Driving around Alki Beach in West Seattle, yesterday, I noticed a portion of the waterfront was cordoned off with orange safety tape, and a few folks were standing nearby with a long-lens camera and a spotting scope. I parked and walked down to meet Robin Lindsey of Seal Sitters, a volunteer-run affiliate of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
A young Harbor Seal had been spotted early that morning resting on the beach. Several months old, it was in that fragile stage where the mother no longer fed it, its baby fat had largely burned off, and it was not yet totally adept at catching its own food. At this age, Robin explained to me, the pups need lots of rest and it’s essential they not be disturbed by people or pets. Hence the safety barrier of a few hundred feet.
Here are a couple of photos shot from pretty far away. Most of the hour or so I was there, the pup was simply lying on the gravel with its eyes closed. As the tide rolled in, it made only the necessary adjustments to stay dry.
We had our first frost a few days ago. I remember my wife Tina remarking, “We should be seeing Varied Thrushes any day now.” Sure enough, this morning I noticed one, then two, then a small flock, in our backyard. They were feeding on apples that dropped from our trees.
Like many migrating birds, the thrushes were hyper-alert to danger, and several flew off when I very slowly lifted the window blinds to take photos from 25 feet away.
Varied Thrushes spend warmer seasons at higher elevations. When weather turns cold, they seek lower elevations such as ours (less than 200 feet above sea level). In addition to their lovely coloration (click the photo for a larger image), they have a unique, slightly haunting call: a raspy, trilling whistle that typically alternates between closely-pitched notes. Listen to the call (note: there’s also a Song Sparrow call in the middle of this recording).
Thanks to Martyn Stewart (NatureSound.org) for permission to use his audio recording.
Recently, there was been word on our regional birders email list, Tweeters, of a pair of Peregrine Falcons roosting on the eastern shore of Lake Washington. Seems they’ve been watching preparations for building the new SR 520 Bridge from a tall, lone evergreen overlooking the construction site.
Today, Tina (my wife) and I drove over to have a look. The birds were too far off for a decent photo using my 100-400mm lens, but this picture still gives you some idea of what was going on (click image for a larger, better version).
American Crow, Lincoln Park, West Seattle
Seattle is a city of crows. And they have a nasty reputation. Folks here know them as picnic terrorists, garden plunderers, and (on garbage-collection days) maniacal strewers of trash. We know them also as destroyers of nests (they eat eggs and baby birds) and as ruthless mobbers of hawks, owls, and eagles.
Crows are also brilliantly intelligent and highly socialized. And we keep learning more and more impressive facts about their minds and behaviors.
Hairy Woodpecker brings food to its young.
Birds choose to lay their eggs in a phenomenal variety of places—from bare rocks and ground to twig platforms to hanging baskets sewn together with spider silk. In forested areas, another option is the cavity nest.
Around 85 North American bird species raise their young in tree cavities. In some cases, the bird itself makes the hole. In other cases, it may enlarge cavities created by natural decay or by the activity of other birds.
Woodpeckers are among the best-known cavity nesters, but also help provide nesting holes for owls, swallows, nuthatches, and many others who may enlarge holes started by the woodpeckers. Here are photos of just a few cavity-nesting species that live near me in the Pacific Northwest United States. Read More
Here in the Pacific Northwest U.S., seasons are the topic of many jokes. I’ve witnessed over 25 Northwest Springs. Warm sunny weather is so unreliable here that all I can say is “Spring is here…can Winter be far behind?” All cynicism aside, my neighbors and I have been loving the interludes of heavenly weather.
Savoring a moment of Spring delights. (Click to enlarge)
Posing for the "pupparazzi"
Today’s blog starts with a couple of non-avian snapshots. This little window-dog and his driver were stopped at an intersection and I had just enough time to pick up my camera and snap a shot before the light turned green.
This second shot was taken while birding at Marymoor Park, which is not only a great birding spot but also maintains a huge off-leash area where dogs can romp in large fields or fetch tennis balls from the Sammamish River Slough. Can you well I’m a dog-lover?
Okay, on to the birds: Read More
It’s always exciting to find a Bald Eagle, but even more engaging to see one intently observing YOU. Last week, I found this lovely raptor roosting high in a Cottonwood tree along the shore of Lake Sammamish.
We have eagles here year-round, but their numbers increase as the weather warms up. I have counted up to 12 in the air at once, while paddling in this particular lake.
The pure white head and tail on this individual are signs of a sexually mature adult. Juveniles start out a mottled brown and take about five years to develop the plumage you see here (click the photo for an enlarged image).
I’ve seen an eagle dive from hundreds of feet in the air to pluck a 4-inch fish from the water. No doubt this one could clearly see the snaps on my jacket, and, if I were a salmon, it would be happy to take me to lunch!
Posted in Bird Talk Tagged fishing
With breeding season approaching, a
Black-capped Chickadee creates a nest hole in a snag.
Spring has finally arrived. In the Pacific Northwest, this means at least one warm sunny day, plus who knows how many chilly overcast days.
Today the weather was warm enough to venture out for photos of a female Red-shafted Flicker we saw from our car yesterday. She had been excavating a nesting cavity in a snag located in a small wooded wetland a mile from our home.
The extra-long bill on this Wilson's Snipe helps it forage along muddy shorelines.
The Flicker wasn’t there when I arrived, but I was pleased to see a Black-capped Chickadee hard at work creating a nest hole in another snag nearby. It would emerge from the hole with a wood chip in its beak, and would fly off to deposit the chip far from the nest. Perhaps it did not want to create pile of chips below the nest, which might have tipped off predators.
After distracting myself with a Song Sparrow who thought he was Pavarotti, I noticed the Flicker was back. The female lacks some of the brilliant crimson head markings of the male, but is lovely in her own right.
I’m eager to see if these nests are successful. If they are, there’ll soon be some new baby-bird photos among my Nature Card offerings.
Be sure to click these images for larger versions.
A banded juvenile Cooper's Hawk
Yesterday I visited Magnuson Park in North Seattle. I’ve developed a pretty good eye for noticing raptors in trees, and as I drove around a corner my attention was immediately drawn to a hawk perched ten feet up a tree.
Around here, hawks are either accipiters, which have a thin body, or buteos, which are shaped like an American football. This one was thin, which told me it was most likely a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. A closer look revealed a slightly rounded tail, pegging it as a Cooper’s. The coloration further identified it as a juvenile.
I took a number of photos and did not think much about it until examining them in the evening, when I noticed a wide blue band on the hawk’s left leg. An inquiry to our regional birders’ email list got a near-immediate response from Jack Bettesworth. He told me he’d banded about 300 Cooper’s Hawks since 2003. He banded this one in October and it has been seen at Magnuson several times. Read More
Over 200 Double-crested Cormorants roost in Kenmore, WA (click images for close-ups).
Last week, a bridge closure necessitated a drive around the north end of Lake Washington. There I discovered over 200 Double-crested Cormorants roosting in trees along the shore. I returned the next afternoon to take photos of them roosting and flying.
Double-crested Cormorant about to land
Double-crested Cormorants are common in most of North America, where they live, breed, and fish in fresh or salt water. The double-crest in their name refers to a pair of tufts that appear, one over each eye, during breeding season.
Cormorants like to gather in tall trees during the winter. The rest of the year they spend most of their time at water level. In some parts of the world, they have been used by people to catch fish (a snug collar prevents them from swallowing their catch). Read More