Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife around Union Bay and harmony between humanity and nature.

(It is fine for educators and artists to use any of the photos on this blog as long as when publicly displaying the photo or related artwork the following comment is included, "The original photo sourced from http://unionbaywatch.blogspot.com".)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New Eaglets in 520 Nest

A new pair of eaglets were barely visible in the Broadmoor nest, on Monday. 

Last year the 520 eagles, commonly called Eva and Albert, appeared to spend time on the eggs but no eaglets arrived. It is reassuring to once again see new life in the nest.

Happily, the eagles not only overcame last year's failed attempt, but also do not appear stressed or distracted by the 520 construction. They are even still hunting from the old 520 light poles.

The eaglets appear to be approximately 2 weeks ahead of schedule, when compared to this June 2nd photo from 2012.

It is interesting to note the condition of the young eaglet's wings. The initial "feather" covering looks more like soft warm fur. Warmth is important given the wind and exposure in the nest. The eaglets will grow and change rapidly over the next few weeks. By Independence Day the eaglets will look a lot more like the parents, although it will be four or five years before they are fully mature with white heads and tails.

On closer examination you can see the cores of new feathers beginning to extrude from the wings. These wings are not yet capable of flight, so it is critical that the young birds remain in the nest. The nest is about hundred feet above the ground. Even though the grass on the golf course looks soft, the eaglets would be unlikely to survive a fall. 

Albert watches when Eva returns with a fish. The waters of Union Bay are providing plenty of food for the growing family.

The young have apparently learned to eat on their own, as Eva did not parse out pieces as she has done in previous years.

She dropped the fish and flew to a perch just above the nest. Most of the time one or both of the parents remain in the nesting tree to protect the young. Crows have been the only creatures seen observing the nest. The crows are noisy, but they stay out of reach of the parent's beaks and talons.

On Tuesday evening, the nonstop parenting process continued.

Someone passing by remarked that the young eaglets look a bit like dinosaurs. The resemblance is amazing.

We are very lucky to share our city, and our planet, with these incredible creatures.

Eva must be able to tell the eaglets apart. I wonder if she has names for them? We cannot know her thoughts, but the mothering instinct is obvious. 

The 520 eagles had two eaglets in 2012, one in 2013 and apparently none in 2014. Their stories and photos can be viewed by clicking on the following links:



Have a great day on Union Bay…where eaglets live in the city!


Birding With Barry | Nisqually Wildlfie Refuge

Our visit to the refuge did not start out with our minds in the gutter.

The tree swallows... 

...on the other hand…

…were feeling frisky.

Our instructor, Barry Levine - Master Birder, provided a well-paced flow of relevant information to help us distinguish one bird from another. For instance the tree swallows do not have as much white on their cheek as the somewhat similar violet-green swallows. We signed up for Barry's class, e.g. Birding 201 - Intermediate Birding, through Seattle Audobon.

One of Barry's earliest birding inspirations involved seeing a cooper's hawk in action. While his most memorable birding experience was a 1989 trip to the Everglades with his future wife. Instantly, he was smiling as he talked about the incredible variety of birds he had seen through the Everglades fog. 

Speaking of cooper's hawks, during our initial class in Seattle, Barry gave us the opportunity to identify a number of stuffed birds, all of which died of natural causes and were not harmed in any way for our class. This was particularly valuable when comparing cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. These birds are very similar and very challenging to identify correctly. To learn more about these birds, Click Here.

Back at Nisqually, a crossbill sitting with his back to the sun, provided us a view of his distinctive profile.

A pair of cinnamon teals were a little less free with their profiles.

Although, shortly after we began our trip on the boardwalk the male provided not only his profile but also a flash of his speculum. Barry said the speculum is like a window in the wing, in this case it is green, in the case of gadwalls it is white and with mallards it is blue.

An american goldfinch also provided a profile view. Barry noted the notched tail and the conical bill to help us be certain it was a finch.

A song sparrow gathered cotton which was blowing down from the cottonwood trees. Barry pointed out the grey "eyebrow" and told us to look for the pinspot in the middle of its chest.

Meanwhile a marsh wren, with its speckled back, gathered…

…more substantial nesting materials...

..and flashed its short tail in our direction.

We saw slow growing lifeforms...

…plus the flash of a western tanager (see more tanagers here) who came down from the treetops to sample the salmonberries. 

Earlier, we had fleeting glimpses of a yellow warbler among the willow leaves. Barry taught us to listen for the "Sweet, Sweet, Sweet, I'm So Very Sweet" sound of its song. The bird was much faster than my camera. To see a yellow warbler photo and hear the sound of its song, Click Here.

A bit later a cedar waxwing was spotted. It was also eating salmonberries. The red "wax" on its wing is barely visible just below the obscuring leaf. If you click on this photo you may be able to see the yellow on the tip of its tail.

Beyond the boardwalk we encountered a female brown-headed cowbird.

 In the distance we saw dowitchers.

The debate over the shape of their bodies was aimed at determining whether they were the slightly more sleek short-billed or the lumpier long-billed dowitchers. Barry mentioned for most birders vocalization is the only way to positively identify which dowitcher you are looking at at this distance.

Just after this, with help from Brian and Matt, we also spotted an american bittern in-flight and a yellow-headed blackbird, however the birds were too quick to be photographed. None-the-less, they were wonderful and special birds to see.

The male rufous hummingbird sat with his back to the light which only provided us with a dim view of his distant brilliance.

Even further in the distance, a shy ruddy duck gave us a brief glimpse of its bright blue beak.

A mature bald eagle passed by with regal indifference to our earth-bound existence.

A bit closer, a savannah sparrow quietly showed off its only claim to brilliant coloring, e.g. one of its faintly yellow eyebrows.

The much more colorful common yellowthroat loudly proclaimed its territorial ambitions. Early on in our adventure Barry taught us to listen for the "Wichety, wichety, wichety" song of the yellowthroat, as we heard the sound repeated through out the day, it became a song we are unlikely to forget. To hear the sound, Click Here.

Later, a closer view of a common yellowthroat also showed the small insects it was hunting.

Surprisingly, when the brilliant yellowthroat turned its back among the dry reeds, it almost disappeared.

While we were watching the wildlife, the wildlife was also watching us. About the same time Barry spotted young hooded mergansers that were swiftly hidden by their mother.

Later, we saw a male gadwall and Barry mentioned the rufous coloring hidden beneath its wing along with its white speculum. To see examples, Click Here, and then look at the fourth and fifth photos in the post.

A spotted towhee, formally know as a rufous-sided towhee.

A downy woodpecker. To compare it with a hairy woodpecker, Click Here. 

We also saw a red-breasted sapsucker but it flew directly over our heads and was too fast for photos. An example from last winter in the Arboretum can be seen, Here.

Barry spotted this singular goose, which was the most unique bird we saw all day. Barry's research indicates this is a Greater White-fronted Goose/Canada Goose hybrid.

Birding can be a lifelong endeavor with no end to the learning opportunities, but taking a class from Master Birder can certainly be a great assistance to the process.

Have a great day!


Tanager Update:

I just read a wonderful piece on tanagers. It was written by Dan Pedersen, a Whidbey Island nature-loving author, photographer and friend. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Please follow the link below:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Jungle Birds

The bright yellow color of a western tanager always brings a smile to my face. When I see one I feel like I have been transported, from a dark northwest forest, to a sunlit jungle. According to Cornell's, Birds of North America, western tanagers spend their winters from Mexico to Costa Rica. During their spring migration, they transport themselves to our northwest tree tops. It almost feels like they bring the sunshine with them.

This male was searching for food in a pacific madrone tree in the Washington Park Arboretum, earlier this month. 

One of my photographic goals is to capture a bird in a pacific madrone tree, so that the bird and the tree, are both optimally displayed. These photos have not fully captured their combined elegance, but it was very exciting to be teased by the opportunity.

During breeding season tanagers, like many other birds, increase the insect portion of their diet. In Birds of North America, it mentions they sometimes remove the extremities before eating insects.

This photo makes me wonder if that is what has happened here.

Either way, the bird was challenged by the size of its snack.

Ultimately, the tanager successfully consumed the tidy tidbit.

Afterwords, the tanager wiped its beak on a nearby branch.

After cleaning one side, it also wiped the other, as well. This cleaning method is surprisingly widespread among birds. Off the top of my head, I can remember seeing hummingbirds, barred owls and bald eagles do the same thing, just after eating.

While with my brother in southern Washington earlier this week, I was lucky enough to encounter western tanagers once again. 

Even though they are bright yellow and fairly common, they can be hard to notice as they work their way through the tree top foliage. Here we were lucky that they descended into a relatively small, red-alder tree.

It is also interesting to notice how the red color on this bird's neck was greatly reduced by the sunlight, especially compared to the prior photo, when its head is shaded.

An alternative way to find western tanagers is to listen for their songs or calls. I still have a lot to learn about bird sounds, but my initial understanding is that songs are generally longer and more melodic and may have to do with proclaiming a territory. While calls tend to be shorter and focus more on warnings and staying in contact with other birds. Given the complexity of bird behavior, I expect there may be exceptions.

To listen to the songs of the western tanager on Cornell's All About Birds, Click Here. They mention that the sound is similar to an american robin. To me, the tanager sounds like a robin with a sore throat who has been slowed by an overdose of cough medicine.

For the last few days, I have been noticing some smaller, yellow birds flittering about among the inner branches of the indian plums, in the Arboretum. These birds are also spring migrants from sunnier climes.

Their little black beanies give them away. They are Wilson's warblers. It can be hard to see them clearly as they flit back and forth among low lying branches. Occasionally, they will hop into the air and pick a tasty treat off the underside of an overhead leaf. One of the best ways to see them is to stop, and sit perfectly still under an indian plum, and then wait for them to come to you. This may seem like odd behavior, but the mental transport to a sunlit jungle makes it all worthwhile.

Have a great day on Union Bay…where the jungle comes to you!


Bonus Photo:
Here is an unknown sunlit flower from the Arboretum. I would love know what type of flower it is, if anyone happens to know. (ldhubbell at comcast.net) Thank you!