Sunday, July 27, 2014

Latin for Bird Lovers

Latin for Bird Lovers
Attention bibliophiles, logophiles, linguaphiles, physisaphiles and especially aviphiles.  I just found a book that may satisfy all of your obsessions in one package.

I have always been interested in language and words.  When I was in school, I took an odd little nerdy course called Latin and Greek in Current Use.  It looked at the etymologies of English words derived from the classical languages.  It turned out to be useful studying for a career in health care (bradycardia = slow heart).

Some English words have the same etymological meanings, but different connotations.  Examples are synchronous (Greek) and contemporary (Latin).  Once in a while it is possible to deduce the meaning of an unfamiliar word if you know the meaning of its roots.  Ever since I took this course, I have found myself wondering about words and their origins.

Latin for Bird Lovers

Now move ahead more than thirty years.  I love exploring the natural world in my neighborhood and blogging about it.  I want to know everything possible about the things I see around me and share this information.  I have found a book that fills a special niche in this quest.

In my exploring I encounter a lot of scientific names.  Why was that name given to that flower?  Why is the Spotted Towhee called Pipilo maculatus?  What does that name mean?  It is not always easy to find the translations for these Greek and Latin words.  Sometimes a similar English word would provide a clue (maculatus is like immaculate = without spots).  Usually, though, it would take a lot of time.  Often I would never be able to find a translation.

Thanks to a Twitter friend, I discovered Latin for Bird Lovers by Roger Lederer and Carol Burr published by Timber Press in Portland, Oregon.  It's arranged like a dictionary.  The words in the binomial names of birds are listed from A to Z.  Birds worldwide are included.  The citations also provide example species and the rationale for applying the word to that bird.  This is a reference book every bird blogger will want to keep at hand.

Latin for Bird Lovers

In addition to the word listings, the book includes some extended discussions of ornithology subjects.  These include Genus Profiles ("Corvus" p. 54), biographies of Famous Birders ("Alexander Wilson" p. 216) and Bird Themes ("Feathers" p. 120).  These make the book much more than just a dictionary.  "A Short History of Binomials" explains the structure of the naming system and how the names are created.

My favorite features of the book are the illustrations.  They hearken to the time and style of scientific illustration before photography.  The visual impact of this beautiful artwork is stunning.  I find myself browsing the pages just to look at the pictures.  They impart an air of elegance and importance to the book.

This book satisfies a need I have had for a long time.  I anticipate it will get a lot of use, and both my left and right brains will be nourished.  I am delighted with this newest addition to my library and I wanted to share this discovery.
"If names are not correct, language will not be in accordance with the truth of things." -Confucius

Images:  Timber Press

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Eurasian Collared Dove

Eurasian Collared Dove
(Streptopelia decaocto)

Three years ago, my neighbor sent me a photo of a Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) in his yard.  It has taken them three years to make it the quarter-mile or so to mine.  I now see this pair hanging out in my yard every day.  They appear to be attracted by the feeders.

This world-traveling species has an interesting story.  Their original homeland is south Asia, India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, according to iBird.  During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they spread across Europe and eastward to into China.  By 1953, they had reached Britain.  Then in 1974, they were introduced into the Bahamas.  By the mid eighties, they were seen in Florida.  Since then, they have colonized most of the U.S., also reaching southern Canada and northern Mexico.  South Fidalgo Island now appears to be part of their range.

They are extremely shy.  If I get anywhere near the front yard, they escape to the big firs.  I had given up ever getting a picture.  Then, the other evening, I was out getting photos of the robins nesting in my fuchsia basket.  I spotted the pair perched on the chimney and was able to get several shots.  They apparently felt safe up there.

It remains to be seen how their spread will impact our native Mourning Doves.  I have not seen any in the yard since the Collared Doves appeared this summer.  I have also been watching for youngsters.  It is possible these doves are nesting in my big Douglas Firs.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Uncle Robin

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Uncle Robin, that's me!  An American Robin (Turdus migratorius) picked the fuchsia basket on my entry porch to build her nest.  Needless to say, this has made watering and picking off old blooms a bit complicated.  I am basically banished from the porch.

The fuchsia needs to be watered two or three times a week.  The method is to peek out and find a moment when the parent is not there.  Then quickly go out and water around the sides of the nest before dashing into the house again.  I've given up on picking off the old blooms to keep it flowering.  The birds are more interesting anyway.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) and Chicks

When she was sitting on eggs, she rarely left the nest.  Now she has three little mouths to feed and this is keeping her busy from dawn to dusk.  While she's out foraging, I get a chance to go out and water.

Dad might be helping out with the feeding.  With the poor lighting, it's hard to tell, but that could be Mom in the first photo, Dad in the second and third.

When I go out there, the chicks sense my presence and pop up with mouths agape.  They don't make a sound.  Other baby birds make a lot of noise when they're fed, but not these guys.  I am sure that's to avoid attracting the wrong attention.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) and Chicks

This is a perfect nesting site, but a terrible location for photography.  These photos were shot from about forty feet away at 300 mm, then cropped even further to get in close.

I had to do a lot of fussing with the lighting when they were edited.  The fuchsia basket is under the eave on the north side of the house.  The birds are always in deep shade.  Consequently there is a lot of noise in these shots.  The camera also has difficulty focusing on poorly lighted objects.  The photos are not very good, but you get the idea.  The first photo shot in the evening has the best focus and lighting.  The second two were shot around 7 AM.  I will try to get some better pictures in the coming evenings.

It remains to be seen how the chicks will react when they're old enough to see me.  When I go out to water, will they become frightened and flee the nest or just give me that "what do YOU want" look?

UPDATE  Here is this evening's photo 7/16/2014 at 6:45 PM:

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) and Chicks


UPDATE 7/18/2014:

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) and Chicks

Today's photo taken around midday has the best lighting so far.  The chicks have their eyes open now.  When I watered this morning they looked right at me.  I am not sure they can see very will yet.  They did not appear alarmed or even interested.  Maybe I just bore them.

UPDATE 7/25/2014:

Fledged!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Draw to a Pair

Bald Eagle, Kukutali Preserve

I was at the Kukutali Preserve once again this morning.  It has become a favorite spot for wildlife viewing.  Not only is it close to home, seasonal crowds can still be avoided here.  I have also found a back road route between my house and the Preserve.  I can get there easily without traffic or stoplights.

From the parking lot, visitors hike along the causeway to Kiket Island.  I have learned to check the tallest trees along at the east edge of the island, especially one just north of the road.  This is a favorite hunting and loafing perch used by Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).  Between 8:00 and 8:30 in the morning is the best time to spot them in my experience.  The sun is also in the perfect position for photos.

This morning, it was not difficult to find this fellow.  Just like the eagle that visits my yard, he was engaged in a continuous monologue of screeching and chattering.  I wonder if he was proclaiming, "this is my place in the world."  Right-click the photo to view it full size and notice the white spot in the middle of his breast.  Could this be the same bird that visits my yard every day?  Could this be George?

Bald Eagle, Kukutali Preserve

I continued my trek onto Kiket Island.  As I started to pass under the trees that overhang the road, there was another big ruckus right over my head.  A gull was chasing and harrying an eagle.  I headed back to the causeway and found this second bird perched on the south side of the road.  This eagle was larger, so I think this could be the female mate to the bird in the first photo.  This was the first time I saw two eagles together on Kiket Island.  If the first bird really is George, this would have to be Martha.

It is not uncommon to see eagles chased and bothered by smaller birds.  Crows, gulls and even sparrows will try to run them off.  The eagles usually yield to the harassment.  I have never seen them fight back or show any kind of aggression toward their smaller troublemakers.  So much for the "bird of war" myth.

Bald Eagle Nest, Kukutali Preserve

There are two eagle nests on Kiket Island.  This one can be seen from the main road.  Eagles might have several nests in their territory and rotate among them from year to year.  One theory is that leaving a nest unoccupied for a season will clean it of parasites.  Another nest, which is currently occupied, is just up the road to the west of me.  This is a new nest recently built right in the middle of a residential area.  This is testament to why many of us leave the big trees standing when we build homes.

Bald Eagle, Kukutali Preserve


I continued on out to the west end of the Preserve via the North Trail.  I was on the south beach near Flagstaff Island when this eagle flew past heading east.  Is this one of the pair I spotted earlier?


This is the Kukutali Preserve, Kiket and Flagstaff Islands as seen from my home.  What a privilege it is to live so close to this microcosm of the wild Pacific Northwest.  The pair of eagles I watched this morning is just one example of the amazing things this little preserve has to offer.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lonesome George

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

I think this is George, but I'm not sure.  It could be Martha.  I know it is one or the other because of the white feather in the middle of the breast.  This is one of the birds that has been visiting regularly for the last few years.

I use "lonesome" to describe his apparent social status when visiting, not as part of his name.  The real Lonesome George was a sole surviving Pinta Island Galapagos Tortoise who died in 2012.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

A Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has spent a lot of time alone in my trees over the entire Fourth of July weekend and since.  I hear chattering up there all day long.  Summer is the breeding season for Bald Eagles.  There is a nesting pair about a quarter mile up the road.  I have been wondering if this is one member of that pair.

Bald Eagles are year-around residents in this area.  Pairs usually remain monogamous for life.  Two birds often stop by together, but only one has been visiting lately.  Both parents will incubate and care for the chicks.  This may be where they come when relieved by their mate.  Both of these photos were taken about 7:00 AM this morning.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

These are my eagle trees, Douglas Firs, on the west edge of the yard.  In the photos above, he was sitting high up in the left tree.  Now, can you see him sitting in the right-most tree at the bottom of the top section?  Right-click the photo to view it full size.  Look for his white head a bit left of the trunk.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Zooming in closer, this might help locate him in the photo above.  These last two photos were taken at about noon today, when I heard chattering again.  They don't always perch in easy view for the camera, but I got lucky this time.  I never get tired of these visits.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Cornucopia

Banana Slugs (Ariolimax columbianus)

One, two, three, four, five, six.  "Cornucopia" is the collective noun for slugs.  I had to look this word up since I had never seen slugs in a group.  In fact, during all the treks I have taken in the woods, over all the years, I have never seen anything quite like this.

One week ago, I was in the newly opened Kukutali Preserve which comprises Kiket and Flagstaff Islands in Skagit Bay.  Near the west end of the South Trail is a heap of fallen trees, rotten wood and bark.  It appears to be windfall that was cut up and piled next to the trail.  The stuff was swarming with Banana Slugs (Ariolimax columbianus).  Most seemed to be resting with their antennae pulled in under their mantles.

Banana Slugs (Ariolimax columbianus)

Banana Slugs (Ariolimax columbianus)

Banana Slugs are familiar forest denizens in the Pacific Northwest.  What we usually see are solitary individuals here and there along a trail.  There might be one or two of these reclusive creatures seen on a hike.  If it has rained overnight, we could see several the next morning.  They will be spaced out along the trail, going about their sluggy business recycling 11% of the forest biomass every year.

Banana Slugs (Ariolimax columbianus)

Searching the net, I was not able to find a specific reason for such an aggregation.  I can only venture a guess.  I think the gathering might have had something to do with slug reproduction.

Slugs are hermaphroditic which means that each individual is both male and female.  Every slug is equipped to produce both eggs and sperm.  Mating is usually a mutual affair, each partner inseminating the other.  There didn't appear to be any of that going on during my visit.  What I may have stumbled upon was the aftermath following a night of courtship.

Slugs find mating partners with pheromones broadcast in their slime trails.  These are chemical signals that call in the troops, so to speak.  That may explain why there were so many grouped together.  It stands to reason that such an aggregation of individuals would increase reproductive success.

Finally, there's that apophallation thing.  After mating, the pair is sometimes unable to separate.  They resort to chewing off their own or their partner's penis to make separation possible.  Too much information, I know, but never fear.  The altered Banana Slug will continue a happy life as female.  And I am sure we'd all need to take a rest after that experience.

Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus)
Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus)

Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus)
Banana Slugs (Ariolimax columbianus)

The next question I had was why they were congregated around all this rotted wood.  I found one reference that indicated they like to lay their eggs in rotted wood or bark.  This will insure the eggs will stay constantly moist.

When I returned to the Kukutali site last Friday, only about half of the group remained.  On today's visit, all of this cornucopia of slugs was gone.  I was again seeing only single individuals here and there along the trails.  I wonder if I will ever see such a spectacle again.

As usual, I would enjoy hearing from anyone who has information about why these slugs had gathered together like this.

If you go down to the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today
You'd better go in disguise!

For ev'ry slug that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today's the day
Banana Slugs have their picnic.

If you go down to the woods today,
You'd better not go alone!
It's lovely down in the woods today,
But safer to stay at home!

For ev'ry slug that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today's the day
Banana Slugs have their picnic.

With appreciation to all Teddy Bears and Jimmy Kennedy

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Black Oystercatcher at Kukutali Preserve

Black Oystercatcher

Just across Skagit Bay from my home is Kiket Island and the smaller Flagstaff Island attached to it by a tombolo.  The islands now comprise the Kukutali Preserve.  It is owned and operated jointly by the Swinomish Tribal Community and Washington State Parks.  Until this week, access to the Preserve was limited to small guided groups by reservation only.  It is now open to the public and I made my first unescorted visit last Tuesday.  You can read about my visit and the history of this newly opened nature preserve at Fidalgo Island Crossings.

With a good low tide, I returned this morning with a specific objective.  I wanted to see if the Black Oystercatchers (haematopus bachmani) I first met three years ago are still living at Flagstaff.  I spotted a pair calling and flying low over the bay towards Skagit Island on Tuesday.

Sure enough, today I was rewarded by another encounter with one of my old friends.  Oystercatchers are non-migratory, form long-term pair bonds, and are known to live 15 years or more.

Kukutali Preserve at Deception Pass

This is the Oystercatchers' habitat.  Isolated rocky islets in northern Puget Sound are some of the few places they are found inland from the Pacific coast.  Flagstaff on the right is a flat piece of volcanic stone surrounded by a rocky beach.  The beach provides mussels, limpets and clams which make up their diet.  I photographed their clam opening technique for a previous post.  They nest at the edge of the island above the tide line in a simple scrape on the ground.

Looking west, the Deception Pass Bridge can be seen from here.  Flagstaff Island itself is a fragile lowland meadow habitat with thin soil.  It is protected and off-limits to visitors.  Check the information posted at the Preserve entrance to find the red zones where visitors are not allowed.  Note that only Swinomish tribal members and the Oystercatchers are permitted to harvest shellfish on these beaches.

Black Oystercatcher

I first spotted him while hiking along the south beach.  He was casually walking up the beach towards Flagstaff Island.  With my 18-200 mm lens, I was able to keep my distance.

Black Oystercatcher

Suddenly, he took wing and flew towards me.  So much for keeping my distance.  I have remarked before how laid back and affable these birds seem to be.  They don't act like they care about the presence of people in their territory.  Living in isolated places, they may have never developed a strong fear of humans.

Black Oystercatcher

He sauntered up to within 10 feet of me and decided to take a rest.  This was not my first close encounter, but I was still astonished.  Although they don't appear disturbed, people should never try to approach them.  Remain still and quiet and let the birds come to you if they feel comfortable.  Always stay well away from their nesting sites.

Black Oystercatcher

Apparently, this was not quite the right spot.  He got up and continued his trek towards Flagstaff coming even closer to me.  While they are strong fliers, these are shorebirds that never swim.  Their feet have long, stout toes specifically designed for walking on rocks and barnacles.

Black Oystercatcher

He continued up to the edge of Flagstaff Island.  Notice how well camouflaged he is there.  Now this looks like a good spot to rest for a while.  The stones have been warmed by the morning sun and he can keep an eye on that silly human taking his picture.