Showing posts from February, 2015

American Coot

I have lost track of how many times I have hiked on the dike at Wiley Slough.  It provides a trail deep into the wetlands of the Skagit River Delta.  The site is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife .  Despite all those visits, yesterday was the first time I have ever seen an American Coot (Fulica americana) . At first, there was just one.  Then a second bird appeared and joined the first one.  When the two entered the slough and began to swim, I spotted a third one that joined them from the opposite shore. American Coots are about the size of a small chicken.  They are said to be common and abundant in wetland areas throughout the Puget Sound Basin.  The Skagit River Delta would appear to be ideal habitat.  It consists of sloughs, marshes and ponds where the Skagit River drains into Puget Sound.  Water levels will fluctuate subject to both river flow and tidal action.  There is a mixing of fresh and salt water.  This is an important rearing habitat for

Salamander Season

Meet Ensatina eschscholtzii, the Ensatina Salamander .  I found this one under a large piece of bark on the North Trail in the Kukutali Preserve.  It was about 5 inches/13 cm long and didn't move a muscle when it was exposed.  A map showing location is linked at the bottom of this post.  I don't believe I have ever seen one of these before making this an important find for me. Ensatina means "like a sword."  Eschscholtzii may refer to Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz , a nineteenth century physician and naturalist who explored Alaska and California. Initially, I misidentified this guy as a Northwestern Salamander ( Ambystoma gracile).   But that species has large parotid glands behind the eyes.  My salamander does not.  What clinched the ID was the obvious constriction at the base of the tail, unique among Washington salamanders .  It is clearly visible in the photo.  This little amphibian has some other unusual characteristics: They do not have lungs.  Inst

Dances with Sparrows

Last Friday, January 30, I was in the Kukutali Preserve .  I hiked out to the south beach off Flagstaff Point.  Because it is a fragile ecosystem, the point itself is off-limits to visitors, but access to the beach is permitted.  I was there to see if the resident Oystercatchers were around, but not on this day.  Instead, I encountered a pair of Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) exhibiting some odd behavior. The two birds were positioned about six feet (2 meters) apart.  The one on the shore was swelled up with neck tucked in looking rather like Jabba the Hutt ("heh-heh-heh").  He was flipping his wings up, first the left one, then the right. This was the object of his attention, a second Song Sparrow on the beach perched on driftwood.  At first, I thought I was witnessing courtship.  Although January seemed a bit early for that, it was a very spring-like morning.  This entire winter has been warmer than usual. When I got home and started to research the behav