Saturday, May 26, 2012

Stormy Weather

Farmers, photographers and birders. If you want an accurate weather forecast, rely on 'em.

Outdoor photographers must be exquisitely attuned to climatalogical and lighting conditions. To employ technical language: if the light sucks, the photos will be subpar.

Yesterday as I set out on my bike to bird the Montlake Fill, grey-black clouds hovered right over my destination on what was an otherwise glorious late spring day. Based upon decades of dependence on natural light as both a photographer and birder, I wagered that the fast-moving clouds would be gone by the time I arrived. Or, I gambled, a mini-storm could be to my advantage as it would create dramatic lighting and cause some interesting effects on bird activity.

Upon arrival, it was extremely windy and branches were down, the water and greenery were effervescent, and a mere three raindrops fell on me. My bet paid off: the birds, as a result of the dramatic winds, were particularly exercized, especially the crows and red-wing blackbirds, who are already excitable, territorial and bossy due to mating/nesting imperatives.

I saw red-wing blackbirds mobbing a Cooper's hawk; crows play-fighting with each other, assisted by post-storm gusts; a crow trying to raid a tree swallow's nest; a different crow terrorizing a parent robin who had built an unwisely exposed nest; and red-wing blackbirds mobbing crows.

Tree swallow dive-bombing crow who repeatedly tried to get inside its nest cavity

Red-wing blackbird mobbing crow with plane in background.

On a less contentious note, an exuberantly bathing gadwall sprayed a coot and a couple of mallards. Not sure if the mallard is appreciative or annoyed.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hoot-hoot in the Hood!

Yup, within a 10-minute walk of my house, barred owls are in residence.

Territorial, vocal crows helped my locate both mother and father in Interlaken Park last week. Barred owls are of a mammal-like bulk (21" tall) and relatively unfazed by human presence--they will stretch, emit wisdom, yawn, gambol, sleep, be serene, faire la toilette, hunt, etc. within 10-15 feet of a person (in this case, me.)

There is consternation and controversy regarding this species. According to the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society:
The Barred Owl is non-native species to the West, including Western Washington. It has migrated across the continent into western U.S. forests from eastern states. Where the ranges of Barred Owls and Spotted Owls overlap, the Barred Owl has proven to be a more successful competitor that adversely impacts the Spotted Owl. Spotted Owl populations in Washington have been declining at a rate of 7.3% per year. On the Olympic Peninsula, the Barred Owl has increased five-fold in the past 10 years. Biologists observe that the Spotted Owl is being pushed to higher elevations on the Peninsula because of competition from the Barred Owl, which prefers lower forested areas.
I have mixed feelings about their presence. As an urban birder, it's a treat to be able to hang out with owls, but this gratitude is tinged with an uneasy awareness of their effect on other species.

Here's a happy sight for a barred owl-hater: a partially-developed (feathers are visible) egg that I guess was ejected from the nest to the forest floor by a parent or perhaps taken by a raccoon. (If you know otherwise, please let me know.) Beetles are now devouring the partially developed and feathered remains.