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

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

Beyond The Bay

The northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula provides a dramatically different habitat than Union Bay. The most striking difference is the natural state of affairs, e.g. the lack of human improvements where the water meets the land. The surf slowly eroding the headlands is another obvious difference. Logs accumulate along the shore and provide physical proof of the sea's relentless effort. The unseen salt in the water may be the most subtle, and yet one of the most critical, differences between the two habitats.

The only visible sign of the wind striking the headland were eagles using the upwelling pressure to soar above the shore.

Finding food in this habitat must be easy. The young birds had plenty of energy to play 'king of the mountain' on an overhanging branch, while a mature Bald Eagle calmly sat and ignored their antics.

 Nearby, mature gulls quietly searched the sea for feeding opportunities.

Onshore, Whimbrels strolled across the sand searching for signs of sustenance. Their long bills enable them to find and feed on small buried invertebrates, like young crabs.

The bird highlighted against the rock is fairly obvious, however, the one on the left nearly disappears against a busier background.

Even though Whimbrels are one of the largest shorebirds to visit Washington, it does not make them easy to see. Here, they are standing in the sunlight and pretty much in focus, and yet even with the photo I find it hard to count this flock of more than a dozen Whimbrels. 

Whimbrels are long distant migrates. Those passing through Washington may have spent the winter in the coastal areas of South America. Most of them breed in Alaska. So finding healthy shoreline habitat with plenty of food is critical, as they travel north. 

Closely related races, also exist in and around Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

The most similar shorebird I have seen around Union Bay is a Wilson's Snipe. A snipe has a straighter bill and generally weighs less than a quarter of a pound. Whimbrels weigh almost four times as much.

Whimbrels are easily flushed by larger creatures - like gulls, eagles, humans, and dogs. 

Two days after I took the earlier photos, I watched a gull scare the Whimbrels away. The gull did not have long to search the shore for food.

A young eagle, who had been watching from a nearby tree, soon arrived to take over the investigation.

The eagle found and fed on the remains of a large crab while crows darted in and out.

Ultimately, one of the crows escaped with a scrap, this at least seemed fairly similar to life on Union Bay.

Perhaps the eagle was distracted by the activities further down the shore...

...two river otters were frolicking in the surf, just prior to mating.

What makes Union Bay special is the surprising variety of functional wildlife habitats, interwoven between the houses, seawalls, docks, and roads. Spending time in a less impacted habitat helps us to see opportunities for further improvements. One example would be to work on recreating natural shorelines around Union Bay. Who knows what varieties of shorebirds, native fish and other creatures might return and flourish.

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


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

Is this a native or non-native squirrel? What is the name of this species?

Scroll down for the answer.


Douglas Squirrel: Is definitively native to western Washington and no doubt lived around Union Bay before the surrounding forest was cut.

On the other hand, the Eastern Gray Squirrel, which we see every day around Union Bay, is an invasive species that has overrun and chased off the native squirrels.


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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