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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Hope's Challenge

This is Hope the female Osprey from the new nesting pair on the IMA light pole. The nest is on the south side of N.E. 45th St. directly across from the QFC in U-Village. It felt rather odd to hear the rumbling of buses and delivery trucks, along with honking horns and screeching brakes while I was taking these photos. However, perhaps the close proximity is just a step on our path towards achieving greater harmony with nature.

This is Hope's mate, Stewart, returning to defend the nest. Male ospreys generally have pure white chests, while the females, like Hope, usually have a necklace of dark spots strung across their chest. 

I believe this is Stewart and Hope's first true nesting attempt. Last year, they got a few dead branches to stick up among the lights but it was too little and too late to lay eggs and incubate. This year, even though the actual dimensions of the nest are somewhat hidden it appears to be of adequate size. If we assume Stewart has a wingspan of at least five feet then we can estimate that the nest is probably five or six feet across from east to west.

Given that the older and original Union Bay Osprey pair, Chester and Lacey, have chosen not to lay eggs this year, our only chance for local Osprey hatchlings rests with Stewart and Hope. Among those observing their progress, the tension is high and questions abound. 

Are the two young Osprey adequately skilled to be parents? Will they be able to chase away all the potential predatory birds, which would like to consume their eggs? Can they capture enough fish to feed themselves and their young? Will the local Bald Eagles allow them to keep a sufficient supply of the food they catch? Have their young hatched out already? On my July 4th photo expedition, I was hoping to answer some of these questions.

Earlier in the day, near Monty and Marsha's eagle nest on Montlake Cut, I met a young woman who suggested that Osprey have tufts on the back of their heads. It wasn't until I was taking this photo and saw how the wind pushed Stewart's feathers up that I realized what she was talking about. Suddenly, her comment made total sense. The mind is a funny thing, I have seen those upstanding feathers many times, but that particular view just wasn't in my default mental picture of an Osprey.

This photo shows Stewart leaving to hunt for fish. As he flew south towards Union Bay it was interesting to note how low he flew. He wasn't down near ground level, but he was often below the tops of the Cottonwood trees which lined the sides of his selected flight path. I wondered if this was an attempt to remain out of the sight of Talia and Russ, the Bald Eagles which have historically 'owned' the north side of Union Bay. The old saying, 'Out-of-sight, out-of-mind' may literally apply.

When Stewart returned from his hunting trip, his approach was hidden from me, but it appeared that he left food in the nest for Hope and possibly hatchlings as well.

Afterward, he walked out to his usual roosting spot on the east end of the light pole.

Once he was situated he began grooming himself. 

Moments later, the grooming stopped as Stewart burst off the light pole and began chasing a crow, which had apparently flown too close to the nest. It looked as those Stewart might chase the crow for a considerable distance until reinforcements showed up.

It was almost as if Stewart realized that with a growing crowd of crows his protective effort could be maximized at the nest. He immediately changed course and returned to the light pole.

During this episode, Hope stayed low down on the west side of the nest. You can just barely see the top of her head in this photo. 

For a few minutes, Stewart faced north, in the direction of the disappearing Crows.

Once he was sure the threat was gone, he turned in his usual direction and faced south towards Union Bay and the closest Bald Eagle nest.

With Stewart was back at the nest, Hope began gathering additional sticks.

Curiously, the closest dead trees, with upper branches which she could potentially break, were the same trees where I found the three North Flickers in last week's post.

The nesting instinct must have really kicked-in for Hope as she made numerous trips... 

...back and forth. Sometimes with a stick and sometimes without. Not every attempt was successful, but she never stayed away from the nest for long.

Curiously, similar to how Stewart almost always ended up on the east end of the light pole, Hope always landed to the west. From there, she would walk or hop her way back to the nest.

She did not limit herself to placing just the sticks she brought back, at times she appeared to be rearranging other furniture as well.

The most exciting moment was when she spotted a distant dark bird passing high overhead. I did not notice a white head or tail and really only saw a glimpse of the bird as it disappeared in the distance. Without any size perspective, I assumed it was an American Crow. 

Later, while looking at Hope's photos I noticed how every feather on her body seemed to be spread out and virtually standing at attention. She was really excited. Although I could not hear her call over the sound of the traffic, her mouth was open and I suspect she was vocalizing her displeasure as well.

When I looked closer at my one marginal photo of the disappearing bird I realized that just under the dark tail I could see large yellow feet. The talons of a young Bald Eagle. Hope chased after the bird until it was safely away from her nest.

Then, she immediately returned. As Ronda, another avid Osprey watcher, mentioned, 'If there was nothing in the nest she most likely would not be so intent on defending it.' I suspect that Hope's eggs have hatched and the young are still too small to be seen in such a high nest. Still, many of the questions from the beginning of this post now appear to have answers.

Are the two young Osprey adequately skilled to be parents? They appear to be making every effort with energy and enthusiasm. Quite possibly, yes.

Will they be able to chase away all the potential predatory birds which would like to consume their eggs or young? They are certainly trying and there appear to be a lot fewer eagles in the vicinity of their nest than compared with Chester and Lacey's nesting platform closer to Union Bay. 

Can they capture enough fish to feed themselves and their young? So far the adults both look happy and healthy, but this question will not be fully answered until their young are able to leave the nest and begin to hunt for themselves.

Will the local Bald Eagles allow them to keep a sufficient supply of the food they catch? Same answer as above.

Have their young hatched out already? I do not have proof positive, but it does appear that Hope is no longer sitting down in the middle of the nest like she did for the last month or so. I suspect this indicates that one or more of the young have hatched.


Friends of Arboretum Creek:

One of the biggest challenges for Osprey is their supply of fish. I have never seen an Osprey eat anything else. I really do not think they have any viable alternatives. Not only must they contend with Bald Eagles stealing the fish they catch. They must compete with River Otters, Double-crested Cormorants, Common Mergansers and Great Blue Herons. Plus, there are smaller birds, Belted Kingfishers, Green Herons, Hooded Mergansers and Pied-billed Grebes, etc., which reduce the supply of small fish before the fish can get large enough to feed Osprey.

One of the best things we can do for Osprey, and all of these other fish-eating birds, which are found around Union Bay, is positively increasing fish habitat. There are two obvious methods to increase habitat in the city. Either increase the quality of existing water, e.g. less pollution, lower temperature, better cover or increase the quantity of water and therefore the volume of habitat. For the last couple of years my friend Dave Galvin and I have been working on a restoration concept which we hope will do both.

On Monday, July 15th, we will be hosting the first community meeting for Friends of Arboretum Creek. The meeting will be:
  •  5 to 7 pm
  • Tatiuchi Room 
  • Japanese Garden,
  • 1075 Lake Washington Blvd East, 
In addition to sharing what we have learned about revitalizing Arboretum Creek, we will be discussing our upcoming design grant request, looking for community input, explaining how your voice can make a difference and sharing refreshments. Please reserve the time on your calendar! There will be additional information in the next post.


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 tree? The diameters of the fully mature leaves are approximately 3 or 4 inches.

Scroll down for the answer.


Vine Maple: When I was a young my grandfather worked in a sawmill in Oregon. When we were out in the woods one day, I remember asking him what type of tree this was. He responded as a lumberman, "Ah, that's just that old weed Vine Maple". It does not grow tall enough or straight enough to be used as lumber. However, the Native Americans used it to weave baskets and I find it to be one of the most beautiful trees in the understory of our Pacific Northwest forests. Often the brilliant green leaves of this native tree are temporarily illuminated by flickering shafts of sunlight penetrating the shadows between our native Douglas Fir and the Western Hemlock trees.


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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