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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

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.














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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.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

"X" Marks The Spot

As a pair of birds crossed Montlake Cut, my eye followed their trajectory. They landed in a coniferous tree to my east. The second bird was a crow. I was less certain about the first. Before I reached the tree, two crows flew out, circled and landed nearby. My hope for some avian excitement faded.

I was almost passed the tree when I glanced back over my shoulder. I caught a surprising glimpse of a small predator sitting silently in the shadows. My initial thought was Cooper's Hawk, however even in poor light, I quickly noticed that the tail did belong on an accipiter.

A young Cooper's Hawk may have a light (or white) coloring on the tip of the tail - as shown here. However, the light bars on the upper portion of the tail are not white and certainly not thin. Accipiters, including our local Sharp-shinned Hawks, also have much longer tails than the bird in the first photo.

A mature Cooper's generally has less whitish coloring on the tips of its tail feathers. However, when their tail feathers are backlit the lighter barring can appear almost white. In any case, with Cooper's Hawks, the bars are wide and the tails are long, unlike the bird in the shadow.

Suddenly, I became aware of the small birds around me. I could hear a Black-capped Chickadee, an alarmed Bewick's Wren and I could see a highly observant Dark-eyed Junco staring intently at the small, dark predator. All About Birds says, "The more dee notes in a chickadee-dee-dee call the higher the threat." I heard seven in a row.

Finally, a shaft of sunlight found the perched predator. The dark eye offset by the pale yellow ring, the pointed wingtips that crossed and the multiple thin, light bars on the tail made it obvious, the bird was a Merlin. I am sure the Junco arrived at this conclusion much faster than I did. For the Junco, this type of awareness can mean the difference between life or death. 

The Merlin was watching everything. It glanced up, most likely watching for the crows.

It glanced down. Checking out the small birds. It may have been making sure they were not upset by some other nearby threat. At that point, the light hit its bill. Finally, I noticed the red color and realized that coloring did not originate with this bird. I am sure the Junco was already well aware of the blood on the bill. 


One last comparison to a perched Cooper's Hawk, notice how the wingtips stay on their respective sides of the bird's body. Unlike, with the Merlin, they do not come close to crossing or touching.

Glancing below the branch, I finally noticed the tail and feet of a smaller bird. My respect for the observation skills of the Junco continued to increase.

Once the Merlin felt relatively safe, it resumed plucking and feeding

There are three subspecies of Merlin in North America.  The Black Merlin, residing in the Pacific Northwest, is a stationary, year-round resident. (Maybe we should be thankful for those warm winter rains.) The other two Merlin subspecies migrate south during winter.


During the feeding process, the tail of the prey was briefly exposed to sunlight. I began wondering if I would see enough to identify the species of the prey.

The Merlin continued to keep a watchful eye on its surroundings.

Later, while reviewing the photos, I found an angle where I can just barely make out light-colored spots on tips of the feathers on the back of the bird being consumed. I can think of only one bird, with these types of spots, and especially, this time of year.

I suspect the prey was a European Starling. Given that starlings are invasive and chase  native birds out of their nest sites my empathy for the starling passed quickly.

It looked like the Merlin had consumed about half of the starling by the time the crows returned. They came in quietly, hopping from branch to branch among the shadows. The Merlin watched their approach but did not appear nervous. They ended up directly above the Merlin.

Finally, a crow dived. It descended directly at the Merlin. The Merlin called out loudly as it took flight. I could not see the action. However, I circled a dividing hedge in time to see the Crow eating three or four small bites of food. Apparently, the Merlin escaped with the bulk of the remaining food. 


Earlier, as the Merlin moved about, the sunlight fell on its crossed wingtips and projected a shadow on the upper tail. Even when not in use, the sharply-pointed primaries of this small falcon were evident. I smiled at the thought, "X marks the Merlin". 

This photo of a Peregrine Falcon implies, it might be more appropriate to say, "X marks the Falcon. Actually, in most of my perched peregrine photos, the wingtips are generally not crossed. A question for a future post might be, Do any other predatory birds have wingtips that frequently cross?

Surprising Fact: According to the weight ranges listed on All About Birds, the largest Peregrine Falcon (most likely female) can weigh tens times as much as the smallest Merlin (most likely male).


It may be impossible to know what a bird feels, but in my opinion, the Merlin behaved fearlessly. It stood its ground, as long as possible. Even though it was facing two larger opponents, who were intent on stealing its lunch. The Merlin's screech sounded more like anger than fear. Plus, the Merlin was strong enough and fast enough to carry significant weight and still escape the Crows. 

Not surprising my previous post about a Merlin also included Crow harassment. Click Here to read about it. Crows may be larger and possibly the more intelligent species. However, one on one, I would bet on the Merlin.

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

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 moth is this? Is it native to our area? 












Scroll down for the answer.














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Sorry, that was a trick question. Last month, when I took the photo I really thought I was looking at a moth. Much to my surprise, the matching photo I found was on page 342 of Merrill A. Peterson's 'Pacific Northwest Insects', under Brush-footed Butterflies. They are native to the area. The scientific name is Nymphalis Californica. For more information Click Here. Note: Depending on which photo is displayed, when you get to the linked website, you may need to page through a couple to see a similar example.









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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 photo of a young Cooper's Hawk. 

 
Notice the graduated length of the tail feathers - unlike what you would see with a Sharp-shinned Hawk.