Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife on and around Union Bay and a higher level of 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".)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Golden Gifts

Earlier this week, a couple of male, golden-crowned kinglets came down from the treetops to search for food at my eye level. The opportunity to view their raised orange crests, in the middle of their golden yellow crowns, felt like a gift.

Kinglets move incredibly quick. While searching for small insects, they flit from one branch to the next. It is very challenging to try and focus on a kinglet. As you can see, focusing on two kinglets is beyond my current capability.

The female also has a golden crown but lacks the bright orange crest. (You can hear the sound of a golden-crowned kinglet here on Cornell's All About Birds.) 

 Kinglets are on a constant quest for food.

They search high...

 …and low.

Normally, golden-crowned kinglets look for their little insect gifts in the upper branches of conifers, but given their metabolic rate, they occasionally venture out of their preferred habitat. Curiously, in these last two photos, the kinglet looks like a female but there is just the slightest hint of orangish-red near the back of the yellow crown. Maybe it is a young male just starting to grow a crest.

 Watching them work against the bright green of a conifer can be pleasing to the eye.

 They nearly hover…

 ...as they twist and turn…

…while approaching their prey.

Once their food is found they are immediately off…

…to the next most promising location.

Very rarely will they stop in the sunshine, when they do pause, it feels like a golden gift.

The ruby-crowned kinglet looks similar, but it is most easily distinguished by the lack of the black and white facial stripes, not to mention the missing golden crown. The ruby-crowned also differs in preferring to work low in the underbrush. It is interesting how both types of kinglets have found their own special niche. 

The crowning color on the male ruby-crowned can be difficult to see.

The "crown" is slender and the angle is seldom good. Maybe someday we will get to see a ruby-crowned with its crest raised. Planting native vegetation in your yard, or visiting the Arboretum, can improve your chances of catching a glimpse of a kinglet. If you look quickly, your golden gift can be observing the kinglet's crowning color.


Speaking of gifts, Connie Sidles, our local gifted birding poet, has just completed a new book, with artwork by Hiroko Seki.
This book comes highly recommended by the esteemed birder and educator, Dennis Paulson. I have not had a chance to read the book yet, but it is on my Christmas list. If you would like to learn more about it click here.


Thank you to all of the readers who replied with their sightings of Eva and Albert, the 520 eagles. Given the volume of responses, it would seem logical to conclude that the 520 construction does not appear to have impacted the eagles' daily hunting routine. Thank you for all of the updates!

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


Parting Shot:
Next week we will look into, who has been feeding this hummingbird?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dancing on The Wind!

Last Saturday was an unusual day on Union Bay. 

The brilliant sunshine was no match for the freezing temperatures and the frigid cold of the north wind. 

Normally the plant on this piling stands straight up.

Usually, dozens of cormorants catch the sun in this cottonwood on Montlake Cut, as shown in this photo from earlier in the month.

However on Saturday not a single bird was willing to try to ride the branches in the wind.

Instead the green-eyed birds sat in the sunshine along the south side of The Cut. This provided them some protection from the wind and their footing was significantly more stable.

Out on the water the wigeons and ring-necked ducks only seemed to move when an eagle passed over. When the ducks returned to the water it was not with their usual finesse due to the brisk wind and the rolling waves. 

When they needed to escape the buffeting, the buffleheads calmly dived, to the relative peace and safety of their underwater world.

The great blue heron huddled and hunted, out of the wind, behind the east end of Marsh Island.

The bridge to Foster Island broke the wind a bit, however in the one inch cracks between the sections of the bridge, the spray reached high enough to soak you to the waist.

The most surprising reaction to the cold wind came from the eagles.

The eagles twisted and turned as they chased after each other. The cold seemed irrelevant.

They took turns calling loudly in their strangely melodic voices. You can hear a similar, but softer, call here.

It seemed as if the strength of the wind inspired them…

… to sing and dance.

When another person attempted to cross the bridge I was surprised to find my lips too frozen to form words. This was not a problem for the eagles.

In the end one of the eagles decided to take a moment's rest. Apparently, even dancing on the wind can be tiring.


520 Update:
South of the old MOHAI museum the trees have been cleared and the section of the "Bridge to Nowhere" that crossed above 520 has been removed.

While on Foster Island the construction bridge, which will protect pedestrians while the new 520 bridge is built, is apparently progressing on schedule. The current plan is that by New Years Day we should be able to once again walk under 520 on Foster Island.

It does not seem like the construction is impacting the eagles too much as it is easy for them to follow their prey to a different location. I have not seen Eva and Albert sitting on the bridge or in their nest lately. This may be in part because I have been spending less time on Foster Island due to the construction. I would be curious to hear if anyone who regularly drives 520  has seen the eagles sitting on their normal lampposts during the last week or two. 
(My email is: ldhubbell at comcast dot net.)

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


Friday, November 28, 2014

Out Of The Arctic

This Pacific Loon, wearing its winter disguise, was spotted on Union Bay earlier in the week. If you would like to see the exquisite beauty of its breeding plumage check out the photo on Cornell's "All About Birds". Even their eyes seem to lose the breeding season color.

All About Birds also mentions: these birds can have a wingspan of over four feet, cannot take flight from land and require nearly one hundred feet of open water to get airborne.

The hint of a dark "necklace" is one characteristic that distinguishes the Pacific Loon from the closely related and more frequently seen Common Loon.

When passing by on 520, the dark diving birds we generally see are the Double-crested Cormorants. The Cormorants and the Loons both dive for their food, weigh about the same, and, at freeway speeds, look somewhat similar.

The Pacific Loons lay their eggs in the Arctic, but spend the majority of their time on or near the open water of the Pacific Ocean. This is the first one I have seen on Union Bay.

One would think a bird that breeds in the Arctic would be shy and stay away from people and their technology. This particular bird was fishing in the prime boating passage: from the east end of the Montlake Cut to the north end of Foster Island. You might even be able to see it from the northern viewing sites along the Marsh Island Trail.

The Loon showed no fear of the large tourist boats. It would nonchalantly dive at the last minute and then come up hundreds of feet away. The distance it covered underwater implies it has a far greater lung capacity than our local Cormorants or Grebes.

Yesterday morning, one of the Bald Eagles from the northern nest, picked a bird out of the water for its Thanksgiving meal. I was too far away to identify what was on the menu. Luckily for the smaller bird, the transition from looking for dinner, to being dinner, was quick and efficient.

Later in the morning, a family of Trumpeter Swans were seen on the north side of Union Bay. Just like the Loon, they have come south for the winter. Curiously, the parent on the far left seems to have a very thin neck. This made me wonder if it might be a Tundra Swan. It did not have the yellow lore, that a Tundra Swan often has, and it did not look smaller than its mate, so maybe the narrow neck is normal variation among Trumpeter Swans.

 After resting in the brisk morning breeze, the young grow restless.

 It is hard to imagine that flapping their wings in the cold wind actually warms them up, but apparently, it works for the Swans.

These Trumpeter Swans likely weigh more than twenty pounds, and appear indifferent to the occasional Crow. Here, it looked like the Crow was collecting the Swan's discarded feathers, but it did not seem to be harassing the Swans. 

 The elegant curve of the Swans neck must be one of the most graceful lines in all of nature.

 Ultimately, the parents and the young all began to swim around their little island.

When the other four got too far away the remaining parent appeared to call out, before catching up with the family unit.

The young bird on the left got a running start...

 …Soon it was only one head length behind the parent.

 As they took to the air, they were neck and neck.

When they passed over their previous resting spot, the young bird had achieved a full neck's lead; which with swans is no small thing. All five birds headed east, over the lowest portion of Webster Point, before turning north. The day before, I saw, what appeared to be, the same five birds leaving Union Bay. Both times, they left in the morning and headed east. It would be interesting to know whether they spend the night on Union Bay or arrive very early in the morning.

By the way the gray theme in the photos was not intentional. I promise my photos will brighten up when the sun returns.

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