Sunday, May 29, 2011

Killer Crow

Preface: These shots are crappy and not up to BirdWordGirl standard; but they illustrate something not often seen, so it is worth sharing them, despite the damage they might wreak upon my PhotoEgo.

Yesterday morning at low tide along the Duwamish River. Lots of juvenile starlings around; this one got very unlucky. For two agonizing minutes, the crow plucked and pecked at the starling, who squealed and cried on its back, pedaling its legs in protest. Meanwhile all nearby starlings and robins went beserk with alarm calls.

The crow spent nearly as much energy defending its killing process from its voracious corvid colleagues as it did pecking at the starling.

Frankly, it was a relief when the body was finally lifeless and feathers began flying as the crow tucked in. After a few seconds, the crow flew off with the body, assailed by its colleagues.

(Yes, I did briefly consider stopping the killing but the hard facts intervened: starlings are a non-native species which are numerous and at times quite harmful to native species.  If it had been a Flicker, my favorite bird, I would have gone ballistic on that crow's ass.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sunbathing is for the birds

We had feeble, fleeting moments of sun on Sunday and this Flicker took advantage of the warmth to stretch, yawn and take a sun bath. She extended her wings, lowered her body to the sun-warmed branch, closed her eyes and lolled her head to the side. Kind of like us.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Owl prowl: success!

Thanks to the expert ear and owl calls of Luis, my birding guide in San Pancho, we found this adorable bundle with delicately arched eyebrows, AKA a  Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.

Ferruginous: from Latin: ferrgin-, iron rust, iron-rust color.

Pygmy: it's damn small--with a body about the size of a man's balled fist.

Seeing this owl and capturing its face was particularly satisfying as I'd briefly seen its relative, the Northern Pygmy Owl, in Arizona last fall. It was similarly perched above me, about 20' up, in an anonymous, indistinct little brown ball which flew away before I could photograph it well. So being able to look into the face of a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl makes me feel the circle is somewhat closed now.

Green-winged bombers

Who wouldn't want to be dive-bombed by orange-fronted parrots in the Mexican jungle?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Extreme Cuteness in the Hood

Golf balls with wings--that's what I call bushtits. They are round-bodied, petite birds with an unfortunate name (almost an erotic oxymoron, no?) and the most endearing manner. Flitting around neighborhoods en masse, gleaning tiny insects from trees and shrubs, they are remarkably unfazed by humans and are often happy to go about their business within a few feet of people.

This one, shot yesterday during a spontaneous evening walk, landed in my friend Paul's front yard on East 20th Street and wins bonus Cuteness Points for being fluffy and disheveled from a recent bath or collision with some very wet shrubbery.

An very occasional visitor to the hood is a yellow-rumped warbler. Probably a spring migrant, passing through, which  are more often seen in the Arboretum and the Fill. The spring weather has been so winter-ish, that it's hard to believe that brightly colored warblers and tanagers are passing through the city, spangling our tress and flowers with tropical oranges, reds and yellows.

That said, this house finch (right) is very much a residential bird in the hood through the year. His breast en-reddens (new word!) for the ladies in spring.  Male house finches can exhibit an interesting range of color variation--from red to yellow to gold--which is determined primarily by diet.  More and more research shows that in general, female birds are attracted to vividness of color more than size in male birds. Hmmmm.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Flickers Flicking

In Spanish, woodpeckers are known as carpinteros--carpenters. Of course, we talk of woodpeckers "hammering" or "drilling" on a tree, but they are also hearty makers of sawdust, as illustrated here. After being upside down (below) in its cavity for a few minutes excavating a deeper and deeper cavity for its nest, this flicker turns right side up with a beakful of debris which it then flings to its left. Without fail, both male and female at this Lake Union nest perfom their nestbuilding exactly this way, hour after hour--always throwing dust to the left.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Woodpecker Wonderland

Biking along the Burke-Gilman Trail on Sunday was like zooming through a tunnel of Northern Flicker Love Songs. There was an unending necklace of wicka-wicka-wicka mating calls reverberating in the trees.

As I slowed down my bike to get my camera out, I was literally eye to eye with a Pileated Woodpecker (at left) in a tree.  These stout birds are remarkably skittish for the size, but this one was insanely indifferent to me and my camera. At one point, I was probably five feet away from her as she pounded a tree for insects. Her thread-like tongue is visible in this shot, emerging from the tip of her beak like a serpent's hiss.

Of course, I'm no ornithologist, but my guess is that during the mating and nesting season birds are so zealously finding nesting material and food to fuel their parenthood that they become somewhat oblivious to what would normally be a threat (a sweaty, dorky bike helmet-wearing human with a long camera lens).

This male Northern Flicker (at right) was excitedly excavating a nesting hole alongside Lake Union.  Occasionally he would stop his pounding and make a mating call, which went unaswered.
A bit further away on the lake, I discovered a mated pair taking turns excavating their nest. About every 20 minutes one approached the nest, vocalizing to announce his or her incoming arrival to its mate who was working away in the hole. The vocalization helped me too--so that I could ready my lens to capture shots like this one below.