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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Moment In Time

When the smoke began to lift, one of the first birds I saw this week was a young Cooper's Hawk. I heard it first. The repeated calls seemed to bounce from one location to the next. I twisted and turned trying to find the source of the sound. It is possible that I was hearing multiple siblings begging all around me. I wandered in circles visually searching the pines and the sequoias trying to pinpoint the sounds. 

Due to the persistent and repetitive begging, I assumed the hawks I heard were young. Each of the high-pitched 'keee' calls seemed to explode before fading in both pitch and volume. When one of the young birds finally landed in front of me, the vertical brown teardrops on its breast confirmed its youth, while the varied length of the tail feathers confirmed it was a Cooper's Hawk.

On multiple days this week, I also saw a young Pied-billed Grebe. I suspect I have been watching the same one since I consistently saw it just to the west of Duck Bay. It floats around a lot and occasionally dives. Mostly it seems to wait and watch for its mother to pop up with food. The black and white cheek and the pink hue on its bill are indicative of its youth.

The two-toned, 'pied-bill' of the adults is what gives this species its name. It is interesting how the adult and the juvenile share a similar shape while their facial coloring is quite different.

When the young bird sees a parent surface it immediately lowers its head, opens its mouth and does its best imitation of a starving, young hatchling.


When the mother dives it resumes a more dignified pose. 

When the adult resurfaces, the young one shrinks again and promptly gives chase.

I wonder if the mother is counting the days until this one learns to find food. Finding enough food for both of them must be quite a challenge.

When the patient parent captures food, she keeps it alive while she wanders about searching for her hungry, young offspring. In the past, I have watched parents recapture the same fish multiple times, while the young fumble about and slowly learn to handle live food.

The next day I spotted a young Green Heron to the west of Foster Island. The mottled stripes on the sides of the neck and the small white triangles on the tips of the wing feathers indicate this heron is in its first year. 

Yesterday, to east of Foster Island I saw what I believe is a young Hooded Merganser. This was the first time I remember seeing a Hooded Merganser - without a hood. While I was focusing on this bird I heard a very loud 'Pha-Phoom'. Something hit the water between us.

I jumped, lowered my camera and looked up as an Osprey disappeared to the south. I had seen a single Osprey in the distance the day before and I wondered if it might be one of the two adults from the nest in the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA). Sadly, I knew it was not either of this year's young, since neither survived. Maybe next year.

When I headed south, in the direction which the Osprey flew, I caught one more glimpse of it as it turned and headed north. I decided my best bet was to hike to the north end of the island and try to catch sight of the Osprey, since I often see them circling around Union Bay. When I got there the bay seemed empty, no birds as far as I could see. I turned to head home. As I walked I thought, What if the Osprey had been sitting in the tree above my head when it dived? Maybe, when it headed north it simply returned to the same hunting roost. On my way home for lunch, I decided to stop and take one more look. As I crept quietly back to the same location, I searched through the thicket of Red Alder branches and leaves. 

To my pleasant surprise, there was the Osprey. The white edging on its dark feathers and the hint of orange irises told me it was a juvenile. The light coloring of its feet also seemed unusually pristine. I suspect that with use and the passage of time osprey feet slowly fade to a dirty gray-brown. 

When the young bird stretched its leg it was fun to see how the sharp, curving talons divided into two opposing groups. This adaption helps them to catch and hold onto the fish they love.

It was also interesting to watch how the talons contracted into a harmless little ball before being tucked away next to the bird's belly. 

In this photo from Spring we can see how the male balled-up his talons to protect the female's back. This photo also shows us how the dark feathers of an adult, most obvious on the side of the female, lack the white tips which we saw on the young osprey in the previous photo.

Meanwhile, the 'hoodless' merganser had stayed in the area. When it decided to slowly paddle away, it tilted its head to keep a watchful eye on the Osprey sitting overhead.

Later when I passed by Duck Bay, I could not miss this young Great Blue Heron flying about. In this case, the gray top to the head indicates its youth. Not to mention its almost hyper-active hunting technique. Apparently the calm, patient hunting style of an adult is a skill which must be learned.

When the bird shivered and shook, its obviously short feathers reinforced my assessment of youth.

All of these young birds are in a race with the calendar. The Cooper's Hawk and the Pied-billed Grebe are still getting food from their parents, but the parent's level of devotion and effort is not sustainable. With Fall fast approaching, all of these first-year birds must learn to become self-sufficient. 

For months, their parents have been working towards this moment in time. In Winter and early Spring the parents worked to attract and retain mates. They built nests and defended territories. They laid eggs, incubated and protected them. In all of these cases, except for the precocious merganser, the parents have supplied a nearly endless buffet of food for their young. In general, the parents have helped the young to find food and demonstrated the foraging process. Just like us, this new generation of birds is facing a future which will be determined by how quickly they learn and how effectively they use their new skills.

The survival of these creatures may also hinge on the choices we make. Please take the time to research and learn about the candidates in this Fall's election. Their views regarding humanity and nature will be critical for the future. Click Here for what appears to be a calm and unbiased source regarding the candidates. Click Here to register to vote. 

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.



What species of dragonfly is this? Is it native to Union Bay?

















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Scroll down for the answer










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Blue-eyed Darner: Yes, this dragonfly is native to Union Bay. Did you know that Dennis Paulson, who teaches the Master Birder Class for Seattle Audubon, is also a world-renown expert on dragonflies? Dennis' Field Key to Adult Washington Dragonflies is easily accessible by Clicking Here.





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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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Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Mighty Kingfishers

Adult female Belted Kingfishers have a distinctive second belt which is chestnut in color.

The chestnut coloring on Female Belted Kingfishers makes them more colorful than the males. This is a fairly unusual arrangement for a sexually dimorphic bird species. In most avian species, when the two sexes are distinctive, the males are more colorful. Usually, sexually dimorphic females tend to have more camouflaged coloring and spend more time sitting on the nests and tending to the young.

Wilson's Phalaropes are a perfect example of both color and role reversal. In a single breeding season a female phalarope may inspire multiple males to cover and care for separate nests full of her eggs.

Sadly, Belted Kingfishers are not known to exhibit reversed role behavior. It would be fascinating to observe. You can read additional thoughts regarding their reversed coloring by Clicking Here.

A male Belted Kingfisher with its fairly drab coloring.

I usually see Belted Kingfishers sitting on a small branches above the water. From such a perch they search for small fish passing below. When the opportunity presents itself, they dive. To my knowledge, they are one of only three species of birds which dive headfirst into Union Bay.*

Among juvenile Belted Kingfishers their upper blue-gray belt is usually mottled with chestnut-colored feathers. 

This photo was taken in October and if not for the mix of coloring in the upper belt I might not have realized this was a first year bird.

This photo was taken in June. It shows a much younger bird. The chestnut coloring in the upper belt is the most obvious hint. Do you see any other indications of youth?

The abbreviated tail and the exceptionally short bill don't stay that way for long.

Watching a parent bring food to her young is another way to identify an immature bird.

Do you notice any other differences? Did you observe that the feet of the adult are larger and darker. 

Which one of these is the adult?

Another difference are the small white feather tips on the folded wings of the young bird. White colored feathers have less melanin and less strength so they tend to wear away leaving adult wings looking consistently dark - when fold way on their backs.

Here the young bird was looking down at the fish which just slipped away. A situation which seems surprising similar to a human toddler dropping his food on the floor. 

The dark central streaks in the feathers on this bird's back were uniquely visible from this particular angle.

This photo was taken in July. I was surprised to see this kingfisher sitting among the lily pads, just inches above the water. I do not ever remember seeing a Belted Kingfisher sitting so close to the water. From such a low perch there would be no chance to gather speed and dive after a fish. Plus, being so low would make it difficult to evade a Merlin or a Sharp-shinned Hawk, both of which hunt in this area.

I was shocked when the kingfisher leaped into the water and started using its wings like paddles. With all the splashing and thrashing, there was no chance it would catch a fish.

The kingfisher battered it way across five or six feet of shallow water until it arrived at a log below a very apprehensive female Wood Duck. The duck side-stepped up the log while the kingfisher flapped its wings, apparently asserting ownership of the area. Given that Wood Ducks are more than three times heavier than Belted Kingfishers the retreat was a somewhat surprising.

The Wood Duck was definitely intimidated and continued to edge away. After a few moments the kingfisher leaped back in the water and paddled to a more distant log.

Sadly, this single mis-focused photo is my best documentation of the paddling process. 

My first thought was to wonder if this was a bird who had not yet learned to fly. Could the paddling be part of their fledging process e.g. a means to improve the strength of the wings?

When the young bird turned to face me I could clearly see the mottled upper belt which confirmed its youth.

When the bird turned again and stretched its wings I could see that they looked well-developed and quite capable of flight. Plus, the bird which I photographed in June was already flying - even though it was most likely a full month younger

Never before, or since, have I seen a Belted Kingfisher doing the butterfly stroke. Normally, I see them hit the water, grab a fish and fly back to their perch. This odd swimming behavior was totally new to me, but the territorial theme reminded me of a previous experience.

Last year, I noticed this Merlin sitting in an Alder tree above Duck Bay. The Merlin promptly left the area when a chattering bird flew directly at its perch.

The new intimidating arrival was this Belted Kingfisher. In general, Belted Kingfishers weigh an ounce or so less than Merlins. Since Merlins hunt and kill birds which are smaller than themselves, both the Merlin and I were surprised by the kingfisher's aggressiveness.

In the book 'The Genius of Birds' the author mentions that Belted Kingfishers are '..fiercely territorial..' Both of these incidents reinforce this assessment. If kingfishers will chase and intimidate Wood Ducks and Merlins who knows what other birds they might attack. I hope, that like me, you will now be inspired to keep a close eye on the mighty kingfishers of Union Bay. 


* Osprey and Caspian Terns are the other two plunge-diving species which I have noticed around Union Bay. The Osprey vary their diving process by throwing their feet in front of their head just before they enter the water. Not surprisingly, the Osprey are the only one of these three species to catch fish with their feet.

Eaglet Updates:

We have not had any confirmed sighting of Lucy since the last post, but we have had a couple of possible sightings, one of which was of a bird flying south over the freeway. Once the smoke clears it will certainly be interesting to watch for a young, mostly-dark Bald Eagle with an aluminum colored band on the right ankle. By the way Jeff Brown from PAWS says the measurement they did of Lucy implies she is a male. I guess it is time to start calling him Luc, which I pronounce as Luke.

Charlie the first sibling which fell from the nest is still at PAWs. Jeff says s/he has learned to fly but is still exhibiting some lameness. Eventually, this bird should be released but most likely at a location where lots of other young eagles are feeding. This approach may help the young bird to learn to feed itself. Sadly for us, this means it is unlikely the young eagle will be released near Union Bay.

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.

This post seems like the perfect time to review some of our most common Union Bay butterflies.

A)

B)

C)
What are their names? Are they native to Union Bay?

















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Scroll down for the answers










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A) Lorquin's Admiral - Native

B) Cabbage White - Introduced











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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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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Lucy Leaves Home

During the last week Lucy prematurely left home. If she were human we might call her an underaged runaway. However, such a simple description oversimplifies her situation. For example, her nest actually left home before she did.

Lucy (on the right) about twenty feet below the last remnants of the nest.

On Sunday morning Lucy was no longer in the fork of the tree where the nest had been. Lucy is one two siblings who are apparently Monty and Marsha's first offspring. Before it disintegrated their nest had been located near the S.E. corner of Montlake Cut. Lucy's sibling, Charlie, is currently at PAWS recovering from a cracked pelvis which was suffered when a branch broke and the nest first began to fall

Around 8 a.m. on Monday, one of the parents returned to the nest site with food. The adult sat and consumed what looked like a fresh fish. The sticks in the lower left of the photo were all that was left of the nest.

Lucy sat on a limb below, looking up and crying incessantly. The adult glanced down at her but made no move to share. I wondered if this was 'tough love'. Was the adult trying to motivate Lucy to fly or was the adult apprehensive about landing in the thick foliage next to Lucy. The adult finished and left. Lucy's cries subsided. She seemed healthy and alert, but I was concerned. Could she fly? If not, how would she get food?

On Tuesday morning around 7 a.m. my friends, Tom and Helen, texted me. At first they could not find Lucy at all. Finally, they spotted her only 20 feet above the ground. She was in the next tree south of the nest tree. At the very least she must have glided to her new location. I arrived quickly and began hoping for encouraging signs.

Through out the morning Lucy sat, quiet but alert. She only lifted her wings and turned around two or three times. She did not practice flapping her wings or spend much time preening, which made me think she really wasn't ready to fly.

The parents did not feed her, she did not leave the branch to hunt and she did not cry out for food. This did not feel like a path to success. Around 11 a.m. Susan Ott, an observant and caring neighbor, showed up to check on Lucy. Susan had only stopped for a moment, but when she realized the uncertainty of Lucy's predicament she stayed.

Lucy slowly grew more active and started looking around apparently searching for nearby perches.

During the next hour Lucy hopped to a neighboring branch. Then, around noon she flew nearly fifty feet. Her flight was slow and awkward. She collided with low hanging leaves while steadily losing altitude.


Ultimately, she did a head-first, crash-landing into an old ivy-covered snag.

She flapped and fluttered futilely against the ivy, but appeared unharmed.

Finally, she gave up and let go. She came to rest in a mix of ivy and blackberry vines. For the next few hours she took turns resting and fighting through the foliage. She never got more than a single hop above the vines. 

We called Jeff Brown at PAWS. (Jeff previously rescued Charlie, Lucy's sibling.) While we waited Susan made a trip home and kindly returned with food. Jeff called back and suggested that officers from the Seattle Animal Shelter might be close by and hopefully available to rescue Lucy.

Lucy wandered deeper into the thicket and finally disappeared from sight. At this point, we were certain Lucy could not fly well enough to find food and feed herself. Her parents had not delivered any food for at least eight hours. Plus, it also appeared that they, Monty and Marsha, had no idea where she was. Lucy was essentially on the ground and unprotected.


Susan Ott slowly and carefully worked her way into the jungle of vines in an effort to relocate Lucy. When the Seattle Animal Shelter officers arrived she guided them to Lucy's location.

The officers, Robert Linke and Jon Wieringa, carefully secured Lucy and took her to PAWS where she could be fed, evaluated and temporarily reunited with Charlie. 

From left to right; Jim Green and Jeff Brown from PAWS along with Ed Deal and Patti Loesche from the Urban Raptor Conservancy.

By Thursday morning, Jeff had determined that Lucy was unharmed and could potentially be returned to her parents. Jeff also arranged to meet with Ed and Patti so they could give Lucy the appropriate federal 'wrist' band. The band was applied to her right leg. 

With exceptional eyesight, quality binoculars and a lot of luck you might be able to read the number, 629-45004. However, simply seeing the location of the band on the right leg may help with future identification.

As Patti applied the band, Ed explained that for most birds bands can be simply crimped into place. However, Bald Eagles are strong enough and smart enough to remove crimped bands. So, their bands must be locked with a rivet. The bands are carefully sized so they do not interfere with any of the bird's activities.

From Left to Right: Jim Green, Drew Foster, Clif Edwards and Michelle McCorran

Jeff also arranged for Drew and Clif, Arborists' from The Washington Park Arboretum, to return Lucy to her nest site. Michelle, from the United States Army Corp of Engineers, helped protect the public during the operation. (Michelle was also the one who originally called PAWS and got Jeff involved in rescuing Charlie.) In the background Jim from PAWS is working out technical details related to the eagle elevator. 

Clif begins the ascent to Lucy's nest site. 


I estimate the nest site at being about 100 feet in the air. In this photo Clif is about two thirds of the way to the site.

Drew and Clif trade off on the climbing. On this day Drew was providing ground support while at the very top of the photo you can see Clif has reached the nest site.

Here, Drew was preparing to send up materials for a temporary nest-like platform. The idea was that if Lucy could be returned to the site of the nest, hopefully the parents would resume feeding her and she could complete the normal branching process, which would end with her being strong enough to fly. After young eagles learn to fledge they usually spend a period of time with their parents learning to hunt, which would be the optimal way for Lucy to learn.

Clif preparing to receive materials

Jeff and Jim locking the escape hatch on the eagle elevator.

Cliff with the temporary platform installed and ready to receive Lucy.

The Lucy Lift in operation.

Sadly, just as Lucy was released the Blue Angels flew over and for whatever reason she was skittish and flew away. With great fear we watched as she flew all the way across Montlake Cut. Once again, she lost altitude the whole way. After she landed, she was unable to get airborne again. Luckily, Jeff and Jim were able to recapture her, unharmed. She was returned to PAWS, where she got another square meal. 

On Friday the process was repeated. This time the process was scheduled for after the Blue Angels completed their flights and her release was initiated from the ground. None the less she was still uncomfortable and as she was released she flew south and landed about halfway down in a large cottonwood behind the nest tree. (As of this morning she was still in the same location.)

The current assessment is that Lucy is too old to be returned to the nest site because she has consistently demonstrated the ability and desire to fly away. However, since she seems to only be able to fly down-hill, she is effectively only half-fledged. From my perspective half-fledged means she is capable of getting into trouble, but not capable of getting out. For example, she can fly well enough to land on the ground uninjured but she is apparently unable to get back to the safety of an overhead branch. The fear is that she could not escape from a coyote, raccoon or even an off-leash dog. 

If during the next few days you visit Montlake Cut or Montlake Park East (where the old Museum of History and Industry was located) please watch for Lucy. If you spot her on the ground please do not attempt to catch her but rather call PAWS or the Seattle Animal Shelter.

The phone number for PAWS is: 1-425-787-2500

The phone number for the Seattle Animal Shelter is: 1-206-386-7387

This is a unique situation where it would be best if the whole Montlake Community was watching for Lucy. So please feel free to forward the link to this post and ask your neighbor's for help.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

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.




What type of plant is this? Is it native to Union Bay?








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Scroll down for the answer










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This is not the worst invasive plant, but it is not native to Union Bay. It is currently flowering in the Union Bay Natural Area. The highlighted links will take to two different sites, which will give you either a King County or a British Columbia perspective. 

l may be offline for a few days but I would love to hear if anyone can explain who and what  the wasp-like creature is doing on this plant. If you leave explanations in the comments section below the conversation can continue with or without me. (I think I understand what the Honey Bee is up to.)








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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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