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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Blue-Grey Acorn Jay

A California Scrub-Jay near Salmon Creek in Vancouver Washington.

I like this photo because it catches the bird in what I call a corvid hop. At first glance one might think the bird is standing on the ground. A careful examination of the shadow causes a mental re-adjustment. Suddenly, the bird appears airborne, without the use of wings. Our local American Crows and Steller's Jays do a similar maneuver as this their corvid cousin - the California Scrub-Jay.

I have been hoping to photograph a Scrub-Jay near Union Bay for quite some time. Earlier this year, my friend Whitney saw a group of them near Agua Verde. They were gone by the time I visited the area. Scrub-Jays are more common further to the south but occasionally a few wander north.

Earlier this month, my friend Dave Galvin heard a California Scrub-Jay as he biked through Montlake. The next morning, I visited the specific area but sadly I saw only Steller's Jays. 

The same day, I joined my friend Eric's bird walk near Portage Bay. In part, because I wanted to ask Eric if he had seen any Scrub Jays lately. He pointed out a tree where he observed one the day before, but none appeared for me.

This week, while visiting my mother in Vancouver I finally secured a few photos. Vancouver is inside the normal range for California Scrub-Jays so finding them was not too challenging, however it did not really satisfy my desire to see them near Union Bay.

The beauty of this jay is an excellent reward for those who spot one. I am always amazed by the hues and colors of blue birds, especially since their feathers do not have any internal blue coloring. It is the physical structure of the feather which causes it to reflect light in the blue wave length. 

This makes me wonder if a scientist were to crush a blue feather, destroying the internal structure, what would be the color of the resulting powder? Would it be grey like the cheeks or the back of the jay or a shade of white like the belly or bib or some other completely unexpected color? 

In this photo, taken with out direct sunlight, why does the blue color appear richer? If blue is a reflection of the light why would less light seem to create more color?

For comparison, here is a bird in a similar situation, except for the addition of direct sunlight.

I wonder if the bright white of the bib and the supercilium and the off-white of the belly are structurally different from the blue feathers or do the whitish feathers contain white pigmentation.

It is also interesting how the coloring of the Scrub-Jay helps it to disappear in into a busy, broken background. From my limited experience it does appear that Scrub Jays spend more time in smaller bushes than the Steller's Jays or Crows which I watch around Union Bay.

They also spend time in the tree tops. Against a clear blue sky a Scrub Jay certainly looks elegant. I was surprised to notice that the tail feathers which are blue on the topside are grey underneath.

The feathers of the wings are also blue on the upper surface. In this case as well, the undersides of the feathers seem to grow a darker grey as the distance from the body increases.


All birds can get in surprisingly awkward positions while preening their feathers. 

The miracle of flight requires minimal air resistance which is in part achieved with well groomed and aligned feathers.

I am sure clean feathers are also lighter which helps to increase a bird's endurance and range.

I am at a loss to explain why we still call such a beautiful bird a Scrub-Jay.

In my experience the term scrub is a derogatory term. In the sawmill towns where I grew up scrub was used to describe bushes which were considered too small to harvest for lumber and which were therefore consider worthless. In fact small bushes are actually a critical habitat for birds and other wild creatures. Along a similar line, in sports the term scrub is used to describe strike-breaking substitutes which are considered to be worth less than the more skilled athletes which they temporarily replace.

Currently, the Scrub-Jay species found in California, Oregon and Washington is called the California Scrub-Jay. It is one of four species which previously were combined into a single group called the Western Scrub-Jay. Even though this bird often spends time in smaller shrubs and undergrowth I believe it has other attributes which deserve to be highlighted via its name. 

For example, California Scrub-Jays can also be found in oak woodlands. (Woodlands which are in need of protection. Click Here for more information.) In this habitat they utilize their incredible memory to distribute, store and retrieve acorns from a wide variety of locations. Without this amazing capacity these birds would be unable to survive the winter. Certainly, a name reflecting this mental acuity around oaks and acorns would more properly reflect their skills and abilities.

If I was lucky enough to name this bird I might call it the 'Blue-Grey Acorn Jay".

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 week I am taking a slightly different approach. My friend and photographic mentor, Laurence Norton, sent me a link from King County which suggests native replacements for English Ivy. I hope you find This Link as interesting (and useful) as I did!




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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, September 23, 2018

Young Owl Feathers

Earlier this week I was attracted by the sound of an irate crow near the mouth of Arboretum Creek. As I crept closer to the commotion I spotted this owl. The sleepy predator was obviously the object of the corvid's disaffection.


It has been roughly three months since we watched this young Barred Owl leave the confines of its original home. You may read the story in the June post named, An Owlet Adventure

In late July, I spotted this pair near the mouth of Arboretum Creek. Clearly, the larger bird on the right is an adult and most likely female. In *Birds of North America it says that female Barred Owls can weigh 30 to 40 percent more than their mates. I wondered if the bird on the left was her mate or her offspring. After comparing this picture with the following photos I am thinking he is most likely her mate.

When the owl which I was watching this week shivered, I caught this rather unusual photo showing its feathers all askew.

A moment later, the feathers fell back into place. Even so, there was an unusual 'ruff' of feathers sticking up around the owl's head.

As the owl began waking up and looking around, these next few photos show little wisps of downy feathers momentarily sticking out at odd angles.

I do not remember the day being especially windy. In any case, I have never seen a whole clump of feathers stick out like this with a mature Barred Owl. There are other clues which I believe indicate this bird's immaturity. 

When the bird flew to a nearby perch the collar or ruff around the head stood out even more. 

The fact that the owl landed on a branch having a 45 degree angle also makes me think it was young. Adult owls have a strong preference for horizontal branches. I suspect a flat perch enables the owls to have a wider radius of attack and therefore increase their odds of a successful attack.

For example, from this perch any potential prey on the owl's right side would have extra time to escape while the owl attempted to navigate around the branch.

The next perch the owl chose had the same type of drawback. However, this angle of observation provides another clue regarding the bird's age. Birds of North America refers to the work of A.C. Bent when it states that in their first few months, young Barred Owls replace most of their body feathers - but not their wing or tail feathers. 

This information is helpful because the light barring on young tail feathers is more buff colored - instead of white. By next Spring the buff coloring should be gone.

I suspect the extensive personal grooming may be partly due to all the young downy feathers needing to be removed.

Certainly, this resulting pose is not common among adult owls.

Feathers sticking out in multiple directions reinforces my conclusion.

One year I watched and heard four young Barred Owls in Arboretum begging their parents for food. This year there was only the one successful fledgling. I never heard it begging. Maybe the two-to-one ratio of parents to offspring helped keep this bird very well fed. It is reassuring to know that this bird has survived the summer and is well on its way toward maturity.

As I prepared to leave, the young owl moved to a more horizontal branch closer to the stream and assumed an active hunting stance. I suspect that by next Spring, when the parents begin to focus on raising a new brood, this young bird will have been totally on its own for a number of months. Hopefully, its growing maturity will help this bird survive the challenges of winter.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature grow's up in the city!

Larry

Recommended Citation

Mazur, K. M. and P. C. James (2000). Barred Owl (Strix varia), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.508

Bent, A. C. 1938b. Life histories of North American Birds of Prey (Part 2). Orders Falconiformes and Strigiformes. Bull. U.S. Nat. Mus. (170):viii-482.


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.


A)

B)
What species are these hoppers? Are they native to Union Bay?

















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Scroll down for my thoughts










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I know next to nothing about grasshoppers. This week, I am certainly looking for expert guidance. The best I was able to come up with is that A) looks like a true grasshopper and B) looks more like a locust. For comparison I looked at this Insect Identification Guide.








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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, September 15, 2018

A Bushtit Mystery

This is one of my favorite Bushtit photos from 2015. These little birds have a wingspan of approximately six inches and their fully grown tail feathers must be nearly two inches in length.

Mature female bushtits have light colored irises with a dark pupil.

This week when I spotted a small flock of Bushtits just south of Portage Bay, they reminded me of some earlier photos. Bushtits are the only North American member of the Long-tailed Tit family - Aegithalidae. In the Fall and Winter, Bushtits begin growing fresh feathers which can be subtlety darker and less faded than their previous plumage. 

When viewing this bird from the back it seemed surprisingly dark for a Bushtit. It makes sense that new Fall feathers would be in better shape than those which have exposed to the wear and tear of Summer and Spring.

Bushtits have long legs and relatively large feet. 

By comparison, an Anna's Hummingbird with a nearly identical weight, has short legs and tiny little feet. 

The two species also have strikingly different bills, which fits with their food preferences. I suspect the ratio of animal matter to plant matter consumed is significantly higher with Bushtits.

In May I noticed this Bushtit with a single white worm, which it gleaned from a unique tree on the northwest side of Montlake Cut. A single worm could be a mini-meal for the individual bird. However...

... a beak full of worms makes it obvious, that this bird was collecting food to return to the young in the nest. 

Lucky for me, my friend Whitney pointed out the nearby nest. It was hidden in plain sight right above a frequently used walkway. I could have easily missed it. Once I had both the nest and food source in mind it became much easier to observe the living 'conveyor-belt' of food being delivered to the young in the nest.

All About Birds states that the Bushtit incubation period is just less than two weeks. It takes another 18 days before the young are ready to leave the nest and fledge.

I found it interesting that the tree where the birds were finding the worms, had leaves similar to the trees around it. However, this particular tree was a bit different than its neighbors. It was broader and it had this fruit which the others did not. I suspect the tree in question is a locally-rare, female version of the Lombardy Poplar which Arthur Lee Jacobson mentions on page 293 of his book, 'Trees of Seattle'.

In late June on the south-side of The Cut, I saw a small flock of Bushtits involved in a similar food gathering process. By the way, you might want to notice the two somewhat shorter, outer tail feathers. I believe, the varied lengths of the rectrices, or tail feathers, is an obvious sign of molting and new feather growth.


This bird appears to be a male, because it has totally black irises.
  
Suddenly, my eyes were drawn to a surprisingly odd looking female Bushtit.

The bird's tail was almost totally missing. The two dark projections at the rear of the bird are her wingtips.

As she turned further there might have been the barest hint of a tail feather, and a nice profile of a fully-developed bill. My first thought was to wonder if the bird might be a young Bushtit whose tail was just starting to grow. 

I did not suspect it was an adult because, as we saw in the earlier photo, they do not lose all of their tail feathers when they molt. In order to keep a functioning tail they apparently lose and replace their rectrices in sets of two.

As I reviewed my 2018 Bushtit photos, I found this photo taken a week earlier near Port Townsend. The small size of the Bushtit's bill and the uniformly clean and tidy look of the feathers made me think this was truly a young bird, fresh out of the nest.

However, even though the bird's bill is relatively small, its tail is already of significant size and easily noticeable.

When an adult landed beside it, the young bird appeared to be begging for food.

As I was reading through the Bushtit section of *Birds of North America, I learned that when Bushtits fledge, both genders have dark irises. The females do not develop their light-colored irises until a month after fledging. This combination of information convinced me that the tail-less Bushtit was old enough that under normal circumstances it should have had a tail.

The next idea which came to mind was that the Bushtit may have had a close encounter with a predatory bird. I have seen Merlins, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper's Hawks in the area just south of Montlake Cut. Plus, American Crows and Steller's Jays might go after the eggs in a Bushtit nest. Maybe one of these was tearing into a Bushtit nest  when it ended up with a mouth full of the incubating female's tail feathers.

It may be possible I saw the scene of the crime. Earlier in the Spring, I watched a group of Bushtits working around another nearby nest. A first I was excited that they might be building a new nest.

It was only when I saw them flying away with nesting material that I realized they were involved in a recycling effort and rebuilding the nest elsewhere. I wonder if this might have been the site where the female lost her tail.

I am sure there could be other explanations for the missing tail. For example, Could the Bushtit have been hatched without a tail? The mystery continues.

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

Larry








* Recommended Citation

Sloane, S. A. (2001). Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.598


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 is the name of this bush? Is it native to Union Bay?

















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Scroll down for the answer










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This plant is not native to Union Bay. It is native to Southern Oregon and California. With climate change, I wonder if our grandchildren will ultimately have to replace our locally native plants with more drought-tolerant flora from places like California. 

Thank You - to Eric for identifying this unique bush - spotted near Portage Bay.






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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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