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

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Feast

Every so often someone will ask, which bird is your favorite? This usually stumps me. I stutter and start without saying much. When I finally start speaking coherently, I often mention Pileated Woodpeckers or Bald Eagles or Osprey. I thoroughly enjoy these three species, but picking one of them makes me feel disloyal to all the others. As of this morning, I have decided that my favorite species is whichever one is in front of me. Currently, my  focus is on this well-groomed Downy Woodpecker.

I photographed this little fellow in the Arboretum earlier this year. Downy's are so small that one of them could pretty well hide behind a dollar bill. The hint of red on the back of his head told me he was a male. 

Compared to the average Downy in Western Washington, this bird seems abnormally white on its underside. I have been told their light-colored tummies reflect light into hidden nooks and crannies, which may help them locate their prey.

Here is a different male with a darker chest which is closer to the normal color in our area. East of the Cascades, Downy Woodpeckers often have the brighter white bellies. 

It is interesting to see the tiny barbs on this woodpecker's tongue. Their specialized tongues help the birds reach deep inside a hole and extract whatever tiny creature it has been pursuing. 

Here is another local example of a normal dingy Downy.

Returning to our flashy little hero, we find him deeply involved in his search for food.

Usually the food which a Downy extracts is so small that it passes out of the tree and into the bird without seeing the light of day. I suspect, this wormy little morsel was larger than average.

Like all creatures who eat, the process is 'First In, First Out'. More food requires more space.
After which, our bird continued its highly focused search for sustenance.

I suspect that once again our little Downy found food. But in this case, all we get to see is the thread of a sticky substance connecting the bird's bill to the tree.

At the next location, our pint-sized hero allowed the chips to fall where they may.

No doubt he could taste his prey, but he couldn't seem to get a grip.

In a surprising change of tactics, the Downy switched sides.

The creative approach paid off.

Our hero took a breather before undertaking the next challenge in the process.

The little Downy found a feast. In the past, when I have seen a wood-boring beetle larva consumed by a woodpecker, the bird involved was a Pileated Woodpecker - our largest woodpecker species. 

Never before have I seen a Downy Woodpecker - our smallest woodpecker species - consume anything this large. 

 The brave little Downy starts the swallowing process.

 His effort is obvious.

 Unfortunately, the larva appeared to be stuck. Was it just a tad too big?

The Downy made a second effort.

He even closed his eyes to focus on the task at hand. It almost seemed like swallowing this feast was a greater challenge than catching it.

Ultimately, the Downy prevailed. I am uncertain if his tongue hanging out indicated exhaustion or not. In any case, I bet he felt like he just ate a Thanksgiving Feast.

Downy Woodpeckers prefer to forage among deciduous trees, often near water. In this case, our hero was working in a large elderberry, which I would normally consider a shrub. Not surprisingly, I found this bird fairly close to Elderberry Island.

Also, Downy Woodpeckers generally nest in dead trees where the wood has started to decay and turned soft. I have seen them nesting in dead Alder trees. Often, the chosen trees were only half-grown at the time of their demise. Given the petite size of Downy Woodpeckers, medium-sized Alders are not a problem. 

If you or your offspring might someday enjoy sharing your lives with Downy Woodpeckers, and especially if you have a home near water, you might try investing in Elderberries and Alder.


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

Larry

Upcoming:

Next weekend, the 2018 City Nature Challenge begins. This looks like an exciting opportunity to find and identify the lifeforms which surround us. My friend Kelly Brenner, author of The Metropolitan Field Guide, did the challenge last year and highly recommends it. This will be my first chance to participate. Click Here to learn what all the excitement is about.



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. My hope is that 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.


What species of bird is this? Is it native to Union Bay? Does it differ from our hero?







Scroll down for the next step.







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









This was a bit of a trick question. The bird above is a Hairy Woodpecker. Downy and Hariy Woodpeckers are very similar. They are both native to our area. photographed this bird two years ago in the Arboretum. Hairy Woodpeckers tend to reside among mature native trees, often coniferous, unlike the Alder and Elderberry where we find Downy Woodpeckers. 

Depending on your perspective, Hairy Woodpeckers are roughly fifty percent larger than Downy Woodpeckers or Downy Woodpeckers are about two-thirds the size of Hairy Woodpeckers. Besides size what other key difference do you see between the two species? 

We should be aware that when we cut down large native trees we are eliminating preferred habitat for a variety species. Hairy Woodpeckers are an example of a native species which loves our mature native forests.  

Hint: For both species, compare the relative size of their bills with their heads.






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







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 work around is to setup 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

Saturday, April 14, 2018

New Neighbors


In early December, I thought these two eagles were the established pair usually seen on the 520 Bridge - Eva and Albert. The day after I posted this photo, I was surprised to see three pairs of mature eagles on Union Bay. Eva and Albert were on Foster Island where they often spend time. The Talarus pair were in their usual winter cottonwood, just east of Husky Stadium. Plus, this pair was once again sitting just north of the Waterfront Activities Center. 

Since 2011, when I started paying attention, there have been just two Bald Eagle nest sites on Union Bay. The Talarus nest, north of Yesler Swamp and Eva and Albert's nest in Broadmoor Golf Course. The nest which Eva previously shared with Eddie the Eagle. I wondered if there might be a new permanent pair of eagles on Union Bay.

The next day, when I saw an eagle carrying a stick across Montlake Cut, their intentions were confirmed. 


Both, the larger female...

...and the smaller male were heading for the south side of Montlake Cut.

They were taking turns flying into the cottonwood tree behind the totem pole on the southeast corner of The Cut.

First one and then the other would bring in the soft budding branch tips from nearby cottonwoods.

After negotiating their way through the outer foliage, the eagles would attempt to balance the branchlets in a fork high above the ground. There was only one medium-sized branch and a smaller twig which stayed in the tree at this early point in the process.

Getting the new nest started was quite a challenge. The area beneath the tree was nearly covered with the spongy soft cottonwood leads. I never saw the eagles attempt to pickup any of the fallen branches. They would just fly over and break off another fresh one.

Also, the eagles did not appear to remove any branches or twigs from the nesting tree. I wondered if they understood that the living branches surrounding the nest would eventually provide leaves, shade and protection for their future family.

Usually they would fly to the north side of The Cut for building materials. 

It was quite obvious when the eagles were evaluating which branch to select.

Progress was slow, at least when compared to most other types of birds. I soon realized that watching a pair of eagles build their first nest was a unique opportunity, given that eagles normally reuse their nests. Since eagles mate for life and they can live for decades first nests can be few and far between. If this is a first nest, then it is most likely their first breeding season and their first attempt at establishing a territory.

If we want to live in harmony with are new avain neighbors it is important to get to know them. One of the first things we do with new human neighbors is to introduce ourselves, learn their names and what they do. Finding names for this new pair of eagles felt like a logical next step to me, but none came to mind. 

To make matter worse, identifying individual eagles is difficult, some would say nearly impossible. Only when they sit side-by-side is their size difference obvious. As time passed I did begin to see subtle differences in their eyebrows. I think the female (above on the right) has a slightly heavier brow. She looks a bit more serious to me.

Two weeks later, maybe a dozen pieces had been added to the nest. There was progress, but it was slow.

At this point, I was beginning to understand the shape and scope of their new territory. In the past, the Talarus pair of eagles controlled the northwest half of Union Bay, while the 520 pair patrolled the area to the south and east. The dividing line seemed to run between Marsh and Foster Islands and angle off across the bay heading north by northeast. 

The northern border of the new eagle territory starts just south of Husky Stadium. It includes Marsh Island to the east, Kingfisher Cove to the southeast (Click Here to see my Union Bay map) and apparently all of Portage Bay to the south and west. I suspect the boundary negotiations will continue over time. 

It has been especially fun to watch the eagles verbally defend their new territorial alignments from each other. It is clear that Montlake Cut and Marsh Island now belong to the new eagles. This fact of ownership inspired an idea for their names, Monty and Marsha. 

By early in January, the nest appeared to double in size, though it was still way too small to be functional.


With stubborn branches, Monty sometimes had to fully commit to the removal process.

This could necessitate some tricky maneuvers when gravity kicked in.

Sometimes Marsha could be a bit indifferent while Monty struggled with the placement of branchlets and twigs.

Still, the work continued.

Even though the progress was slow, Monty seemed to take pride in his efforts.

By early in February, the nest was looking significantly more substantial.


By early in March it was hard to pick out the original stick. 

On March 9th, Eva - the female in the Broadmoor nest - began setting on eggs. Monty and Marsha's nest still looked a bit undersized. Neither of the new eagles were acting like there were eggs in the nest. I was starting to worry about their prospects for parenting in 2018.


By the end of March, the nest was definitely getting more impressive.

In early April, I started to get the feeling that Marsha and Monty might actually be on eggs. Even though neither of them were visible in the nest, I realized that this did not mean they weren't there. When eagles are on eggs they usually sit very low in the nest. Their white heads may only be visible from a distant angle. I began backing away from the nest, but still I saw nothing. 

I retreated to Montlake Bridge. Even at that distance neither eagle was visible in the nest. I crossed to the north side of The Cut and then slowly worked my way east. I stopped every few steps to take a photo and enlarge the image, hoping to catch a glimpse of an eagle. Finally, at the northeastern tip of The Cut I hit pay dirt.

If you look closely at the photo above, directly in front of the trunk of the tree, you can see the white head of an adult eagle. Eggs are under way!

As I headed for home, I saw Marsha come in and land at the nest. She sat for a few moments and then called out.

 Apparently, in eagle-speak she said, 'Time to get up. It is my turn on the eggs!'


 Being the smaller of the two, Monty did as directed.


I have no idea what Monty was crowing about, but his tone seemed to imply, 'These are my pride and joy, first of my line and our future offspring. Oh, What a mighty eagle I am!'


No doubt Marsha understood whatever Monty said, but her obvious focus was on the care and well-being of the eggs. I suspect she was thinking, 'Yes, Yes, Just move along Monty.'

As Monty took to the air, Marsha settled in on the eggs and I wondered, How will our new neighbors handle the festivities on the first day of boating season.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where eagles nest in the city!

Larry

ps: If my calculations are correct, boating season and the new eaglets will arrive at just about the same time.

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. My hope is that 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.


Do you know this flower? Is it native to Union Bay?







Scroll down for the next step.







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











Pacific Bleeding Heart is a native flower. Click on the name to read more about this plant and its uses.









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







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 work around is to setup 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