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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Swallow Haven

Friday afternoon, just to the east of the Conibear Shellhouse, many dozens of swallows circled and swooped as they collected insects. They were primarily finding their food a few feet above the water. Occasionally, they would shift their wings vertical, make an abrupt turn and pick off an insect sitting on the water, while still in flight. 

Attempting to focus and follow the swallows in flight made my head swim. I would bet their tactics could be used to give fighter pilots lessons.

Swallows are some of the earliest migratory birds to return to Union Bay. Their return is a sign that Spring is on its way. Many times the excitement of seeing them is quickly followed by the question, 'What type of swallows are they?'

According to Seattle Audubon's Birdweb, Tree Swallows (as in the photo above) are generally our earliest arrivals. They are listed as common starting in March. Tree Swallows have short-tails and a relatively short migration. Central America appears to be as far south as they go. 

Violet-green Swallows tend to arrive next. They become common in April, according to Birdweb. During Winter, Central America is also their most distant destination.

On Friday, I noticed considerably more Violet-greens than Tree Swallows. The two species can be confusing, particularly if all we see are dark shapes dipping and darting in a sinuous death dance for insects. However, as you can see in these photos, the adult males do have color differences, which are especially evident when the sunlight breaks through the clouds.

Not surprisingly, the Violet-Green has green on its back and a small, hard-to-discern violet patch above its rump. 

Friday, my friend Jeff Graham sent in this amazing photo which beautifully displays the colors of an adult male Violet-green Swallow. Thank you, Jeff!

Adult male Tree Swallows have more of a blue back. It can reflect turquoise in the sunlight but under clouds, dark blue and dark green can seem pretty similar. However, unlike a Violet-green Swallow the Tree Swallow's uniform color extends from the forehead all the way back to the rump. 

Another key difference between the two species is the amount of white on the cheek and on the body, just aft of the wings.

The Violet-green generally has white that circles up above the eye - kind of like the top half of a capital 'G'. It also has a white 'saddle' just behind the wings. Tree Swallows do not have either of these key characteristics. 

Both species have relatively long wings and somewhat chunky, almost tubular bodies with very short tails. Apparently, short tails and relatively short migrations may go together.

Curiously, their tails also seem somewhat different than most other birds. Their tails appear to pop out from the sides of their rump, instead of extending back behind the body.

This Tree Swallow photo shows the tail arrangement even better.

The third swallow species I saw yesterday was a Barn Swallow. It has a blue-black back but its slender outer tail feathers and burnt orange throat make it unique. I saw it rather infrequently. There may have been only one bird that I saw multiple times. According to Birdweb they are generally not common here until May.  

Curiously, Barn Swallows have longer tails, take longer to get here and probably come from farther away. This Map (from Birds of the World) shows they can winter almost anywhere in South America. 

By May, we can expect to see two more swallow species arrive at Union Bay. Do you know which two? 

We can also expect to see all five species in a relatively small area. Imagine a triangle with its eastern corner at the osprey nesting platform in the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA). The western corner would be directly west at the northeast corner of the Intramural Activities Center (IMA). Finally, the southern corner would be at the Wood Duck Box #7 i.e. just west of 'Number 2 Island'. All of these locations can be seen on my Union Bay map. Just Click Here, then use the plus sign to zoom in. Finally, click on the icons to read more specific birding information.

Species Four and Five

The round orange icon on the map provides information regarding Cliff Swallows which are our fourth potential swallow species. 

The fifth species may feel like a bit of a trick. Clicking on the round purple icon will pull up what was intended to be Wood Duck Box #3. In 2019, for the first time, it was utilized by Purple Martins. It turns out that Purple Martins are Swallows. They are the largest swallow species in North America. You can read more about them in the post labeled, Purple Martins.

By the way, I learned from my Master Birder classmate, Kim, why I did not notice a mature, adult male Purple Martin (like the one in this photo) in and around Box #3 last year. Apparently, subadults - who are not yet in adult male plumage - can actually breed and reproduce. Evidently, that is what happened in 2019. This means that in 2020 and beyond, the male should be in his full, brilliant plumage when he returns to the northwest corner of Union Bay. 

Kim also mentioned that our local Purple Martins winter in southeast Brazil. Which may explain why they are not the first swallows to return to Union Bay. Let's all keep our eyes peeled and watch for Mr. Martin's return! 

We can also hope that a second pair notices the new Purple Martin box that was added to the Box #3 pole while the Martins were enjoying a Brazilian summer.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where swallows live in the city!

Larry

Recommended Citation

Brown, M. B. and C. R. Brown (2020). Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.barswa.01



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 swallow is this? Is it native to Union Bay?












Scroll down for the answer.














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Northern Rough-winged Swallow: If you follow the link to Birdweb and click on the 'Where in WA' tab you will see that Northern Rough-winged Swallows are 'Fairly Common' in the Pacific Through in summer. (Four of the other five species mentioned above are listed as common in the same area. Luckily, the fifth, Purple Martins, are making a comeback.) I have yet to notice a Rough-winged Swallow around Union Bay, maybe this will be the year!











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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



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As a reward for reading this far, How many swallow nests do you see? This photo shows a concrete support for a railroad bridge located near Woodland, WA.

I am estimating there are 75 to 80 Cliff Swallow nests under the concrete collars around the top of the pier.

Two more Violet-green photos for the road.




Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Backyard Bird

A male House Finch is a beautiful bird. Originally, they were from the southwest, which is implied in the second half of their scientific name, Haemorhous mexicanus. Today, House Finches can now be found in 49 out of the 50 states. Many years ago, they had some human help in getting to both New York and Hawaii. During the following decades, they made good use of the opportunity to dramatically expand their range. It's not surprising that a bird that originated in the desert has yet to establish itself in Alaska.

In general, House Finches tend to migrate vertically. When the snow reaches the mountains they like to come down into snow-free cities and make good use of the warmth and the seeds which they find in our bird feeders.

This female finch appears to be collecting the leaf stem from a Big Leaf Maple to be used in nest building.

For the most part, females lack the bright coloring of the adult males. Immature birds, of both genders, also wear basic brown.

Males get their red coloring from the fruit they eat. Depending on the fruit, their bright spots can occasionally be orange or yellow.

This August photo shows what appears to be a young male bird, which is apparently molting into its mature coloring. One clue to its youth is the fine streaking on the belly. Looking back at the two adult photos, you can see that their vertical belly stripes are not nearly as delicate.

In this June photo, if you look close, you can see that a male is regurgitating food for a full-sized young bird. After the young leave their nests the male birds apparently take over all of the feedings. This frees up the females to focus on producing their next brood. All About Birds says House Finches can have as many as six broods per year.

This October photo also shows a male beginning to get its color. 

In the fall, House Finches regularly dismantle the 'hops'  found on the Hophornbeam in the Arboretum (on the east side of Duck Bay) to consume the seeds. 

The gray-brown patch on the upper cheek is one way the colorful males can be distinguished from Purple Finches. You can learn more about their differentiating features by Clicking Here.

Since almost all of us are spending an abnormally large amount of time at home, this might be a good time to watch for nest-building behavior in your backyard. The House Finch starts with relatively larger twigs to build the supporting structure of the nest.

They progress to smaller and softer materials.

In this case, the female is eyeing the opening in the bushy conifer that leads to her nest site.

There is no way to view this nest, which is wonderful. Her eggs and her young will be much more likely to survive in such a nicely hidden location.

Later, she brought in what appeared to be thin strips of shredded bark.

Although, from this angle, it looked more like dried grass.

Her mate occasionally helped.

Bringing in this very fine white material seemed like an indication the nest was nearing completion. 

I really have no idea what type of plant could produce such a long thin fragment, but it sure looked soft and warm, just like a baby's blanket.

The materials the finches are using could be considered hints to making our backyards into wildlife sanctuaries. Leaving grass to grow tall and dry out, leaving the down from flower and tree blossoms, leaving bark that is decaying and falling off trees and leaving last year's leaves to decay on top of your flower beds could provide almost all of the materials seen in this post. Also, having some thick conifer shrubs or trees, hopefully, with vegetation all the way to the ground, could provide some nice hidden nesting spots.

Generally, the male accompanies the female where ever she goes. Sometimes he helps bring nesting material, and sometimes he appears to be simply standing guard. In this photo, he was waiting patiently while she updated the nest. When he tilted his head, it seemed obvious that he was listening to a nearby House Finch singing its warbling song. 

When the neighbor took a breath, the male visibly raised his head, despite the rain.

He opened his mouth and replied with his own version of the House Finch melody. As the two birds took turns singing, the male looked around apparently trying to find the source of the sound. 

Clicking Here will take you to an example of a House Finch song on All About Birds. Often at the end of a phrase, a House Finch will produce a somewhat less melodic sound. In my mind it makes me think, 'Splat'. Since no other finch makes that final sound, I find it very useful in identifying the song of a House Finch, even when I cannot see them.

Have a great day on Union Bay or...in your own backyard!

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. 






A low-growing plant that is currently beginning to bloom around Union Bay,

Here is a better look at the foliage? Is it native to our area? 












Scroll down for the answer.














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Pacific Bleeding Heart: The scientific name is Dicentra formosa. It is a native plant that can bloom all summer if you remove the flowers as they age. Follow the highlighted link to learn more about its elaiosome.












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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



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As a reward to those who have read this far, here are a few more House Finch photos.

Finches generally have a 'notched tail', however, this example is a bit over the top. 

When birders refer to finches having 'notched tails' this is what usually comes to mind. The previous photo does demonstrate why the subtle, 'perched' notch exists.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Our Heros

All life on earth struggles to survive. Our current conflict with the covid virus is a stark reminder. The virus challenges our existence as individuals and our capabilities as a society. 

Words cannot express our gratitude to the nurses, doctors and first responders who are fighting on the front lines. They are our heroes!

As a society, we are challenged to do what we do best. Adapt, learn and overcome. Social distancing is a start. As a society, we must do more. We must learn, quickly. The clear and quick communication of facts, followed by timely scientific research, and the rapid application of the results, is critical to our future.

In times like these, celebrating the arrival of Spring and the creation of new life may feel like an inappropriate distraction. Instead, I hope the wonder and beauty of life will provide food for our souls and inspire us to fight on.

Earlier this week, this tiny Black-capped Chickadee waited for a chance to help excavate a new nest.

Its mate was already hard at work. Their nest will need to be deep, given the small diameter of this tiny snag. Otherwise, their eggs will be easily reached by predators.

Taking turns, the two chickadees removed the soft dead wood, one beak-full at a time. 

Rather than creating a noticeable pile of wood chips directly below the nest, they distributed the shavings elsewhere.

After an extensive amount of work, one of the chickadees settled inside a dense bush so it could safely clean up and straighten its feathers.

The process required checking under-the-hood or in this case under-the-wing.

The chickadee finally finished up with some stretching. 


It turns out that the chickadees are not the only ones to notice that Spring is here. Not far away a crow updated last year's nest with a new branch.

The Double-crested Cormorant on the left is adding new crests and hoping to increase its odds of mating. 

This female House Finch, who was accompanied by a very protective male, disappeared into a nearby spruce tree with this piece of nesting material.

This Red-breasted Nuthatch inspected an old and well-used nest. 

Marsha continues to incubate new eggs, in her newly rebuilt nest above Montlake Cut. 
(Thank you to eagle-eyed Jeff - for the early head's up on this year's nesting behavior!)

Her mate Monty can often be seen sitting nearby while he watches over Marsha and their new eggs.

Sometimes, Monty visits the nest and occasionally he takes over incubating so Marsha can stretch her wings and find some food for herself.

Yesterday, the male Cooper's Hawk (on the right) broke twigs off this tree and added them to a new nest. After a half a dozen trips, the female (on the left) allowed him to mate. Afterward, he jumped down and quickly put a little space between them. He is fast, but among predator birds, the females are usually bigger and stronger. A respectful distance seems appropriate.

This morning, the female Cooper's Hawk was sitting quietly in the new nest. Suddenly, she began a rapid vocalization and abandoned the site. A Red-tailed Hawk, which is significantly larger, landed in the Cooper's Hawk nest. The nest was inspected for food. Finding none, the Red-tail left. I am sure the harassment provided by the local American Crows was a contributing factor. Luckily, the Cooper's Hawks have apparently not yet laid any eggs.

Yesterday, a potentially similar encounter was handled differently by the Common Ravens. The raven on 'guard duty' immediately started calling when a Red-tailed Hawk attempted to fly through their territory. The raven's mate quickly appeared, most likely from a nearby nesting tree. The two smaller birds darted and dived as they aggressively chased the red-tail away. 

Spring, even with all of its beauty, remains a fight for survival. This year our fight feels a bit too close for comfort. More than usual, it falls to each of us to stay strong, careful and patient. Our consistent efforts will help our families and friends to survive.

Thanks again to the nurses, doctors and first responders. May our heroes also stay healthy and safe!

Sincerely, 
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. 






What species of fern is this? Is it native to our area? 












Scroll down for the answer.














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










Licorice Fern: Polypodium Glycyrrhiza is native to our area. Native Americans apparently used it as a treatment for a sore throat, etc. Click on the highlighted name to learn more.










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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



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As a reward to those who have read this far, compare the photo of a young Cooper's Hawk, above. To this week's mature Cooper's Hawk in the photo below.

In addition to the horizontal barring versus the vertical striping, Did you notice any other obvious differences? If not, check out the eye color and the dark 'cap' on the mature bird's head.