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

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Cutter & Bay

This early July photo caught one of Monty and Marsha's 2019 offspring walking away from the nest. I suspect the young eagle was about 8 weeks old and still unable to fly. The young bird was ~100 feet up in the air and navigating the branch in a fairly odd fashion. With the young eagle's wings flapping wildly, it looked a bit precarious. 

Normally, adults land on a branch and then fly-hop to move around. I am sure a mature eagle could 'walk-the-plank' but I do not have any memories of having seen it happen. It seems obvious to me that a Bald Eagle's talons are built to grasp branches in a perpendicular direction.

During the next week, I often found the smaller of the two young out on the branch. Size is our best visual indicator of gender in eagles, so it was logical to assume that the smaller bird was male. 

Given that the parent's (Monty and Marsha's) nest is basically at the intersection of Union Bay and Montlake Cut the names Cutter and Bay for their offspring seemed obvious.

The information I have indicates that on July 11th, Cutter must have taken a misstep. He ended up on the ground, apparently without broken bones, but unable to fly. From the Montlake neighborhood he was transported to PAWS, the Protective Animal Welfare Society, in Lynnwood. 

During the next few days, I caught a couple of photos of Bay, the remaining young female Bald Eagle. I remember seeing her in five different locations in the nesting tree in just 36 hours. She was learning to move away from the nest and fly about the tree, e.g. branching.

I found this close up particularly interesting. It certainly gives me the impression of fearlessness. Also, please notice how the feathers on the front of her neck are fairly uniform in their darkness.

A few days later Jeff Brown from PAWS called and asked if I had any suggestions for where to release the young male eagle.

Critical factors to consider include the release point should be out of reach of dogs, raccoons, coyotes, etc. The site should be as close to the nest as possible so that the parents could hopefully find and feed the young bird. It would also help if the release point was surrounded by nearby trees so the young eagle could safely 'branch out' and learn to fly. Also, minimizing exposure to people and noise would help to reduce the young bird's stress level. Initially, finding a site to meet all these criteria, especially next to Montlake Cut, seemed pretty unlikely. That evening my wife and I walked over and took a look around. 

Suddenly, the old Shell-house almost seemed to leap across The Cut. The flat roof was large and safe from four-legged predators and human interruptions. It sits about halfway between Monty and Marsha's primary daytime roost and their nest. Cutter, with his nearly six-foot wingspan, would be hard for them to overlook. Plus, most of the building is surrounded by trees, ideal for branching. It was the optimal release site.

On Wednesday, with access and assistance kindly provided by Rod Smith, from the UW Waterfront Actives Center (WAC), Jeff Brown, from PAWS, prepared to release the young eagle onto the Shell-house roof. At the same time, the adult Bald Eagles (Monty and Marsha) sat nearby, at their roost immediately north of the WAC.

When released, the young eagle quickly rushed away from the cage, but not without being noticed.

Note: The front of Cutter's neck is mostly covered with frosty-looking, white-tipped feathers. With a close enough look, I am hoping this might be a way to distinguish him from his sibling.

A pair of American Crows immediately started harassing Cutter.

He was frustrated by them. He would lift his wings to scare them away.

He would twist and turn to keep an eye on them.

Occasionally, I suspect he was even vocalizing in their direction. The good news is the crows did not harass him into leaping off the roof. Plus, no other crows stopped by to help. At this point, there was still a lot of uncertainty. How soon would Cutter learn to fly? Would the parents see him, accept him back and resume feeding him? Might he still come off the building and be unable to fly?

The good news was the parents were visible and vocalizing at their nearby roost. It seemed likely that they had heard Cutter's calls. My hope that they might secure food for Cutter rose when the two took off for a spin around Union Bay.

Sadly, they returned to their roost empty-taloned. At one point I did see them fly fairly close to the Shell-house. I had to believe they were at least aware of Cutter's return. 

Around mid-morning, I left to take my daughter's dog, Ginger, for her morning walk. When I returned everything had changed.

Cutter's sibling, Bay, had flown from the south side of Montlake Cut to the parent's primary roost. Her longest flight - to my knowledge. The parents were no longer anywhere to be seen.

Bay was being harassed by both a crow and a gull. 

Her flight and fight skills appeared up to the task. Cutter evidently saw Bay flyover. Jeff suggested that Cutter may have tried to follow her.

Cutter left the roof and landed low in a small tree just to the east of the Shell-house. Sadly, he did not demonstrate any significant ability to fly.

In the meantime, the Fire Department showed up to do a practice water rescue off the dock just to the east of the Shell-house. Contrary to my first assumption the practice was unrelated to the eagle's release. Suddenly, the noise and foot traffic in the area increased.

With an eagle who still had not flown and was not in a good location to be fed by the parents, Jeff decided the most logical approach was to recapture and return it to the top the Shell-house.

At this point, the firefighters kindly offered the use of their ladder truck. The ladder was slowly extended to within a foot or so of Cutter. Jeff secured all the required gear and slowly walked across the horizontal ladder. Just as he neared Cutter, nature took over. Cutter spread his wings and flew.

Cutter got plenty of lift as he flew up and away from the people. He landed on one of the 'wings' that extends above the Shell-house door. Those of us watching got almost as much of 'lift' from his flight as he did.

From one angle the federal aluminum band on his right foot was momentarily visible. This is potentially another way to distinguish him for his larger sibling. However, the band is not designed to be read on living birds. For the most part, it is only used after a body is recovered. Without any bright colors, it will be hard to notice on an active bird.

Moments later Cutter flew again. He landed high and deep inside the crown of a tall Cottonwood tree on the north side of Montlake Cut, directly across from the nest tree.

By this point, Bay had returned to the nest tree and both of the young birds were vocally begging for food. To my ear, Cutter's voice sounded higher and more 'reedy'. I looked up just in time to see Monty fly in from Union Bay.

Sadly, he was not carrying food. He landed in the tree next to Bay and proceeded to sit for what seemed like an hour. He never responded to their calls in any way. I was wondering if this was tough love. Maybe it was an eagle's way of teaching the young to hunt.

The crows started harassing Cutter again. He spent a couple of awkward moments flopping around on the outer ends of branches. Finally, he returned to the more stable and better protected inner part of the tree.

When one of the crows started to fly south over The Cut, Bay appeared to go out and meet it. They must have called it a draw. Both returned to their respective sides of the waterway.

Finally, Cutter flew north and landed in the Sequoia just southwest of the WAC. After a few hours, I finally left him there.

On Thursday morning, one of the young was sitting on the parent's primary roost next to one of the adults. On Friday afternoon, one of the adults took food to the empty nest, Immediately, one of the young headed south from the area near the sequoia straight towards the nest. Its begging cries were non-stop all across The Cut. It seemed to keep on calling for another five minutes after it reached the nest, even though the food was laying right in front of it. Finally, the young bird quieted down and ate. 

I was on the opposite side of Montlake Cut and I could not see any of the identification clues I was hoping to use. I did think the bird's voice sounded high, more like Cutter's, and I suspect Bay is now flying well enough to be out hunting with the other adult and, hopefully, getting fed in the field. If I had to bet I would guess Cutter was the young bird who got fed on Friday. 

Caring for fallen creatures and releasing them back into the wild is a mission of unconditional mercy. Jeff and the folks at PAWS do not get cards which say, 'It has been five years since you released me. I am now happily living in West Seattle with my mate and raising an active family. Thank you so much for your timely help during my wayward youth!' 

However, someday maybe they could get feedback via the eagles. Perhaps, if local 'bird-banders', like the those at the Urban Raptor Conservancy had help with purchasing Visual Identification Bands maybe they could put brighter, easily read bands on young eagles when they are released by PAWS. Then we could all learn even more about the lives of the eagles who share our city.

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. I hope 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 flowering plant native to the Pacific Northwest? 











Scroll down for the answer.














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Bunchberry is a native plant. I do not remember seeing it growing around Union Bay, but I would suspect it was here historically and would grow nicely if planted in a wet location.










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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, July 21, 2019

The Mystery in the Marsh

 A Marsh Wren is a proud little bird with a big attitude. In spite of their diminutive size, the males will climb to the top of cattails and fill the world with song. They strictly enforce their territorial aspirations, by destroying the eggs of encroaching birds, it does not matter if the competitor is a Marsh Wren or not.


Their songs are filled with buzzes and harsh trills. To me, they often sound more mechanical than musical. If you would like to hear for yourself just Click Here. Cornell's website, All About Birds, has a nice collection of songs, including one with video.

More than once I have photographed a Marsh Wren opening its mouth so wide their eyes seem to automatically close. When pedestrians and bicyclists pass by, I wonder if it irritates the Marsh Wrens and makes them sing louder.


Marsh Wrens are the wren species you are most likely to find in a Marsh. However, they also have an obvious feature which can help you make a positive ID.

When you can see the Marsh Wren's back the black mantle with its white vertical markings is hard to miss. However, the natural purpose of the mantle is a mystery to me.

If the mantle was there to impress females or competing males, then I would expect the unique feathers would be positioned so they could be displayed to creatures in front of the wren. For example, the upper-side of the tail feathers in a male Peacock or the undersides of the wings and tail in Northern Flickers. In both cases, these species choose when and to whom they display their impressive feathers. Turning your back on someone in to impress them does not seem like a logical approach. How would you know if they are impressed?

On the other hand, perhaps the patch on the back is there to provide camouflage. Male Marsh Wren's are most exposed when they sit on top of the local vegetation and sing their loudest. That is the precise moment when having camouflage on the back might be most useful. However, when the Marsh Wren sings it lifts its head, scrunches the mantle and makes it appear smaller. If the purpose of the mantle is to provide camouflage would it not work better if it covered more of the back and the top of the head.

Also, when birds are young or molting nature often maximizes the use of camouflage. Many times birds in these stages have more streaked, striped or mottled plumage. I suspect the bird in this photo is a young Marsh Wren because of its mottled look and the completely missing tail.

If anything the black mantle on this bird's back looks smaller than the patch we saw on the adult. 

Here is my last argument against camouflage. With the head back singing and the tail up in display position it makes it nearly impossible to see the mantle.

Somehow, I doubt the natural purpose of the striped mantle is to help humans with Marsh Wren identification.

I remain, mystified by the Marsh Wren's mantle.

In addition to their large repertoire of songs, the Marsh Wrens are also skilled weavers. Although it is not obvious, The round patch in the lower middle of this photo is a Marsh Wren's nest. After the supporting cattails dry up the nest is exceptionally well camouflaged. The entry hole looks a little like an eye socket.

However, in the late spring or early summer, when the cattail leaves are still green, the dried leaves of a nest under construction are more obvious.

None the less it would be easy to miss the Marsh Wren in the lower portion of this photo. Its movements were quick and precise as it wove a dried leaf into the structure of the nest.

I had been watching a bird working in this area for a few weeks and had previously seen one (possibly even the same bird) delivering food to a nearby nest. It seemed odd that just a week or so later I would find one building a nest less than 20 feet away. 

A quick refresher from Seattle Audubon's Bird Web reminded me that our local Marsh Wrens build from 14 to 22 dummy nests a year. This not only helps to mystify and confuse potential predators they can also serve as winter roosting locations for the wrens. Plus, the males prefer to have multiple mates and the females can raise more than one brood a year. There are multiple reasons for Marsh Wrens to make more than one nest.

By the way, did you spot the Marsh Wren in this last photo? On the left side just above the green, out-of-focus leaf.

I suspect this wren had been collecting bedding material for the inside of a nest. The wisps of fuzz on each side of the head look like cattail down to me.

By the way, even though Marsh Wrens can sometimes be easily seen, they do spend the bulk of their lives in the lower portion of the cattails. If you happen to hear one singing but cannot find it - stop, look and listen. When you become quiet and observant they are far more likely to show themselves. Besides which, you will get to enjoy the healing power of nature whether you spot the wren or not!

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. I hope 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 the cattail the wren is sitting on native to the Pacific Northwest? 











Scroll down for the answer.














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Cattail: Typha latifolia is a native plant. Clicking on the yellow highlighted scientific name will take you to the federal government site which, frankly, is somewhat lacking in visual appeal. However, I did find it interesting to read and learn that our common 'broadleaf' cattail is like a first responder to fire or other disturbances. That implies to me that over time other slower growing plants will ultimately grow up and shade it out. It makes me wonder, What does succession planning mean in a managed Natural Area?

Curiously, there is another cattail in the United States. It is commonly called a Narrowleaf Cattail e.g.Typha augustifoliaIt is not native to Washington state. 










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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, July 13, 2019

Rama - The Young Osprey

This is Hope, feeding her new nestling. I am estimating the little bird is around 3 weeks old. Given the height of the nest, it took a while for the small bird's head to become visible to those of us below.

I am thinking the best name for this young bird is, Rama. Rama has both Hindu and Hebrew meanings, some of which may even seem appropriate. However, none of these definitions are my reason for suggesting this particular name.

By the way, this is apparently Hope's first successful nest and therefore her first parenting experience.

It might seem disappointing that Hope and her mate, Stewart, apparently have only one hatchling. However, on the positive side with just one in the nest, there will be no sibling competition. This young bird should get all the food it needs.

Even though the nest is near N.E. 45th Street, probably a quarter-mile north of Union Bay it does not seem to create any real issues for Stewart. I have read that Osprey can successfully nest many miles away from their fish supply.

After Rama hatched out, my friend Ronda and I were both surprised to see Hope restart her nest building forays. I looked it up in Birds of North America (citation below) and apparently, this is a common behavior among female Osprey. 

However, it does require a certain level of skill to safely add a four-foot-long forked branch to an active nest.

Apparently, this is a skill which Hope is still developing.

She ended up with the branch hooked under Rama's partially-grown left wing. Immediately, I started to worry. Would Rama get tossed out of the nest? Would the young Osprey be able to duck if the stick popped free? I remember as a child hearing, 'Be careful with that stick! You could put somebody's eye out.'

Since our local Osprey winter in Mexico, I often entertain the idea of giving them Spanish names. Since the Spanish word for branch is, Rama, it seems like a fitting name to me.

Two days later, on Thursday, I encountered another Osprey with a branch. When I first saw Chester, the male from the Union Bay Natural Area pair, he was calling loudly and circling above the University of Washington (UW) Baseball Field, with the branch in tow. Moments later he landed just north of their normal nesting platform. I wondered if he was intending to deliver the branch to the nest. (We still do not know for sure why Chester and Lacey did not attempt nesting this year.)

While Chester sat on the snag another male Osprey came south turned in a half-circle, around Chester, and then headed back north. I could not see the markings on the head but given the proximity and the lack of reaction from Chester I suspect it was Stewart.

The other day Ronda mentioned reading that second-year, male Osprey often return to the area near their parent's nest to set up their own territory. Since Stewart and Hope first attempt to build a nest was in 2018 that would imply the Stewart might actually be one of the two males from Chester and Lacey's original Union Bay brood in 2016. This also might help explain why Chester's reaction to Stewart was so low-key. You can read more about 2016 brood in the post called 'The Un-Snipe'.

After a few minutes to rest, Chester took off with the branch. Initially, he appeared to be headed toward the nesting platform, but if so he overshot.

Chester headed out over Union Bay before circling back as he rose higher into the air. The circling continued.

For close to five minutes he continued to circle and rise, circle and rise. He must have been well over a thousand feet in the air. I could barely see him with my naked eye and I could no longer see the branch, without help from my camera and lens.

Once he reached a sufficient height Chester began diving, straight down.

The dives were followed by momentarily turning horizontal. The gravitational pull on the long branch must have been quite strong when he hit the bottom of each dive.

None the less, Chester held on to the stick and used his speed to turn vertical. He stayed in the vertical position for so long I suspect he almost came to a stop. Then he repeated the same 'J' dive over and over as he approached the ground. Click Here to see a similar process recorded in a video by Martin Muller - from the Urban Raptor Conservancy.

Ultimately, Chester returned to one of the UW light poles which he had been circling earlier.

I checked the time stamps on my photos. He held on to the same branch for over fifteen minutes. Most impressive was that after resting on the dead snag he carried the branch in the air non-stop for over seven and a half minutes, while either climbing or diving. 

Last year, I watched him do a similar set of dives, which at the time I called an Air Dance. (Apparently, it is more often referred to as a Sky Dance.) Click Here to read that story. The previous air dance was different in a number of ways. It was in the Spring instead of Summer. He was carrying food not a stick and it was done directly in front of Lacey. It was clearly part of their annual courtship process.

This time, I did not notice Lacey in attendance, we are past the courtship time of year and he was carrying a stick not food. I am really uncertain what the Branch Dance was all about. However, male Osprey who have a nest which fails, like Chester and Lacey, are said to sometimes build a new nest in the area before heading south for the winter. I hope the fixation on the branch, and the display over Union Bay, indicates Chester will try nest-building somewhere close.

Flashing back to Rama and Hope, she ultimately wiggled the branch out from under Rama's wing, without doing any apparent damage.

Hope then turned and placed the branch on the east side of the nest. It sure is wonderful to see another young Osprey growing up near Union Bay, especially since Chester and Lacey will not have young of their own this year. Hopefully, this summer the fish will be plentiful and next year we end up with two successfully nesting pairs of Osprey.

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Speaking of fish, Friends of Arboretum Creek is hosting a Community Meeting this coming Monday (details below). We are hoping to enhance the stream with year-round water flow which will benefit fish, birds and the surrounding ecosystem. I certainly hope you are able to attend!

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

Larry


Recommended Citation

Bierregaard, R. O., A. F. Poole, M. S. Martell, P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2016). Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.683


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 Raccoons native to the Pacific Northwest? 

These were seen, earlier this week, just south of the Conibear Rowing House.










Scroll down for the answer.














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Raccoons: They are native and they look cute but they can be challenging. If you want to see a delightful set of videos, including young raccoons and birds, please Click Here. The link will take you to visit Dan Pedersen's blog which this week includes some incredible videos of young creatures provided by his partners Craig and Joy Johnson. I promise the videos will make you smile!











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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