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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Friday, November 30, 2018

Freedom

Early on Thursday afternoon, to the east of Rockport, a snow-covered section of the Cascades peaked through the clouds and the sun's warmth began to take a bit of the chill out of the mountain air. After nearly five months of rest and rehabilitation, Charlie's graduation day arrived. 

Charlie was the first offspring of Monty and Marsha, the adult eagles pictured above, to leave their nest, beside Union Bay. Technically, we might say the nest left Charlie. A branch broke, the nest shifted and partially fell, and so did Charlie. In the process, the young eagle's pelvis was cracked. Even though the eaglet was nearly as large as an adult, Charlie had not yet learned to fly. A young, flightless and injured eagle on the ground is in trouble. You may read more about Charlie's early struggles, and even see some of his 'baby' pictures, by Clicking Here.

In a more remote location, Charlie would have been highly unlikely to survive. Luckily, Monty and Marsha choose to build their nest in Seattle. Because the nest was in a populated area, it enabled a kindhearted neighbor, to make a timely call to The Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood, and Charlie was rescued.

Initially, Jeff Brown from PAWS was uncertain whether the eagle's pelvis would heal. With food, shelter and time Charlie recovered and learned to fly. Thursday was Charlie's chance to return to the wild.

By the way, Jeff mentioned that Charlie's measurements indicate he is too large to be a male Bald Eagle. Charlie is a female, who might be more appropriately named Charlotte. Jeff and the other employees, volunteers and supporters of PAWS in Lynnwood should be congratulated. Once again, they have not only saved a beautiful young creature from almost certain death, they have invested nearly five months of professional care and support, which should enable Charlotte to survive on her own. 

Yesterday, Jeff Brown prepared for Charlotte's release. While in captivity the eagle was cared for from a distance. As little human contact as possible was critical so that Charlotte could maintain her healthy fear of humans.

As the river rolled calmly past anticipation built. A pair of adult Bald Eagles watched from a treetop on the distant shore as Charlotte took to the air.

Charlotte's freedom flight was a majestic sight. It will be another four years or so before she is fully mature and ready to reproduce. Still, at this age, she is full-sized and, hopefully, fully-capable and ready to take on the world.

Charlotte circled upriver and then turned and headed downstream.

As she passed by, the band on her right leg and her huge talons were obvious. Hopefully, she finds plenty of salmon returning to the river in the near future. It is hard to imagine a better time or place for a young eagle to achieve independence.

As Charlotte began to disappear in the distance she descended closer and closer to the water.

In one of my last photos, she touched down. As we watched she splashed her way closer to the distant shore. Never having seen an eagle released before, I was concerned about her drowning. Later, Jeff mentioned that Jim Watson, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife scientist who also watched the process, was very reassuring. Apparently, he has seen other young eagles enter the water and survive.

It was certainly exciting to see Charlotte flying free. I hope she grabbed a fish, paddled her way to shore and had a nice meal. I suspect for Jeff and the folks from PAWS watching her disappear in the distance was a little bit like watching a child leave home. You do everything you can to help them prepare to face the world on their own, you feel pride at their obvious capabilities but there is still a good deal of apprehension about the challenges they may face.

We are all wishing Charlotte the best in her new adventures.

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

Larry

PS: If you would like to see the KIRO 7 video coverage, from Joanna Small, Click Here.


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.



Which one of these cones is most likely to be from one of two species native to Washington state? Which of the two species would have included Union Bay in its historical range?













Scroll down for the answer.










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Both of the following two trees have cones which could be close to 3 inches in length, similar to the cone on the left.

Sitka Spruce: Is found in moist, low elevations sites in Western Washington, like Union Bay.

Engelmann Spruce: Is found in higher and drier elevations in Washington, like the east side of the Cascades.









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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 workaround is to set up 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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Monday, November 26, 2018

Persistence

While heading home, after a visit to the Union Bay Natural Area on Saturday, I thought my 'birding' for the day was done. I was wrong. It was just before 3 p.m. when a startled dogwalker pointed out this avian interaction and visually suggested restraint.

I assume, the Cooper's Hawk had just captured the Rock Pigeon, otherwise, there would have been a lot more feathers surrounding the scene.

The hawk mantled the prey, e.g. it used its wings and tail to hide the pigeon, while it continued to pluck feathers. Mantling reduces the chances of a larger predator seeing and stealing the meal. The list of creatures who could easily disturb a small hawk is long. At a minimum, it includes our local Bald Eagles, a passing Red-tailed Hawk, Gulls and of course American Crows. 


In addition, a Raccoon, a Coyote, a River Otter or even an off-leash Dog could easily scare a small, male Cooper's Hawk off of its prey. All of these potential interlopers have been seen around Union Bay. The hawk's cautionary instinct is not a frivolous behavior, however, the plucking seemed a bit presumptuous.


The plump pigeon was still actively objecting to the idea of being a belated Thanksgiving dinner for an inexperienced young hawk. Since a Rock Pigeon and a male Cooper's Hawk can be similar in weight the result of their interaction was not a foregone conclusion.

For the young hawk, a meal of this size might make the difference between surviving the winter, or not. The struggle continued. With each passing moment, the young hawk's predatory skills seemed to increase, while the odds for the pigeon decreased.

With a smaller bird, like a Dark-eyed Junco, the hawk's talons would be relatively longer. This would enable the hawk to quickly pierce a vital organ and dispatch the prey far more quickly and humanely. 

On the flip side, the similar size of the two birds still gave the pigeon a chance.

When another inadvertent pedestrian approached too close, the Cooper's Hawk momentarily released its prey. A larger or more experienced hawk might have attempted to carry its meal to an elevated perch. The large, horizontal, moss-covered branches of a Big-leaf Maple tree are prime feeding sites for experienced Cooper's Hawks. The upper branches of maple trees provide cover from airborne interlopers, while the elevation of the mid-level branches slows down the approach of most mammals.

Given a split second of respite, the pigeon flew. The pigeon's instincts were good. It dived into a nearby thicket of cattails, bushes and small trees. The hawk gave chase but the highly motivated pigeon dived deeply and hid well.

After about five minutes, the hungry young hawk popped out of the thicket with just one, small, downy feather stuck to its bill. 

The persistent little hawk seemed to consider its options while listening for any sound of the pigeon attempting to escape its fate. Given the hawk's persistence, I am thinking we should call him, 'Percy'.

After a few moments of rest, Percy turned and clearly considered resuming the hunt. From this angle, we can see that his crop, the area just below the throat, is still relatively small. The crop enables predatory birds to consume their prey, fairly quickly, before retiring to a safer location to digest their meal. Somewhat, similar to sitting on the couch and watching a football game after consuming your Thanksgiving Dinner. 

If you read last week's post, you know the vertical stripes on the chest of the hawk tell us this is a first-year bird, but how do we know it is a male. In this case, the answer is related to the 'jewelry' on the hawk's left leg.

This particular hawk was 'banded' by a team from the Urban Raptor Conservancy (URC) on July 17th, 2018, in Laurelhurst. Given that female raptors are generally larger than males, the team deduced this bird was a male Cooper's Hawk and banded it with a purple band on the left leg. With females, they use an orange band on the right leg.


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In addition to studying Cooper's Hawks and Peregrine Falcons, Ed Deal explains that the Urban Raptor Conservancy is embarking on a new project, 

'Right now our primary focus is on fundraising for our cooperative study with PAWS - testing dead raptors for rat poison residues. Our goal is to determine the baseline level of exposure in hawks and owls in Western WA......which has never been done.  We have enough money to send off a test batch of 5 samples to make sure all systems work.  We hope to get that done in the next week or two.  PAWS has 35 more samples in the deep freeze....at $100 a sample we have a lot of grant writing and fundraising ahead of us...'

Today, Cooper's Hawks, Barred Owls, Bald Eagles (and sometimes even pets) consume live rats who may carry rodenticides within their bloodstreams. The bioaccumulation of rodenticides can easily kill predatory creatures. A critical step to reducing this inadvertent destruction is to prove the frequency and existence of the poison. You can help by donating via the Urban Raptor Conservancy website, please Click Here.

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Percy dove back into the thicket.

Initially, he was visible among the many small red branches.

As he moved lower into the cattails he became harder to follow. Soon, he disappeared completely. An occasional abnormal wiggling of the cattails was the only clue that the hunt continued. I watched and waited.

Finally, more than twenty minutes, after the Rock Pigeon's escape, Percy appeared with the pigeon in tow.

As the young hawk began to eat I realized this was another unique opportunity. I wondered, How long would it take for a Cooper's Hawk to consume a full meal? Ten minutes passed.

By the way, I promise not to expose you to any of the more explicit photos.

Twenty minutes passed. Between each bite, the young hawk would raise up and check for potential intruders. Thirty minutes passed and the pace of his eating did not change.

After 50 minutes, the hawk's crop was quite visibly extended.

 I was beginning to wonder if Percy would ever get full.

Finally, after an hour of feeding, he took a few last looks at the remains of the meal before flying off to the northeast. Percy quickly disappeared in the direction of the Union Bay Natural Area.

It turns out that a full meal for a Cooper's Hawk is similar in length to a human lunch hour. Of course, about half of that time was spent watching for potential bullies and thieves. Surprisingly, while sitting on the ground and fully exposed, Percy ate the full meal without interruption. This was not the safest choice, but it worked. Percy still has a lot to learn but with continued luck and his natural persistence he has a chance to survive the coming winter. Please keep your eyes open and watch for Percy. The numbers on his purple band are '2' over '4'. 

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 type of frog is this? Is it native to Union Bay? 













Scroll down for the answer.










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Frogs are not my area of expertise. However, I suspect the frog above is an American Bullfrog. They are not native to the West Coast. They are widespread and invasive. I believe they will even eat our smaller, native Pacific Tree Frogs.

Pacific Tree Frog








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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 workaround is to set up 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, November 18, 2018

Accipiter Uncertainty

Earlier this month, on the west side of Union Bay, I noticed an accipiter cruising south across the cattails. Even though I was headed in the same direction I quickly lost sight of the small, swift predator. Hoping the hawk might stop to rest, I resolved to check every potential perch I passed. A few minutes later, I saw the shape of a bird in a distant tree. I did a double take. It was crow-sized, but the tail was too long for a crow. 

With the bird on my right, I paddled as far to left as the little islands would allow and did my best to not stare. Mentally, I had my fingers crossed, desperately hoping that my passing would not flush the bird. A few years before, I had prepared for moments like this by covering my bright yellow kayak with brown paint. Not wanting to create any flashy reflections, I also covered the white lettering, which proclaims the paddle manufacturer's name, with black tape. I hoped my efforts would pay off.

I paddled slowly and consistently with no sudden movements. Consciously, I tried to minimize the sound of the water dripping from my paddle. Unconsciously, I was probably holding my breath. Finally, when I got to the sunny side of the bird, I quietly stowed the paddle and silently drifted to my photographic nirvana. 

The little hawk ignored me. It spread its feathers wide and continued to soak up the sunshine. Both of us were obviously pleased with our locations, however, I had a growing sense of discomfort.  Every feather on this bird's body seemed to be at least partially erect. The feathers were held out to apparently maximize their exposure to sunlight and air. The normal queues which I use to guess the bird's species were all in an unfamiliar state. Even though I loved the bird's wide-open feather display I was feeling uncertain about my ability to determine if this was a Sharp-shinned or a Cooper's Hawk? 

These two small accipiters are very similar. The juveniles of both species have dark vertical streaks, sometimes shaped like teardrops, on their chests. At the very least, I could be certain it was a young accipiter.

A few days later while walking along the north side of Montlake Cut, a person, a few yards in front of me, startled a hawk which was evidently hunting along the crest of the ivy-covered hillside. I saw the flash of movement as the bird rose up from the ground and settled on an eye-level branch. I stopped immediately and quietly adjusted my camera.

This bird was not relaxing in the sunshine. Its feathers were all in their 'normal' positions. It was alert and looking all about, clearly hoping to return to the hunt. In this case, I felt fairly certain it was a Cooper's Hawk. The legs looked relatively stout, unlike the skinny little legs of a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Plus, the profile along the back of the head had a break, e.g. a visible change in direction, at the crown of the head. With Sharp-shinned Hawks, this profile is normally one smooth, unbroken line.

I did not attempt to get any closer, however, I did shift silently to my right hoping to line up some yellow leaves behind the bird's head. At this angle, the profile no longer shows any break. The Cooper's break is not always visible, but it is still useful field mark.

As the bird turns just a bit further we can see the hint of a break once again. I am not sure what the hawk was hunting. I have often seen Dark-eyed Juncos in this area. Last summer, I watched one of the Montlake Cut Bald Eagles fly to the nest with a rat it caught just below this spot. Northern Flickers also frequent this area. All of these would make a nice meal for a young, hungry accipiter, excluding the eagle of course.

Another clue I sometimes utilize is the 'barrel-shaped' body of a Cooper's Hawk versus the chesty, 'padded, football-player' shape of a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Of course, when the bird momentarily puffed-out its feathers the definitive body shape became a bit obscured, still this bird looked more 'barrel-shaped' to me.

The person who startled the hawk was also a bit surprised by the bird. After watching the bird for a few moments the person continued on his way. The hawk appeared to refocus on the last known location of its prey.

Without any nearby distractions, the hawk returned to the hunt.

It landed near its original position. I was not a surprise to see a Cooper's Hawk hunting close to the ground. On the ground, they remind me of the velociraptors depicted in movies. I am sure glad Cooper's Hawks are not six foot tall. Apparently, its prey had scurried away or found a nice place to hide.

Just before the hawk gave up and flew to the south side of The Cut, it gave one last look over its shoulder. It seemed as if it was hoping the prey might try to sneak out of hiding as soon as the bird turned its back.

With the first bird in this post, there were numerous little hints, including the break in the profile, which made me thing Cooper's Hawk (COHA). Still, wondering what I did not know, I decided to ask the opinion of Martin Muller, from the Urban Raptor Conservancy (URC). First, I visited their comparison of the two birds on their website. Click Here to read their thoughts and view the examples. 

After working through the hints I still had a few questions. Essentially they were:

1) Tail - This bird clearly has a rounded tail when spread. This makes me think COHA, however, the graduations in tail feather length seem a bit less than 'normal' for a COHA, to me. But the general look at the end of the tail is rounded.

2) Legs - I really struggle to see this difference. This bird's legs look a bit gnarly to me, but still rather thin. I lean toward COHA.

3) Head and Eyes - Hard to judge with all the feathers erect, but the eyes certainly do not look large, which makes me lean slightly toward COHA....

4) Streaking and Underparts - In the first photo, the streaking extends lower like a COHA. Thank you! This is a brand new clue for me to consider.


Martin's reply put me at ease.

"Larry,

I will go with your gut and call it a Coop.
I mean, look at that spread tail!
And the "smallish" eye forward of center in the face.
The streaking on the lower breast.
The leg diameter and therefor relatively shorter looking toes.
All those things you said...

...Martin"

It is wonderful to get an expert opinion. I always learn something. 

Among other things, I had been uncertain about the minimal variation in the length of the tail feathers. My photos, which Martin used on the URC website show more variation in feather length for the young Cooper's Hawk. I now have a more refined standard to judge by.

I also came across another interesting field mark in Peter Pyle's, 'Identification guide to North American Birds'. He mentions that the white tip of a Sharp-shinned Hawks tail feather is usually 4mm or less, which on a Cooper's Hawk it is usually 4 to 11mm. For those who think in inches, this translates to roughly 1/8 of an inch and nearly 3/8s of an inch, respectively. 

Clearly, this sun-drenched accipiter has the larger white tips on its tail feathers.

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.


Are these white fruits native to Union Bay? What is this plant called?













Scroll down for the answer.










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Common Snowberry: Click on the name to read a comprehensive review of this native plant. Personally, I have never seen a bird eat more than one of these berries. This time of year the berries are plentiful and very visible and yet so far this fall I have not seen a single bird even entertaining the idea of eating one. Maybe it has to do with the saponins in the berries.








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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 workaround is to set up 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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