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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Challenges of Youth

As we step into summer we can see and hear young birds all around us. The calls of juvenile crows lack the crisp, occasional 'Caw' of the adults. Their young voices are considerably more gentle and soft. However, there is no mistaking their repetitive and persistent 'cAhh, cAhh, cAhh' for anything other than begging.

Even if young crows never made a sound their pink gape, at the corners of their mouths, and their abnormally pale and reflective irises would give themselves away.

Young Northern Flickers provide both visual and auditory clues as well. This one was repetitively begging with a soft and gentle version of an adult's 'Clear, Clear, Clear' call.

Visually, the clues to this bird's youth include the short, white line of its gape and the faint, almost rusty red, color of its malar stripe. Adult male Northern Flickers, in the local Red-shafted subspecies, have a much more strikingly, vibrant red color on their cheeks, which we will see in following photos.

The persistent begging of the young woodpecker attracted this adult American Crow who settled onto the light directly above the young flicker's head. 

It is interesting to note the varying lengths of the crow's outer coverts. The bird is obviously molting. The shorter and darker feathers are the new ones. The older and browner feathers show the fading effects of extensive sunlight exposure.

Immediately, the young Northern Flicker scrunched itself down, as if it was trying to become one with the wood. Under the circumstances, the effectiveness of the deception was probably minimal. 

By the way, a variation on the first photo shows the flicker also has a hint of a faint reddish 'v' on the back of its head. This red coloring will also turn bright with time. Surprisingly, this feature is inherited from the locally less common, yellow-shafted subspecies of the Northern Flicker.

Maybe, the crow decided the young woodpecker was too large and healthy to make an easy meal or maybe it was encouraged to leave by the pair of Bald Eagles who suddenly began circling and calling overhead.

Quickly, the young flicker scurried to the far end of the crossbar. No doubt he was hoping, the surrounding foliage would provide some visual protection from the sharp-eyed eagles. The flicker's apparent attachment to the crossbar made me wonder about its ability to fly. Was it stuck on the telephone pole, while alternating between begging for food and advertising itself as an easy meal?

A few days later, I came across another young flicker that clearly knew how to fly. When I first noticed the bird it was perched in a tree with what were apparently two other members of its family. It followed its father's lead and flew down to the grass in front of me.

This young bird does not have any reddish tinges on its head so we can be assured it is a female. It has already lost its light-colored gape, so you may wonder, How can we be certain of its youth?

I was convinced by the adult male, when it choose to feed the young bird. 

The process was repeated multiple times. The adult was apparently collecting small ants and then regurgitating them deep into the inner recesses of its offspring. It is scary how close the sharp tip of the young bird's bill comes to the eye of the adult.

Notice how brightly the adult's malar stripe stands out compared to the young male in the earlier photos

After a few minutes, the third flicker also flew down from the tree. The 'v' on this bird's head was significantly more obvious. The genes from the yellow-shafted subspecies are apparently surprisingly well-spread among our local Northern Flickers.

From the fence top, the young male flew down to join the adult. The red on this bird is nearly a bright as the malar stripe on the adult behind it. None the less, I am assuming it was a juvenile bird because of the way it followed after the adult.

Curiously, the adult male did not exhibit a 'v' on the back of his head. However, the young male, which I am assuming to be his offspring, does have the 'v'. If my assumptions are correct then I am left to wonder, How did this genetic code get passed along? Could the adult male pass on a recessive gene that is expressed in its offspring? Could the mother pass on a male gene that is not displayed in females? or If neither of these are possible, Does the situation imply that the genetic father might have been different than the male who apparently fed and helped raise this younger male?

Ultimately, the young male watched the adult go on about its way without sharing. The adult seemed to be saying, 'Its time for you to find your own'. The adult's behavior seemed to reinforce the belief that this was a young male nearing maturity.

After the Eagles moved on, I returned to check on the young Northern Flicker hiding on the crossbar. He was sitting pretty, and quiet, still fairly well hidden back in the foliage. Survival is a curiously difficult challenge for the young. They want to call out to their parents, to encourage being fed, but they don't want to attract too much predatory attention. They don't want to expose their lack of flight skills but at the same time, they need to be practicing flying. Flying allows them to stay close to an adult which not only optimizes the efficiency of the parental gravy train but it also provides the youth with repetitive examples of an adult's predatory awareness plus they also learn how and where to find food.

Achieving maturity requires a delicate balance between a healthy appetite, learning new skills and adequate caution. The harsh truth is only those who successfully navigate the path between these competing demands will be able to pass on their genetic inheritance. Once again, I am amazed by the similarity of the challenges faced by all life on earth.          

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 the butterfly and flower native or not?










Scroll down for the answer.














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Western Tiger Swallowtail: The butterfly is native. Surprisingly, the most common plant that I have seen this specie utilizing lately is the invasive Himalayan Blackberry, as shown in the photo. Click on the red highlighted link (and then scroll down) to learn how to identify this invasive blackberry as opposed to the native blackberries which we want to retain and encourage.














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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












Saturday, June 22, 2019

Signs Of Change

Yesterday, as Marsha flew north across Montlake Cut, it may have looked just like hundreds of other flights she has made. She landed in the old-world Cedars just north of the University of Washington (UW) Waterfront Activities Center (WAC). 

No doubt Monty called out to greet her as she arrived. Sitting on top of the cedar trees provides them an unobstructed view of Union Bay and many potential food sources such as fish, ducks, herons, and geese. 

By the way, I have heard from multiple sources that, earlier this Spring, Bald Eagles raided the Great Blue Heron colony on the UW Campus. Apparently, they have put the colony out of business, at least for this year. Eagles have to eat and adults raising young are under a great deal of pressure. 

I certainly hope the herons return and attempt to recolonize and raise young on the campus, next year.

Since early May, I believe the eaglets have grown from hardball-sized eggs to nearly as large as their parents. The Center for Conservation Biology provides a nice summary of research which says that by six weeks of age, the eaglets they studied, weighed ninety percent of their mother's weight. (Click Here to read for yourself.) I am estimating that our Montlake Cut eaglets may now be six or seven weeks old.

This photo, from earlier in the week, may be one of the last times we see Marsha apparently sitting down in the nest, at least during the current breeding season. The young eagles are simply getting too big and dangerous for the adults to remain within reach. 

The parents will still deliver food but I do not think they need to provide much in the way of protection or warmth. The young eagles are now a significant danger to virtually any creature which is foolish enough to spend time in the nest. Also, I suspect they can now generate and retain all the heat they need - at least as long as the parental gravy-train continues.

One obvious sign of juvenile development is their change of focus. Instead of sitting down in the nest, while looking up and watching for the parents to bring food, the young are now becoming much more observant of the world below.

I wonder if they are watching the boats passing through The Cut or gazing at the sunbathers lounging on the opposite shore. They might be watching the Crows, Gulls or Terns as they fly by or observing the tasty young Canada Geese following their parents around on the water below. 

Actually, I suspect their primary focus should be watching for fish migrating through The Cut. Historically, there were abundant upstream spawning grounds in the Lake Washington watershed back before The Cut completely changed the drainage. By the way, I found these spawning maps, for local Chinook, Sockeye, Coho and Kokanee, extremely interesting.

This was the first time I remember seeing one of the eaglets actually noticing my existence. In the future, no doubt this same piercing look will strike fear in the hearts of many creatures, just prior to their untimely demise.

As the curtain of leaves closes on the south side of the nest the young eagles are clearly focusing down on the world of water to the north.

I suspect that during the next few weeks we will see the young move out onto this northern branch while exercising their wings. The process is aptly called, 'branching.' It hopefully culminates with a successful flight. I am guessing the first one will fledge sometime around the end of July. Click Here to read about the fledging process.

During the next six or seven weeks, if you see one of the young eagles on the ground, and especially if they are unable to fly, please do not approach them. I would recommend keeping people and pets away while immediately calling the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood at:
425.787.2500

They can provide you guidance regarding the appropriate next step(s).

The reason Marsha's flight across The Cut stood out to me was because it was preceded by one of her young spreading its wings and beginning to flap. Marsha immediately left the nest and headed north. Yesterday, was the first time this year, that I observed one of the young eagles executing their strength-building exercise. Marsha's reaction seemed like a significant change to me.

Even with their wings spread the young, dark eagles can be hard to see in the dappled shadows. The movement is easier to observe in person. In this photo, both juveniles are still in the nest. One is sitting to the left of the branch while the other is behind the main trunk with its wings open and visible on both sides. It will be interesting to see when they leave the nest for the first time.

Here, the northern juvenile takes a turn at flapping. 

Hopefully, by mid-Summer, they will have learned to fly. Doing so in a timely manner is critical because by Fall they will need to have learned to hunt on their own. 

Surprisingly, the most visible sign of eaglet development cannot be seen by peering through the cottonwood leaves and searching the nest for the movement of young eagles.

Their most obvious sign of development is the changing behavior of their parents. Monty and Marsha have dramatically increased time spent at their non-breeding roost, just north of the WAC. In the future, maybe we will remember this moment of change because it coincided so closely with the Summer Solstice.

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.






Is this a native or non-native plant?










Scroll down for the answer.














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








Spiraea (or Hardhack): This is a native plant. I suspect the bumblebee is a Yellow-faced Bumblebee, but apparently, there are a few other species that look very similar.















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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







Sunday, June 16, 2019

Osprey - Hope

Three young Osprey preparing for their first flights from the nesting platform in 2016.


The osprey pair nesting on the platform at the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA) has had seven young between 2016 and 2018. Five of their young successfully learned to fly and left the nest. Sadly, the two from 2018 did not survive.

This Spring has been filled with equal measures of anxiety and hope. Would the adults return? Will they successfully raise young in 2019? Will the young learn to fly e.g. fledge? It has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Happily, the adults Chester and Lacey have returned. By early May, their preparations for nesting certainly appeared to be headed in the right direction.

You can read about their April efforts and find a link to last year's story by Clicking Here.


On May 9th, the female, Lacey, was sitting on the nesting platform and loudly begging her mate, Chester, for food. A male Osprey often brings food to its mate, especially when they think the female may be interested in mating or is incubating eggs. When the eggs hatch this responsibility grows dramatically. The males must then supply the bulk of the food to feed the young. 

During the previous three years, by May 15th, Lacey has settled lower in the nest and appeared to begin the incubation process. Given this perspective, it was not a surprise to see Lacey at the nest site and still not incubating on May 9th. Maybe her 'early' begging was an attempt to reacquaint Chester with his future responsibilities.

Chester who was sitting right overhead ignored her calls for almost ten minutes.

Finally, after a shivering shake, Chester appeared to come awake to Lacey's expectations. A few moments later he flew out over the bay and began searching the water for fish.

Sadly, May15th has arrived and passed and I have seen no sign of incubation at the nesting platform. However, there have been a number of interesting Osprey developments. Curiously, Chester and Lacey do not appear to have abandoned the area. As of earlier this week, they are still hanging around their traditional Union Bay territory. If they are constructing a new nest somewhere nearby I have not seen it. On the positive side, another pair of Osprey have established a new territory just a quarter of a mile to the north.

This part of the story started with a new nest being built above the Intramural Activities (IMA) field in 2018. In this July 2018 photo, the new pair's initial nesting attempt was evident. However, the new nest was not complete in time to lay eggs last year.


By May 8th, 2019, the new nest was much larger and both Osprey were actively involved. Here, the male is landing and the female is mostly hidden behind the crossbar. They traded off sitting in the nest, almost as if they were already on eggs, and the male brought the female food! (If I had the skill to accompany my posts with music, this is where I would cue in Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.)

One of the challenges, when watching four unique, and occasionally interacting Osprey, in close proximity, is trying to keep them straight. The brown necklaces on the females versus the pure white chests on the males helps distinguish them. Knowledge of their respective territories also helps but they do not always respect the invisible boundaries. 

Luckily, the markings on their foreheads are unique. Here we can see that the markings on this male's head are distinctive from the markings on Chester's head (in the following photo).

Since the male Osprey is primarily in charge of providing food for the family, and since the Steward on a ship is the officer in charge of provisions, I am suggesting we call this particular Osprey, Stewart. I certainly hope he can live up to his name and provide his mate and their future young with all the fish they require.

Chester completing his meal above UW Baseball Field - June 8th, 2019.

After Stewart landed at the IMA nest the female picked up her food and retired to a nearby tree to eat.


Luckily, the necklace on her chest has larger and darker spots when compared with Lacey's. In addition, her forehead, specifically the area between her eyes, is much lighter. The photo below helps to at least partially display these distinctions. You will find the differences are reinforced further in future photos.

Given that this female is now the only female Osprey near Union Bay who is currently incubating eggs naming her, Hope, seems like an obvious choice.

Lacey on the UBNA platform - May 9th, 2019.

Last year, occasionally a third Osprey would visit Chester and Lacey's nest. Prior to 2018, whenever an Osprey flew anywhere close to their nest it was rapidly chased away. I suspected the third Osprey was more acceptable because it may have been one of their offspring - possibly one of the three in the first photo above from 2016. 

Theoretically, it takes young Osprey two years, after their initial, first-year migration south, to mature and then return north to establish a breeding territory. I am wondering if the third Osprey, from 2018, might also be one of the new pair of Osprey who are nesting on the IMA light pole.


Last week, I saw two interactions that seemed to reinforce this idea of a family relationship. One example was when a second female approached the pair sitting on the IMA light pole. The response from the two resident Osprey was not particularly aggressive.

As the second female (I suspect it was Lacey) attempted to land on the light pole the male, somewhat reluctantly, hopped over and escorted her away from the nest. During the chase which followed it seemed like Stewart was going through the motions but not very concerned about the situation. This was all seen from a great distance so I was not able to establish the identity of the individual birds with great certainty.

Later, while Chester was eating on the northwest light pole above the UW Baseball Field (see the last Chester photo above), Hope (above) could be seen and heard begging from the northeast light pole above the same field.

This attracted the attention of Lacey, who suddenly appeared and bumped, Hope, off the light pole. Like the previous example, this interaction did not appear to be highly aggressive. It seemed more like a point was made without anyone getting hurt.

I have no doubt about the bumped female being, Hope, because of the obvious darker marks on her necklace. Lacey's motivation seemed fairly obvious. I suspect she did not want another female begging for food from her mate, especially while sitting in Lacey's territory. (Food deliveries among breeding birds are often consummated with mating.)

Finally, this photo of Lacey, immediately after the bump, clearly displays her more delicate necklace and helps to reinforce my identity assumptions. 

I find the interactions between the two pairs of birds extremely interesting. Also, I wonder why Chester and Lacey have chosen not to incubate eggs this year. If Bald Eagle harassment was the motivating factor then I would expect Chester and Lacey would relocate to a safer place and establish a new nest. However, they appear to be staying on in their UBNA territory, and apparently are defending it, at least from other Osprey. It makes me question whether the local Bald Eagles are truly the issue.

I am very curious to see if young Osprey will successfully fledge from the new IMA nest. I am excited by the prospect of Stewart providing a sufficient supply of food and I am also enthused that Chester and Lacey may provide a buffer between the new nest and the Bald Eagles who traditionally hunt above Union Bay. I also wonder if and how Chester and Lacey may interact with new youngsters from the IMA nest. I wonder if the Ospreys comprehend the concept of grandkids. Will they all be one big happy family? I sure hope so!




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Last week, one of my neighbors sent in a suggestion for a product called Birdsbesafe. It is a brightly colored cat collar which visually alerts birds to the presence of an approaching feline.

Hi Larry!

PAWS Cat City of Roosevelt in the U-District will start carrying the Birds be safe collars very soon. (Nice to buy from them. :)

Here is the link to their website: https://www.birdsbesafe.com

And I can't help but include some pics of my cats modeling them. 


Thanks!
Lynn



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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.






Is this a native or non-native plant?










Scroll down for the answer.














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











Pacific Ninebark: You can read more about this native plant by clicking on the highlighted link.













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




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