Full Bloom

Black-Capped Chickadee on Oregon Grape

Black-Capped Chickadee on Oregon Grape.
Click for larger image.

“Spring is finally here!”

To that declaration I often add “Can winter be far behind?” In the Pacific Northwest we have to make the most of every good-weather day, as things can change quickly and unpredictably for the worse.

Yesterday I had to travel across Lake Washington into Seattle. So I took the opportunity to visit the Washington Park Arboretum.

Joggers, wedding parties, bicyclists, and a host of others were enjoying the flowering plants and birds that abounded. Here’s a sampling of the sights. Read More »

Posted in Bird Talk, Seasons | Leave a comment

The Hummingbird’s Miraculous Tongue

I came across this remarkable video about recent research on how the Hummingbird’s tongue helps it to feed. Once thought to soak up nectar using capillary action, the tongue is now known to work by a far more complex mechanism.

The video the clip is from the Illustra Media DVD FLIGHT: The Genius of Birds. More information (including purchase details) at www.flightthegeniusofbirds.com.

Posted in Bird Talk, Research | Leave a comment

The Long-tailed Weasel American Mink

[Well, I’ve been corrected by several readers as to the identification of this mammal. Having read regular reports of Short-tailed Weasels at this location, and not having heard of a Mink being sighted there, I made a wrong assumption. My thanks to the folks who set me straight. -Marc Hoffman]

I had a fun surprise yesterday while watching a female Common Merganser as it swam, preened, and fished along the weir at Marymoor Park in Redmond, WA. In the background, I noticed a tiny, otter-like head poke up and swim across the strong current. As it climbed onto the rocky shore, I could see it was a Long-Tailed Weasel an American Mink.

American Mink, Marymoor ParkAdult Mink measure about 12-18 inches long. They spend much of their time in or around water, swimming with an undulating motion of the body. Adept hunters, they feed on fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and other small animals, often delivering a fatal bite to the head or neck. Audubon reported seeing a Mink carrying a foot-long trout.

Mink have been farmed for their fur. They can be kept as pets but are known for biting their owners, so must be handled with gloves.

Still, they’re awfully cute, don’t you agree? Read More »

Posted in Environmental Awareness, Unusual Sightings | 6 Responses

Lock-Picking Cockatoos

(from Devorah Bennu, PhD, “GrrlScientist,” at http://gu.com/p/3h7vz/tw)

Follow the link above for an amazing story of how Cockatoos in an animal-behavior lab were shown learning to pick a series of 5 locking devices in a specific order so as to get a reward. Or was the challenge itself the reward? Read More »

Posted in Bird Talk | Leave a comment

A Day on the Slough

The Sammamish Slough connects Lake Sammamish with Lake Washington. It borders Marymoor Park in Redmond, a park well-known for good birding and also for its expansive off-leash dog exercise area. Last Friday, I spent 5 hours kayaking up and down a 1-mile stretch, watching both the many birds and the dogs whose owners had brought them to play in the water.

View Sammamish River Slough in a larger map

Mother and Juvenile Wood DuckAn early discovery was this mother Wood Duck with her juvenile duckling. Quite likely her brood started out with as many as a dozen babies—it’s a hard world for birds that leave the nest almost immediately upon hatching. Their predators include Bald Eagles, River Otters, and even large fish and bullfrogs. Note the lovely colors on the mother’s speculum (the patch on the wing), especially irridescent in the bright sunlight. Read More »

Posted in Bird Talk, Nesting, Seasons | Leave a comment

Harbor Seal Pup

Harbor Seal Pup, West SeattleDriving 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. Read More »

Posted in Environmental Awareness, Rescue & Rehabilitation, Unusual Sightings | Leave a comment

First of Season: Varied Thrush

Varied ThrushWe 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. Read More »

Posted in Bird Talk, Seasons | 1 Response

Peregrine Falcons of Lake Washington


Peregrine Falcons at the 520 Bridge on Lake Washington

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).


Posted in Bird Talk | Leave a comment


American Crow

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.

Read More »

Posted in Bird Talk, Environmental Awareness, Philosophy | 3 Responses

Cavity-Nesting Birds

Hairy Woodpecker feeding young at nest hole

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 »

Posted in Bird Talk, Environmental Awareness, Nesting | 1 Response