Monday, June 28, 2010

Pretty and Pugnacious

Looks are deceiving: this lovely emerald and bronze creature zooms and zaps anything it perceives to be an intruder. That could be another hummingbird, you, me, a crow, a robin or anything else.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Better Baby Picture

A nestling in the western heronry on campus today. It's got its sights on me, already exercising the keen vision which will serve it well once it fledges and has to fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner on its own.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hello, Heronettes!

At first, I didn't think anybody was home when I visited the heronry on campus Friday evening. A sudden SPLAT!! to my right, and a bit on my cheek, soon told me otherwise. Baby heron butt above.

Hard to be sure, but I estimate at least five or six nestlings in the eastern heronry. And some of them have nearly lost all their fuzz, so perhaps they are about three-to-four weeks old.

In fact, some of them were stretching and flexing, at the very edge of their nests; I sensed their boredom, their itch to move--just like plane travellers on a cross-country flight.
You can see the keratin sheaths from which their primary feathers emerge--they look like slender grey tubes. On smaller birds, like my cockatiels or songbirds, they are called pin feathers because they really do look like needles or pins when they first emerge, the feather completely encased in the sheath liked a tightly rolled umbrella.

When a bird runs its beak through its feathers, the behavior called preening, it is sometimes helping the sheath dislodge and fall away. Social birds, like parrots, sometimes do this for each other. And I sometimes help my cockatiel Lemon remove her sheaths with my fingers. You can see the result on my floors.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Secret Sap

What could these two possibly have in common?

They were both addicted to whatever elixir this tree produces. I first noticed the squirrel licking the tree, then saw flies on it and then the sapsucker showed up, who had made the pattern of gouges over time.

And I really do mean addicted:  the woodpecker's desire for sap overrode its life-protecting impulse to flee upon seeing me. Initially, when I was about 30 feet away, it was spooked by my presence. After gradually creeping closer over an hour, I was about six feet away from it. The bird was so enthralled by the tree's excretions that it didn't mind me or my camera shutter clicking.

Table Manners

Steller's jays are usually even more rabidly territorial and cranky and loudmouthed than their fellow corvids, crows. In other words, if you breathe in their direction from 20 yards away, you will be raucously upbraided by a brilliantly blue bird as if you'd pulled out its nails without anesthesia. (Postscript 6/20: After watching the Italy v. New Zealand World Cup game this morning, I realize it's apt to liken the histrionics of jays to that of Italian footballers when they have been "injured" on the field.)

This morning I met a welcome and unusual exception to this rule--even more unusual because it was a juvenile accompanied by a parent, an occassian when outsized squawking has some merit. The parent was either on avian qualudes or got some sort of cease-and-desist order on the squawking. Here's the cute juvie solo with a little green insect ensnared in its toes and then begging for food:

Notice the small light-colored spot where the beak joins the head (right), a telltale sign of a young bird. This slightly yellow or pink fleshy bit allows the bird to open its beak really wide for food, and reveals a startling reddish-pink mouth (see below).
Also typical of begging behavior is the outstretched wings, which are shaken and/or lifted up and down very quickly as if the bird were trying to propel itself into the air.  It's rather telling that the drive for food and sex ellicits similar postures. Below is a juvenile crow in the same begging posture with its parent.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Baby Stuff

Yes, it's that time of year. Cute fledglings and parenting activity abound.

I accidentally flushed this young savannah sparrow from a field and, not yet able to fly, it skittered away like a cartoon character, its wings windmilling across the pavement. A parent soon followed it. At the Kent Ponds.

Fledgling junco with dad in the Arboretum yesterday afternoon.

Chestnut-backed chickadee at a nesting box in the Arborteum.

Mom mallard with hygenic offspring.

Pugilists' Sunday II

A gorgeous chocolate-brown juvenile eagle was standing sentry when a single crow began mobbing it. After a while it conceded and flew off (crappy pics):

Pugilists' Sunday

The cedar waxwings at the Kent Ponds today were out in full force, both in numbers and in attitude. Lots of jockeying for position--as many as four to six crammed on a branch, one inevitably bickering at and jostling the others.

In fact, I had a brief, much-coveted sighting of a male lazuli bunting, but it too was displaced by a waxwing who apparently had nothing better to do than muscle his or her way onto the branch, although there were literally acres of unpopulated branches available. Anthropomorphizing aside, this is presumably keyed-up territorialism due to mating season.  

Friday, June 11, 2010


Enfin! A non-blurry image of a brown creeper. Like the towhee 20 yards away from it, this creeper in the Arboretum this afternoon was unusually unfazed by my presence and did its nimble peregrinations in front of me rather than scurrying away. Thank you, brown creeper.


Song sparrow doing its song thing. It was singing back and forth with a spotted towhee, who was proclaiming himself for about half and hour from a bare branch, which is not their MO, in my observation. Towhees are generally pretty secretive and furtive, scratching around on the ground, hanging out in shrub-height greenery. But this one was going for it--you can even see the pink of its mouth:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Seeing Red

Please meet my new best friend, the cinnabar moth. It is improbably beautiful and striking, straight from central casting for enchanting winged creatures. I discovered it while birding in a field next to the Black River in Renton yesterday afternoon.

The intensity of the red and the black, the graphic interplay of the dots and swirls, remind me of Preston Singletary's glasswork (below, top, is Raven Steals the Stars). Another striking red-black combo is this hybrid red-naped x red-breasted sapsucker sucking sap in Hylebos Wetlands Park in Federal Way yesterday.