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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, August 6, 2016


The word 'illuminate' means to reveal something which is hidden. It can mean to cast light on to a physical object or to describe the moment when a new idea pierces our consciousness. The two meanings are so similar that we symbolize sudden learning with the sketch of a light bulb. We even have a special word to describe moments of enlightenment, 'Eureka!'

In Seattle, our average dose of sunlight is certainly less than 12 hours a day. Our lack of illumination is offset by blue water, green plants and snow-covered mountains. Plus, many creatures prefer the darkness, or a least a half-light. When beavers are active, the light is seldom bright enough to create the photos I prefer.

Thursday morning contained cloudless sunshine. Which was why this beaver and I came to share this silent moment. I was passing by in my kayak, heading towards the early morning sunlight, while the beaver was feeding among the lily pads. When it realized I was there, the beaver slid silently below the surface and headed back to its lodge.

Since I was sitting between the beaver and its home it swam directly beneath my boat. There was not enough light for me to see the beaver below the surface, but I could see the eighteen-inch-wide, temporary trail of tiny bubbles it left behind. I paddled on. 

Shafts of early morning sunlight were already skipping across the lily pads on the east side of Foster Island, when I arrived.

Red-winged blackbirds fluttered from one pad to the next, searching for tiny morsels of food.

This young male appears very close to finding the 'hidden' food source. 

The visual differences between the male and female birds, seen in the previous photos, always intrigues me. Why does the coloring of some bird species vary based on gender and yet others do not? Does it have to do with hormones? Why doesn't our gender determine the color of our skin? 

Wouldn't it be interesting if our emotions regulated our skin color? What if we turned blue whenever we were lonely. Turning red with anger might be useful to friends and family. Turning green with envy could be a bit embarrassing. However, it might be nice if we glowed a pulsating, golden-yellow each time we came up with a new idea. 

The golden morning light illuminated a sprinkle of white-tipped feathers on this blackbird's head.

I suspect these are the telltale signs of a young bird, who is loosing his immature coloring. It seems oddly reversed from humans, since our hair often loses pigment and turns white with age.

Seeing and learning new things, like a trail-of-beaver-bubbles or a white-headed-red-winged-blackbird, makes me
 wonder how nature and biology could ever be boring. I suspect nature is only boring when we remove ourselves from the experience and study the details to death. Oddly, a classroom experience may be efficient for teaching, but not for learning.

We may have reached the annual peak of life on Union Bay. The lily pads have expanded rapidly across the water and are just beginning to turn yellow and die-back. This provides the bugs, which live on the lily pads, with their maximum possible opportunity. Red-winged blackbirds may or may not have reached the zenith of their annual population. They can have two broods per year; still, I suspect they might be getting close to their maximum numbers.

Optimal photographic illumination, at least for me, is when the sunlight shines horizontally over my right shoulder. 

When I, and my subject, are perpendicular to the sunshine, the shadows increase and the illumination is less perfect.

When a second heron passed over the first one and then circled around me, for a brief moment, the light was nearly perfectIf I had waited just a split-second more, the shadow of the heron's head might not have been a distraction on the inside of its left wing. 

The second heron returned and the two birds took a slow, stately, stroll among the cattails. It was wonderful to watch, even with a less than perfect angle. After just a few minutes, one of the birds flew off to search for food. I followed.

I found the shadows and light at the new location much more appealing.

The reflection of the heron more than doubled my pleasure of observation.

I do wonder if birds can see their reflections in the water.

 Even if they attack their reflections, how could we know their intention?

This heron climbed a log and progressed to 'feaking' - wiping off the sides of its beak on a branch. With most birds this usually happens just after feeding. Like wiping your mouth on a napkin after dinner. I did not see the heron catch anything, so I am still in the dark about what motivated its behavior.

Even though the bird and I were not in the perfect photographic locations, I did find this mix of darkness and light appealing.

Sometimes, I think the darkness helps our focus.

We are not capable of seeing and understanding everything at once. Especially, in today's world it can be hard to eliminate distractions.

Our "Eureka!" moments happen when irrelevant details recede into the background and a single, new thought shatters our previous misconceptions. It can be very illuminating.

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



  1. This is just wonderful, Larry, thank you. I feel illuminated.

  2. Once again, a fine presentation, Larry. I especially liked last week's also.

    1. Thank you. It is amazing how fast those young osprey grow.

  3. This is my favorite blog in the universe. <3

    1. Thank for your very kind and thoughtful comment. ;-)

  4. Larry, I agree with your observation about classroom teaching and learning. I wrote it down for my husband who is a public school teacher and father of two homeschooled kids. I also wrote down your tip about sunlight horizontally over your right shoulder. Thanks! Leah Wegener, Centralia

    1. Thank you! Long ago I taught school for a year and I have often thought our public educational process leaves a lot of room for improvement. I do not see this as a comment about our teachers, but more a comment about how much we are willing to invest in our children. Your family's situation seems like an excellent example of this quantity versus quality issue. Occasionally, I am sure there are those exceptional classroom teachers who seem to do it all. but on the whole I think we simply ask too much of our public school teachers.