Monday, July 12, 2010

Fledgling Feathers

Lots of recently fledged birds around these days, like this cute ensemble of daddy house finch (accessorized in red) and two young with a bit of baby fluff-down still erupting from their heads, seen along Lake Union at the Montlake Community Center.  The middle finch features a hint of yellow coloration under its chin, indicating that it is probably male, and that it will one day sport  colorful head- and shoulder-gear like dad. Male house finches can vary in coloration anywhere between the red-orange-yellow spectrum, though red is most common.

A half-mile away at the Montlake Fill, insistent chirping led me to a little family of song sparrows creeping around in the grass. It looks as if there is at least a week's age gap between these two siblings:
The one on the left exhibits many signs of its relative youth: it is smaller, has more yellow flesh around its beak and lacks the more precise feather coloration of the one on the right.  The female parent can lay a clutch of eggs over a period of many days (during which time she may mate with more than one male, creating a nestful of half-siblings), which leads to this apparent discrepancy in maturation.

The telltale fluff of youth (seen as white patches interrupting their otherwise sleek blue-black upper bodies) is also visible in this group of sunbathing barn swallows:

The final feather exhibit is the juvenile male red-winged blackbird whose nascent flame red-yellow epaulettes are foreshadowed by a patch of orange at the shoulder:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Color Injection

As we slog through "summer" in Seattle, which yesterday truly felt like fall with bushtits parading en masse through trees as if they were fattening for an imminent winter, I thought I would offer a visual jaunt to Mexico.
I'd caught some teasing glimpses of this pale-billed woodpecker throughout my week in Sayulita, and was finally rewarded with an unimpeded view outside my window on one of my last mornings. At 14", this magnificent male rivals the 16" pileated woodpecker for its bold presence and its almost mammal-like heft.  Seeing it gives me only a taste of what encountering a 20" ivory-billed woodpecker must have been like before its probable and much-contested extinction in the mid-20th century (possibly, in part, due to my ancestors' ownership and logging of pine forests in Arkansas.)

Apparently it was called the Lord God Bird because that was the involuntary utterance elicited upon seeing it. Indeed, there is something odd and alien about a large woodpecker--its movements more rigid and robot-liked compared to the delicate and dance-like actions of smaller songbirds. It seems poised somewhere between bird and mammal. Even though it is fearsomely large, it flees upon seeing a human, hence: