on bird's legs or wings. I am afraid this may be another case of human refuse putting a wild creature in danger. I am pointing this out to encourage all of us to safely pick up and dispose of litter. We are likely to have plenty of opportunities around Husky Stadium and Union Bay - especially since football season is about to commence.


  1. No worries about the ramblings! I don't want you to leave out any aspects of your sharp-eyed observations. Great post!

    1. Thank you! I truly appreciate your vote of confidence.

  2. I agree with Valarie. I loved every bit of it.

  3. I agree heartily!