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

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Duckling Distraction

On Thursday while I was heading home, I happened to notice this female duck brooding her young. She looked like a mallard, although generally the females have at least some orange  on the outer edge of their bills. The all dark bill made me question myself. I wondered if this duck might belong to a different species.

In any case, the dark bill gave her a uniquely, beautiful look. I found her beauty and mystery mesmerizing, plus the ducklings crowding under her breast where also pretty hard to resist.

A few minutes earlier, one of the ducklings took a moment to peer out at the dangers of the world before turning tail and snuggling back under its mother.

My focus was broken by the splash of a duck diving below the surface.

There were three birds in the water between us and they were all diving below the surface.

Their splashes were quite distracting. I had seen the same three ducks a few minutes earlier. 

They looked like miniature mallards. Their diving behavior bewildered me because Mallards are classified as dabbling ducks, as opposed to a number of other species which are referred to as diving ducks. Later while doing research, I would learn there are a few references to Mallards diving. If you click on the previous link and look under the heading, Feeding Behavior, you will see one such reference.

Having never seen Mallards behave this way, I attempted to photograph their unusual behavior.

They dived with essentially the same speed as Western Grebes, quickly.

 This left me with numerous photos of water splashing up in the air.


 Occasionally, I actually caught a bit of a tail before they disappeared below the surface.


They would stay under water for 3 or 4 seconds before resurfacing. I never saw any food in their bills, so I am guessing they were swallowing something relatively small while still submerged.

When one swam in front of a full grown female Mallard, I realized this was an excellent opportunity for a comparison. The diving duck looked to be roughly the size of a Green-winged Teal, relative to the adult female.

When one of the young climbed totally out of the water I noticed the white sprouts of feathers on the left 'hip', in an area which will ultimately be covered by wing feathers, when the duck matures.

Relatively small wings might actually make it easier for young ducks to propel themselves underwater. However, since I could not see what they were doing below the surface I have no data to support this possibility. Still, I wonder if juvenile ducklings might be more inclined to dive due to a temporary optimal sizing of their wings during their development. 

Even though the young ducks were close to the size of Green-winged Teals, their bills where far more similar to Mallards than the thin little black beaks of Teals.


I found it hard to believe these young ducks were anything other than Mallards.

 I visually reviewed Sibley's drawings of all the dabbling and diving ducks.

I have found no other likely candidate species.

After a few minutes, the last of the three 'diving ducks' splashed its way out of sight.

Back on shore, one of the very young ducklings decided to leave the crowded basement and climb upstairs for a better view.

Later, I would learn there were seven other siblings huddled under the mother duck.

You can hardly blame the little duckling for wanting some fresh air and a more personal relationship with its mother.

Ultimately, the mother could only take so much movement and squirming. She headed for the water, giving the adventurous duckling a short ride to the shore.

Seeing the Mallard duckling on its mother's back was a first for me. It reminded me of a previous post regarding Pied-billed Grebes. It was titled, The Mother Ship.

Seeing the blue speculum on the mother duck removed any doubts that she was a Mallard. Click on the highlighted link to see examples of various identifying duck speculums.

 The young ducklings followed the mother to the water.

Looking at the spots on the young ducklings made me wonder if the whitish 'hip' feathers on the juvenile diving ducklings might be the remnant of the last yellow spot which we can see on these much younger birds.

The mysteries continued. The mother and her ducklings wandered close to a full-sized female Mallard. The large female appeared to nip at the smaller, black-billed mother duck. This seemed to prompt the mother to fly away.

The ducklings went on about their business of searching for food.

I can only assume the mother will be back. But I find myself bewildered by the size difference between the two 'mature' female mallards. There is far more going on in nature than I understand. Could it be that the smaller female is the result of a Mallard breeding with some smaller species of duck? or Could the size and bill color differences just be natural variation inside the Mallard species? 

Watching one of the young ducklings diving under the water sure seems like a fitting conclusion for this bewildering set of experiences.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature bewilders 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.







Is this plant native to the Pacific Northwest?









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Scroll down for the answer










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This is a plant native to our area. The beautiful dark berries are currently visible on local plants at many different locations.





FYI, There is new information posted in last week's 'Going Native' discussion. Feel free to scroll down and weigh in.



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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




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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Baby Crows

Crow on eggs - May 4th.

 A crow's nest is a term almost everyone has heard. For hundreds of years the phrase has been used to describe a lookout point high above a ship. A place to watch for approaching danger. Fittingly, there may be no other species on earth which watches for danger as devotedly as crows. None the less, one of the most dangerous times in the lives of young crows are the days they spend in the nest.

The parents do everything in their power to defend their young. Sometimes they will even attack people who are simply passing by. Usually, crows' nests are well hidden, especially when large deciduous leaves fill the branches above the nest. 

Before this Spring, I had never even glimpsed inside an active nest. I am especially grateful to my friend, Whitney, and my new friends, Emily and Bryony, for providing access which enabled a brief weekly observation of this nest.


The first hatchling - May 11th 

When I glanced into the nest all I saw were the beautifully speckled eggs. I was surprised that the color of the eggs was not more similar to twigs and sticks of the nest. The color did virtually nothing to hide the eggs from prying eyes. 

Ever so slightly, an egg shifted. I wondered if I really saw movement. Was it just my camera which shifted in my grasp. A moment later, I saw the hint of a little pink foot and then abruptly a young bird's head flopped into view. 

Hatchlings hoping for food - May 17th - Day 6

Six days later the egg shells were gone. Two young birds remained. Obviously stronger, they were now holding their heads up. Their eyes were still closed and their bare skin was now grey-brown with highlights of pink. The colors of the young birds were definitely less obvious than the eggs had been. Their most notable parts were the bright red mouths. It was hard to imagine them being any more defenseless than when they were blindly begging for food. 

By the way, this may be one of the few times you get to see crow's ears or at least the holes which they apparently hear through.

This particular nest tree was rather small with surprisingly little foliage overhead. With great regularity gulls could be heard and seen as they negotiated the wind currents above the nest. I had serious doubts about the survival of the nestlings.


 Hatchlings with early feathering  - May 24th - Day 13

At almost two weeks of age, the bird on the left appeared to be opening its eyes, ever so slightly. The bare pink skin of their bodies was now hidden. Feathers were beginning to grow. The most consistent part of their appearance was still their gaping red mouths. Appropriately, the joint where the upper and lower bills meet is called, The Gape.



Young Crows - June 1st - Day 20

In their third week the young birds were identifiable as crows. They no longer looked naked, however their feathers were still not sufficient for flight. The larger bird might even have been showing some awareness of the world beyond the nest.


Young Crows - June 8th - Day 27

By the fourth week, the young birds were certainly aware of the life outside the nest. Their feathers now covered their bodies and heads in all the right places. Soon they would be able to fly. By the next visit a week later, the nest was empty.

Over the next few days Emily and Bryony saw the parents feeding the young in the general area somewhat near the nest. Much to my surprise, the young survived the threat of passing gulls and other predatory birds, in spite of their relatively 'open air' nest.

While I cannot be sure if I found one of these new fledglings, I did find a crow of a similar age. The young bird was highly inquisitive.


However, it did not appear to be having much luck at finding its own food.

In addition to the young bird's behavior and its feathers being not quite as black as an adult, this photo shows two or three other characteristics which indicates the bird's youth. 


When your parents are bringing you all your food and keeping an eye out for danger you can close your eyes and work to your heart's content on preening and cleaning your new feathers.

It would not surprise me if new feathers growing all over your body, while pushing older feathers out of the way, might create an itch or two and a need to scratch.

At one point the young bird got a hold of one of the small feathers it had removed. It looked like the crow was attempting to set the feather down on the branch. But sadly the moment it let lose of the feather, the wind gathered it up and took it away.

The young crow seemed to have a wistful look in its eye as it watched the feather disappear over the waters of the bay.


Curiosity is certainly a sign of intelligence. If the current batch of young crows can survive the next few weeks, their odds of survival will continue to increase. They need to stay out of the grasp of predatory birds like the adult Barred Owl mentioned in the post two weeks ago. They also need to learn to stay out of the way of automobiles. Life in the city certainly has positive and negative challenges.

 
Watching the antics of young crows over the next few weeks could be very entertaining for us, even though it may mean life and death for them. Binoculars will be very helpful in identifying them because they are already nearly the same size as their hard working parents. 


Keys to identifying young crows include, being fed by another crow, exhibiting a high level of curiosity, having a red gape, having a blue-gray iris, losing small downy feathers and possibly even scratching a lot.

Take a look at the following two photos and see if you can figure out which one is the adult and which one is a new fledgling. Both birds have their nictitating membrane closed, which covers their eyes when they are potentially exposed to some type of irritation.

A)


B)
 The key difference is the hint of a pink gape in the second photo.


Even here, from this rather odd angle, the pinkish red gape is apparent, which implies this is a young bird and not yet a parent.

Have 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.







Is this flowering plant native to the Pacific Northwest?









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Scroll down for the answer










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I am not 100% positive on this identification but I suspect it is Common Vetch, which is not a Northwest native. Please feel free to let me know if your knowledge of the plant exceeds my own. Also, I must admit I was out of town some this week, so this particular plant was photographed in Port Townsend. 


Update:

I received a number of varied and interesting responses regarding the identity of this plant. The follow email from Tom Brown gives a new perspective. Both he and I would love to know if anyone has more detailed knowledge. Thank you!

Larry,

Thank-you so much for your posts.  I’ve been following them for, gosh, years now!

I send this with a disclaimer....I am not a botanist.  I am just someone who spends an inordinate amount of time looking at wildflowers, taking pictures of wildflowers,  and trying to identify them.  Some people do birds.  Some people do wildflowers.

My favorite sources are Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest by Turner and Gustafson, and the Burke Herbarium Image Collection: http://biology.burke.washington.edu/herbarium/imagecollection.php.  The image collection is amazing!

Pea vs Vetch:  Very confusing.  If you go to the image collection website you can find 15 different “peas” in the Genus Lathyrus.  You can also find 8 vetch in the Genus Vicia.  I compared L. latifolius and V. salvia to your picture.  The number of flowers on the leaf axils in your picture (5 – 15) match up with L. latifolius while V. salvia has only 1 to 3 on the axil.   In addition, the two leaflet structure in L. latifolius appears to match your picture. 

So I think that instead of common vetch you have a picture of perennial or everlasting pea..........both nonnative.

Thanks again for your posts.  You have helped to inspire me in ways I wouldn’t have imagined.  I just downloaded the Merlin Bird ID App.  It got the red breasted nuthatch right the first try! 

Tom Brown




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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




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