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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Signals Crossed

A male mallard bowing his head to his mate.

We tend to believe we are a cut above other lifeforms. We have language, books, television, cell phones and the internet. What other species could possibly compete with us and our sophisticated means of communication?

The female mallard sends a reciprocating signal to the male.

Do our accomplishments confirm this lofty view of our abilities? Surely, if we are the masters of communication we should be able to work out mutually beneficial solutions to our problems. Shouldn't our exceptional communications, along with our innate humaneness, result in us being the least violent of all species? 

It seem obvious to me that we have not yet mastered communication. I sometimes wonder if our 'sophisticated' intercourse may even be more of a hinderance than a help. The need for college level courses to help students distinguish truth from falsehood reinforces this perception.

Ducks, like the Mallards in these first two photos, can communicate their intentions by simply bobbing their heads. The repetition from both parties communicates receptivity as well as desire.

When a female gets undesired attention, she and sometimes her mate, will lower their heads and aggressively chase the unwanted males away. The signals are clear and easily read. Occasionally, the message may be ignored, but I suspect it is seldom misunderstood.

Gadwalls communicate their intentions in a similar fashion and achieve similar results.

Afterwords, one or both of the birds usually stands up and fans their wings. This no doubt shakes off excess water and straightens their feathers. I feel like it might also be a show of pride. I may be projecting my emotions on the duck's behavior, still the body language looks pretty clear to me

As I was writing the first word of the previous paragraph the literal interpretation of the word, afterwords, crossed my mind. Isn't it interesting that we use afterwords to mean, after any activity, not just the speaking of words. This seems like a clear indication of our predilection to focus on words. Could it be that the creatures who communicate primarily via body language actually suffer less confusion than those of us who use more complex forms of communication.

Among tree-nesting birds, when the female assumes a horizontal position it often communicates that she is amenable to her mate's affections.

Afterwords, Bald Eagles can be particularly loquacious. Their vocalizations sure sound, and look, like an expression of pride to me. 

Among eagles, males are, noticably smaller, than the females. That is Albert, on the left, and Eva on the right. By the way, she is on-eggs and should have young in the nest by Tax Day.

Update: Thank you to Martin Muller for helping me correct my assumptions regarding weight differences between genders among Bald Eagles and Cooper's Hawks.

 A female Tree Swallow communicating her readiness.

A similar message is sent and received between Downy Woodpeckers.

The Pileated Woodpeckers need a more substantial base, but the result is the same.
 
Among Cooper's Hawks, the males are also generally smaller than the females. As Martin Muller once told me, '...and the females eat smaller birds.' I suspect this is why males tend to be especially attentive to the female's needs. They often start out by bringing food to the female, in order to ensure she is in a good mood. It may also be to the male's advantage if the female is not hungry.

Among Peregrine Falcons, maybe just a look is all it takes. They are the fastest birds on earth.

Within ten seconds, the male arrived and they were consummating their relationship.

With Band-tailed Pigeons, the communications and the results are similar. 

Afterwords, they spent some time preening each other's necks. The technical term for this behavior is allopreening, while it is a functional cleaning behavior, scientists admit there may be some 'signaling' involved.

With a pair of crows, the visual signaling is very clear. Extending your head in a submissive posture communicates a desire to have one's neck cleaned

 The signal is not ignored.


 Afterwords, it is a case of, 'What is good for the goose is good for the gander.'


When the mate does not immediately reciprocate the second party bends a little lower. This message certainly looks like the visual equivalent of, 'Pleease!'


 Finally, the signal is received and the initial kindness is repaid.
 
Even with crows, sometimes they simply disagree. I do wonder though, might this have been a case of getting their signals crossed.

I also wonder about these two Anna's Hummingbirds. I spotted them rolling across the ground, at close to light speed. Was this the result of a disagreement between two males or part of a high speed misunderstanding between mating birds. 

In some of the other photos, the second bird's head looked basically green, like a female, and in others there were a few sparkles of red reflections, which made me wonder if this was a young male. Either way, it certainly seems to me as if they may have gotten their signals crossed.

Earlier this week, there was no doubt in my mind. This Great Blue Heron was clearly getting its signals crossed. I can almost hear him thinking, 'My you have such elegant legs!'

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

Larry


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 our local environment and 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 respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.


Do you know this plant? Is it native to Union Bay?







Scroll down for the next step.







***************







Red-flowering Currant: This is a native species and it is very attractive to hummingbirds, particularly at this time of year. If you find some nearby watch it closely. The female Anna's Hummingbirds can be easily overlooked among the green leaves.







***************





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



*************** 
























Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Carolina Morning

Osprey, South Carolina - 2018

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a morning in a forested preserve, near the South Carolina coast. Seeing completely new habitat and new creatures inspired feelings of awe and wonder, kind of like a child stepping outside for the first time. The Loblolly Pine forest reminded me of a miniaturized version of the Ponderosa Pine forests, which can be found east of the Cascades. The resemblance abruptly stopped when I glanced down at the palmettos in the understory, not to mention the alligators in the canals. The visit did provide me the opportunity to compare a few of the Southeastern U.S. bird species with some of our Northwest species. Some of the bird species were virtually identical to ours, like the osprey, while others were not.

Near the end of my morning visit, I photographed this osprey. The bird was working furiously to remain stationary relative to the water. This characteristic, full-frontal view of the wings only happens when an osprey is hovering. It ends up in this odd position by pushing down with its wings with what appears to be normal wing beats. However, halfway through the process the wings rotate from horizontal to vertical. I suspect this serves two purposes. It reduces lift by dumping the air it is pushing against and the vertically-held wings increase resistance to forward momentum. When the bird rapidly repeats this flap-dump process it hovers. Moving rapidly and yet remaining stationary, the osprey waits for an unsuspecting fish to make a fatal mistake.

When the osprey decided to dive, it turned its wings and tail perpendicular to the water's surface. This minimized the bird's resistance to gravity and caused it to begin side-slipping towards lunch. The osprey immediately folded its wings away while diving head first. Osprey are arguably the most successful avian-aquatic predators in the world. Later, I would learn that I was not the only one to observe the osprey's dive.

Osprey are year-round residents in the southern half of South Carolina. Around Union Bay, Seattle and Western Washington, they come north to breed and raise young. Then in the early fall they follow the warm weather south.

Pileated Woodpecker, South Carolina - 2018

It was mostly dark when I arrived at the preserve. The first bird sounds I heard were the 'thump, thump, thump' of a Pileated Woodpecker. I looked up to see the characteristic silhouette just before it flew. An hour later, I noticed a promising snag with a couple of obvious woodpecker holes. I was happily surprised when the Pileated Woodpecker looked out to survey the forest.

I never did see the male bird leave the nest, which caused me to suspect that he was incubating eggs. The timing would put the South Carolina woodpecker (and his mate) ahead of the 2017 nesting schedule for our Union Bay Pileated Woodpeckers.

'Chip' the male Pileated Woodpecker, next to Union Bay in Seattle - 2017

Last year at this time, Chip had completed this first nest site, which his mate Goldie rejected. It was the end of March before he finished the second site which she ultimately selected. Do you see any differences between the two Pileated Woodpeckers? When I took the photo of the Carolina woodpecker, I had the feeling that his red top knot was a bit more extensive than Chip's.

The shape of the nest holes, makes another interesting comparison. Among the Pileated Woodpeckers which I have watched around Union Bay their holes have always been egg-shaped, with the narrow portion pointing up. This South Carolina hole is decidedly round, as was the second hole in the snag. 

Interesting questions for budding scientists might be, Do young woodpeckers learn the proper shape for a nest hole from their initial nest or is there in-born information which accounts for the differences? Are egg-shaped holes unique to the Union Bay, the state of Washington, the west half of the continent or everywhere but South Carolina?

Pileated Woodpecker, near Union Bay in Seattle - 2013

While comparing photos, I also noticed that Chip's black eye stripe seemed longer and possibly a bit lower. I pulled up this older Union Bay pileated photo which also shows a relatively long eye stripe. Having only the single eastern bird for comparison leaves me wondering whether this difference is regional or simply an individual variation.

Brown-headed Nuthatch, South Carolina - 2018

Nearby I spotted a pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches. They were bringing food back to a nest hole which had been drilled into a dead branch, high overhead. If you look closely you can see a small white particle of food near the tip of this bird's bill. The young were evidently still too small to be waiting by the opening. Before turning its back on the world to enter the nest, the adult nuthatch made a final check for danger among the surrounding tree tops.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, Nestling and sap, Seattle - 2015

In this 2015 Seattle photo, an adult Red-breasted Nuthatch is bringing food to its offspring. This nestling is old enough to hold its head up and position itself by the opening to the nest. Granted, these two nuthatch photos are comparing different species. So, the color differences are not a surprise. Still, it is interesting that a bird from the Southeast has a brown head which blends-in with the bark of the Loblolly Pine, while the Northwestern bird has a grey-blue back which blends-in with our local weather patterns.

In Seattle, the Red-breasted Nuthatches gather sap and paint it around the outside of their nest sites. In the case of the South Carolina Nuthatches I did not notice any visible application of sap near the nest. A third difference, which may not obvious from the photos, is that the Carolina nest seemed much higher in the tree than the Red-breasted Nuthatch nests, which I have seen near Union Bay.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, South Carolina - 2018

Next, I heard the call of this Red-bellied Woodpecker. It was not particularly musical. In fact it reminded me of a Eastern Gray Squirrel. On average Red-bellied Woodpeckers are just a few centimeters larger than the Red-breasted Sapsuckers which we have here in the Northwest.

Red-breasted Sapsucker, Seattle - 2017

Not surprisingly, Red-breasted Sapsuckers drill holes and consume sap. However, the Red-bellied Woodpecker is said to only occasionally drink sap. I wondered if the warmer weather in the Southeast resulted in a greater abundance of year-round fruit and insects and therefore less of a need to drink sap. It turns out that three out of four North American Sapsuckers reside west of the Mississippi. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, the fourth species, does winter in the Southeast. Sadly, I did not see any sapsuckers during my morning adventure in Carolina.

However, moments after the male Red-bellied Woodpecker called a female flew in and landed on the same tree trunk.

They moved up to a somewhat more horizontal branch, where they gave in to the urges of Spring.

Anhinga, South Carolina - 2018

Later, I stepped quietly from behind a row of trees and was surprised to find this large bird immediately to my left. The bird seemed equally surprised. I was too close to properly photograph the whole bird and yet I suspected any major movement, for instance backing away, might flush the bird. The occasional flash of brilliant red when the sunlight caught the bird's eye was mesmerizing.

This South Carolina species seemed like a cross between a Double-crested Cormorant and a Western Grebe. I think, the red-eye and the sharp bill resembled a grebe, while the body shape and behavior seemed closer to a cormorant. When I finally decided to quietly back away the bird extended its neck, head and neck pouch in the irritable manner of a cormorant. 

Still, I found the Anhinga to be incredibly unique. The volume of white feathering appears to be far beyond the wildest dreams of one of our Union Bay Double-crested Cormorants.

Double-crested Cormorant Union Bay - 2017

By comparison, the crest on one of our Union Bay cormorants seems like an after thought. Curiously, Double-crested Cormorants also inhabit South Carolina.

Eastern Bluebird, South Carolina - 2018

An Eastern Bluebird looks a lot like our Western Bluebird. The Eastern Bluebird appears to be a much bolder bird species. It can be found year-round in the United States, as long as you are close to or east of the Mississippi Valley and south of the Great Lakes.

Western Bluebird, Washington - 2015

Our Western Bluebird on the other hand is most often found west of the Rocky Mountains and locally east of the Cascades. I have never seen one near Union Bay or in a town or city. If I remember correctly, this Washington photo was taken in the Spring on a lonely, gravel road on the dry side of the Cascades. 

Northern Mockingbird, South Carolina - 2018

The Northern Mockingbird is an interesting bird with the ability to mimic numerous other avian species. This makes me think they have a great deal of intelligence. Apparently, they are even able to imitate larger predatory birds, in order to scare off species with which they compete for food. 

Curiously, Mockingbirds are not a bird that we can expect to see around Union Bay. This seems surprising because in the eastern portion of the United States Northern Mockingbirds are known to live year round in the the southern parts of New York, New Hampshire and Vermont. Apparently not the cold which keeps them from residing in Western Washington. maybe its the rain. They are rarely found breeding in Eastern Washington per Birdweb.

At the last possible moment, the Osprey threw its feet forward. Still fully-committed it dove. Every body part was held in a streamlined position which enables osprey to plunge as deep as three feet under the water.

Faster than I could focus my camera the osprey grabbed the fish and lifted off.

As the Osprey flew away to find a feeding perch, I heard the approaching cries on a Bald Eagle. As the excited Bald Eagle swooped in to give chase the Osprey had to make an age-old decision. Keep the fish and potentially be caught by the eagle or drop the extra weight and live to eat later in the day.

The Osprey choose to drop the fish before the eagle could intercept either of them. The osprey also called out loudly and indignantly. In a moment, there were multiple osprey and crows on the scene. They all took turns diving at the parasitic eagle.

Fish-less, and far less excited, the Bald Eagle turned tail and ran.

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

Larry




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 our local environment and 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 respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.



 
Do you know this plant? Is it native to Union Bay?







Scroll down for the next step.







***************







If memory serves me correctly this Salix alba or White Willow which is native to Europe. I believe these are the male flowers, because I read they bloom earlier than the female flowers. In any case, these are from the willow trees on the shore of Duck Bay in the Washington Park Arboretum.

Our tallest native willow is Salix Lasiandra or Pacific Willow. Click Here to learn more about our native Pacific Willow.







***************





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



*************** 






Saturday, March 17, 2018

Flicker Antics

Flickers are fun! They are colorful, plentiful and occasionally vocal enough to pierce the din of my internal focus. Even with doors and windows shut, a flicker's loud, long and incessant song will often grab me by the ear and drag me out into the world. 

Admittedly, flickers can occasionally be irritating. The songs of our western, red-shafted flickers remind me of the aggravating and repetitive tune for children, 'The Song That Never Ends'. Still, their songs are useful. Their music delineates their nesting territories and helps the female flickers find a quality mate.

In addition to calling from the top of a tree or a dead snag, male red-shafted flickers, which are most easily differentiated by their red cheek-patches, also drum on naturally provided 'sounding boards'.

When the drumming occurs on the metal cap on top of a furnace vent it can be especially loud and annoying for the human inhabitants of the home. However, when it happens on the top of a snag (where the drumming is actually significantly quieter) it apparently sounds very attractive to female flickers. 

The is the same snag and same drum board as in the previous photo. It was just taken on a different day with different light and a slightly different angle. It might even be the same male.

It is a bit difficult to see in this photo but our local female Northern Flickers lack the bright red facial markings. In this case, it looked as though the male had excavated a nest and was hoping the female would accept his affection and join him in raising their young.

Being thoughtful and careful, the female decided to inspect the accommodations before accepting the offer. I must admit, the entrance to the nest looked a bit small to me.

Having seen a smaller Red-breasted Sapsucker nearby, I wondered whether the male flicker was actually the true excavator of the site. 

To be fair, earlier in the month I did see this male, possibly the same one, hanging out at the hole in question. Although, even then the hole looked fairly small for the size of the flicker.

I did not see the female attempt to actually to enter the hole. She also did not immediately fly away laughing. The male hopped down to a nearby horizontal branch. Given that horizontal surfaces are much more effective for mating, it seemed to me that the male was hoping to take the relationship to the next level.

The female came closer and the male's excitement at the prospect seemed visible. 

Often during courtship, and during territorial competitions, flickers will expose the underside of their most colorful feathers to each other. Here you can see a small splash of orange under his tail.

In our western variety of the Northern Flicker, e.g. the red-shafted subspecies, the undersides of their wing and tail feathers are normally a brilliant orange. At certain angles the salmon coloring is most intense on the shafts of the feathers. As far as I have seen, these feathers are only intentionally displayed to members of their own species. 

My son once suggested that the subspecies may have been named 'red-shafted' many decades ago, at a time when the colors orange and red were both often referred to as being shades of red. 

Earlier in the month, I watched two male flickers dispute the ownership of a tree. This mostly dead snag also had a drumming board at the top and may have contained a hidden nest site which I was unable find. 

To keep these face-offs from becoming violent, the flickers resort to intimidation via endowment. It seems similar to human males yelling and trying to look tough.

Among our flickers, this is accomplished by exposing their salmon-colored feathers to their opponent. From my perspective, the feathers of this particular male looked a bit less colorful than normal.

In any case, one of the two males flew away and the 'winner' ended up at the sounding board on top of the snag. 

Note: We believe the red chevron on the back of the head indicates that this bird has at least some genetic material supplied from the eastern, yellow-shafted subspecies of the Northern Flicker.

A few days ago, on a third snag I watched another male-female interaction. The male's song attracted a female towards the lower portion of the tree.

The male came down from the top of the snag while flashing his beautiful wings.

Somehow, he found a way to momentarily expose his complete endowment without falling from the sky.

I suspect this must have been a fairly mature female as she appeared only mildly interested.

She did inspect at least two of the multiple holes on this tree.

I am fairly certain this second site, was created last spring by Chip, our local Pileated Woodpecker. Locally at least, the Pileated Woodpeckers tend to make egg-shaped holes while the Northern Flickers holes are a bit smaller and much more round. Chip's mate, Goldie choose not to use the site and lately I believe an Eastern Gray Squirrel has taken over the nest.

Back at the original snag the female avoided the male and his affections. She flew to a nearby branch. The male moved back to the top of the snag and started drumming again. Apparently, with a more complete understanding of the situation, the female flew away. At which point the male took his efforts to the next level. He stopped the subtle drumming and burst into what sounded like the loudest possible version of his song.

Clearly, the time for watching flicker courtship is upon us. I suggest listening for long incessant songs, subtle drumming and watching for flashes of brilliant orange. Flicker Antics is a show you do not want to miss.

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

Larry


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 our local environment and 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 respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.


Do you know this plant? Is it native to Union Bay?







Scroll down for the next step.







***************







This week I am hoping to reverse the learning process. I have not been able to identify this plant. It grows on bushes, shrubs and small trees and seems to get up to a height of 15 to 20 feet. I believe it is a vine. I have spotted it in Interlaken Park and in Montlake Park East near the southeast corner of the Cut. I suspect it is non-native and may be spread by birds. I believe the 'flowers' hang on the plant through out the winter. Please email me if you know what it is. Thank you! ldhubbell@comcast.net


Update - March 18th, 2018:

Thank you to each of you who responded to tell me this plant is a Clematis. David Zuckerman, Manager of Horticulture for the UW Botanic Gardens, not only explained that this a specific invasive, 'Clematis Vitalba' or 'Old Man's Beard', but he also provided this link.


I found it interesting that in Wikipedia it states a number of different historical uses for parts of the plant - from rope to omelets. It is also interesting how the wispy parts I photographed are not actually the flower. Click Here to see the official King County photos of the plant (including the flowers) and how best to deal with this invasive.



***************





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



***************