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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Freedom and Flames

What bird posed for this silhouette? The lack of color limits the clues to just form and function. The stark contrast makes the head and bill seem surprisingly large, while the downward focus speaks to the bird's behavior. 

Birding by Shape was a concept taught in Seattle Audubon's Master Birder Class - Thank You!

It is amazing how adding color can make some information seem less obvious.

Northern Flickers are a unique type of woodpecker. Similar to other woodpeckers they can be seen on tree trunks and quite often sitting on the tops of trees. Occasionally, you may even see them on housetops, where they will often hammer on the metallic covers to chimneys. (The metal amplifies their territorial and mating communiques.) 

However, unlike their relatives, when feeding they are usually found on the ground. This makes sense because their favorite food is ants. Not the large carpenter ants, that can be found in deadwood, but the smaller ones which create tiny ant hills while excavating their subterranean homes. 

They are perfectly at ease in our lawns...

...and often seen probing the cracks in a sidewalk or...

...checking out crevices and gaps around rocks, while silently searching for ants and their larva.

In our area, the males generally have a distinctive red mustache while the females, see the second photo in this post, lack that bright distinction. 

In Spring, when a male Northern Flicker is spotted excavating wood from a dead tree, nest building is a logical conclusion. For a split second, the wood chips are held in the bill. 

Then, with a flick of his head, the chips fly.

One might assume that this flicking motion is what gives the Flicker its name. However, it is the same motion used by Pileated Woodpeckers, so it would not be fair for Flickers to get all the credit. 

In either case, the chips fall where they may. Some smaller excavating birds carry the chips away from their nest sites, apparently, not wanting to give away the location.

In Spring, Flickers will also bob their heads and make a 'wicka, wicka, wicka' sound. This is often associated with a display of the colored feathers under their tails and wings. One website
(https://www.scienceworld.ca/stories/ever-wonder-about-flickers/) implies that since the term 'wicka' sounds kind of similar to Flicker it may have been the inspiration for the name. 

Another website (https://animals.mom.me/difference-between-woodpecker-flicker-7810.html) states, "They are named for the brilliant yellow or red undersides of their wings and tails that cause the birds to resemble flickering flames when they fly." 

Whether this idea is true or not is almost irrelevant. The concept of flickering flames is such an excellent memory aid it should be commonly used to burn the name into the minds of new birders.

By the way, we seldom see the eastern, 'Yellow-shafted' version of the Northern Flicker around Union Bay. In addition to the yellow versus orange coloring, can you spot two more differences between this male bird and...

...our local 'Red-shafted' variety?

The next day, after watching the male flicking chips out of the prospective nest site, I spotted a female looking out of the same hole. 

A week later, I saw the female perched at the opening. Nesting certainly seemed to be in process.

By the way, Flicker eggs are all white. Possibly this is because there is no need for camouflage inside the nesting cavity. Another reason could be to reflect light and help the adults move about the nest without mishaps. (Thank you to the Burke Museum for allowing this photo.) 

Five weeks later, I got my first photos of young peering out of the nest. Notice the white tip at the end of the bill. I believe this is the egg-tooth that young birds use to fight their way to freedom. I have read that most birds lose their egg tooth within a week or two of hatching. However young flickers appear to still have the tooth at the age of three or four weeks. One idea implied that keeping the highly reflective tooth may help the parents locate the young bird's mouth in the darkness of the nest.

The white gape, where the upper and lower bills meet, is also thought to be helpful for the hurried adults. 

It is interesting to compare the mother's bill and gape with that of the young bird. The adult's visual priority is the opposite of the young. They prefer to fade into the background rather than be easily seen.

Three is the maximum number of young photographed in this nest. Although, All About Birds states brood sizes are usually between 5 and 8. It is difficult to imagine how two adults could supply enough food to keep themselves and eight young adequately fed.

As the young birds get closer to fledging they get larger and louder. They lean further and further out of the nest and stridently beg for food.

Sometimes, a parent will sit nearby and return the call. It seems as if they are saying, "Dinnertime, come and get it!" 

Apparently, leaving the nest is a process and occasionally the parents will still bring food to the young even when they are nearly ready to fledge. In this mid-June photo, the small red fruits falling from the feeding operation are elderberries. Both Pileated Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers will feed their young elderberries when the ripe berries are near the nest site.

When the parents are away, the rapidly maturing young will extend their tongues to explore the outside world. 

Their tongues are uniquely suited to investigating and harvesting tiny ants from their tunnels.

In this case, I suspect the white food falling during this exchange is ant larva.

Sometimes, the young appear to share the view in a remarkably civil fashion.

Sometimes, it looks a bit more like sibling rivalry.

This aggressive young male appeared to 'win' the rivalry and left the nest before his sisters. Notice the difference in the red mustache color between the mature male and the juvenile.

By the way, the two other obvious differences between the Yellow and Red-shafted male Northern Flickers (excluding their flames) are:

A) Red-shafted have red mustaches while Yellow-shafted have black mustaches,

B) the Yellow-shafted have red chevrons on the back of their heads.

It should be noted that in our area we also have male Flickers with a mixed genetic heritage. Looking for these birds can add a lot of 'spice' to your daily birding expeditions.

For example, this bird has the red chevron like a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker and some black mixed into its mustache. On the other hand, it has the flaming orange feathering of a Red-shafted Northern flicker along with a hint of red mixed in the mustache. 

When the last of the young left the nest I suspect the parents did not have time to experience an 'empty nest syndrome'. 

As soon as the young birds can fly they follow the parents everywhere begging for food. The intensity of the parenting experience only increases. On the plus side, this process will ultimately teach the young where and how to find food. Slowly at first, the juvenile birds will begin to find food faster than the parents can supply it. Before Fall, the elder birds will finally earn their freedom!



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


Tsuloss Watch:

By July 3rd, Tsuloss had barely begun 'branching'. Sometime in the next month or so, I hope Tsuloss will learn to fly. Several readers have now sent in their guesses for when Tsuloss will fledge.

If you would like to play along send me your name and the date when you hope or expect Tsuloss will leave the nest. July is just around the corner!

July 1st - Barry Saver
July 4th - Larry Hubbell
July 6th - Joe Clancy
July 8th - Cynthia Jones
July 9th - Lynne Kelly
July 10th - Lynn Adams
July 14th - Helen Spiro
July 15th - Jeff Graham
July 16th - Audrey Weitkamp
August 2nd - Tyler Mangum

(By the way, the nestling period for Bald Eagles, as stated on All About Birds, can vary quite a bit. It is listed as 56 to 98 days. This implies to me that Tsuloss might just as well fledge in late July or even August.)


The only rules I can think of for this impromptu, prize-less contest are:

A) I plan to only publish the name associated with the first entry I receive for each date. I want to encourage the widest variety of dates as possible.

B) Practice hops do not count e.g. when the young eagle flaps, lifts up and then comes right back down in the nest.  Also branching - hopping from branch to branch - does not count. Tsuloss must leave the air space above the nest.

C) Falling does not count. Tsuloss must leave the nest and exhibit an ability to stay in the air. However, if you do see Tsuloss fall from the nest and land on the ground, especially if unable to fly, please call:

 Lynnwood PAWS at 425-787-2500

PAWS has rehabilitated and released 3 out of Tsuloss's 4 siblings during the last 2 years. (The fourth sibling did not require assistance.)

The following information may help you make a more accurate guess:

Eaglet Patrol - The post suggesting when Tsuloss might have hatched.

Tsuloss - The last eagle update.

By the way, Tsuloss is most easily seen with binoculars from the north side of Montlake Cut. The nest site is shown on this Union Bay Map.

My email address is: ldhubbell@comcast.net

Naming Update:

Apparently, there is more than one way to pronounce the number five in the Lushootseed language. Aaron Peterson sent in this interesting update. 


Clicking Here will enable you to find the word for five and the link to the pronunciation guide, which I originally used. 

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


Have a great day on Union Bay...where Black Birders are always welcome!

Black Lives Matter,
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. 

By the way, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is extremely helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.













What species is this? Is it native to Western Washington?
 











Scroll down for the answer.













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








All of the following Dragonflies are native to Western Washington. Due to their somewhat similar look, I have included two different species and both genders. However, I have not included Twelve-spotted Skimmers.





Dennis Paulson's book, "Dragonflies and Damselfies of the West" covers all three species and provides many more interesting details about their variations e.g. sometimes white wing-spots are optional.








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






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





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




Here is one more photo for those who read all the way to the end.
Did you notice the black tips to the tail feathers?

Since woodpeckers use their tail feathers for support, like a third leg when hitching their way up a tree, the tips wear down to a point around the relatively strong central rachis.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Survival Skills


At mid-day, this adult Barred Owl was wide awake with an unobstructed view of Arboretum Drive. Generally, owls sleep during the day. At noon they are often hidden deep inside the shadows and foliage of a Western Red Cedar. 

This owl was out in the open and surprisingly alert. Curiously, it did not appear to be hunting. My friend, Carlene, had mentioned seeing a young owl in the area. So, after taking a few photos, I left the puzzling owl behind and moved on.

Sure enough, in the nearby shadows of Sequoias, a young owl noticed my arrival. It bobbed its head around in the exaggerated fashion of youth - apparently calculating the distance between us - adults do a similar maneuver but it is almost imperceptible. The youthful behavior and all the fluffy white down clearly indicated its lack of maturity. 

I stood quietly. The young owl's interest declined. I suspect it is one of the two young documented in the June 14th post - two weeks ago. 

It resumed the removal of down.

After a while, it began stretching and moving about inside the grove. The bare inner branches resemble a Jungle Gym for young owls. It is interesting to notice the occasional pure white feathers highlighted against the beige and brown.

I read somewhere that young owls retain the light beige stripes in their tail feathers for the first year. The implication being that by the second year the off-white coloring in the tail is replaced with white. Later, in the post, you will see an adult example that makes me question this logic.

The young owl's increased activity showed off its 'pantaloons'.

The fluffy 'leggings' must help retain heat but as the weather warms up that becomes a somewhat questionable benefit. In any case, they certainly give the young owl a comical and immature look.

Occasionally, it exhibited flashes of focus. Similar to way adults behave when hunting. I did not think much of it. 

I was startled to see how much its tail feathers had grown. If we assume the young owl is about two months old then it has been out of the nest for about a month. From previous sightings, I assume they leave the nest without visible tail feathers. If the tail feathers in this photo are approximately eight inches long then they would have grown at a rate of nearly 2 inches a week. I have made multiple assumptions, so the true rate may vary considerably. However, there is no doubt that their tail feathers grow fast.

Similar to Cooper's Hawks, the tail feathers must enable the owls to make tight turns between the branches, trunks, and foliage of the inner canopy. For a predator who makes its living catching smaller creatures, sharp turns are critical.

Finally, after circling around inside the grove and the young owl perched on the fence. It was close to the ground and fairly close to the adult. I would not have been surprised to see the adult bring it food.

This photo shows another example of the young owl's intense focus. I was too distracted to really take notice at the time. While this was transpiring, the first adult moved closer, I spotted the second young owl high overhead and the second adult flew into the grove while being escorted by a highly, aggressive crow.

The second adult owl with beige stripes on its tail feathers. Reproducing adults are said to be at least two years old. At this point, the beige stripes in the tail feathers should have turned white. Something does not add up.

However, the movement of the first adult, from its original position, between Arboretum Drive and the young owls, suddenly made sense. I suspect it was on guard duty, watching the young owls while the mate was out hunting. Sadly, the mate returned 'empty-handed'.

Despite their exceptional skills, the owls do not always find food. Their special predatory adaptations include excellent eyesight (including low-light vision), pinpoint hearing, and wings which allow virtually silent flight. Plus, they can eat small prey whole and simply cough up a ball of indigestible bones, feathers, or fur.

I overlooked and underestimated the young owl on the fence. When I turned back it had food. Immediately, I began to wonder what it was eating. It took a while for me to realize that the young owl most likely caught the food all on its own. 

The young owl carried its meal up to a broad moss-covered branch, which provided a stable 'table' and a higher level of safety

However, the tree was closer to Arboretum Drive and ultimately the young owl decided to move a little further away. It finished the food deeper in the shadows of the grove.

From when I first saw it, with the partially eaten prey, until the food totally disappeared was over fifteen minutes. The young owl struggled with the process. I don't think it fully understood how to use its bill. Ultimately, it tried to swallow the bulk of the body whole. At that moment, I was afraid it might choke. Fortunately, it did not.

Locally, I believe Barred Owls eat primarily rats, rabbits, and squirrels. It is kind of ironic that Barred Owls originated in the eastern part of North America as did the Eastern Cottontails and the Eastern Gray Squirrels. The majority of our rats are from Norway. All four species had help from humanity (intentional or not) to reach this area. None of them are natives of the Pacific Northwest. Our local ecosystem is a curious conglomerate of creatures.

When I noticed movement out the corner of my eye I glanced back toward the fence. This time one of the adults was on the fence. What I saw, was the flash as it went to the ground. It promptly returned to the fence with food.

It took just six minutes for the adult to consume its prey. Experience counts. It actually parsed out many small mouthfuls and ended up swallowing a much more manageable final portion, as compared to the youngster. During the process, the second adult moved to the fence. Quickly, it jumped to the ground and came up with a third prey item.

The second adult carried its catch up near the second, more sedentary young owl and shared its food. I have watched owls catch prey before but never like this. Three catches in less than 30 minutes and all four members of the family fed. 

Apparently, the first young owl located a rabbit's nest. I have read, that when young rabbits are born their mothers are unable to carry them to a safer location. The best they can do is to cover and hide the young. They must return to feed them but apparently minimize their trips to avoid detection. 

These particular young were getting fairly good-sized. I suspect they may have been starting to move around and look for food on their own. Obviously, their hearing, eyesight, and escape-speed was not up to the task of evading Barred Owls - even an inexperienced one.

A couple of days later I spotted this rabbit in the same area. To survive, among hungry owls, the Eastern Cottontails will need to up their game.

Exceptional hearing might help.

I wonder if having four ears will do the trick.

  
By the way, if you would like to see another surprise sighting don't overlook the challenge in the Going Native section below.


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


Tsuloss Watch:

The young eagle in Monty and Marsha's nest continues to grow. Sometime in the next month or so, I expect Tsuloss will leave the nest. Several readers have now sent in their guess for when Tsuloss will fledge.

If you would like to play along send me your name and the date when you hope or expect Tsuloss will leave the nest. July is just around the corner!

July 1st - Barry Saver
July 2nd - Tyler Mangum
July 4th - Larry Hubbell
July 6th - Joe Clancy
July 8th - Cynthia Jones
July 9th - Lynne Kelly
July 10th - Lynn Adams
July 14th - Helen Spiro
July 15th - Jeff Graham
July 16th - Audrey Weitkamp

(By the way, the nestling period for Bald Eagles, as stated on All About Birds, can vary quite a bit. It is listed as 56 to 98 days. This implies to me that Tsuloss might just as well fledge in late July or even August.)


The only rules I can think of for this impromptu, prize-less contest are:

A) I plan to only publish the name associated with the first entry I receive for each date. I want to encourage the widest variety of dates as possible.

B) Practice hops do not count e.g. when the young eagle flaps, lifts up and then comes right back down in the nest.  Also branching - hopping from branch to branch - does not count. Tsuloss must leave the air space above the nest.

C) Falling does not count. Tsuloss must leave the nest and exhibit an ability to stay in the air. However, if you do see Tsuloss fall from the nest and land on the ground, especially if unable to fly, please call:

 Lynnwood PAWS at 425-787-2500

PAWS has rehabilitated and released 3 out of Tsuloss's 4 siblings during the last 2 years. (The fourth sibling did not require assistance.)

The following information may help you make a more accurate guess:

Eaglet Patrol - The post suggesting when Tsuloss might have hatched.

Tsuloss - The last eagle update.

By the way, Tsuloss is most easily seen with binoculars from the north side of Montlake Cut. The nest site is shown on this Union Bay Map.

My email address is: ldhubbell@comcast.net

Naming Update:

Apparently, there is more than one way to pronounce the number five in the Lushootseed language. Aaron Peterson sent in this interesting update. 


Clicking Here will enable you to find the word for five and the link to the pronunciation guide, which I originally used. 

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


Have a great day on Union Bay...where Black Birders are always welcome!

Black Lives Matter,
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. 

By the way, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is extremely helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.













What species is this? Is it native to Western Washington?
 











Scroll down for the answer.













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













Long-tailed Weasel: Surprisingly, this small, native predator was seen running down the street in front of my house and crossing (the very busy) 24th Avenue in Montlake - twice. This is the first time I ever remember seeing one. I have no doubt our current influx of rabbits has made Montlake a much more appealing location for weasels.








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






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





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




Here is one more photo for those who read all the way to the end.
 Did you notice the black tip on the tail?