Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Avian Acrobatics

Upside down is easy for this avian acrobat. Bushtits are diminutive, agile and nimble; they scramble, dangle and wrangle in search of food and nesting material.

They often travel in packs and are sometimes so consumed with their gleaning activities that they are indifferent or oblivious to nearby humans. This male (see the yellow eye) was no more than 18 inches from me in a chest-high bush while I took many shots.

Earlier in the day, he snagged a great blue heron feather which had fallen from the nesting colony above his own nest.

This bushtit and his mate have fortuitously chosen their nest location--there will continue to be a supply of heron feathers falling from above throughout the summer.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Happy Heron News

On Friday I went to check on the herons and was thrilled to discover that the mini colony next to the Paul Allen building now hosts six nests--four more than I saw two weeks ago. These herons are obviously the cool kids on the block, breaking into a new real estate market.

As the nests are newer, they were much more actively hunting for material than those old school herons 100 yards to the west.

This nest is definitely newer as it appears less dense from the ground. The two birds are squeezed in side by side, almost spilling out beyond the nascent structure's perimeter.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Nest Serendipity

At 9 am two Sundays back, I Googled "brown creeper nest" because I wanted to see what kind of domicile these peripatetic feathered creatures construct. According to my field guide, they build "behind a loose slab of bark still attached to a living or dead tree...sides of nest continue upward, ending in points (crescent-shaped like hammock, half-moon)."

Hmmm, this sounds convoluted. And complicated, I thought. There's no way in hell I'll ever find one of those.
But by 10 am, I was standing in front of not one, but two creeper nests! Like the brown- and cream-marbled bird, the nest is well camouflaged. They take advantage of cracks in branches or bark peeling away from the trunk. They then stuff if with the usual small bird favorites: moss, hair, feathers.

On the left is the nest, only about three feet from the ground, on April 11. On the right is the same nest, with additional material, on April 22. No eggs yet.

Here is the host tree, on the UW campus. Another nest is in a crevice in a branch to the right.

Here is the architect at the entrance of the branch nest:

The serendipity continued...the heron colony was about 30 feet up the path. And beneath that was a very plump bushtit nest, scenically dangling above a blazingly crimson rhododendron.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Croak Loudly and Carry a Big Stick

Watching a Great Blue Heron hunt for sticks and branches for his nest is, for birders, like watching the Wide World of Avian Sports: a show filled with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Herons are about as tall as a second grader and have a wing span of six feet. They employ acrobatics, yoga, and hormone-propelled ambition to snap branches off, which are then shuttled back to the nest for precision placement.

When approaching a potential branch, he crouches in a hunting posture as he does when hunting for food in water.

With his target in sight, he coils his neck back

and darts forward, serpent-like, to claim the branch with his indomitable beak.

Then the majestic struggle begins. He spreads his wings out to counterbalance the extension of his neck.

Then he begins to navigate back through the tree canopy, unwieldy branch in beak. This is where the agony of defeat can occur: when his path becomes too treacherous or obstructed, he will resort to a cumbersome, clumsy flight--sometimes crashing through branches--to the nest. All that to get one stick to its nest. That's a lot of hormones.

To see more photos:

(This bird is one of a handful of pairs that has been building a mini-colony on the UW campus, south of Drumheller fountain. This is the third year I've seen them there. I counted four nests in one stand of trees and two in another; I can't verify if all nests are active.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mr. Handsome's Home Inspection

This specimen of dapperness, a male Northern Flicker, has been house-hunting with his lady friend for at least a week around Holy Names Academy's tree-rich lawn.

After drumming on a nearby chimney for a bit, he flew to the female, who was doing vigil at what must be a potential nest-site.  Below left he arrives and below right he dunks his head and eventually his whole self into the cavity, while she looks on from above.

Time will tell whether this site passes home inspection--I hope it does as this would provide Homo sapiens with an unobstructed view of the home as Colaptes aurati raise their young.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Birdy Breakfast

Just call me Snow White...Lemon loves oatmeal and is very piggy about it. As you can see, she has no fears about perching on the bowl and "sharing" with me.

And for the true Seattle Morning Moment: Lemon must have her oatmeal, and I must have my coffee.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Early Birds Getting the Worms

The chickadees were having a field day in the lovely pink apple and cherry blossoms along Aloha Street this morning. Lots of insects to be had inside those delectable blossoms.

I learned something new and startling this morning--chickadees are so light and so agile that they are able to cling to a blossom while they poke around in it for food.

They grasp and clasp with their claws like parrots or monkeys:

 Amazing that the weight of their bodies does not damage the ethereal blossoms.

Master Recyclers, Part II

Squirrel's beat out bushtits, I think, in terms of recycling. In part because they take over and rennovate abandoned crow nests and in part--because they are larger--they are able to be more omnivorous in their nesting material options.

Yesterday's bluster brought down part of a squirrel's nest from a conifer to the sidewalk, in two big chunks. If you didn't know what a squirrel's nest looks like, you'd walk right by it. But I squatted down and poked at them with a stick, to see what materials they utilized. In addition to the expected (leaves, twigs, moss), there were scraps of canvas (maybe from a bag?) and shreds of newspaper.

Nictitating Membrane

This crow is interesting for two reasons: one, its got some nesting material, and two, my shutter speed was fast enough (1/1000 sec) to catch the creepy occurrence of the nictating membrane.

See the grey-blue filmy look to its eye? Well, that's the membrane that nictitates.  Here's the low-down from Wikipedia:

     The nictitating membrane (from Latin nictare, to blink) is a transparent or      translucent third eyelid present in some animals that can be drawn across the eye for protection and to moisten the eye while also keeping visibility. Various reptiles, birds, and sharks have a full nictitating membrane...Unlike the upper and lower eyelids, the nictitating membrane moves horizontally across the eyeball. It is normally translucent. In some diving animals, for example beavers and manatees, it moves across the eye to protect it while under water, and in these species it is transparent; in other diving animals including sea lions, it is activated on land, to remove sand and other debris. This is its function in most animals. In birds of prey, it also serves to protect the parents' eyes from their chicks while they are feeding them, and when peregrine falcons go into their 200 mph dives, they will blink repeatedly with the nictitating membrane to clear debris and spread moisture across the eye.

Back to nesting material: with its mate, this crow is building a nest in a very cramped tree crotch which is relatively close to the ground--maybe about 12' above the sidewalk. Amateur Hour. Here are the ways it could play out:
       1. They will abandon the nest before laying as it is too close to pedestrian traffic (and nosy birders like me).
       2. They will not abandon it, but the people who live in the apartment building not 10' from the nest will develop either a life-long hatred of crows due to the incessant cawing of incessantly hungry baby crows or a newfound appreciation for the life cycle of crows.

Stay tuned...