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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Fall Elegance

For most of the year, birds are the primary subjects of my photos, and normally trees play a supporting role. 

In the Fall, the brilliant color of the trees spawns a dramatic change. A change that is especially noticeable in the Arboretum with hundreds of species from all over the world. Instead of searching primarily for birds, I begin looking for the most colorful trees, like this Japanese Maple. After which, I simply hope the birds choose to visit the most colorful trees. 

Sometimes, with the leafless choices they make, I feel like the birds are laughing at me.

This Yellow-rumped Warbler, searching for food among yellow leaves, seemed to tantalize me with the possibility of a truly optimal Fall photo. However, it did not choose to linger or pose as I had hoped.

This Varied Thrush naturally complimented a different set of Autumn colors, plus, it even posed for the photo.

In mid-October, Monty settled onto a branch in the nest tree directly in front of me.

While he ate his lunch, which was a fish, he occasionally stopped. He was apparently checking to make sure he and his food were safe. I have always found it interesting that the bills of mature Bald Eagles are so similar in color to the first yellow leaves on cottonwood trees.

I keep wondering if fall colors create any natural advantages for trees. Click Here to read more about the particular colors associated with specific varieties of trees. Scientists clearly understand how the color changes occur as deciduous trees stop converting sunlight to energy, the green from the chlorophyll disappears, and other colors are revealed, while the trees pull their sugary sap into their roots for safe winter storage. 

Could there be more to the story? Why does a Ginkgo biloba turn so quickly to a nearly perfectly uniform yellow?

Why does the green linger so long in the Cypress?

Why do the leaves of some species skip yellow and go directly to red? 

We can scientifically explain it is because they have more anthocyanins in their leaves and fewer carotenoids. However, that simply explains the how, not the why? What are the benefits to each species of trees for the color components that we perceive as "leftover" when winter approaches?

Why do fruits turn colors, seems like a similar question. 

Since Bushtits eat primarily insects I doubt that they care much about the color of the fruit. 

However, when clumps of Ocean Spray turn brown in late Summer, the Bushtits know it is a good time to inspect them for small insects.

If a Cedar Waxwing could talk I suspect it would say, "When fruit changes color I know it is ripe." 

Among birds, the brightest colors tend to signal that the males are in good health and ready to breed. The mottled male in the foreground is not ready to mate, while the one on the right is fully advertising his readiness.

These birds were part of a dozen Mallards near Foster Island. They were all aligned and focused in the same direction.

They were intently staring at this Raccoon who I suspect was checking for freshwater mollusks beneath this log. When the Raccoon turned tail and disappeared, the Mallards relaxed and resumed their feeding.

Nearby was another male Mallard. This bird was just beginning the conversion from eclipse plumage to breeding plumage. My singular key to identifying its gender was the yellow bill.

Even though Mallards are quite common this may be my best Fall photo. It shows a male in full breeding plumage while surrounded by the reflection of yellow leaves on the water's surface.

This photo of a mottled male Wood Duck who is almost but not quite in breeding plumage, just makes me smile. It looks like he rolled out of bed and left the house without checking the mirror.

We are left to wonder what messages might colorful leaves be sending?

From our perspective we hear, Winter is coming.

My wife, Shelley, suggests, "God may be helping us make an emotional adjustment to the short, gray days of Winter."

I wonder if we were to study the function of these colors in their native ecosystems, might there be something more to learn.

Nonetheless, I am in awe of the colors...

...even though, I do not yet speak the language of trees.

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


Going Native:

Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. 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 native 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.

Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)

Another idea that integrates perfectly with living in harmony with nature is the concept of Forest Gardening. Native Americans collected and nurtured dense multi-layered gardens of native herbs, plants, shrubs, and trees that produced food and herbal medicines. Even after 150 years of no maintenance, the gardens are essentially intact and the diversity of life remains significantly higher than in the surrounding forests. Click Here to learn more.

 Which species of bird is this? Is it native to Union Bay? Is it male or female?

Scroll down for the answer.


American Wigeon: Yes, they are native to Union Bay. They are most commonly seen in the colder months and can often be found out in the middle of Union Bay stealing milfoil from the American Coots. The green eyestripe is an obvious indication that this is a male Wigeon.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years, I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements. As of 2021,
 Google has discontinued the service.

In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:

                Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list. 

Thank you for your patience and interest!

My email address is:  



Final Photos:

A Common Raven in a Bigleaf Maple...

...apparently, eating the moss.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautuful selection of fall colors and birds. It's such a wonderful time of year. I think it does give us a nice lift into the next season. Thanks Larry!