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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, December 1, 2019


No doubt Bald Eagles are thankful for their food. Around Union Bay, American Coots are much more plentiful than Wild Turkeys. Plus, the Coots are a more appropriate size for Bald Eagles to catch, carry and consume.

I am not sure that most people realize how thankful we should be to have Bald Eagles for neighbors. On Thanksgiving Day, Ed Deal, from the Urban Raptor Conservancy, sent the following email. "...today I'll be offering up a toast to a great man who passed away yesterday. As you all know (or should know), William Ruckelshaus was the first Director of the EPA, who enacted the ban on DDT against significant political pressure...' Ed also sent the following link.

Click Here for a brief NPR update regarding William Ruckelshaus.

Previous to the ban, DDT was widely used. It bioaccumulated, which was particularly damaging to raptors. It weakened their eggshells and caused them to break before incubation could be completed. The numbers of Bald Eagles and raptors, in general, plummeted in the United States. No one I have spoken with remembers Bald Eagles around Union Bay in 1972. At that time, there were around 100 nesting pairs left in Washington state and less than a thousand in the lower 48 states. By 2014, forty-two years after the ban began, there were over 13,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48, more the 800 pairs in Washington and two nesting pairs on Union Bay. 

Thank you, Mr. Ruckelshaus!

In 2017, a third-pair of Bald Eagles moved into the southwest portion of Union Bay. They built their nest at the southeast corner of Montlake Cut. Their new territory included Portage Bay, Montlake Cut, and Marsh Island, which explains their names, Monty and Marsha. I believe, they are living examples of the continuing raptor recovery from DDT.

Monty bringing a branch to the pair's first nest on Montlake Cut

I suspect that in 2017 Monty and Marsha were a newly mature pair of Bald Eagles, e.g. approximately 5 years old - since they started their nest from scratch. By the way, Bald Eagles mate for life and can live for decades.

This is Monty placing one of the first sticks in the nest.

By January of 2018, the nest was beginning to take form. Among raptors, the females are larger. In this photo, Marsha is on our right and Monty is on the left. 

In Marsha's case, if you look closely you can see she has a gray smudge behind her eye. It is particularly apparent in the very first photo in this post. In the second and third photos, you can see that feathers behind Monty's eye are a brilliant white. Also, Marsha has a much heavier 'eyebrow' than Monty. Take a look at the next two photos and see if you can tell which is Monty and which is Marsha.


The first photo is Marsha and the second is Monty.

In 2018 Monty and Marsha had their first two offspring. This is Marsha in the nest with their two young, Charlie and Lucy.

As the young grew the new nest experienced issues. A branch broke, one of the young ended up on the ground. It was injured and unable to fly. The second young bird continued moving about in the remains of the nest and ultimately the nest disintegrated and the second young bird ended up on the ground and also unable to fly. Both of the young were rescued and spent time at PAWS before ultimately being successfully released.

In 2019, Monty and Marsha constructed a new nest in the same tree. It was slightly lower in the biggest crotch in the tree. Once again they had two young. 

This time the branches remained intact, although one of the young ended up on the ground again, and unable to fly, but at least uninjured. The juvenile bird was also recovered by PAWS and successfully released nearby. Monty and Marsha resumed feeding it and everything turned out fine for the family. Except, that once again the nest slowly broke up and by the time the young left home the nest was virtually gone.

Just before Thanksgiving, Monty and Marsha began rebuilding again.

Currently, the nest is more crow-sized than eagle-sized. However, the pair is building in the same location as last year. No doubt by March the nest will be large enough to hold their eggs and their 2020 young. Whether the nest will last until the young fledge is open for debate. Monty and Marsha are committed to their territory and their nest site. The technical term for their commitment is site-fidelity.

It warms my heart to watch Monty looking through the treetops while searching for the next branch to add to their 'new' nest.

New life is inspiring, amazing and beautiful. However, if the Bald Eagle recovery is to continue we need to follow in Mr. Ruckelshuas' footsteps. We need to mitigate the impacts of humanity's expansion. The next limiting factor to Bald Eagle recovery is most likely food.

Marsha (pictured here), Monty and all Bald Eagles, also love fish as a food source. To enable the full recovery of our Bald Eagle population we need to continue to restore water and fish habitat. The local restoration of habitat is critical. However, Union Bay is an interconnected piece in a much larger puzzle. Restoration is needed throughout the Lake Washington watershed and in Puget Sound. 

Monty and Marsha are either the smartest or the luckiest pair of Bald Eagles in Seattle. Their choice to carve out a territory and nest over Montlake Cut puts them above a narrow span of water through which all migrating fish must pass, to enter or exit the Lake Washington watershed. I am thankful Monty and Marsha are finding food, rebuilding their nest and raising young. They are doing their part to aid the Bald Eagle recovery. The question is, 'Are we?'

The following are some of the organizations which are helping.

A Thankful Update:

Jerry Pinkepank responded to this post with the following comments.

"We should add to that thanks to Rachel Carson (I note that there is a small research ship moored at UW that now carries her name). Her Book, Silent Spring, set in motion the political will that enabled Mr. Ruckelshaus to get his regulation through. My mother was somehow very aware of the dangers of DDT even to humans and in the 1950's a neighbor boy and I would hurriedly pick the pie cherries of the big tree in that neighbor's back yard, just ahead of the B-17 spraying DDT over the entire city of Lansing, Michigan to combat mosquitoes. After the plane had passed she would not allow me to pick or eat any of those delicious cherries for the rest of the season. -- Jerry"

The Rachel Carson is the larger of the two vessels.

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. 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. 

What type of tree are the Montlake Bald Eagles nesting in? Is it native to Union Bay?

Scroll down for the answer.


Black Cottonwood: Cottonwood is native to Union Bay. It not particularly appreciated because of its weak lumber. However, it is the primary tree in which our local Bald Eagles nest. Its supple branches are their primary nest-building material. Its seeds are often the initial food for Mallard ducklings, fresh out of their eggs. Plus, bees are known to collect the trees sticky sap-like substance because it repeals pests in their hives. Beavers use it to build their lodges. Plus, woodpeckers and even chickadees have been seen using the dead standing trees for nests and roosting spots. Cottonwoods are critical to our co-existence with nature.


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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