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

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Saturday, April 8, 2017


 What is special about this bird species?

This is the American Goldfinch. It can also be called a willow goldfinch or an eastern goldfinch depending on where you live. It is a fine little bird. I respect both its unique golden beauty and its vegetarian diet. It has been our official state bird for over 60 years. My question is, why?

The history of how school children voted to choose the goldfinch over the the meadowlark as the state bird can be found by Clicking Here. The story answers the question of how this species was selected - but not why.

The goldfinch is not in any way unique to Washington. In fact, it is also the state bird of New Jersey and Iowa. During any given year the goldfinch can be found in every one of the 48 states which existed in 1951 - the year we selected the goldfinch as our avian representative. 

Why are symbols important? During this time of rapid growth, with new residents arriving daily, with retail malls and office buildings growing faster than western hemlocks, our state tree, it is easy to forget we are in the Evergreen State. 

suspect if we were instantaneously transported to an office, mall or street anywhere in the U. S. most of us would have a difficult time distinguishing one state from the next. To help keep us, our children and new state citizens connected with Washington, we need to be surrounded by the living symbols of our state.

I love Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier, The Olympics and both sides of The Cascades. From western red cedars to ponderosa pines, what truly makes Washington unique is the life which grows in these special places.

I believe, no other state in the lower forty eight, has a greater year-round population of this bird than Washington. Can you name this species, which was seen near the Keystone ferry? I can understand if this twisted view is bit confusing.

Does looking the bird square in the eye make it easier. Maybe not. For most of my life, I doubt I could have identified this bird and yet it lives all around us. It can even be found on both side of the Cascades.

The male and the female have a similar shape but especially in the Spring their coloring can be quite different. This makes sense because the mature male's primary function is to attract and inseminate a female. Females have the greater responsibility. They must safely incubate and raise the young. Not looking too flashy helps the females and their offspring to survive.

This bird is a male harlequin duck. I must admit I find the rich vibrant colors of breeding males mesmerizing. It seems easy to empathize with the attraction the females must feel.

Most of the year this bird species feeds in surf along our saltwater shores. By definition, that makes it a mariner. You could even say they are Mariner's Fans - how many of us have a baseball and a bat tattooed on the side of our head!

While I have not yet seen a harlequin duck on Union Bay eBird does show sightings nearby. When leaving Union Bay, you may select any direction you like, sooner or later you will pass a place where harlequins have been seen.

You might ask, 'How can that be? We do not have much saltwater in Eastern Washington.' The surprising answer is, harlequins reproduce in our mountains along freshwater streams. 

I can think of no other bird who's life is so intricately involved with both freshwater streams and saltwater surf. Harlequins reproduce in the Olympics, Cascades and even the Colville Forest in N.E. Washington, while wintering on Puget Sound, the strait of Juan De Fuca and along our Pacific Coast. The Harlequin Duck would certainly be my selection as the bird which best symbolizes the State of Washington.

Strong symbols can have a lasting impression. Even though technically unofficial, 'The Evergreen State' is one of my favorite terms. The term aptly communicates that forests are an essential part of Washington State. Similarly, 'The Emerald City' is an excellent attempt to remind us what is unique about Seattle.

This week I was lucky to attend the 'Neighborhood Flyways Symposium' at the Town Hall in Seattle. It was the kickoff of a four-year campaign to 'restore and connect the tree canopy across Seattle'. It is being sponsored by Seattle Audubon. Representatives from a number of local organizations participated, e.g. Seattle Parks Foundation, Urban Forest Carbon Registry, The Nature Conservancy, Seattle's Office for Sustainability and Environment and Seattle Public Utilities.

I learned that the City of Seattle is rapidly losing our evergreen status. If I heard correctly, we have gone from having nearly one-third of the city covered in trees to less than one quarter. In some urban areas, like South Lake Union, the number is down to only eight percent. How can we, residents of the Emerald City and the Evergreen State, retain our historical values if we cannot see a conifer while consuming our lunch.

I understand that there are tradeoffs. We are encouraging density in the city to spare urban sprawl. This is a wonderful goal. However, most residents of Washington state live or work in the cities. Won't citizens living in a world of concrete and glass ultimately lose their connection with nature. Once disconnected, won't we be more likely to vote for some needed convenience rather than concerning ourselves with 'remote' value of nature.

Sadly, low-income areas also have less trees than the average Seattle neighborhood. The way forward, to being a city and a state which truly treasures our local lifeforms and eco-systems will require hard work. We can not afford to leave any citizens or areas of our city without a connection to nature. None of us know all the answers yet. We need everyone working together and providing input if we are to save our unique relationship with nature. 
I hope the Flyways Symposium inspires a long, healthy and productive conversation about changes regarding trees and the future of our Evergreen State. 

A related question, which might be part of the conversation is, If we required green spaces on top of our new downtown buildings, and possibly on top of new apartment buildings as well, might the investment pay dividends in the long-term?


Pileated Update:

Thank you to one and all who responded to last week's request for photos of female pileated woodpeckers. The initial response shows a surprising lack of red-eyed females. Please keep looking!


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


Imagine a future where stepping outside allows our children to smell either saltwater or sap...and a short walk enables them to watch harlequin ducks.

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. 

Can you name these flowering plants? Are they native to Union Bay?




Scroll down for answer


Species highlighted in green are native to Union Bay.

B) Salmonberry

Both of these are native to Union Bay. Do you know which one is flowering now? Visit the Arboretum to find out. :-)


  1. Yes, the Harlequin Duck would be a great state bird. You brought up important issues of city versus country connections. I live in Seattle within a few blocks of a salmon stream and a beaver pond.

    1. Thank you. Wow! What a wonderful place to live.

  2. What joy it is to awaken to such an avian tribute and encouragement for natural beauty. You are the John Muir of the N West and cheerleader for the environment and creatures within. Happy Birding and Easter.

    1. Thank you! You are very kind and thoughtful.

  3. A million thanks for your thoughtful Union Bay Watch. It is my favorite inbox item. Scrolling through your comments and photos I am transported. Easter Blessings.

    1. Thank you! Now you have started me thinking about an Easter post....mmmm.