Monday, June 27, 2011

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

It is not surprising to find birds like this Pileated Woodpecker visiting a BirdCam station.  Look closely, however, and you will discover he has an unlikely dinner date.  A Red Slug (Arion rufus) has joined in the feasting.  These slugs are immigrants from Europe and have become somewhat invasive in our gardens.  They are also a threat to our native Banana Slugs (Ariolimax columbianus) through competition and predation.  To reach the suet cage, this fellow had to climb six feet up the rough bark of the Douglas Fir.  With such persistence, they should probably not be underestimated.

There is never a dull moment at the BirdCam.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Orange-belted Bumble Bee

After 24 years gazing at Kiket Island across the bay, I finally got to explore it today.  I met this fellow right at the entrance.  I believe it is an Orange-belted Bumble Bee worker (Bombus ternarius) taking care of a Himalayan Blackberry flower (Rubus discolor).  Bumble bees are important pollinators and are not aggressive unless their nests are disturbed.  Consider them friends and allies in the garden.  There will be more about this Kiket Island visit at Fidalgo Island Crossings.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Douglas Squirrel

Another garden visitor has made his BirdCam debut.  The Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) is a Pacific Northwest original.  Their range is coastal British Columbia, western Washington and Oregon and northern California.  They are small squirrels, midway in size between Chipmunks and Gray Squirrels.  Interestingly, their genus name combines Tamias (chipmunks) and Sciurus (squirrels), together meaning "hoarder squirrel" in Greek.

A beautiful sable brown coat is set off by an orange underside.  In summer, they acquire a black band on their sides which can be seen in both photos here.  They live in coniferous forests and are rather noisy little guys.  You will often hear them from the trees but not see them.  A persistent, high pitched barking, "chew-chew-chew-chew" is used to defend territories and warn of predators.  If they are around when I am in the yard, I get a stern talking to.

As a comparison, this is our little Townsend's Chipmunk (Tamias townsendii).  These are actually one of the largest of Chipmunks.  Douglas Squirrels do not have cheek pouches for gathering food that you see in this Chipmunk.

Then, of course, there is HIM, the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), here flicking his tail in anger because he is not getting his way.  These are the three Sciuridae found on Fidalgo Island.  Two are welcome visitors.  One is not.  Well, sometimes he's not.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Got Him:  Pileated Woodpecker!

The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) was the bird that inspired me to acquire a Birdcam.  The first time I spotted one at the feeders, I knew I had to find a way get a photo.  They are wary and fast and difficult to catch with a camera.  When I discovered the Wingscapes Birdcam I had a hunch it might be the solution.  It took eight and a half months to get this clear shot, which really isn't bad.  Can you sense the grin on my face coming through the screen?

The Pileated is North America's largest woodpecker and one of our most beautiful birds.  Only the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was larger, but this bird is now believed to be extinct.  Seeing them soar through the trees in glider fashion is a magnificent sight.  It becomes easy to imagine how these birds could be related to dinosaurs like pterodactyls.  They run up and down the sides of trees like acrobats.  The vertical world of the forest is truly their habitat, and they own it totally.

They make wonderful noises that reverberate through the trees.  Their calls and their drumming have a primeval quality.  They evoke thoughts of what the world might have been like before humans.

It took this guy a couple of weeks to find this new BirdCam station.  I anticipate he will be returning occasionally now that he has found it.  I have re-aimed the camera downward just a bit to try and get the entire bird in the next shots.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Something New, Something Borrowed

My neighbor has a knack for catching great bird photos.  This young, female Rufous Hummingbird (Salasphorus rufus) visits a Torch Lily.  We have two Trochilidae common on South Fidalgo; the other is Anna's Hummingbird.  I had Rufies visiting the yard this past January, by the book, a bit out of season.

The Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) is an immigrant, originally introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970's.  By the 1980's, they reached Florida and apparently have now made it all the way to South Fidalgo Island.

Photos:  Dan Codd

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Steller's Jay

If blue is your favorite color, you will enjoy the Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri).  For an elegant touch, add a black hood and cape.  This is another iconic bird of the Pacific Northwest.  Find them in forest edge habitats from southern Alaska into central California and in the Rocky Mountains.  This is a large and active bird and it has been difficult to get a crisp shot at the BirdCams.  Attracting them to feeders is easy.  Put out a few whole, raw peanuts and they'll be on them within a minute.  It's like they have peanut radar.

This is one of my very first photos caught with the BirdCam.  The blue marks on the forehead are a characteristic of the local birds.  They sometimes exhibit the behavior of a classic bully, noisy, aggressive and cowardly.  I can tell they are around from anywhere in the house.  They arrive at the feeders with a loud, shrill cheeeck-cheeeck-cheeeck-cheeeck to chase the other birds away.  If they catch one glimpse of me, however, they are gone in a flash.  The tiny Wrens and Chickadees are much braver.  When I hear hawks calling from high in the trees, I know it's really the Steller's Jays up to their old tricks.  Imitating the calls of hawks is one of their specialty behaviors.

The Jays around public parks and campgrounds are much braver.  They have learned to beg for food from campers and picnickers.  Jays are Corvids along with Ravens, Crows and Magpies.  As  a group, all of these birds are intelligent and quick learners.  The have been successful, in part, because they have learned to live with humans and exploit our habits and behaviors.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Northern Flicker Paradigms

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Of all the birds that visit my yard, the Northern Flicker is one of the most charming.  Dignified and gentle, these handsome birds are always welcome guests.  Taxonomists will notice that both birds pictured here are hybrids or intergrades between the Yellow-shafted race of the East and the Red-shafted birds of the West.  How many identifying characteristics of the two varieties can you spot in these birds?  Can you tell which is the male and which is the female?  You are welcome to post your replies in the comments.

While I do see both purely Red and Yellow-shafted birds in the yard, hybrids of the two are the most common.  The normal range of Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers includes western Canada.  It stands to reason that our proximity here in northwestern Washington State makes it a location where both varieties will be seen.

Some interesting behaviors add to the charm of these birds.  At the edge of the back yard is a dead Douglas Fir with a broken top.  Every spring, pairs of Flickers perform elaborate courtship dances high up on the top of this snag.  The males like to drum on my deck posts and the metal cap of my fireplace chimney.  I think they do this to attract females.  Flickers don't drill into trees like other woodpeckers.  Instead, their favorite food is ants which they will collect from trees, shrubs and on the ground.  In the winter, up to a dozen birds will gather in the yard and hang out.  They will all just sit together quietly.  Such a group is called a "menorah," "guttering" or a "Peterson" of Flickers.  Apparently, Flickers are Jewish, so shalom aleikhem friends.

These are some of the first photos from my new BirdCam No. 2 station.  It has been designed to catch a nice photo of a Pileated Woodpecker, my ongoing quest.  For this station, I increased the focal length and provided a solid, fixed mounting for the suet.  I also picked an appropriate setting for these forest birds.  The photos from the previous setup were usually blurred because the little suet house could swing.  The larger Pileateds and Flickers often ended up in undignified positions because the lure was too small for them.  The next enhancement will be to add a perch for the smaller, perching birds.  Using a BirdCam is a constant learning process, but always a pleasure.