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

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Beauty and The Beast

The glowing beauty of a yellow warbler warms my soul. 


Thank you to Eric Kowalczyk for pointing out the eyestripe on this beautiful little bird. My apologies to all my readers. I am now of the opinion that this bird is actually the especially yellow, Pacific Coast version of an orange-crowned warbler. Please excuse my error.

Maybe it is because they twist and turn among the leaves like a flickering flash of sunlight... 

...or maybe it is just simple delight in the existence of such a perfect little creature.

The females have yellow breasts while males add red vertical stripes. This bird is leaping from a lower branch in hopes of picking a minuscule morsel of food off the bottom of a leaf or twig. 

If I could get closer I suspect I would find tiny little aphids feeding on the underside of these birch leaves. When you think that the yellow warbler weighs only one third of an ounce it is hard to imagine the minuscule weight of an aphid. Feeding on such an insignificant food source requires constant effort and movement. This little warbler is almost certainly eating her way south. No doubt she will spend the winter enjoying perpetual sunshine. She won't be here for long, in a blink she'll be gone.

I had a similar experience with this young beast. I only caught a glimpse as it slid silently off a log near Oak Point and disappeared among the lily pads. I pulled out my camera and studiously searched the water for any sign of the otter. It was simply gone. I saw no wake, no bubbles, no hints, nothing. I finally gave up and headed towards Foster Island. Twenty minutes later when I stepped on to the bridge I finally caught up with the otter. I even got to see it slip out of water with a freshly caught carp.

I was surprised by way the otter ate. It seemed to slowly mash, gnaw and lick on the fish. I did not see any tearing and ripping of flesh in the manner of an eagle or an osprey. The feeding process reminded me most of a child licking a snow cone. The otter certainly seemed to treasure its food.

I was amazed by the otter's diminutive size. I suspect this little creature was significantly less than a meter in length. Much smaller than the adults I normally see in the area. Its small size, the shadows of its ribs and the fact that it appeared to be totally alone in early fall all helped to convince me this must be a young otter - looking for a place to call home.

I wondered if the white spot on its nose was simply a moist reflection, piece of fish skin or a permanent mark.

An otter is a curious creature so totally different than us. It has a highly developed sense of smell. It can even smell fish in upstream ponds and then follow the scent to the source. It has very good hearing but on the other hand it is extremely near-sighted. This little otter must of been so focused on feeding that it ignored the sound of my camera. Evidently, the wind must have also blown the scent of myself and Ginger, my daughter's dog, away from the otter.

The otter's teeth are quite impressive but are apparently used more for crushing than tearing and ripping. This makes sense since it also crushes and eats crustaceans. Unlike a sea otter it generally eats on the shore and not in the water.

Its whiskers are long and profuse which help it to sense movements in murky water. Its feet are webbed and its tail is powerful and long.

I think it is the streamlined head and neck which impress me the most. The face, meaning the eyes, nose and mouth, are positioned significantly forward of the ears and the cranial cavity. Compared to humans it is as if the brain has been moved down and back to a position between the face and the neck. Obviously this arrangement minimizes the water resistance when swimming. Imagine how fast olympic gold medalists might swim if they enjoyed a similar physical design. Although, I am not sure if their photos would end up on very many cereal boxes.

When it finished its food the otter slid back through the floating marsh-penny wart and into the water. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website says that within an hour an otter will completely finish with its food and leave fresh green droppings behind. No doubt this speedy digestion spurs them to search for food with a diligence almost similar to a yellow warbler. 

From this angle I noticed that this little otter actually had two white spots on its nose. I am starting to think they might be permanent markings. If so, they would certainly help us to identify and track this young otter. If you see 'Spot' swimming around Union Bay please let me know. You also might want to log your sightings on the Woodland Park Zoo's Otter Spotter. Community science in action!

By the way, I have read that females are smaller than males which is why I am assuming that Spot is a female.

Once in the water Spot immediately began sinuously circling and swimming. When she came up for air it even looked like she was licking her lips. Maybe this is part of her after dinner cleaning ritual.

This is my most common view of an otter. The humped view of the back and tail as it dives below the surface. I felt very lucky to have watched a complete feeding process. Spot took only eight minutes to devour a fair-sized carp. By the way, carp originated in Asia and do not belong here. They stir up the mud, reduce visibility and oxygen levels and eat young salmon, so I am very happy to see Spot reducing their numbers.

Here is a parting shot of Spot among the lily pads, hopefully hot on the tail of another carp.

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


Going Native:

Without a well-funded 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 identify these tree leaves? Are they Union Bay natives?






Scroll down for the answers


A) Northern Pin Oak, native to the N.E. portion of our country. (I think the fly is a native.)
B) Cottonwood, native to Union Bay
C) Alder, native to Union Bay
D) Big-leaf Maple, native to Union Bay

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Larry! Good stuff. I appreciated the Leaf Review, too, as I find it so difficult to remember which kind of leaves go with which kind of trees.