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

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Friday, March 10, 2017


On February 1st 2017, I took this photo of a gull at Magnuson Park. During breeding season the tiny grey streaks on this bird's head will disappear. Among the adults of this species, both male and female, the dark ring around the bill is visible year round. I am uncertain whether the red orbital ring around the eye is visible year round, but I suspect it is. In either case, owning two different types of facial rings qualified this bird and its species - the ring-billed gulls - for the lead spot in this week's post.

Personally, I love it when names do double duty. When a name describes a species, place or thing, then the name serves not just as a label but as an assistant in the learning and identification process. A nice example of a local place name is, Beaver Lodge Sanctuary. 

The idea has even inspired me to start my own mini-naming-campaign for unique areas around Union Bay. Examples include: Elderberry Island, Kingfisher Cove, Cottonwood Downs, the Red-Winged Wetlands and Nest Egg Island. You can locate these special places by Clicking Here and then scrolling over the names on the left hand side of the map.

Last summer I caught a photo of this ring-necked pheasant at the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA). Sadly, the females of this species do not have rings around their necks. So from a naming perspective you could say this species is named truthfully, about half the time. I do not think it is the lack of a ring that has made this pheasant a strong independent female. 

According to Lewis, one of my classmates in the Master Birder Class, this bird has been by herself in the Montlake Fill area for a couple of years. We do not know of any male ring-necked pheasants visiting her during this time. She has remained loyal to the UBNA in spite of the ongoing 520 environmental remediation which has temporarily denuded much of her habitat.

The terms Union Bay Natural Area, Montlake Fill or simply The Fill are more than just labels for the same area on the north side of Union Bay. All three of the names are also descriptive. Personally, I think a descriptive name is most useful when it is current.

The term, The Fill, reminds us that in the past the City of Seattle used garbage and waste to fill up the muddy Union Bay shorelines. This occurred between 1916 and 1966, after the Montlake Cut was created and Lake Washington was lowered by about ten feet. In 1972, two feet of dirt was used to cover the accumulated garbage. 

Personally, I prefer the label The Union Bay Natural Area, because it is more up-to-date and descriptive of the latest fifty years, during which many positive improvements were made by nature and the University of Washington.

After photographing the ring-billed gull at Magnuson Park, I noticed this pair of Hooded Mergansers. What caught my attention was the abnormal beige mark on the cheek of the male bird. At the time I could not figure out what it was. The bird continued fishing and behaved normally. Later, I left the park wondering what had happened to this beautiful little bird.

At the same pond, I also photographed this ring-necked duck. You can be excused if the ring around the neck is not readily apparent. Do you see a hint of purplish red, just below the head?

I tried multiple times to catch the proper angle to display the ring. Sadly, these two photos were the best of the lot.

Luckily, a couple of years ago at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge I caught this photo which shows this ring-necked duck's purplish-red ring a bit better. It is still not easy to see.

In addition to the ring on the males being often invisible, the females do not have a neck ring at all.

The good news is that the Amercian Ornithological Society is considering changing this species name. Thank you to Nathaniel, another classmate, who informed us of the potential change. The new name would be a ring-billed duck. You can read more about the possibility in this American Birding Association post. Having names which are as accurate and useful as possible will be a very functional improvement.

Surprisingly on March the 1st, exactly one month after seeing the odd little hooded merganser at Magnuson Park, the same bird appeared in the Cottonwood Downs canal just south of Foster Island.

This time I got to see both the left and the right side of the bird. The beige mark went all the way around.

My conclusion was that somehow the merganser picked up a rubber band. Maybe it was floating in the water and he flipped it up to eat it. Since the band was much lighter than a fish, the merganser must have accidentally flipped it over his head.
Rubber bands are a common everyday part of our lives. Sadly, the wild creatures around us have not yet learned to avoid them. Nature evolves, but at a much slower pace than human innovation. The good news is that this bird has apparently survived for at least a month with a ring of rubber in his mouth. This proves he must be able to hunt, catch food and eat: in spite of the inconvenience. Let's hope the hooded merganser out lasts the rubber band.

I hope this week's post had a nice ring to it. 

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


Going Native:

Without a functional Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with local, native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to plant native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. My intention is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

Which of the following birds would be consider native if seen on Union Bay?






Scroll down for answers


Birds highlighted in green are native to Union Bay.

a) Ring-billed Gull 
b) Ring-necked Pheasant - female
c) Ring-necked Duck - male
d) Hooded Merganser - male

The ring-necked pheasant is a non-native bird which has spread all across the United States. It was introduced from Asia in the 19th century. Most likely because it tastes good, it is not viewed as a particularly invasive species. It is interesting that I cannot find any information which discusses the possible negative impacts caused by its introduction.

All About Birds says ring-necked pheasants have actually declined by 32 percent in the last 50 years. This may say more about our eco-systems in general than about ring-necked pheasants, as a species.


  1. Thank you. I often wondered why the ringed-neck is not more accurately named the ringed-bill. I was even asked that question.

  2. You are welcome. May soon it will be named a Ring-billed Duck. I am afraid that will ultimately lead to replacing a lot a bird guide books.

    1. Oops, I meant to say ...Maybe soon it will be named...

  3. I remember seeing pheasants on the north side of Union Bay almost twenty years ago when we drove to the now closed parking lot to watch Husky soccer games.

    Then just a few years ago I drove past one very slowly as it was crossing NE 75th near 15th Ave NE. It was very surreal.

    I looked it up, and I believe they may have been farmed here a long time ago. The Navy did notice them at Sand Point: