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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, November 18, 2017


The look in this hooded merganser's eyes seems to invite the creation of captions. I can imagine the bird thinking, 'Seriously, with feet that large, you thought you could sneak up and take my picture?'

I do find that birds are aware of me long before I notice them. What seems to work best is to stop moving as soon as I see a bird. Often, when I become stationary, the bird will decide I am not a threat and return to whatever it was doing. This bird was preening and cleaning its tail feathers. 

It was especially fun to find and photograph hooded mergansers this week. It has been almost exactly six years since my first post - which, coincidently, was also about hooded mergansers. This makes sense because in November their numbers on Union Bay do seem to increase.

Here is an example of a male snorkeling for food. Unlike the western grebes which usually dive completely underwater when hunting, hooded mergansers sometimes hunt with just their eyes below the surface. This certainly seems like a dangerously exposed method of hunting. 

By the way if you happened to read last week's postElegant Assassins, before Martin Muller added his thoughts regarding western grebes, you may want to go back and read his post in the 'Comments' section. I found Martin's knowledge and comments fascinating.

Here is an example of the potential danger lurking high above the mergansers. Yesterday, Albert, the male eagle from the Broadmoor nest, was hanging out almost directly above the area where I photographed the mergansers. 

I was certain it was Albert when I saw, Eva, his  mate, pass by and inspire him to return to the nest. Given that female eagles are about fifty percent larger than the males, it was pretty obvious who was who.

Earlier in the day, a red-tailed hawk was stationed above the water on the other side of Foster Island. In both cases the windblown, leaf loss from the cottonwood trees is steadily improving their field of view.

Male hooded mergansers, with their large white-on-black cranial displays, sometimes 'telegraph' their moves.

When they begin lowering the feathers, and minimizing the white area, they are often preparing for action.

This file photo provides an example. When the top knot is minimized and the head is lowered close to the body, they are often about to dive.

On the other hand, when they extend their necks and maximize their displays, they are not thinking about food. In this situation I have always assumed they are trying to impress their mates. Although, it actually looks like the males are focused on each other while the females completely ignore their antics.

Regardless of their motives, I find these 'mating' displays joyful and refreshing, especially during the gray days of November. 

By the way, I don't ever remember hearing merganser calls. The two recordings, which I found on All About Birds, sound a bit like a frog and a raven. It makes me think I should pay closer attention. Maybe I have heard them in the past but not actually realized who was making the sound. In the future, I plan to listen more carefully when I am in their neighborhood.

I also found this wood duck and the surrounding yellow reflections to be a nice antidote to the grey clouds of fall.

This clean and pristine pair of gadwalls also attracted my attention. I don't ever remember seeing a male gadwall with so much white on its lower face and neck. I suspect it must be just individual variation. It may not be rare, but it is certainly striking.

Another refreshing surprise was to finally catch up with Goldie again. It has been a couple of months since I last saw her. It may be wishful thinking, but I do think her iris is looking a tiny bit more red. You can read more about her eye-color in the post, Elderberry Whine.

When I compare her eyestripe in the previous photo to this photo, from earlier in the year, I feel pretty confident this is the same bird. Plus, the fact that she is in the same territory also supports my thought. However, I was disappointed that I did not notice her mate, Chip, hanging around with her.

This last photo is less about the bird and more about the two swathes of parallel fall colors and reflections. I hope you enjoy it! By the way do not overlook the new surprise under the Going Native section below.

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


Going Native:

This week I am trying something different. A very well-read friend, Tom Cotner, kindly provided me with his personal reviews, of some of his favorite natural history books. Thank you! Tom - for attempting to help me widen the breadth and depth of my knowledge

Also, for folks who enjoy reading my blog and learning about nature, I am thinking that these books might make very nice holiday gifts. 

Tom's comments are in blue and mine are in white.

1) Botanicum -- Katie Scott and Kathy Willis editors

This is an extraordinary book, mostly because of its layout and wonderful drawings. It is about plants, but this way of presenting nature could be used to introduce readers to any topic of natural history. 

This is a wonderful book, however part of the reason Tom recommended it to me was because of the unique layout. I am very happy to own this book, but I feel I must mention that the age range listed on the back of the book is 8 - 12.

2) Dirt -- The Erosion of Civilization -- David R. Montgomery 
Wonderful overview of one of the most important topics--the preservation of our soil.

I just finished this book and I found it startling and amazing. It is disconcerting how much we overlook soil and at the same time how fundamentally important it is. It gave me a whole new perspective on the rise and fall of civilizations and on buying organic. Plus, I sure would like to learn more about the author's eco-lawn. 

The rest of the books, except for number eight - which I read a few years back, are on my reading-to-do list.

3) King of Fish -- The Thousand Year Run of Salmon -- David R. Montgomery  
Montgomery presents all aspects of salmon, their history and their importance to man.  This is basically natural history in disguise but Montgomery has total command of the subject and is fearless in his description of what we are doing wrong and what we need to be doing.

I have purchased but not read, King of Fish. However, another book on the subject which I found very enlightening was, Salmon, People and Place -- by Jim Lichatowich.

4) Diversity of Life -- E.O. Wilson (from 1992)  
You would expect a book from the early 90's to be dated, but it remains one of the true classics. Very thoughtful, very well written and still tremendously important.

My favorite scientist and author!

5) Here On Earth -- Tim Flannery
Flannery is a scientist but this book is more popular science. It is excellent! maybe it is because Australia is more in the crosshairs of environmental crisis (diminishing ozone layer, extreme weather), but Flannery writes about our endangered Earth as if the crisis is imminent and writes fiercely, as if it really matters.

6) Mycelium Running -- How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World -- Paul Stamets
This book includes a great summary of how fungi are important in the growth of most (almost all) plants, and the various ways they help maintain the world. Quite short, well organized, very readable. And the last section, the classification of fungi, can be skipped.

7) Serendipity -- An Ecologist's Quest to Understand Nature -- James A. Estes
This book explores the connectivity of nature, with all of its hidden and indirect paths. It is essentially a memoir, but it really breaks down a few fairly simple relationships between species in Alaska and shows how these species are interrelated in a very clear fashion.

8) The Final Forest -- Big Trees -- William Dietrich
Dietrich is a local writer who focuses on the Pacific Northwest and this is my one tree book recommendation (I have read more than 20 tree books and they are all very good to great!).

9) The Ripple Effect -- The Fate of Freshwater the 21st Century -- Alex Preud'homme
Prud'homme is a great writer and he discusses the many issues with drinking water around the world. It can be read as a cautionary tale, because water has become a political hot-button issue in many parts of the world (see, Flint, MI)

10 Moral Ground, Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril -- Kathleen Dean Moore, and Michael P. Nelson, Eds.
This is a book more in the philosophical vein and it discusses awareness and ethics of humankind's place on Earth.  There are other books like it, but I like what Moore (a professor at Oregon St.) and Nelson have done here.  It is broken up into fairly simple chapters so you can pick and choose those topics that interest you.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net



  1. Thanks for six years of fascinating photos and text. Excellent book list, too.

    1. Thank you for following along and all your kind words of encouragement.