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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Monday, May 9, 2022

Surprise!

I was standing alone on a seldom-used trail in the Arboretum when a flicker of motion caught my attention. When I looked up, I was surprised to see a Black-throated Gray Warbler for the first time this year

Locally, the tiny yellow dot in front of the eye is unique to this species.

Only adult males have black throats. As I watched, it caught and ate a tiny insect. 

Sometimes birdwatching can be challenging. For example, birds make no allowances for our viewing angles.

It is always wise to be quiet when watching birds, especially when looking straight up. Logic implies that lighter birds, with the same amount of muscle and energy, should fly faster than heavier birds. Noise tends to scare birds. As a result, in the moment when a startled bird spreads its wings to fly, it will often lighten its load. This is also a good time to close your mouth.

Black-throated Gray Warblers generally winter in Mexico. However, they tend to breed in British Columbia and the Western United States, particularly to the west of the Cascades in Washington state. Click Here to see an animated display of their migration process.

After the Gray Warbler moved on, I spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler nearby. Even though we have Yellow-rumped Warblers (YRWA) here year-round, they are nonetheless migratory birds. As a matter of fact, unlike the Black-throated Grays, Yellow Rumps utilize nearly all of North America. Click Here to see their impressively widespread migration patterns.

Soon thereafter I noticed this Cassin's Vireo. One of the keys to identifying this species is its white "spectacles" around the eyes along with the black mark between the eye and the bill. 

Vireos tend to be heavier than warblers, have a more gray-green color, and less yellow. Their migration patterns are more similar to the Black-throated Gray Warblers than the Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Not long after this, I was forced indoors, while fighting a virus. Normally, in Spring I spend as many daylight hours as possible searching for birds and their nests around Union Bay. Being confined to the house temporarily brought my search to a stop. However, as often happens nature managed to deliver a surprise

I began watching the trees and birds in my yard. Many years ago when we moved into our house, we were attracted in part by two mature Japanese Maple trees on the property. 

The one near our front window is particularly well-suited to viewing birds. The moss-covered branches are full of tiny little lifeforms which attract Black-Capped Chickadees, Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and occasionally Steller's Jays. 

Over the years I considered adding more species of maple trees around the property. Initially, I really did not realize the superior value of native trees over introduced species. Two of the trees I added were Red Maples which are native to the eastern portion of North America. They do attract some birds, like this Warbling Vireo which stopped by this week.

The migration pattern of Warbling Vireos is most similar to that of the Yellow-rumped Warblers.

However, as I became more interested in birds I learned that native plants and trees can provide more nourishment than non-native trees. In addition, the food they provide is likely to be of the most appropriate type and at just the right time to meet the bird's needs. 

This knowledge helped inspire the planting of a native Vine Maple tree in our backyard. Vine Maples are small trees that were originally found in the dappled understory in our native forests, living shaded lives below Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Big Leaf Maple, and Western Red Cedars.

This week when I looked out at our little Vine Maple I was surprised to spot numerous native Wilson's Warblers looking for food. In the past, I usually only found Wilson's Warblers in the Arboretum or Interlaken Park, often in the Indian Plums and not far from water.

This week, for four or five days in a row, there have been Wilson's Warblers in our yard and most often they have been in the Vine Maple.

The satisfaction of seeing them in the yard feels like an exciting reward for planting the little native tree. 

Curiously, all the Wilson's Warblers I have seen lately have had black caps. According to most of my guide books, this would, theoretically, indicate they are adult males. Females are generally displayed as not having black caps. 

However, in the notes from my Seattle Audubon's Master Birder Class I recorded that 20 to 30 percent of females on the Pacific Coast also have black caps. Plus, Birdweb says, "The western Washington breeding race females have dark black caps." This implies that it could be closer to 100% of the local females who have black caps.

I have occasionally seen what looked like the guidebook's description of a female Wilson's Warbler. However, they have been few and far between.

I think the safest approach with Wilson's Warblers is to simply identify the species and let the birds do the gender determination. 

On the other hand, since they do breed in our area, observing mating behavior (during the next month or two) may be our only reliable chance to identify females.  Birds of the World says, "Pacific lowland populations usually nest in shrubs, well-concealed by surrounding vegetation, along streams or in moist coastal woodland."

Another fun behavior to be watching for is Wilson's Warblers singing. This photo was taken in mid-May of 2016. We may start hearing their songs almost any time. 

In the past, I would have assumed that the bird in this photo was male because of the black cap and because it was apparently singing to define its territory. However, it could be that neither assumption is correct. Click Here to read about a very interesting and eye-opening study regarding the songs of female songbirds.

Click Here to see more about the migration patterns of Wilson's Warblers. Clearly the majority breed in Canada and Alaska.

In his book, "Nature's Best Hope", Professor Douglas Tallamy suggests that planting native plants and trees in our backyards may literally be nature's best chance to survive climate change and human environmental disruption. Click Here to see his video. 

He suggests that specific plants and trees have an above-average positive impact on birds and nature. These exceptional types of flora, he calls keystone plants. Acers (i.e. maples) are one genus that has been identified as keystone trees. Click Here to learn more from the National Wildlife Federation that has been working with Prof. Tallamy. 

Vine Maples are one of the easiest native keystone trees to add to your yard. They can grow in partial shade and they require far less room than a "full-sized" tree, like a Bigleaf Maple or a Douglas Fir. Plus, as you have seen they really do attract beautiful little birds!

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

Larry

ps: Click Here if you would like to read a post that also covers some of our other Western Washington Warblers.

Recommended Citation

Ammon, E. M. and W. M. Gilbert (2020). Wilson's Warbler (Cardellina pusilla), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.wlswar.01


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. 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. 

*************** 

My friend Elaine Chuang shared several resources (that were new to me) from the January 2022 Washington Ornithological Society meeting. The major new concept is that specific keystone native plants enable critical moths and caterpillars that in turn provide food for the great majority of birds, especially during the breeding season. Here are the top two links from her list.

Native Keystone Plants for Wildlife:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5cXccWx030

Resources for adding plants to your Pacific Northwest Garden:

https://wos.org/wos-wp/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/native-plant-resources-v2.pdf


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


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.  

However, this week I am taking a slightly different approach. Looking at the first five photos in this post can you determine the two types of native trees depicted? 










Scroll down for the answer.










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The two native trees are:

Red Alder in the first three photos.

Big Leaf Maple in photos four and five.






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






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:  

                     LDHubbell@comcast.net


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


The Comment Challenge:

Another common issue is losing your input while attempting to leave a comment on this blog. Often everything functions fine, however, sometimes people are unable to make it past the 
robot-detection challenge or maybe it is the lack of a Google account. I am uncertain about the precise issue. Sadly, a person can lose their comment with no recovery recourse. 

Bottom Line: 

If you write a long comment, please, copy it before hitting enter. Then, if the comment function fails to record your information, you can send the comment directly to me using email.

My email address is:  

                     LDHubbell@comcast.net

Sincerely,
Larry


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


A Final Photos:











Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Eaglets Aloft

Bald Eagles are magnificent, awe-inspiring raptors. No doubt, they strike terror into the hearts of smaller creatures. I have seen ducks, woodpeckers, and others carefully consider a circling eagle. They often look like they're wondering if the eagle has locked on and is coming for them.

With sufficient awareness and time, most smaller creatures can probably escape an eagle. Eagles pick their prey carefully. I suspect they focus primarily on the slow or inattentive. Those who survive in an eagle's territory are not just lucky, they are likely to be alert, observant, and agile. I think of eagles as evolution in action.

These are the talons of an immature eagle. The hallux, i.e. the single forward-facing talon, can be almost two inches long on an adult female. Click Here to read more. 

While mating, male Bald Eagles close their talons/feet into a ball shape, so they do not harm their mate. I suspect both genders do the same thing while taking care of the young in the nest.

A huge Thank You to my friends Susan Ott and David Ralph. On Saturday, they noticed that the Montlake Cut Bald Eagles already have new eaglets. Susan and David's excitement, hospitality, and willingness to share their joy was contagious. I felt like running down the street shouting, "Monty and Marsha have young in the nest!" Instead, on Sunday with the afternoon sunshine highlighting the nest, I quietly waited for the chance to see more.

Initially, the nest appeared empty. Apparently, the warm weather released the parents from the immediate need to provide warmth. However, I had no doubt that one of the parents was close by. Monty often hangs out on a branch above the nest. By perching with a height advantage he can easily descend and defend the young from danger.

Susan had mentioned that she thought she might have seen two young in the nest. This fuzzy photo is my first proof. In the front left, one eaglet's head was obvious in the sunlight while behind it the top of a second head can be seen in the shadow. A third eaglet is possible but unlikely. 

Two is their most common number of offspring per year. They had their first two in 2018, their second set 2019, just one in 2020, and two more last year. I certainly hope both of these young survive and learn to fly, i.e. fledge, from the nest.

Surprisingly, for the next two to three months the young apparently survive without water, until they learn to reach it on their own.

After a short while, Monty returned. At this point, the survival of the young is totally dependent on the parents. No one else will bring them food. No one else will guard them with their lives, while remaining constantly alert day and night. 

For over an hour, Monty sat in the nest. Occasionally, the top of a little white head could be seen wandering around the nest to his left.

Finally, Marsha returned. Among eagles and other raptors, the females are generally larger. Not only does Marsha's bill look larger her heavy brow makes her look far more fierce.

When she returned both adults exchanged greetings. Not surprisingly, since Marsha is the larger bird she has a deeper voice. 

Marsha stopped "talking" first and Monty chattered on with his shrill almost-squeaky voice. Marsha said something more and then flew away from the nest. Monty followed.

After a few moments, Marsha returned to the nest and Monty landed nearby. I wonder if someday humans will learn to understand Bald Eagle exchanges. Did she say, "I have fed." or "It's my turn." or possibly "How are the kids?" or "Time to find more food." 

Maybe their language skills are less developed than these phrases imply, but they might also be more sophisticated. Maybe she mentioned a precise location on Union Bay where the fish were feeding? I don't know - but it sure would be fun to find out.

For a moment, she extended her wings. Often open wings help an eagle balance as they walk or hop about in a nest or tree.

Suddenly, she pulled them back, one of the young had stood up in the nest. Its mouth was open but I was too far away to know if it made a sound. I suspect it was begging for food. Marsha appeared to reconsider whether she could avoid the eaglet while entering the nest.

Carefully, she moved to the right half of the nest.

Once there, she started removing chunks of gray fur from the body of some unfortunate creature.

Soon, Marsha unpackaged the prey and began feeding the young. Although, as Susan pointed out, previously, some of the chunks seemed surprisingly large. Young eaglets must come equipped with an inclination to swallow sizable amounts of food in short order.

Eagles, and other raptors, have a crop. It is a wide spot just below the throat that allows them to store a large amount of food before digestion. I suspect it also enables older birds, that have learned to fly, to carry food less obviously and possibly improves their weight distribution.

This photo is from the Broadmoor nest in June of 2012. As eaglets grow, their plumage changes, and they gain weight. At this point in their development, the crop is particularly obvious. 

Speaking of gaining weight, when an eaglet hatches out of an egg it weighs less than an empty coffee cup. During the following three months females can gain as much as a pound a week i.e. All About Birds implies that adult females can weigh more than 13 pounds. Imagine the weight of a ten-pound bag of sugar and three one-pound bags of coffee.

That may seem like a lot of weight but I think it is amazingly light - for having a potential wingspan of more than six feet.

In the next few months, these young eaglets should become as large as their parents, grow feathers that are longer than the adults, and learn to fly. In approximately six months, they should be fully self-sufficient and out on their own. 

Although, until they mature, in four and a half to five years, they will most likely roam about with other immature eagles. I suspect there is safety in numbers and maybe as a group, they improve their odds of finding food.

The biggest danger during the next couple of months is that the young could potentially fall from the nest - before they have learned to fly. Three out of Monty and Marsha's first four eaglets fell from the nest. Fortunately, all three found their way to PAWS and were healthy and able-bodied at the time of their release. 

If you happen to see one of the eaglets on the ground the number for PAWS is:

                                            425-412-4040

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

Larry

ps: For the safety of eaglets, and a vast number of other young bird species, Spring is a great time of year to keep dogs on their leashes. 



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. 

 

*************** 


New: 

My friend Elaine Chuang shared several resources (that were new to me) from the January Washington Ornithological Society meeting. The major new concept is that specific keystone native plants enable critical moths and caterpillars that in turn provide food for the great majority of birds, especially during the breeding season. Here are the top two links from her list.

Native Keystone Plants for Wildlife:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5cXccWx030

Resources for adding plants to your Pacific Northwest Garden:

https://wos.org/wos-wp/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/native-plant-resources-v2.pdf


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


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









Is this currently blooming plant native to our area? If so, which one is it?








Scroll down for the answer.










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









Trillium ovatum: Yes, it is native to our area. Click Here 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. 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:  

                     LDHubbell@comcast.net


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


The Comment Challenge:

Another common issue is losing your input while attempting to leave a comment on this blog. Often everything functions fine, however, sometimes people are unable to make it past the 
robot-detection challenge or maybe it is the lack of a Google account. I am uncertain about the precise issue. Sadly, a person can lose their comment with no recovery recourse. 

Bottom Line: 

If you write a long comment, please, copy it before hitting enter. Then, if the comment function fails to record your information, you can send the comment directly to me using email.

My email address is:  

                     LDHubbell@comcast.net

Sincerely,
Larry


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


A Final Photo:
Watching for danger, I suspect.