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

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

J Pod

Princess Angeline's latest offspring peaks over her back.

I must confess that A) I have never seen orcas before this week, B) my identifications are provisional and C) none of these photos were taken on Union Bay.

Earlier this month I spoke with a kind-hearted couple at the Union Bay Natural Area. They suggested that I might enjoy photographing orcas from Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island. Thank you both (Rick and Diana) for a wonderful suggestion!

Princess Angeline (J-17) was born in 1977 according to my documentation. My references were purchased at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor - you can see the titles below. Angeline's latest offspring (J-53) is less than one year old. One of the booklets mentioned that Angeline can also be seen in the "Free Willy" movies.

I found that the morning light was best for taking orca photos from Lime Kiln Point.

Sadly, I never did catch a whale doing a full body breach. My camera was never in focus and pointed in the right location at just the right time. After just thirteen hundred shots, I can say with confidence that photographing orcas is not as easy as falling off a log. 

Most often the orca's fin silently breaks the surface for just a moment or two, before once again sinking out of sight.

According to the documentation, the eldest of the J Pod orcas is Granny (J-2). She is believed to be 105 years old. It is hard to imagine her experience and knowledge. I think the saddle patch on the whale on the left looks a lot like Granny's photos, but I also see other orcas in the references who look similar.

Regardless of the precise identification, watching the orcas is truly awe-inspiring. The person next to us pointed out their smooth, gentle gracefulness, which I found both impressive and soothing.

I over heard researchers, sitting near by, mention seeing the whale Notch (J-47). This photo is a very close match to his documented photos. He is apparently named for the little notch halfway up the backside of his dorsal fin. According to what I read, he was first spotted in 2010. Wouldn't it be interesting to know how he got his notch.

I have learned that mature males can weigh as much as four tons. Unlike raptors, mature female orcas are smaller than the males. They average a dainty 3000 pounds. Note: Other sources list some much larger maximum weights for both genders. In either case, their power is evident in the bow waves they create when they put their heads down to dive.

Seeing three or four whales together makes me wonder how often single whales, as seen on the surface, are actually traveling with companions hidden beneath the waves.

No matter how large the whales are, or how close together, I never saw any sign of crowding or anger. They appear very well-mannered, almost civilized. The term "killer whale" certainly seems like a misnomer.

Later in the day, with the sun sinking behind them, they appeared as silhouettes. Their white markings become less obvious, however the notch on the dorsal fin on the far left still looks distinctive.

I have heard that orcas need about 200 pounds of salmon every day. My guess is that this whale has had its fill and is laying on its back and splashing its tail just for the fun of it.

During our limited visit, there appeared to be more playfulness later in the day.

 Swimming sideways also allows a flipper to be used...

...for splashing.

Sadly, most of the decline in resident orcas appears to be happening to this southern group - the J Pod. Twenty years ago there were nearly sixty whales in the pod, today the number is closer to thirty. They need abundant and healthy salmon. A pod of 30 eats about 6000 pounds a day. It makes me wonder if I am doing everything I can to help with salmon recovery. (Long live the Kings is a great local organization - focused on salmon recovery.)

I wonder how much longer J Pod will survive? Will our grandchildren get to see these beautiful creatures?

I am hoping this tail flip signifies "See you later", not "Good Bye."

Humans and orcas, trees and streams, salmon, sound or bay we are all interconnected pieces in the web of life. 

Have a great day on the Salish Sea...where J Pod struggles to survive! 


References used and purchased at the Whale Museum:

1) "The Southern Resident Community of Endangered Orcas", Family Groups 2016 - A Handy Reference Guide to the Family Groups in J, K and L Pods.

2) "2016 - Matriline ID Guide - J, K, L Pod" - Southern Resident Killer Whales

A Birding Challenge:

Just before the orcas arrived at Lime Kiln Point I caught a few photos of this gull.

This week's birding challenge is to identify both the gull... 

...and its food. Please include your sources and logic used. Honestly, I am hoping to learn some of the finer points of gull identification. My email is: LDHUBBELL at comcast dot net.

Bonus Photos:

This photo is looking southwest from San Juan island. That is Vancouver Island in the foreground. I am uncertain if that is the Olympic Mountains in the distance or a high point on Vancouver Island.

The distances involved exceeded the optical clarity of my lens. With the heat waves and everything involved the result is that this enlargement of the photo looks more like a painting than photo. I found it curiously interesting.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Union Bay Surprise

This refreshing email arrived yesterday (July 17th - 2016) from the Union Bay Natural Area.

"Hi, Larry, this Peter Korch. I was so happy to bump into and meet you over by the Osprey platform in Union Bay this morning. My wife Linda and I finished our regular walk at Union Bay and then walked the Yesler Swamp. Among the usual birds we also saw one adult Belted Kingfisher with a juvenile screaming for food wings a flapping. That was fun. We then strolled back to our car in the parking lot at the C.U.H. (Center for Urban Horticulture). As I was loading the camera equipment in the car my wife says, "No Way". I look up to just catch the rear end of this fellow crossing the path down the way. So I grabbed the camera took off and caught a few shots. Took these about 1 hour after we spoke. It was about 12:15p.m. I thought you might get a kick out of this guy, been visiting Union Bay for 30 years seen a lot of great birds and wildlife there but never one of these. I love your work and blog! 
Best Regards,

Thank you, Peter. I was stunned to see the following photos (Peter's comments included.)

"Very calm, good size

what a treat to see this beauty at Union Bay

lots of great tender greens to eat

Could hear me coming, tricky one to approach with all the dry leaf cover"

This looks like the local native Mule Deer, which may also be called, "The Black-tailed Deer". If you keep your eyes peeled, while visiting the Union Bay Natural Area, you too might get to see this wandering wild creature.

Thanks again! - To Peter.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where even deer graze in the city!

Larry Hubbell

ps: Given the way his left prong is taller than the right, I suggest we call him, "Lefty".

Friday, July 15, 2016

Something to Celebrate!

For the first time in decades, and quite possibly in over a hundred years, there are young Osprey in a nest on Union Bay! Under time pressure and against the odds Chester and Lacey have produced three beautiful young chicks. Chester is the male with extended wings while Lacey, the female, is the larger bird who is ducking down on the left.

Connie Sidles (Master Birder and renown Union Bay Author) says that while she has been birding Union Bay, since 1982, she has never before seen an osprey nest here. She also looked up an account in the 1951 book "Union Bay: Life of a City Marsh". The book relayed an earlier story about an osprey nest in Union Bay being shot up, presumably by fishermen, during a time when Seattle was growing rapidly. Connie guessed that the most likely time frame for the incident was between 1900 and 1915, which implies that it may have been a hundred years or more since osprey where allowed to nest on Union Bay. Either way, it has been a very long time and hopefully this nest full of young osprey is a sign of a growing harmony with nature.

The parents have had a challenging spring. Their first nesting attempt was dismantled, just before they could lay eggs, because the light pole location which was deemed unhealthy for the UW baseball fans. 

At the last possible moment the osprey finally decided to use the new platform and pole, graciously paid for by the UW Athletic department, built by Jim Kaiser from Osprey Solutions and located in the Union Bay Natural Area. A special thanks to Fred Hoyt and David Zuckerman for accepting the nesting platform into the UW Botanical Gardens. 

Due to the abrupt, last minute decision, the osprey did not get much of a nest built. Now, even while young are wandering about the nest, they are still building.

Chester brings in the lumber.

Lacey, who actually spends more time in the nest, takes over the actual renovations. Chester's name comes from the fact that he has a pure, white chest.

I suspect their current nest building goal is primarily to erect guard rails. 

When you look at the skinny, flightless wings of their young it is easy to see why keeping them in the nest is critical.

Just like with humans the young mimic their parents. 

Lacey notices another issue.

She springs forward and makes an adjustment. 

Lacey's name comes from the fact that females often have a necklace of brown speckles across their chests. You may also want to note the dark brown shape on her forehead.

The markings on Chester's forehead shows a bit more white than Lacey's and a slightly different shape. I do not believe the forehead markings relate to differences between males and females. I am wondering if they might be like fingerprints among humans and turn out to be unique among individual osprey.

After suppling food for the family Chester went out and got his own lunch.

While Chester was attempting to eat, this third osprey approached the nest. It did not take Chester long to react. 

Note: This is a good opportunity to note that mature osprey have yellow irises.

Chester grabbed his lunch and gave chase. The intruder was soon sent on its way. 

In this photo of Chester you can see another feature that, at least currently, makes him easier to identify. The third primary from the front (P8) on his left wing is only halfway grown-in. Unlike mallards, osprey do not lose all their flight feathers at once. This means that osprey are able to fly and fish everyday, all-year-round and do not have to go through a annual, flightless-stage.

You can see a similar situation regarding Lacey's first primary (P10) and two of her middle retrices or tail feathers, which are not fully grown-in.

So now that you have had a chance to get to know our two adult Osprey, Can you tell whether this is Lacey or Chester? It is pretty obvious when you look at those tail feathers, isn't it.

When the sun comes out Lacey often moves to the south side of the nest. If you look close you can see that she has her wings slightly extended. 

This mantling is usually done to protect something. In this case I believe she is protecting the young from the heat of the sun.

There are however other issues of protection. Approximately once an hour, one of the local bald eagles from the Talaris' nest flew across Union Bay, while I watched. Even though the eagles were not flying directly toward the the osprey nest, one or both of the osprey immediately sprung into action. 

Chester gets the upper hand and dives toward the larger eagle. The eagle rolled over in  mid-air and exposed its talons. Even though the eagle is the dominant bird each time it moved on and left the osprey alone.

During the next few months there are a lots of questions that will get answered. 
  1. Will the osprey be able to successfully raise their young and defend their nest from the larger more dominant eagles? 
  2. Will the irises of the young osprey's eyes turn a bright orangish-red as they grow? Some times they just turn brown, before ultimately turning yellow like the adults. 
  3. Will there be enough food to feed all three young birds? Often only two survive. 
  4. Will all the young birds successfully learn to fly? Fledging can be the most dangerous time in a birds life. 
  5. Will the young birds spend the winter in Seattle or migrate south like their parents? 
After a hundred years young osprey are growing up on Union Bay and it is certainly something to celebrate, however, it is just the beginning. It is the beginning for the young birds and the challenges they must face. It is also a beginning for us - Union Bay residents. We have made a step in the right direction, but we still have many opportunities in front of us, if we want to truly live in harmony with nature.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where once again osprey nest in the city!


A Little Osprey History:

2016 - May - Osprey Update - Nest Building

2016 - May - The Aerie Life - Platform Accepted (Scroll Down in the Post)

2016 - April - A Symbiotic Hope - Lightpole Nest Rejected

2016 - April - Dancing With Osprey - Platform Rejected

2015 - June - Development - Platform Approved (Scroll Down in the Post)

2015 - May - Opportunity Knocks - Platform Suggested