Life and Death at Kukutali
December 1 is the meteorological beginning of winter. In northern latitudes, winter is the season of cold, stillness and darkness, when much of nature seems to die. True to form, ours has come with subfreezing temperatures and even some snow in places. In the north Puget Sound area, we have been getting clear skies and bright sunshine along with the cold temperatures.
For some reason, I love hiking in cold weather. With a day off work and a beautiful day, I headed over to the Kukutali Preserve to check out the wildlife. I didn't get much past the parking lot before spotting this Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) enjoying the fruits of a Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). This tree is a native of Europe that has become naturalized in the Pacific Northwest.
As I mentioned, our overnight temperatures have dropped below freezing. It was about 26° F (-3° C) when I left home. A skim of ice had formed on the surface of the salt water lagoon next to the road to Kiket Island.
As I expected, I spotted one of the neighborhood Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched above the road on the southeast corner of Kiket Island. I believe this is the bird I call George that occasionally visits my yard.
As I got closer, George flew off and headed toward Fidalgo Island. Immediately, Martha arrived and perched on the northeast corner of Kiket. This pair has built a nest across the bay on Fidalgo and raised two eaglets there this past summer. My neighbor tells me they have been adding material to the nest during the last few weeks.
After hiking across Kiket Island, I checked the clearing where the old boathouse used to be. I have spotted deer here in the past. What I found instead was a kill site, a large scattering of feathers and down. It covered an area of about 60 square meters. I think there had been quite a ruckus here.
Something lost its life here, perhaps to the jaws of a coyote. It was a large bird. My best guess would be a Canada Goose or Heron had been the owner of those feathers. I have often found wing joints and neck bones in kill sites, but there were only feathers here. The predator apparently carried off the carcass to consume it in seclusion. This serves as a reminder that death is also a part of nature. One life was lost to sustain another.
Beyond the clearing, a trio of Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) happily swam in the half-moon bay between Kiket and Flagstaff Island, They appeared unaffected by the either the chilly temperatures or the drama that had taken place nearby.
Hiking back off the island, I encountered a flock or "company" of Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus) near the caretaker's house. As usual, they flew away at my approach. I stayed in place and kept very still to see what would happen. One brave little bird returned to the tree and I was able to catch a photo.
Then two more birds arrived. I remained very still.
As I stayed in place watching, the flock returned, nine birds in all. Pine Siskins are seed eaters, so I'm not sure what attracted them to this tree. Perhaps they simply found it a good spot to socialize and enjoy the morning sun.
Nearby, a Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) was foraging at the edge of the road. They are ground feeders that enjoy insects, spiders, seeds and fruits. They usually stick to dense thickets, so it was nice to see this one out in the open.
My first winter outing turned out to be an enjoyable and productive day. Even in this season of sleep, cold temperatures seem to bring out lots of wildlife. Evidence of life lost was also encountered. Nature has always been a matter of life and death.