Sunday, July 24, 2011

Baby Pictures:  Northern Flicker

Blogger's "Next Blog" link at the top of their pages makes it possible to randomly explore other Blogger sites.  I always hope to discover some new nature blogs.  Instead, I seem to always end up mired in other peoples' baby pictures.  No offense, but it's not what I'm looking for.  In response, here are some of my own.

These are the fledged young of Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) caught by the Birdcam at various ages.  Mom always seems to be nearby.  This is a good example of what a useful tool the Birdcam really is.  It catches scenes I have never seen in real life.  It's nice to get these unique shots of one of my favorite birds.

Northern Flickers occur in two color forms defined by the undersides of their wing and tail feathers.  While I do see both pure Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted birds in the yard, most of my Flickers are Red/Yellow hybrids with orange shafts.  This year's crop of chicks seems to be continuing that pattern.  This male youngster sports a hint of a nape chevron usually seen in the Yellow-shafted race.  His red moustache is a characteristic of the Red-shafted form.  The blush on his forehead is unique.

Northern Flickers are as charming as they are beautiful.  They like to make short drumrolls on the metal chimney cap of my fireplace, my deck posts and even the side of the garage.  In the spring, this is a display to attract mates.  At other times it announces territorial rights.  They don't do any damage, and it makes life at the edge of the forest more interesting.  Enjoy this gallery of Northern Flicker baby pictures.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Northwestern Crow

In an earlier post, I commented that one bird I never expected to catch with the Birdcam was a crow.  Nevertheless, they have become daily visitors to the backyard Birdcam station.  The Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) is a regional denizen of shoreline habitats.  In fact, spotting a small crow near the beach is considered an identifying characteristic.  They are a bit smaller than the American Crow and have a hoarser voice.  Their range is coastal Alaska, British Columbia and Washington including Puget Sound.

I have a pair that nest somewhere nearby.  I see them foraging on the beach almost every day.  One day last winter, I noticed them perched on a driftwood snag.  There was something odd about their behavior that caught my attention.  Suddenly, with a single swoop, they launched themselves and flew up to the feeders on my front patio.  They obviously knew where they were headed.  Each bird took turns at the platform feeder while the other checked out the planters.  I was amazed how gentle and polite they were with each other.  They have become almost daily visitors to the feeders.

Some authorities assert this is not a distinct species, but instead, a subspecies of the American Crow (C. brachyrhychos).  Personally, I like the idea of a local specialist.  They are currently listed by the American Ornithologists' Union, Seattle Audubon SocietyNational Geographic, iBird and Sibley, and these sources are good enough for me.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Dinosaur in My Yard

My Pileated Woodpecker friend (Dryocopus pileatus) continues to visit the Birdcam suet station.  For some reason, I am only seeing a male bird and I assume it is the same fellow each time.  Males have a red mustache and forehead.  These parts are black in the female.  I don't know if he is a bachelor or if his mate is simply too shy to visit the yard.  Perhaps she is busy with nesting duties.  I hope he is not a bachelor.  Pileateds are monogamous and non-migratory.  I believe he nests in the Red Alder woods across the road.  I hear him calling and drumming there.

I have an endless fascination with these beautiful birds.  The first time I spotted one visiting the yard, for some reason, I knew I was home.  I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  More than other local birds, observing them reveals their dinosaurian heritage.  When I see them gliding through the trees, I think of a flying reptile.  They look just like Rodan.  Their eyes belong to the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.  That image is not lost when they hop and scamper effortlessly up and down the sides of Douglas Firs.  Their calls echoing in the woods bring to mind what a Jurassic forest might have sounded like.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Birdcam Debut:  Hummingbirds

Catching Hummingbird shots with the Birdcam has turned out to be a tricky task.  First, if the background is too busy these little guys are easily lost in the image.  The same happens if it's too close to the birds.  They are also faster than a speeding bullet and always in motion.  After some learning and adjusting, I finally got a couple of fairly decent shots.  We have two species common locally.  Above is a Rufous Hummingbird female (Selasphorus rufus).  Below is my best photo so far of Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna), also a female.  I will keep trying for better shots.  Despite what the references and range maps say, I had Rufous Hummingbirds buzzing around the yard in January.

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Tranquility Base Here..."

This summer, Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) have been making regular visits to the hunting perches in my yard.  They don't appear to be hunting.  Mostly, they just seem to be loafing.  I wonder if they come to take a break from the kids.

I always know when they are around.  They announce their arrivals with their chattering calls.  "Hey Dave, come out and take our picture."

Recently, they have been coming in pairs.  This is George and Martha, I believe.  Since Bald Eagle females are larger than the males, Martha would be on the right.

Did you know that "bald" in their name does not mean hairless.  It comes from Middle English ballede referring to white on the heads of animals, as blazes on horses.  The Indo-European base word is bhel, "white," which comes into Old German as ballo and Russian as belo.  "Piebald" is a related word.  The scientific name literally means "white-headed" (leucocephalus) "sea eagle" (Haliaeetus).

The Pacific Northwest is one of the remaining Bald Eagle breeding areas in North America.  The conservation status of the Bald Eagle has been downgraded from "endangered" to "threatened" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.  The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also classifies them "threatened."  According to Birdweb, there are currently more than 550 active Bald Eagle nests in Washington.  This includes some within the city limits of Seattle.

High in a Douglas Fir, this is a nearby nest or "aerie" which is not being occupied this season.  Eagles are monogamous, solitary nesters, but a pair might have two or three nests in their territory.  If there is too much disturbance at one site, for example, they can move to another.  It is thought that another reason to switch sites is to allow idle nests to clean themselves of parasites.

The birds will add material to their nests every year.  Over time, they can become huge, sometimes weighing a ton or more.  Sticks form the basic structure.  The nests are lined with softer materials such as leaves, grass, pine needles and moss.

Neil Armstrong from Apollo 11:  "Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed."

In 1969, I watched the moon landing on television.  Today was the final launch of the shuttle program.  Apparently there is nothing to replace it at the moment.  From the greatest achievement in technology to this.  It is a very sad day in history.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani)
The most charming shorebird in the Pacific Northwest is the Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani).  Don't expect frequent encounters, however, as they are quite rare.  If you spot one, consider it a privilege.  Although not classed as endangered, it is estimated that only 10,000 to 12,000 birds inhabit their entire range.  Because of these low numbers, they are listed as a "species of high concern" according to Audubon.  Their range is extensive, the outer North American coast from the Aleutians to Baja California and the inland Salish Sea as far south as Whidbey Island.

This is tiny Flagstaff Island, part of the Kukutali Preserve and Deception Pass State Park.  It sits in Skagit Bay offshore from my home.  Rocky headlands with gravel beaches on isolated, non-forested islands describes the preferred habitat of the Oystercatcher.  At low tide they will forage for shellfish, especially limpets and mussels.  They nest in simple hollows scraped on ledges or in grass above the high tide line.

Kukutali is a restricted area with escorted visits available by reservation only.  Visitors are not allowed to trek onto Flagstaff Island at all.

Black Oystercatchers are about the size of a crow.  They are all black or dark brown, with a distinctive red-orange bill and pink legs.  The unique, bright yellow eye is set off with a contrasting orange eye ring.  When all put together, they are a bit like a cartoon bird, but don't take them for granted.  When they sit still on the beach, they are very difficult to spot.  They blend right in with patches of Rockweed.  This is the brown seaweed seen all over the beaches here.  That heavy bill is tailor-made for getting into mussels and pulling out the meat.

There was a pair of birds here, and males and females look alike.  Pairs are monogamous and non-migratory.  They will defend their territories and may inhabit them year-around.

I watched this pair perform a brief, stylized display that resembled a tiff.  They made loud, whistling calls as they strutted around each other.  This is the breeding and nesting season for this area.

For a bird that prefers isolation, they are remarkably unwary and laid back. This is only my second encounter with the species, but on both occasions, they revealed this calm demeanor.

As I continued watching, one bird settled on an outcrop to rest (top photo).  The other climbed up the stone bank of the island, possibly to a nest.  What a beautiful spot they chose, a home surrounded by a field of wildflowers.  I wondered if there were eggs there.