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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Steller's Delight

What do you see in this photo? 

The obvious response is a mature Steller's Jay, perched on a log, above its reflection in the water. Do you see any clues to its recent behavior? 
 
Here is a closer look. 

By the way, Click Here if you would like to read how this species got its name. Look in the second bullet under "Cool Facts".

Did you notice the clumped, wet-looking feathers on its head and just above the legs? 

If you inferred that the bird was recently submerged, Congratulations! Well done.

When I see a bathing bird I immediately hope for a perfectly in-focus photo with our avian subject surrounded by a misty cloud of droplets. Somehow, reality always seems to fall a little short. Still, I continue to enjoy the challenge and nature continues to provide surprises.

While watching the jay, I noticed an American Robin hopping steadily closer. The robin was obviously focused on the bathing bird.

The wet jay paused briefly before moving into the pose in the first photo - above. See the update below for more bathing Steller's Jays - Thank you to Dennis Paulson!

In my bathing-bird fantasy, the jay would be spreading its wings and tail to assist the sunlight in drying its feathers. In reality. this dry-land, sunbathing jay photo was from a year before and a half-mile away. I just couldn't resist sharing.

Apparently, birds are influenced by the power of visual suggestion. As soon as the jay was out of the water the robin jumped in.

This mist is closer to my bird-bathing fantasy. However, since the dark back and head of the robin nearly disappears against the backdrop of gravel and rocks I am still searching for the optimal bird-bathing photo.

This week, I was inspired to write about Steller's Jays after watching them harvesting live, green acorns out of oak trees in the Arboretum.

At the first tree, where I was watching the Steller's Jays at work, I noticed an Eastern Gray Squirrel approaching on the ground. Squirrels also love acorns. A moment later, from the top of the tree, I heard what sounded like a Red-tailed Hawk. Although, it did seem to have a bit of an oddly raspy inflection which reminded me of a Steller's Jay. Almost immediately the squirrel popped out on the far side of the tree, still on the ground. The squirrel did not linger. It appeared to leave the tree without any of the acorns. It may have all been a coincidence but I suspect the jay successfully scared off the squirrel. This type of behavior seems like an obvious indication of superior intelligence.

In the past, I have watched Steller's Jays pick whole acorns off of a tree (or off of the ground) and carry them away in their bills.

I do not remember watching them pluck...

 ...and pull...

 ...at the supporting twig...

...and then carry the nut away... 

...while using the twig like a handle. 

When I was able to track the jay with an acorn, it would generally fly into an evergreen tree, like a Western Red Cedar. 

It would quickly disappear into the safety of the shadows, surrounded by foliage. In the past, I have watched them land on horizontal branches where they will hold the acorn with their feet and open it by striking it with their bill.

I suspect at other times they disappear into the shadows to hide the acorns for winter consumption.

This winter photo reminds me that Steller's Jays are year-round residents throughout their range. 

Their coastal range extends from Southeast Alaska to Northern California. However, they also reside in and around the inland mountains of Southwestern Canada, the Western United States, Western Mexico, and even as far south as Nicaragua. They move up and down the mountains depending on the weather. Some migration is known to occur but not enough to show up on any of the range maps that I could locate.

In this July photo, I noticed feathers of vary lengths, most obvious in the crest but also along the shoulder, chest, and wing. Steller's Jays are likely to be molting throughout the summer but July is their prime time for growing new feathers.

This was the same day but most likely a different bird. Its crest also has some feathers of odd lengths. I believe the bird is cleaning its bill on the branch in this photo - which is a process called "feaking".

On the same July day, I also watched Steller's Jays harvesting Beaked Hazelnuts. Half hidden below the leaves you can see how hazelnuts generally grow in units of two.

By the way, Hazelnut leaves have some of the softest leaves in the forest. This can be useful information to help with identification and other more mundane tasks.

Even though they are obviously green, the jays evidently think the nuts are close enough to ripe by the end of July.

They remove the husks in the same manner that they remove acorn shells. My neighbors say their local pair also loves peanuts. My understanding is that Steller's Jays will eat almost anything that provides nutrition. They seem to be quite flexible when it comes to finding food. 

Steller's Jays are members of the Corvid family as are American Crows and Common Ravens. Corvids are quite intelligent and apparently able to easily adapt to our inadvertent ecological impacts. 

All About Birds quotes the North American Breeding Bird survey which says, "Steller's Jay populations have remained relatively stable...from 1966 through 2015..." Crows have also maintained their populations while the counts of ravens are increasing. 

At a time when many avian species are in decline, this makes me wonder if challenging times creates a natural selection for intelligence.

By the way, during our Master Birder Class (from Seattle Audubon) Dennis Paulson pointed out that the angle of a Steller's Jay's crest is indicative of their emotional state. My perception is that a vertical crest indicates agitation while a horizontal one communicates peaceful well-being. Sometimes, I wish human emotions were that easy to read.

Of course, Steller's Jays have another advantage in addition to intelligence.

They also have brilliant and beautiful good-looks. It seems to me that Steller's Jays are winning the evolutionary lottery.

Have a good day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome

Larry

Bathing Update:

Dennis Paulson says, "...Here are some photos for you from our pond! Probably the same jay on two different days."  

I love these bathing jay photos! Larry
















Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors, and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

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










Which species of trees is this? Is it native to Union Bay?


 

 

 









Scroll down for the answer.









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










Ginkgo biloba  It is not a native tree. However, Steller's Jays seem perfectly able to figure out that the food is edible and useful.










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














The Email Challenge:


Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!


My email address is: LDHubbell@Comcast.Net





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






Here are a few more photos for those who persevere:




2 comments:

  1. Feaking? Wow, a new word for me and a google search (define feaking) didn't exactly pop up straight off. "Freaking" is what google thought I meant. I had to dig a bit and found it briefly referenced just a time or two on the first page of results. The Steller's Jays (usually just two, rarely 3 or 4) are among my most favorite of dependable visitors to my yard and deck where I simply toss out occasional handfuls of half peanut pieces on the floor of the deck from which they quickly scarf up as many as they can stuff in their crop. Twelve is the record so far while seven is average. If there is nothing out there when they come to visit, they often just fly up on top rail of the fence and simply "knock". "Knock-knock" or "knock-knock-knock" by quickly tapping their bill on the 2x4 wooden railing just to let me know they have arrived and waiting to be supplied with the usual peanut offering. Thanks for yet another wonderful post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent photos and story. Always look forward to your posts. Thanks Larry

    ReplyDelete