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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Oh See WA

Orange-crowned Warblers are beautiful and inspiring. They commonly arrive in the Spring to breed in our area, however, they follow the sunshine and migrate south when our skies begin to turn gray in the Fall.

Their song is similar to a Chipping Sparrow - who missed his morning coffee. The song noticeably trails off at the end. Follow This Link to All About Birds and play the seventh recording (from Oregon) to hear an excellent example. After this, you may want to follow This Link and play the first Chipping Sparrow song (from California) for a nice comparison.

They nest and often feed close to the ground. From a birding perspective, this does make them somewhat easier to see. In spite of thick foliage and quick movements, at least, they are often at eye level. 

On the other hand, low nests can be easily disturbed or raided by a variety of creatures, including outdoor cats and off-leash dogs. This is true for all of our ground-nesting birds. Concern for their defenseless eggs and immobile young is especially valid from Earth Day, when the bulk of nesting is getting underway, until Independence Day, at which point many young birds have fledged.


So far, I have never photographed one of their orange crowns. From the front...


...or from the back, somehow the crown still eludes me.

The seventh slide on All About Birds does show that their crowns really do exist and can even be photographed. Hopefully, my persistence will pay off someday.


Another bird with a 'challenging' name is the Ring-necked Duck (RNDU). The ring is normally hidden.

Females (there is one on the left) do not have ringed necks. Plus, even if the males are sitting at the correct angle and the light is reasonably good the density of the color in the ring is so similar to the black on their heads and chests that it can be nearly impossible to see.

By zooming in and brightening the shadows, I can almost see the wine-colored ring around this bird's neck. However, I am not exactly certain how much imagination is involved.

Occasionally, when very lucky, I can document a portion of the ring. In this case, it is visible just above the chest.

The other classic example of this type of naming challenge is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (RCKI). Luckily, they are here in the Wintertime when there are fewer leaves to obstruct the view. In this photo, you can see just a hint of the bird's ruby crown on the back of its upturned head. 

I am still hoping to someday catch a photo of one of their crowns fully extended. Although, that may be challenging because I suspect they show off their crowns most often during the breeding season, which they spend in the mountains.

At least, with the Orange-crowned Warbler, there are some other aspects of its plumage that can be helpful. For example, the subtle stripes on its chest. 

They too are not always visible and shadows can make them rather difficult to distinguish.

 Orange-crowned Warblers love the small creatures which inhabit new Spring growth.

Well-camouflaged little caterpillars are probably critical to both them and their young.

Another important characteristic, which helps me to identify Orange-crowned Warblers, are their broken eye-rings.   

The rings are split by a subtle dark line that appears to run directly through the eye. There are other warblers with a somewhat similar arrangement, however, a good glimpse of the eye ring can help to eliminate both the Yellow and Wilson's Warblers as possibilities.

In total, there are four sub-species of Orange-crowned Warblers in North America. Our local subspecies is the brightest in color. I find their relative brightness surprising because our subspecies of Black-capped Chickadees (BCCH) and Downy Woodpeckers (DOWO) are some of the darkest on the continent. I have thought the darkness was due to the clouds in our area, however, if that is true then what is the reason for the sunny, bubbling, brightness of our Orange-crowned Warblers. 

The only thought that comes to mind is that the BCCH and DOWO are here year-round, so they get the complete winter darkness experience. Perhaps, having a relatively darker plumage helps hide them from predators - especially when the leaves have fallen. In the case of the Orange-crowned Warbler, they are only here during the brightest months of our year. Plus, during winter they reside in sunny places like Mexico or California where their relative brightness may be their most effective camouflage.

Curiously, the brightest spot on the Orange-crowned Warbler's body is in the last place I would expect - under the tail. The under tail coverts cover the unfeathered base of the tail feathers. I really can't imagine how having your brightest feathers in one of your most hidden locations is beneficial. I suppose this is just another example of why I find nature endlessly fascinating.

You may still be wondering about the title to this week's post, 'Oh See WA'. It kind of looks like some kind of surprising reference to seeing the state of Washington, but it's not. There is a logical link to Orange-crowned Warblers. If you don't have time to figure it out, scroll to the bottom of this post and I will explain.

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 is this? Is it native to Western Washington?

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











Scroll down for the answer.














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











Yellow-rumped Warbler: These are both the same species. However, they are two different subspecies. The first, with the white throat, is one of the Myrtle subspecies. The second, with the yellow throat, belongs to the Audubon's subspecies. They can be found year-round in our area but their number dramatically increase this time of year as massive number migrate north to breed. In addition, their colors are particularly vibrant during the breeding season i.e. right now.














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








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



Long before Twitter, birders figured out that codes were a quick way to help document the birds they saw. The commonly accepted four-letter code for an Orange-crowned Warbler is OCWA. Similar to the RNDU and the RCKI, the Orange-crowned Warbler's code comes from the first letter of each of its hyphenated names plus the first two letters from its last name. OCWA inspired the rather cryptic title to this post, 'Oh See WA'.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Hope Returns

This is Hope. She and her mate, Stewart, successfully incubated, hatched out and raised one young osprey in 2019. We named it, Rama. This all took place in their nest just south of the QFC at University Village. Specifically, the nest is on the south side of 45th Street on top of the northern light pole above the intramural activities (IMA) soccer field. I suspect Rama was their first offspring.

This belief is base on the fact that in 2018 they only half-finished their nest and they did not appear to do any actual egg-laying or incubating. Stewart is on the right. (Mature males generally have pure white chests.)

In 2019, about a quarter-mile to the south our older osprey pair, Chester and Lacey, appeared to be on course to lay eggs for the fourth year. Their nest is on the osprey platform at the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA). This photo shows Lacey, the female of the pair at the nest site begging Chester for food in early May of 2019. 

It is interesting to compare the faintly brown smudge of coloring on her chest with the crisp dark brown spots on Hope's chest (in the first photo above). The difference is distinctive.

Sadly, Lacey did not settle on eggs in mid-May, as she has done in previous years. This might be related to the fact that in 2018 her young did not survive the summer. 

So far, this photo, taken above the UW Baseball field in June of 2019, is my last photo of Lacey. I believe she apparently left the Union Bay area in mid-summer in 2019.

Chester seemed to hang around longer. However, in early fall, when the weather begins to turn cold, fish move to deeper water which makes it harder for osprey to catch them. So, the osprey fly south and generally do not return to our area until April of the following year. This leaves us with some major mysteries for 2020.
  • Will both pairs return to the Union Bay area?
  • Will both pairs produce offspring?
  • Will their offspring successfully fledge?
It may be a big advantage for Hope and Stewart that their nest site is not located near the Union Bay shore. Bald eagles love to hunt along the water's edge and they also enjoy being apex predators, which includes stealing fish from the osprey.

As a matter of fact, Friday morning, this immature Bald Eagle was in a tree just north of the UBNA osprey platform. In contrast, I do not ever remember seeing a bald eagle perched this close to Hope and Stewart's nest, even though it is fairly close.

Click Here to visit my Union Bay map that displays these nesting locations. The osprey nest sites are shown with yellow stars.


On April 8th, I saw my first osprey of 2020. It flew east above the UBNA. As my friend, Jeff later pointed out it was carrying a fish. I did not get a close look at the osprey. However, since it did not stop to feed near either of our two local nest sites, I suspect it did not belong to either of our established Union Bay pairs of osprey.

Last Sunday at dawn, I happened to stop within sight of the osprey platform at the UBNA. I watched a female dive into the water twice. The second time she came up with a fish. She flew north. I followed. She stopped and ate the fish on top of a light pole immediately southeast of Hope and Stewart's nest. This made me suspect she was Hope. Osprey have a high level of site fidelity. They may travel thousands of miles during migration but in the Spring the same two ospreys generally return to the exact same nest they used the year before.

On Tuesday, for the first time this year, I photographed Hope and Stewart back at their nest, just south of QFC. I cannot be absolutely positive they are the same two ospreys, but their timely return to the same site increases my confidence. Plus, Hope's dark bib on her chest fits perfectly with her photos from previous years.

Friday morning, they were both still there. Sadly, with the field closure, my photo is rather distant.

I finally decided to approach the nest from the sidewalk on the south side of 45th Street. The angle is not optimal but it was the best I could do. 

As I watched a maintenance person drove up and stopped below the nest. He picked up an armful of sticks, loaded them into his vehicle and carried them away. I felt a little bad for the osprey. I was sad to see them drop so many sticks. I wondered if the removal of the sticks would make their nest rebuilding more challenging. However, they normally take dead branches from nearby treetops - instead of retrieving them from the ground.

(Afterwards, I learned that the maintenance person has been picking up an daily armload of sticks from below the nest.) 

Almost immediately, Stewart lifted off from the nest. If you look closely you can see little pieces of grass falling away from his talons. I wonder if this pair is already bringing in soft nest-lining material. If the grass was leftover from last year I am thinking it should have decomposed by now.


I could not resist zooming in on his talons to show how curved, sharp and perfectly adapted they are for catching fish.

Stewart put my mind at ease. He hardly even slowed down as he broke a branch off the top of a nearby tree.


As he carried the stick back toward the nest my hope for their future steadily increased.

Emotions are funny things. Watching him approach the nest was like seeing a plan in action. Noticing how capable he is, observing his direct and purposeful approach made my hope grow.

I breathed a sigh of relief as my concern for this pair of osprey diminished. My shoulders relaxed a bit and a smile crossed my face.

Without any effort on my part, my hope for their 2020 reproductive effort transformed into faith. 

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I believe they will successfully nest again this year. 

On the other hand, I have seen no sign of Chester or Lacey. My hope for their nesting success continues to fade with each passing day. When and if they return, I would expect to see them resting in the trees north of the UBNA nesting platform, catching fish, eating on the light poles above the UW Baseball Facility (or in the trees), mating with each other and bringing sticks to the nesting platform. 

Stewart and Hope might do a few of these things in the same area. However, the key is where do they go when they are done. Tentatively identifying osprey requires paying attention to their site fidelity. Where do they go to eat? Where do they sit when they are full? Do they bring sticks to a particular nest? Where are they sitting at the end of the day?

During the next couple of weeks, feel free to send me an email, with the time, location and activity, if you see any sign of Chester or Lacey near the UBNA nest site.



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 is this? Is it native to Western Washington?











Scroll down for the answer.














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












Scotch Broom: This invasive, stinky, non-native plant is on the Washington State plant quarantine list. Click on the highlighted name to learn more.














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








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


For those who read this far here is a photo of Hope at the nest in July of 2019.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Courage

Chestnut-backed Chickadees are the less common, slightly smaller, cousins of the Black-capped Chickadees. Neither species is particularly migratory, although the Chestnut-backed may move up and down the mountains depending on the weather. The Black-capped Chickadees exist coast-to-coast in North America, while the Chestnuts are mostly found in the western portions of Pacific Coast states and British Columbia. This All About Birds map shows that they also reside in a smaller area in the Northern Rockies.

I discovered this nest-building pair while taking a short, solitary walk near my home with my daughter's dog, Ginger.

The chickadees were excavating their nest in the shadows just behind the small limb. Over and over, they cautiously removed a single beak-full of soft decaying wood and carried it away from the nest site.

They were very industrious and focused. They carefully rotated the selected sites for dropping the chips from overhead branches.

I was surprised to see one of the chickadees fly over and shoo a slightly larger Yellow-rumped Warbler out of a nearby tree. Apparently, their nest site comes with an invisible territorial boundary that requires courage and enforcement.

I was less surprised when I saw a male Downy Woodpecker land on the same snag. Over the years, I have seen Downy Woodpeckers nest in this snag multiple times. 

Finding this little old snag still standing may actually have been my biggest surprise of the Spring. The continued use of the snag emphasizes that the older and softer the wood the better for cavity-nesting birds.

The male woodpecker (note the red on the back of his head) quickly hitched his way up the snag, stopping just below the Chickadee site. The Downy fired off a number of lengthy, loud, bone-rattling attacks on the tree. With all of the holes from previous nests to amplify the sound, the rat-a-tat-tat from the little Downy sounded more like a Northern Flicker. 

Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest of our local woodpeckers. Four Downy Woodpeckers would still weight less than a single Northern Flicker. However, a single Downy outweighs both of the Chestnut-backed Chickadees combined. In this context, I feared for Chickadees. I wondered if the Downy might save a little work by taking over their nest site and sending the smaller Chickadees on their way.

When a raccoon, descending from a tree on the far side of the clearing, appeared to be heading for the little snag I was almost certain that the Chickadee's luck had run out. Thankfully, the raccoon took a turn toward the water and ended up climbing a small conifer. Apparently, the raccoon had been sleeping during the day and not paying much attention to its neighbors. The conifer was very close to a nest being assembled by American Crows. The corvid harassment was basically instantaneous.

In just a few moments the raccoon was down out of the conifer and scurrying back across the clearing to its original resting site. Once it settled back into the fork of the tree, which was probably still warm, the crows turned and left it alone.

The next visitor was this Brown Creeper. It worked its way up the snag looking for insects. The Chickadee site is fairly far up the tree so it was not surprising for the creeper to abandon the snag when it got near the top. Brown Creepers almost always work a tree from bottom to top.

In spite of the resounding rhythms of the Downy, the raucous raccoon reception and the visiting creeper the courageous little Chestnut-backed Chickadees simply resumed their nest-building.  

With wings closed, from over a foot away, the Chickadee dives into the nest site looking as though it was fired from a canon. 

A few days later, the persistent little Chickadees were still working on the site. By working together they will finish the nest twice as fast. Once it is complete they will have a safe spot to lay their eggs, hatch out their young and give the next generation a good start in life.

In times like these, with uncertainty seeming to surround us on all sides, I find the courage and cooperation demonstrated by these little Chestnut-backed Chickadees, refreshing and inspiring. Life is always a struggle but when we work together we increase our odds of success.

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 is this? Is it native to Western Washington?











Scroll down for the answer.














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






Eastern Cottontail: It is non-native. I believe the rabbits we commonly see around Seattle are generally the Eastern Cottontail, the exceptions being an occasionally-released European Rabbit. Click on the highlighted name to see the ranges of all the various rabbit species that reside in Washington State. (Once you get to the Burke Museum screen, clicking on a species name will bring up the appropriate range map.)













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








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



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











As a reward for reading this far here is a female Downy seen near the Chestnut Chickadee nest.

While digging through my old photos I stumbled upon this photo of a male Downy look into an active Pileated Woodpecker nesting cavity. I hope the poor bird's ego recovered enough that it could still reproduce.