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, April 19, 2014

House Hunting Controversy

Last Spring a pair of Downy Woodpeckers nested near the water at the north end of the Arboretum. (You can read their story here.) Over the winter the top 75% of their nesting tree fell to the ground. Given the short little stub left behind one had to wonder if they would return to nest in what was left of the tree.

The good news is that on Monday morning this male Downy was discovered, in a tree a couple of hundred feet away, starting a new nesting hole.

Most of the time he would work at deepening the hole but occasionally he would stop and clean away some obstruction around the edge. Cornell says the Downy's consistently chose the underside of a leaning tree to make their entrance hole. I suppose it gives them cover from rain and maybe from predatory birds as well.

After a while a female Downy showed up at the new nesting tree. She watched from a distance at first, before working her way up the branch where the male was working. 

The Downy's seem to prefer trees where some type of fungus has softened up the wood, which certainly must make their annual excavations easier.

Her surprise was that she stopped at a fresh hole about 3 feet below where the male was working. Above last years nest it looked like there was an escape hole about a foot further up the tree. However a 3 foot distance seems a bit extreme so it makes me think they are having a disagreement about the optimal nest location. (By the way have you noticed how to tell the difference between the male and female Downy? It should be obvious in the photos above.)

In any case while she worked at her hole the male took a break and went looking for food. After a bit she moved up and inspected his new excavation before moving on. 

On Monday afternoon a Black-Capped Chickadee was seen going in and out of the male's new hole. It was as is the bird was happily thinking, "How nice a brand new nesting hole." I am not sure when the Downy put an end to the fantasy, but I am sure it was short-lived.

On Friday morning the male was once again working on the same hole. Often removing one tiny chunk of wood at a time. Cornell says that both birds working together can take from 1 to 3 weeks to complete a nest. That makes sense given the careful and meticulous manner in which they work.

On the other hand clear progress is being made. If you look at the very first photo you can see that there was hardly room for his head in the hole. While in the photo above, four days later, he is working with more than half of his body in the hole.

All of this work can make a person hungry. So our lead excavator visited a nearby tree to inspect the new buds for edible delights.

At one point his feeding was interrupted by this like-minded warbler.

After determining the danger was minimal he returned to his feeding.

In the end he went back to clearing out his choice for a nesting site. It seems when he is working deeper in the hole that he removes a number small wood fragments and then tosses them all out at one time with a single flick of his head. It will be interesting to see if the female continues to work on the lower hole or whether she trades off with the male on excavating the hole he prefers.

By the way here is a bit of a birding challenge to test your powers of observation.
What type of bird do these feathers belong too? While you consider the challenge here are a couple more fun photos.

A pink Rhody in blossom and…

…a Black-Capped Chickadee feeding on what I think is a flowering Crabapple tree.

Here is the answer to the feather challenge.
The feathers are from the wing of a female Wood Duck. The colors on these birds are particularly brilliant right now. It is a bit hard to see but the top of her head even had a green sheen. Here is one more interesting Wood Duck feather challenge.

Have you ever noticed the white and black feathers on her body that are normally covered by her wings?

It is odd but I had never noticed them before either and yet this week I just happened to get a photo of the same feathers on both the male and the female Wood Duck. Does anyone know the purpose of these feathers or what they are called? It is a mystery to me.

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


Odds and Ends:

I have not seen the female Barred Owl at Interlaken all week. My best guess is that she has given up on her mate and the concept of nesting and is off looking for a new mate. 

Concerning the rat poison that killed her mate, someone asked this week, What can we do? The best thing I know of is to get rat poison off the market in the City of Seattle. Here are the links to support this position all in one location. You can see that:
  1. The EPA is attempting to get rat poison off the market nationally but is being fought in court by one the manufacturers.
  2. King County has an extensive list of methods to deal with rats that speciffically do not include poison.
  3. Marin County, Ca has proven the problem and has found a means to solve it locally. What we need is someone with the time and knowledge to lead an effort to do the same thing here in Seattle.
Thank you for your concern!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Interlaken and Beyond

Yesterday, Magnuson Park had a special visitor. This little gull is seldom seen on our side of the Cascades and is believed to be a Franklin's Gull.
Notice the dark head, dark legs & feet. I especially liked the almost delicate beak.

When flying away it was easier to see the dark wing tips and the broken band of black on the tail. (Thank you to Barry Levine for pointing it out.)

Surrounded by larger gulls this little gull aggressively defended its personal space.

It seemed to be able to stop on a dime. You might want to drop by the park to see if he (or she) hangs around.


This little wren took a break from nest building to sing a song in Interlaken Park this morning.

It repeatedly went in and out of this small crevice and was once seen carrying a large chunk of moss into the hole. Apparently the stick and leaves that are wedged in the crevice above the nesting site will provide a roof while the moss provides a bed. It sure looks like this little wren will be a thoughtful and caring parent.

Sometimes when leaving the nest it would stop for a moment as if it was planning its next step. By the way, do know which type of wren this is? You can find out in this earlier post.

Also if you would like to hear this wren's song Click Here.


 Can you find the bird in this photo? Granted it is not perfectly in focus due to all the foliage.

How about now? This bird is inspecting a potential nesting site in Interlaken Park.

Here is a bit cleaner photo of the same bird. It is a Cooper's Hawk, although a very skinny one. We can only hope this beautiful bird can avoid the the same fate as the Barred Owl.


In regards to the Barred Owls in Interlaken, it is looking like the female is all on her own for now. A special thank you to Dan, Charles and Ronda who went looking for the owls this week while I was away. 

Also, a thank you to Susan who led me to the link below. It seems that Wildcare, in Marin County, CA, has found that over 75% of their tested patients had a least one rodenticide in their blood. They are happily reporting that the local response to the situation has led to restrictions on the use of such products in their area. It seems like a logical approach to me.

To find out more Click Here.

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


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hope for Owlets

Given the report last week of the demise of the male Barred Owl in Interlaken Park, the good news is a Barred Owl has been seen fairly consistently in and around the nest in Interlaken this week.



On Tuesday evening an owl was seen just before leaving the nest.


Friday night, for about 15 minutes, an owl moved around to three different trees near the nest. At each location it stopped and hooted a few times, but no answering calls were heard. Finally it moved up the ridge to the east and called a few more times in the distance. On a more positive note one of the neighbors reports hearing what she thought was more than one owl calling during the last week or so.

A couple of different sources have mentioned that this week is about the right time for the female to be laying eggs. If another male does not show up to bring her food it would be unlikely that a single owl could protect and warm the eggs while also hunting and feeding herself.

If you find yourself in Interlaken Park this week please watch to see if you can spot more than one owl at the same time, or in the evening if you can hear multiple owls calling back and forth from different locations. Additional proof that there are two owls working together would be very encouraging and help hold out hope for owlets this year.

You could also look at the photos above to see if you can find any differences that might indicate there is more than one bird in the photos. I do not see anything convincing…but I am trying to remain hopeful.

By the way, after reading this post, a concerned family member suggested placing a box of mice under the nesting tree…that might be a step too far.


Last Sunday a male Pileated Woodpecker (most likely Elvis) was seen feeding in a couple of holes in a tree on the way to Foster Island. This is the first time this year I remember seeing the male without the female somewhere nearby. Maybe the female is beginning to sit on eggs in the nest. Last year just about this time the Pileated Woodpeckers in Interlaken were already starting the nesting process. See the story, photos and links to videos by clicking here.

Curiously in one photo the male is looking very sleek and normal while…

…just a moment later he has raised all the individual feathers on his head. Maybe it was a reaction to some potential danger or maybe it was just a shiver. In any case he quickly put his feathers down and returned to feeding normally.

He remained feeding on the tree so long that I eventually got hungry and left while he was still working away. 

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


PS: By the way there were some interesting updates added at the end of last weeks post. Click here to read them.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Life and Death in Interlaken

The Barred Owls in Interlaken Park have been an amazing source of inspiration for many years. 
If you have been lucky enough to watch the parents bring food to their young or…

...heard them calling back and forth or

...even just stopped to watch one of the birds doze somewhere near

...the nesting tree, you know what I mean.

Sadly, the male bird has become a casualty in the conflict between humans and rats. Earlier this week Kari Olson sent an email appropriately titled "Unintended Consequences".


Last Thursday Interlaken's male Barred Owl was found on the road near the nest site in the large cottonwood tree. It was in fatal distress and taken to a vet where it died from injesting a rat who had eaten rat poison. Where there are people, there are rats and where there are rats there are raptor's, pets and poisons.  

Last Saturday another forest steward and I planted trees in the Interlaken / Boren Park area where a grave yard of clematis vines lay strewn about, we commented to each other, "It smells like something's dead around here"...sure enough dead rats. The bodies were without magots or other clean up insects making good on the free meal. With this said, the vicinity of 19th Ave. E. & Interlaken Drive/Interlaken Blvd. does have a serious rat infestation taking place.

I am not sure how long it will take for the female to find another mate. No doubt we'll hear nightly owl hoots as they hunt rats or other critters…hopefully not poisoned.


Just a few days before Kari sent her email I met a man in Interlaken who said that in January of 2013 he found a dead adult owl in Boren Park with no visible external injuries. While we do not know for sure what caused the death of the 2013 owl it seems likely it might have been another case of unintended poisoning.

Given that we treasure the owls and do not want to live with the rats it would be wonderful if we could come up with a number of functional alternatives to rat poison. Over the last 25 years rats have tried to use our home for shelter twice. In both cases it was after contractors had completed their work but left an opening that allowed the rats access to a prime nesting spot e.g. the attic or the crawl space. 

The solution was the same in each situation. Seal the access points and then set out old-fashioned spring-loaded rat traps, baited with peanut butter. This required no poison and also had the added advantage that the rats did not crawl off into some remote, unknown area of the attic or crawl space where their odor would have been an unpleasant reminder of their passing.

This approach would have been more difficult if the rats had made it into the living space  where small children or pets could have sprung the traps. In that situation I can imagine building a shoebox-sized trap container with a hole that only a rat could enter. Feel free to add your own suggestions for other options in the comments below. 

The good news is a Barred Owl was back in the same roost in the hemlock tree this week. Last year the owls seemed to spend a lot of time in the cedar just southeast of the cottonwood. However for the last couple of weeks at least one of the owls has been roosting consistently in the tall hemlock which is more directly south of the cottonwood and on the west side of the small stream of water. 

It seems logical to assume the owl seen this week is the female, however we can hope she has attracted another mate already. The only way we will know for sure is if we watch to see if we can spot two owls at the same time. 
If you happen to see two of them, that would be great news to share in the comments section below.

Another unknown in this process is whether the female has already laid eggs or whether the male has already fertilized eggs she is carrying. If she ends up laying eggs on her own then it could be quite a struggle for her to feed herself and any young (like the one above) that may hatch out. Not to mention keeping the eggs warm, protecting the nest and feeding herself in the meantime.

On a more positive note, this week Wood Ducks have been searching for nesting sites south of Foster Island and…

...Chestnut-backed Chickadees have been working furiously at…

...cleaning out a nesting hole…

...near by.

Also even though the Downy Woodpeckers nesting tree fell this winter a male Downy has been hanging around near by and hopefully he and his mate will excavate a new nesting site.

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



Here is a link to suggestions from King County on how to deal with rats.


Here are some links I just found related to the EPA and their position on rat poison. 


They are attempting a ban on 12 products due to secondary poisoning and one of the manufacturers is fighting it.