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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, December 4, 2021


For hundreds of years, artists, like Caravaggio, have used the concept of chiaroscuro (light vs dark) to highlight the central objects or people in their paintings. The contrast between a dark background and a light foreground certainly helps focus the attention.

This time of year, with short days, gray clouds and long dark nights, the occasional burst of sunshine feels incredibly refreshing. In those brief moments, I feel like I'm living in a chiaroscuro world. 

The Townsend's Warbler in this photo, from last January, is most likely a female or a young male. The adult males are much darker on the throat, crown, and facial stripes.

Here is an adult male. With females and young males, the dark parts of the head are generally the color of this bird's back.

On Sunday, while visiting the Winter Garden in the Arboretum, this single Townsend's Warbler revealed himself while inspecting the mahonia blossoms for food. 

Seeing this brilliant little bird felt almost like that burst of sunshine breaking through the clouds. Curiously, nature apparently uses the contrasting dark and light patterns to help obscure the shape of these birds. With the young and the females, the greater amount of greenish coloring must also help to hide them.

Here is an example, from last March. The Townsend's Warbler is very difficult to pick out against the background.

Zooming in makes it a bit easier.

The color of the Western Red Cedar foliage and the green on this bird blends together quite well. The dark black of a male might have been a little bit easier to pick out. Nonetheless, I still think the color pattern helps to hide these birds.

From a reproductive perspective, it makes sense that the male birds have the "louder" contrast to attract the attention of the females.

In any case, the male warbler I saw on Sunday seemed totally focused on finding food.

He hopped from one perch to next, stopped, looked to his left, to his right, and even straight up at one point.

I suspect he was primarily searching for insects since he was not just focused on the blossoms - unlike the Anna's Hummingbirds.

Here is a different example showing how the contrasting facial pattern helps to obscure the shape of the bird's head. 

The yellow crescent below the eye also caught my attention. 

Why does it exist? What value does it add?

Football players often put black grease below their eyes. Supposedly, the black color reduces glare. I wonder if the opposite situation might apply to the Townsend's Warbler?

Perhaps, since the warblers spend a lot of time in thick foliage, maybe their yellow crescents reflect light into their eyes which might help them to see better in the shade. 

On Monday, the same Warbler, or an extremely similar male, was back in the same Mahonia.

The plant is a hybrid variety named after Arthur Menzies.

The bird seemed to be looking for insects.

It would feed for a moment at one blossom in a clump.

Then move to a different tiny blossom not stopping to check the small flowers in between.

A moment later it was searching around among the branches.

It appeared to inspect areas without flowers as well.

On Wednesday, I briefly saw, potentially, the same one again... 

...and on Thursday.

Although this time, I saw something I had never noticed before. Twice, an Anna's Hummingbird swooped down at the Warbler and drove it away from a particular set of blossoms. The Warbler did not leave the bush on either occasion but it did move off the flowers that the Hummingbird was trying to protect. 

It makes me wonder if the Hummingbird was trying to protect the nectar in the flowers from being consumed or the insects in the area from being eaten by the Warbler. Regardless, I still found it heart-warming to repeatedly see such a sunny-looking Warbler in the Arboretum.


The following announcement tells how you can do some of your Holiday shopping and help support the Arboretum at the same time.

Arboretum Foundation Holiday Sale!

Gift examples include:

Wreaths, Ornaments, Stocking Stuffers (like Jewelry), Holiday Cards, Nature Books, Toys, Locally-produced Honey, and much more.

10am - 3pm, 
Saturday and Sunday 
(December 4th & 5th)

Graham Visitor Center, 2300 Arboretum Dr. E, Seattle WA 98112
Free parking and admission
Card and mobile payments only
Masks required - above the age of one

Click Here to visit the Facebook version


Have a good 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. (When 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.

Click Here to access a King County publication that explains the best placement for a wide variety of native plants. It looks extremely helpful.

Also, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is very 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.


In the area below it is my intention to display at least one photo each week to help challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

 Can you guess which species of tree this is?

It is a relatively small tree, in our area, and sometimes appears to have been twisted by the wind. The needles are generally up to 2 inches long and come in "packets" of two needles.

Scroll down for the answer.


Shore Pine (Pinus Contorta) Click on the name to learn more about this tree and its close family member, Lodgepole Pine.


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:

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