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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Never Say Never

Fall is passed. All the Cedar Waxwings, which I have seen lately, appear to be on their way to wearing mature, breeding plumage.

 The stripes of youth - as seen in this Fall photo - have disappeared.

The subtle coloring of the chest and belly, along with the generally smooth, sleek appearance of the feathers appear to be clear indications of adulthood. 

This bird made me wonder if there might be other signs of youth that persist after the stripes have gone. The fuzzy white feathers at the shoulder - between the chest and the upper wing - seemed suspiciously youthful.

When birds are young their feathers must grow in quick. Often these fast-growing feathers do not have all of the tiny hooks or barbs that adult feathers have. As a result, young birds often have fluffy feathers that do not lay down and align like an adult's.

Looking closer, I noticed the dot of black behind the bird's eye. Maybe its mask has not yet fully formed. When compared to the mask on the bird in the next photo the difference is obvious. 

Not only does the adult's mask extend behind the eye, but the hint of white at the shoulder is certainly less fluffy.

Looking back through my previous photos I found that all of my Fall photos of striped juveniles show an incomplete mask.

However, I did find one where the rear portion of the mask appeared to be at least partially present.

This January photo from two years ago really clarified the situation. It seems obvious that juveniles go through a post-stripe stage. The aft-portion of the mask is still missing, there are many fluffy feathers and there is also a central white streak visible on the chest.

The comparison to an adult is striking. The white on the chest is virtually gone. The mask is fully formed and the fluffy feathers have disappeared. This is most certainly a bird prepared to attract a mate.

However, Cedar Waxwings have one more trick up their sleeves, so to speak. From what I have read the scientists are not absolutely positive but they suspect that the red waxy appendages on the secondary feathers of this bird help to attract mates. (They are also the inspiration for the Waxwing name.)

Curiously, not all Waxwings have 'wax' on their wings and some occasionally have it in slightly different locations.

In a previous Waxwing post, called A Frugivoracious Thunger, I mentioned that the red dot of wax directly above this bird's leg was a new feather just growing in. Since then I have learned that occasionally the waxy appendages can even grow on the covert feathers. Coverts are feathers that cover the base portion of longer feathers. So in this case, that particular dot of red may actually be on a fully formed covert and not on a new partially-grown flight feather.

If you would like a challenge compare these two photos and see if you can find one or two more obvious differences between the juvenile and the adult. If it helps you can scroll back to the larger versions of these photos.

Just for fun here is another photo that shows an adult who still has a few fluffy shoulder feathers. With nature, there are no absolutes. One should never say never. The only certainty is that life is constantly changing. We are all, human or avian, unique combinations of genetics and experience to be treasured and appreciated.

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

Larry

ps: The two more differences I noticed are that the juvenile has a brownish bill and brown feet while the adult's are black.


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 bird is this? Is it native to our area?













Scroll down for the answer.














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Bohemian Waxwing: These are native North American waxwings however they breed farther to the north - primarily in Alaska and Northern Canada. In the winter, they can occasionally be found in Western Washington feeding among Cedar Waxwings. The quickest way to pick them out is their larger size and the reddish-brown coverts under their tails.













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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

One more photo as a reward for reading this far.











Sunday, January 19, 2020

A Snow Challenge

On Monday and Tuesday, our Seattle weather was cold. 

During warm weather, we have two species of hummingbirds in our area. However, only one, the Anna's Hummingbird, is here during the winter. (Our native Rufous Hummingbird works hard to avoid the snow. They can migrate thousands of miles, from as far as Alaska to Mexico.)


It seems rather ironic that the migrating behavior associated with the term, Snow Bird, does not apply to the species which ends up sitting in the snow. 

Unlike Snow Geese, Snow Buntings or Snowy Owls, which have developed a significant white coloring associated with their extensive snow experience, the Anna's Hummingbirds generally seem to avoid the snow and have minimal use for white feathering. 


Their primarily green coloring seems more fitting as camouflage for a jungle bird. According to Birds of North America (BNA - citation below), the first Anna's Hummingbirds arrived in Washington state in 1964. Historically, they were primarily California birds which migrated relatively short distances e.g. up into nearby mountains during the summers.  

The expansion of exotic winter-blooming plants (like this unique hybrid of Asian Mahonia in the Arboretum's Winter Garden) and hummingbird feeders can be partially credited with attracting Anna's Hummingbirds to the Pacific Northwest. However, population growth in California may have been the underlying driving factor. 

BNA says, about the California population, 'The combination of extensive nonnative plantings, particularly eucalyptus (Eucalyptus) and tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca), plus widespread use of feeders, has undoubtedly played a major role in expanding populations of this hummingbird.'

Curiously, the current range maps for Anna's Hummingbirds are not perfectly aligned.

Birdweb's map for Washington state implies altitudinal and maybe some longitudinal migration. It shows breeding in the Puget Trough, primarily in heavily populated areas, and the birds moving up into the Cascades or out into less populated areas of Puget Sound during the non-breeding season. 

All About Birds overlooks this level of detail in Washington state. It shows breeding throughout the western portions of Washington, Oregon, California and southwest Arizona with latitudinal migration into British Columbia and Mexico. It also implies altitudinal migration in Northern California and Southern Oregon. 

Uncertainty is evident in comments from both sites. 

Birdweb says, 'In Washington, Anna's Hummingbird appears throughout the year. It is unclear whether this is due to migration or whether the birds we see in January are the same as those we see in June.'

All About Birds says, 'Unlike most North American hummingbirds, Anna's Hummingbirds either don't migrate or else migrate a very short distance to better feeding grounds.'

Could it be that, with their recent territorial expansion, the species has not yet settled on a single optimal pattern of migration? Maybe they will and maybe they won't. Life is dynamic, spell-binding and worthy of observation and study.

In any case, the Anna's Hummingbirds appear to be quite a competitive challenge for the Rufous Hummingbirds. The Anna's arrive at most breeding territories first and they spend less energy getting there. It is clearly to their advantage, as long as they can survive the winters.

Surprisingly, for a bird originating in California, Anna's Hummingbirds can enter a state of torpor, during especially cold weather. Looking closely at the bird from our first photo we can also see some behavioral adaptions to the cold. For example, the fluffed feathers and the eyes partially closed, both of which may help to retain heat.

Regarding a scientific temperature test BNA states, 'The torpid birds were inactive, feathers fluffed, eyes closed, bill pointed upward; 90 minutes were required for an immature, injured bird to enter torpor at an ambient temperature of 2 (degrees) C...' 

During the snowstorm, our outdoor temperature was in the same range, however, I did not see any hummingbirds which appeared to be in torpor. Most likely this was because there was an adequate supply of food, which provided sufficient energy to combat the cold. I did notice one other curious potentially, cold-related behavior, e.g. the whitish accumulation of nectar near the end of the bird's bill.

Occasionally, I also saw hummingbirds with their eyes fully closed, but it was the nectar that I found most thought-provoking. I cannot remember any avian species which allows its bill to get 'dirty' and stay that way. Cleanliness is critical to the health of almost all birds.

During the snowstorm, I also saw more male hummingbirds than females. Mature males have the dark hoods which reflect brilliantly when they are at just the right angle. They also tend to be more aggressive and territorial.

In addition to the whitish spec on the bill, the color of the tail feathers on Anna's Hummingbirds are also worth observing.

Sporadic red reflective feathers about the head - where the 'hood' will ultimately develop - are generally an indicator of an immature male.

Distinguishing young males from adult females can be tricky. Females generally only have red reflective feathers on their throats, although exceptions are possible. Since young males can sometimes reflect primarily from the neck area certainty is not always possible.

One exception is during the nesting season. You can be virtually positive that a bird with neck-only reflectors while sitting on a nest, is female. Males, and especially young males, do not normally participate in brooding.

Do these tail feathers differ from those you noticed earlier? 

Mature females have progressively larger white spots on the terminal ends of their outer tail feathers. Although, even here, immature males can sometimes have somewhat similar coloring. 

This final set of photos were taken, on Thursday, after the snow melted,

In these next three photos, the hummingbird was perched on the same branch as the male bird during the snowstorm (in photos six through eight). I suspect the bird in this photo is a female. She was wiping her bill on the branch e.g. feaking.

First, she wiped one side and then the other.

The result was a perfectly clean bill. Apparently, when the weather is cold cleanliness becomes a lower priority.


However, once things warm up a bit, their eyes open wide, their feathers are less fluffed and in general...

...they have more time and energy to keep their bills clean and functional.

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

Larry


Recommended Citation

Clark, C. J. and S. M. Russell (2012). Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.226



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 does this bee belong to? Is it native to our area?













Scroll down for the answer.














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Black-tailed Bumble Bee: This Bombus Melanopygus was active in spite of the cold and appears to be native to most of the western half of North America. Click on the highlighted name of the bee to read more. I assume the hummingbirds leave the bees alone because of the danger from a sting. As explained in the next to last paragraph at The Hummingbird Society.














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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, January 11, 2020

A Winter Thrush

When we sense danger, like a bird, we may freeze for a moment. Our adrenaline pumps, our minds race and we rapidly consider alternative strategies of escape. I suspect the experience for birds is similar - but more intense. Since they are smaller than us, they have more to fear. Internally, I suspect they vibrate at a higher speed. I wonder if the average bird feels like a human who has consumed six cups of fully caffeinated coffee. Their survival depends on their constant awareness and split-second decisions. 

(When we startle a bird the best thing we can do is nothing. Don't move, don't make a noise, don't even stare. Wait and watch - out of the corner of your eye. When the bird returns to feeding, or whatever it was doing, then quietly and slowly move on or assume a more relaxed position.) 

Varied Thrush reproduce in forests, preferably old-growth forests. They are accustomed to clean air, dappled shadows, cool floating mists and silence. The city seems like an odd place to find them and yet they are often here. 

The American Robin, also a Thrush - e.g. a member of the Turdidae family - is a relative of similar size and color. In the fall, the Varied Thrush can occasionally be spotted in the city feeding with Robins on the same types of fruit. Given their preference for quiet the Varied Thrush are likely to be a bit more in the shadows and often further away then the Robins. They are elusive and shy.

September 30th is one of my earliest fall photos of a Varied Thrush. 

Even in October, the Varied Thrush still looks a little out of place when photographed in front of bright green leaves.

However, the fruit they find in the city must be virtually irresistible.

By mid-November, the leaves are turning to autumn colors. 

The Varied Thrush blend in beautifully among fall leaves. The male birds tend to have more black coloring, which I find most obvious around the face. (This is also true for American Robins.)

Among females, their 'black' coloring has more of a faded, brownish tone. No doubt it helps them blend in with their surroundings.

In my experience, I find the Varied Thrush generally silent during the late Fall and Winter. However, in the early Autumn, when walking through the Arboretum just after dawn, you can often hear their lonely, heartbreaking songs. The sounds transport me to the dim, sanctuary of an old-growth forest. These are the songs I would expect to hear on distant mountains especially during the early part of the breeding season. 

To me, the piercing song sounds like two gentle notes, just a half step apart and perfectly even in volume, and yet softly fighting for vibrational dominance. If you Click Here you will be transported to All About Birds where you can play a Gerrit Vyn recording. The second and third sets of tones seem most similar to our local birds. (For some odd reason if you want to replay the song more than once you must reload the page.)

In December, after most of the leaves have fallen, the Varied Thrushes are somewhat more obvious.

Their beauty feels like nature's reward for being out and about in cold, wet weather and looking closely at every bird which gives the cursory impression of being an American Robin.

By late December, the available fruit has diminished.

By January, the fruit is looking like raisins that have passed their prime.

I love this photo of their 'fruit-eating' tongue. It looks exactly like the tongue of a Cedar Waxwing and serves the same purpose. The 'fish hook' on the back of the tongue helps to push the fruit down their throats.

My latest in the year, city-photo of a Varied Thrush, shows a female on March the 4th. Which fits with the idea that males leave first to find and defend their breeding territories. Birds of North America states that 'Males arrive on breeding grounds earlier than females and begin singing almost immediately to establish territories.

The earliest reference given for this quote refers to, 'Jewett, S. G., W. P. Taylor, and J. W. Aldrich (1953). Birds of Washington State, University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington, USA.'

My friend and Master Birder, Dave Galvin, has noticed Varied Thrush appearing in the Cascade Mountains in late March and early April. He calls this vertical migration. Birds of North America concurs. It states, 'In much of its range, it appears that naevius (the coastal subspecies) migrates attitudinally from lowland areas to adjacent coastal mountains, but some north-south migration occurs as well.'

Seattle Audubon's Birdweb (under the 'Find in Washington' tab) shows that the Varied Thrush becomes uncommon in the Puget Trough between May and August. Since during the last few years I have seldom been in the mountains, I did not expect to find any breeding season photos of Varied Thrush in my database. However, in 2017, my friend Rob Thomas and I hiked through the center of the Olympic Mountains. 

Near Low Divide, elevation 3602', I photographed this young Varied Thrush. Notice how the feathers are short and of uniform length. Mature birds do not generally grow all new feathers at the same time. The brown coloring may indicate it is a female or it might be a young male who has not yet achieved breeding age or plumage.


Even young birds need to keep their feathers properly arranged and clean.

By visiting All About Birds, and scrolling down to the Conservation heading, you can see that Varied Thrush species have decreased in abundance by 73 percent between 1966 and 2015. This correlates with a decrease in old-growth forest, their prime breeding habitat. 

When we protect the forests around us we protect the richness of our life experience and that of future generations as well.

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

Larry


Recommended Citation

George, T. L. (2000). Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.541


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 tree native to the Pacific Northwest? What species is it?













Scroll down for the answer.














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Western Hemlock: It is a common native tree that occurs generally to about 3500 feet, close to the elevation of the Low Divide in the Olympics. However, from what I read about the Olympics on Wikipedia, in the drier central and eastern portion of the Olympics, e.g. west of Mt. Olympus, Western Hemlocks extends significantly higher. 

In general, the easiest way to distinguish the Western Hemlock from the Mountain Hemlock is the size of their cones. The Western Hemlock cones are generally less than an inch in length while the Mountain Hemlock cones are usually longer than an inch. Although, since no cones are visible in this photo, this difference is not very helpful in this particular instance.












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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