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

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Angel Wings

When I see great white birds in flight, I think of snow. In this case it seems very appropriate because these are Snow Geese. The black wing tips are an obvious clue in their identification.

On Wednesday, for the very first time, I saw Snow Geese on Union Bay. This photo was taken while looking east from the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA)

They were flying with a flock of Canada Geese. I had read that someone saw Snow Geese feeding on the University of Washington (UW) lawn on Tuesday. I went up and checked twice on Wednesday, without any luck. I was certainly delighted when I hiked down to the UBNA and saw the Snow Geese.

On Thursday, I heard that an egret was seen on Portage Bay. I looked for the great white bird without any luck. However, I could not resist posting these photos of the Great Egret which visited Portage Bay in 2016. I just love its intense focus on the fly.

Not matter where the fly went the egret tracked it. In this photo, I particularly like the way its long narrow bill points almost precisely at the fly.

Clearly the fly got too close for comfort.

The Great Egret reminded me of these Snowy Egrets I saw near Savannah, Georgia later in 2016. Snowy Egrets weigh less than a pound while Great Egrets weigh close to two pounds. Another obvious difference is the color of their bills. In addition, Snowy Egrets have bright yellow feet, unlike the black feet of their larger relatives.

I also saw Trumpeter Swans on Union Bay on Wednesday. The bird on the far left is using its long neck to search for food below the surface; the middle bird has some vegetation in its mouth and the swan on the right is calling out. I suppose we could say it is 'trumpeting' although I do not remember the sound as being all that loud. It seemed more like a contact call to me or at best a squeaky, half-hearted trumpeting. There were a total of ten swans on The Bay, eight adults and two young.

The two gray swans are the first year birds. It is interesting to me how small the Double-crested Cormorant, and the Gadwalls, look compared to the swans. I did not notice any Tundra Swans among the Trumpeters. By the way, Trumpeter Swans can weigh more the ten times what a Great Egret weighs.

In this 2016 photo, of a Trumpeter Swan on Union Bay, gives an even better idea of the size of the bird. The wings of a Trumpeter and a large Bald Eagle are nearly identical in length, but since the swans can weigh nearly twice as much I suspect their wings are much larger in width. When visiting the Slater Museum with Dennis Paulson, as part of our Master Birder Class, he showed us a collection of Trumpeter wings. I remember he called them, 'Angel's Wings'. That most certainly looked the part. It makes me wonder if swans inspired the whole idea of angels?

I cannot write about large, white, snow-like birds, without mentioning a Snowy Owl. I saw this particular bird at Ocean Shores in 2012. Later in the year, I saw one on Capital Hill and a few in Ballard. The Snowy Owl populations can vary dramatically depending on their summer food supply.  When one of these irruptions (a nearly explosive growth of a natural population) occurs, it may inspire the younger, less experienced Snowy Owls to head south when winter comes. It is starting to sound like this may be one of those years. Learn more about Snowy Owls at Project SNOWstorm.

Obviously, not all of these species visit Union Bay and some not every year. On the other hand, I have seen four of the five species within walking distance of Union Bay during the last six years. While researching this post I became interested in learning more about where these birds normally reside. The following is a gentle quiz regarding the southern most extent of their ranges. Can you match the appropriate ranges to each species?

The species are:

1. Snow Goose
2. Great Egret
3. Snowy Egret
4. Trumpeter Swan
5. Snowy Owl

The usuall southern extent of their summer (or breeding) range is:

A. Labrador, Canada
B. Ontario, Canada
C. Nevada, United States
D. Los Lagos, Chile
E. Santa Cruz, Argentina

The normal southern extent of their winter range is:

V. Wyoming, United States
W. Oklahoma, United States
X. Veracruz, Mexico
Y. Chubut, Argentina
Z. Santa Cruz, Argentina

Of course, there are always exceptions. Some individuals birds may travel where the wind or whim takes them. Also, not all members of a species migrate to the same extent or locations and also irruptions happen. 

I utilized the range maps from All About Birds because they display both North and South America and they are freely accessible. Given that the range maps do not explicitly display states and territories I estimated as best I could. 

For those who love symbols the answers are:

1. = B, X 
2. = D, Y 
3. = E, Z 
4. = C, V 
5. = A, W 

For the rest of us, in season, each of these species can usually be found as far south as:

Snow Goose
    Summer = Ontario, Canada, 
    Winter = Veracruz, Mexico

Great Egret
    Summer = Los Lagos, Chile, 
    Winter = Chubut, Argentina

Snowy Egret
    Summer = Santa Cruz, Argentina, 
    Winter = Santa Cruz, Argentina

Trumpeter Swan
    Summer = Nevada, United States, 
    Winter = Wyoming, United States

Snowy Owl
    Summer = Labrador, Canada, 
    Winter = Oklahoma, United States

I was really surprised to learn that Snow Geese winter as far south as Mexico. Also, apparently some Trumpeter Swans breed farther south (Nevada) than they winter (Wyoming). Apparently, egrets stay in South America all year round. When they spend our winter months in South America they are experiencing summer and during our summer they experience winter. It is obvious and also confusing, but it does imply that they must not mind cold weather. It turns out that the Snowy Owls are the only one of these species which behave pretty much as I would have expected, although during irruption years they have been seen in Florida.

Have a great day on Union Bay...were 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 plants?  Are they native to Union Bay?




Scroll down for the answers


Both of these plants are Northwest natives which have been planted extensively as part of the remediation effort in the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA). Enjoy the view while you can. In a few years, the ninebark will grow to be over 10 feet tall and in time the cottonwoods will exceed 150 feet. As this happens, the UBNA may begin to feel like a cottonwood forest.

Plant A = Pacific Ninebark
Plant B = Black Cottonwood

The cottonwood leaves in the photo look exceptionally narrow. As cottonwoods get older their leaves get wider - just like my waist.


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