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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Irresistible

The sparkling red and gold reflections radiating from this male Anna's Hummingbird certainly make it alluring, enticing and nearly irresistible. I find it hard to look away.

This photo also displays the relative length of the male's tail feathers. Here, the male's right wing is clearly shorter than his tail. In the photo, the wing is hanging down on the left. With females, their wings and tails have virtually the same lengths. Have you ever wondered why the two genders differ in this way?

In my experience, sometime in January males will begin to establish breeding territories and the females will start building nests.

Typically, I find breeding males attempt to defend a cubic area of flowering plants roughly fifteen feet in height and width.  On Friday, I noticed a continuous patch of yellow flowering Mahonia in the Arboretum which was approximately twice that size e.g. similar to the volume of a one-car garage. During breeding season I would expect to see two or three males attempting to defend a flowering feast of this size.

A female Anna's Hummingbird keeping a close eye on the nearby flowers.

What I saw instead was at least a dozen, and quite possibly more, hummingbirds utilizing the area. Rather than being predominantly male the gender mix was fairly even. 

Even with all the other birds flying around the bushes, this female was fairly relaxed and spent a good deal of time preening her feathers. Notice how the red reflective area on the females is primarily on the throat.

This female also had a small spec of reflective red on top of her head. This is supposed to be somewhat rare among females. 

As our cameras and lens improve, I wonder if we will find that a red-speckled-top is more common than previously thought.

Update:

A kind and observant reader has pointed out that a 'female' with red feathers extending outside the central throat area (as in the 4th photo) might very well be a juvenile male - in the process of growing the more extensive hood of a mature male. If you know of a good visual reference which details the key differences between mature females and immature males I would certainly like to know about it. Thank you!

It was not all peaceful co-existence. These birds were still defending territories. However, the volume of their territorial areas was significantly smaller than I had noticed in previous winters, approximately one-meter square. Later, while reading Birds of North America Online I realized these smaller territories were for feeding, as opposed to breeding. Currently, the hummingbirds are apparently not quite ready to breed.

One of the most surprising things I saw was this aggressive bumblebee approaching a female hummingbird. The bird, who had been successfully defending her territory from other hummingbirds, wanted nothing to do with the bee. She took to the wing and immediately commenced evasion action.

The bumblebee moved on to more appealing flowers and the hummingbird returned to her post.

The male hummingbird also took time for grooming. Here he is scratching his neck with one of his tiny little feet.

Occasionally, he would leap off of his perch to defend his feeding territory. I wonder if the small size of these feeding territories might be somewhat related to the amazing productivity of this particular plant. If I remember correctly it is a cross with an Asian Mahonia. In either case, it certainly loves our local winter weather.

While watching the birds, I suddenly realized I was seeing visual confirmation of their unique, hovering process. This photo apparently caught the bird in a backstroke. Notice the angle of the wings. The lower portion of the wing is clearly in front of the upper edge. 

Here is another female in a similar situation. I have been told the shoulder joint in a hummingbird is most similar to our wrists. This enables the hummingbirds to turn the top of their wings toward their tails on the backstroke.

On the front stroke, they turn the top edge of their wings toward their head, like conventional bird's wing. This 'figure-eight' rotation of the wing apparently enables them to gain lift almost constantly, regardless of which direction the wing is moving. 

If you are able to click on the last two photos, enlarging them on your computer, you can then toggle back and forth between the photos. This makes the change in wing orientation more obvious. 

Here is one more photo of a hummingbird's wings during a backstroke. I find their flight process irresistible, too.

This photo shows a female's wing and tail feathers which have a similar length, unlike the male's. Apparently, the females only use their tail feathers to help guide their flight. The males utilize their tail feathers to make impressive sounds as well. You can listen to their chirps and an amazing story of discovery by Clicking Here.

Now maybe the very best time to see hummingbirds in the Arboretum. During the next few weeks, the females will become much more secretive as they begin to build nests, while the males will become more aggressive and defensive while they attempt to control larger breeding territories. If you listen closely you may even hear the males making their high-speed 'J' dives.

Have a great day on Union Bay and in the Arboretum...

...where hummingbirds live 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 does this bumble bee belong to? Is it native to Union Bay?














Scroll down for the answer.










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My best guess is a Yellow-headed Bumble Bee, even though I cannot see a yellow head in either of these photos. You can Click Here and then go to page 42 to validate, or invalidate, my selection. I am always open to guidance from those who know more on this subject than I do.











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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, December 16, 2018

Marsha

It has been almost a month since I took this series of photos. At the time, I thought showing a bald eagle against the fall cottonwood leaves might make an interesting contrast. I found the yellow of the eagle's bill and feet surprisingly similar to the color of the leaves. Just like the white head and tail, these bright extremities are a sign of maturity. 

For the record, this is Marsha, the female Bald Eagle from our local Montlake Cut pair.

This photo from the end of July shows Lucy, Marsha's second offspring to leave the 2018 nest. Lucy turned out to be too small to be a female Bald Eagle, so we changed her name to Luc. Luc's bill is mostly dark. This is as expected for a young eagle. Previously, I overlooked the paleness of Luc's feet. The difference is especially obvious when compared with Marsha's legs and feet.

 I had suspected Marsha was eating a fish, until the feathers began to fall. 

The fact that Marsha was eating initially made me hesitant to publish these photos. Every meal an eagle eats is a life and death struggle, and the process is not always pretty. However, a clear understanding of the relationships between predator and prey is critical if we want to enable a truly flourishing urban ecosystem.

Last March, I caught Marsha eating a fish near Portage Bay. The leafless branch made the process easier to observe, but also less picturesque.

Afterward, she wiped her bill back and forth to clean up. Then she picked a smaller branch off of a tree, and headed back to the Montlake nest site where Luc and his sibling were to be hatched.

As Marsha neared the end of her meal in the cottonwood tree, a couple of things became obvious. First, she definitely needed to clean her bill again and second, the area behind her eye looked a bit more gray than I remembered. You can see a subtle difference if you compare with the previous photo.

At the time, I was primarily focused on figuring out what species of bird she was eating. It was at this point that I noticed the white bill of the American Coot under Marsha's talon.

Much to my surprise, Marsha picked up the head and simply swallowed it whole. I would have thought the coot's bill and skull would have been a bit big for her digestive track. Apparently, not.


One thing is for sure, we now have a clear understanding of why the American Coots create so much chaos and confusion every time a Bald Eagle passes by.

From the eagle's perspective, it is wonderful that thousands of coots winter on Union Bay. From the American Coots point of view, securing the milfoil below the surface must be critical to their survival. Abundant food, even with the risk of being picked off by an eagle must make it worth their while. The Bald Eagles can't eat them all.

In less than thirty minutes, Marsha was back at the nesting site. Her bill was clean but the side of her head still looked a bit gray. I suspect it is a stain that may eventually wear away. For now, the gray color helps to distinguish Marsha from her mate Monty. By the way, did you notice that Monty's head is peering out from behind the branch in front of Marsha?

If you would like a bird identification challenge do not miss the Going Native section below.

If you want a visual challenge, zoom in and see if you can find the coot's head in the very first photo in this post. Personally, I did not notice it until long after the fact.

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 bird is this? 














Scroll down for the answer.










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The bird in the previous picture, and both in this photo, are Canada Geese. A friend of mine pointed out this unique goose and named it, Blackie.The reason for the name is because this bird is missing the white 'saddle' that is normally found on the cheeks and under the chin. This bird has been seen regularly in the Marsh Island neighborhood. I hope that one day it reproduces and passes on its unique genetic code.











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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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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Swans

On Union Bay, when the cottonwood leaves have fallen and a cold north wind begins to blow, it is time to watch for the return of the Trumpeter Swans. When our local landscape is at its most desolate, their brilliant white feathers and elegant curves provide a refreshing source of beauty.

They spend much of their time preening, cleaning and sleeping. Occasionally, they also can be seen floating with their tails in the air, like huge, white, twenty-five-pound ducks. Like Mallards, they feed on submerged vegetation. However, their long necks enable them to reach food which most other waterfowl can only dream about. 

After quietly working my way into position, I was hoping to spend a few hours observing the swans. When a raft of American Coots floated into the picture, they provided an interesting contrast. Coots are small dark birds with white bills, while Trumpeter Swans are large white birds with dark bills. Coots also feed on submerged vegetation, however, they do not dabble. Coots dive for their food. The coots have lobbed toes to help propel their dives, in contrast, swans have webbed feet.

By the way, Trumpeter Swans have a special way of keeping their eggs warm. Instead of simply sitting on their eggs, they cover them with their large webbed feet. Thank you too, All About Birds, for this interesting fact.

Trumpeter Swans breed primarily in southeast Alaska and northeast British Columbia. Their cousins the Tundra Swans breed much further north e.g. in the tundra. According to the maps of Birdweb, in North America, the most likely time and place to find both Tundra and Trumpeter Swans is Western Washington in the winter.

I was both happy and sad to see one of the swans begin pumping her wings. I actually cannot identify any physical differences between the male and female swans. However, I have read that the males are larger and tend to guard the nests when their female is on eggs. The bird on the right sure seemed like he was on guard duty to me, even though this is clearly not nesting season.

I feel lucky, anytime I can catch a photo of a swan with its wings extended. However, I also feared the swan on the left was preparing to move away. I wondered if the influx of coots was irritating the swans. 

The third swan, seen in the initial photos, had already abandoned the little mud island.

The coots did not attack the swans, but apparently, swans do not like to be crowded. In a calm, stately procession the swans slowly paddled away. 

Can you identify the third species of black and white bird is this photo? The answer will be provided below.

In spite of my disappointment, I felt like the influx of coots was a bit of a compliment. Apparently, as long as I was quietly anchored, the coots regarded my kayak as part of the landscape. Just one of the many small islands that pop up as the winter water level descends.

Scientifically, I know that islands don't float. Emotionally, I was beginning to wonder if this little island would sink. It certainly disappeared beneath the onslaught of coots.


After a while, one of the local Bald Eagles must have flown past. The coots abandoned ship. 


For years, I have tried to secure photos which clearly document the thrashing confusion when coots flush. These photos may be better than most of my others, but they are still not quite as crisp as I would like. One thing is clear, a coot's exit strategy is the complete opposite of a swan's.

Maybe next week, I will show photos of why coots get so excited when a Bald Eagle flies over. 

This behavior is also in contrast to the way I have seen Trumpeter Swan respond. A couple of years ago, I watched a Bald Eagle pass directly above relaxing swans. The swans did not even flinch. I am guessing, they may be too large for an eagle to handle.

After the coots moved on the Trumpeter Swans circled slowly around the bay.

They ended up another on the small winter island where they resumed their preening and cleaning.

Most every day, during the last week, I have seen only two or three swans on Union Bay. Although, on Friday around noon, I saw one sitting on an island while three more came in flying low. It was fun to see their distant white shapes as they flew north from Webster Point. I suspect they fly around the point to save the energy required to fly up and over Laurelhurst.

During the next few weeks, it will be great fun to watch and see how many Trumpeters appear on Union Bay. In years past, the most I ever remember is fourteen. I certainly hope their numbers continue to grow.

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

Larry

PS: The third species, in the photo above, was a male Bufflehead.


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 bird is this? Are they native to Union Bay?














Scroll down for the answer.










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









These are European Starlings. Their name makes it clear they are not native to North America. Click Here to read an interesting account of their North American history and their impact.










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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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