Friday, April 8, 2022

Introducing Billium, a Botanical Bifecta!


Meet my new woodland garden friend, Billium!

No, not William. Or Gillian. Or Trillium.

Billium (bi- is Latin for two or twice; tri for three or thrice.)

I gasped upon seeing a two-petaled, two-sepaled, two-bracted trillium in my garden. 

Double treat: it is the first trillium to bloom in my garden AND it is statistically unusual.

Another anomaly: A jaunty green racing stripe bisects (another bi-!) its petals, making it even more singular.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Birder's Joy

FOUND: Active Anna's hummingbird nest! Yesterday, I achieved one of my long-standing birding dreams: finding an in-use hummingbird nest (as opposed to an out-of-service one, which I've done twice). 
While out walking in Kenmore close to Wallace Creek yesterday, I first heard, then saw an Anna's severely educating two misguided song sparrows. I scanned the area, assuming her nest was close by. 

And yes, it was gracefully perched between two sapling trunks, waist-high (mine, not hers), with a sword fern frond as a partial umbrella/sunshade. Two little wrigglers inside, probably 3-5 days old. 
Birder's joy. (Don't worry, I waited until the mother was off the nest to get close.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Guess Who Came to Dinner?

As I came around the corner of the house I heard the soft, sad thud of a bird strike on the living room window. A commotion of feathers materialized at the front door and quickly reconstituted itself into a Cooper's Hawk, who are well known for successfully hunting songbirds, especially at feeders.

Serendipitously, I was out photographing Varied Thrush in our snowy garden so hunched behind Tam's car and focused, first only on its horizontally barred tail--in order to stay as hidden as possible.
Emerging a bit more, I got shots of it eyeing the window and the ground below, hoping for its fallen prey. No luck, but it did hang out long enough for me to take more shots and a short video. It then spent a few moments in the snowy maple until it flew off, escorted eastward by the crows.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Same Old, Same Old

One of the deep pleasures and comforts of birding is finding the same species in the same place year after year.  In other words, the Anna's Hummingbird that I have seen in the exact same blackberry bramble every year is quite possibly offspring of the one I first noticed there five years ago.

This was the case yesterday in Skagit. Last summer there was a pair of Killdeer just west of the bridge by the church on Fir Island Road. Saturday morning in the same area there was a pair of Killdeer doing their hyper-sensitive, hyper-vocal thing. Same pair? Their kids? Who knows, but encountering the cyclical nature of animal life, and affirming that landscape and its food offerings are indeed destiny for birds resounds deeply. It's like being in the bosom of family and intimate friends after a long separation--their habits, inflections, idiosyncrasies are so ingrained in our memories, that we involuntarily anticipate them.

And on a more superficial note, who can resist these birds--those jaunty stripes? That vivid red eye ring? The comical bobbing? And fledglings are even more endearing in their long-legged fluffiness. The shots above are from a brood on UW campus a few years back.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Requisite alligator-disturbingly-close-to-potential-meal photo from the Everglades.
The prospect of seeing new heron species in Florida last week was very alluring.  I never tire of the Great Blue Heron's elegant-clumsy silhouette, but I was eager to meet some of its southern cousins.

Little Blue Heron strutting through the Everglades.
My bird fantasies were exceeded--not in number, but in the close-up views I got of the Little Blue Heron and the Tricolored Heron in the Everglades. Some of the birds are acclimated to people, so saunter past or sit still in front of human visitors without much anxiety. (Don't get me started on the idiot who pointed his SELFIE STICK in an Anhinga's face...) This luxury of proximity afforded revelatory views of their plumage which I never would have experienced otherwise.

The Little Blue is, in its non-breeding plumage, grey-blue, but its neck feathers have a very subtle wine-colored aspect as well--not possible to appreciate from afar. The Tricolored's neck has a more obvious russety-wine coloration and buff-colored plumes cascading down its rump.

Tricolored heron in Shark Valley Visitors Center in the Everglades.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Nictitation Felicitation

Taken seconds apart a few days ago in Key West, these two photos illustrate how the fiery orange-red eye of a juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron is suddenly and fleetingly obscured by its nictitating membrane. In fact, it happens so quickly, I'm never aware of it while shooting birds--only afterwards when I'm reviewing files on my monitor.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "Birds have what is known as a nictitating membrane or 'third eyelid'. This is a clear eyelid, closest to the eyeball. It is transparent and can close and protect the eye when hunting."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Short and Sweet

This photo embodies what photography is able to do so exquisitely: eternalize the ephemeral. Plus, it allows the photographer (and by extension, the viewer) to savor life's transient pleasures and to elevate the beauty of the quotidian to its rightful plane.

In this case, the quickly-disappearing-in-the-summer-heat footprints of a bird who is always on the go.

The American Dipper constantly bobs and dips its head at and under the water in search of insects, larvae, fish eggs and very small fish. And it has bird superpowers: a dipper can fly through waterfalls and fly-swim underwater, urgently propelling its grey body against the current in search of food.

The bird was only on these rocks for a few moments in the summer evening along Wiley Creek--and its footprints a momentary testament to its peripatetic ways.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fish Hawking

Yesterday I had one of my favorite birding pleasures--I found a new "secret" place. My definition of secret is pretty loose; it only means that I've never heard anyone else mention it before.

Note the metal band on its right foot.

Cascades in the background, between Thorp and Cle Elum.

Following my gut is often the best way to have the most rewarding and invigorating birding experiences. On a instinct-fueled whim--after a very unremarkable (translation: boring and frustrating) five hours of birding--I turned down a road outside Thorp and was met with bounty: a green prairie-like ridge exposed to sun and wind, offering up a family of deer, a kestrel, an un-shy Meadowlark and a trio of Osprey around a nest.

The Osprey flies with the headless fish clasped in only one claw.

The fish-bearer is below; the one above checked it out many times but eventually flew off, fishless.

One of the osprey had a fish which apparently did not interest the other two enough for them to stick around. The fish-bearing Osprey circled around solo for about 20-30 minutes, and then devoured it alone. If anyone can enlighten me about the origin of the band and/or Osprey courtship rituals, please do!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Parade of the Handsome

Yes, I realize I'm jumping ahead of the current season by posting a juvenile Robin eating berries last August in the Arboretum, is so damn handsome I must share. My birding nerves are a-jangle in anticipation of the arrival of migrants and nests releasing fledglings--this shot is a foretaste of our upcoming avian pleasures.

Here are two more fearsomely good-looking birds to tide us over until spring is in full-on mode.

Without resorting to hyperbole, I have to say that this is the most handsome, distinguished crow I've ever seen--the late afternoon sun glossifying his plumage to perfection. Quintessential crow.

Twenty seconds later, I spied one of Capitol Hill's Cooper's Hawks patrolling the trees and lawn of Holy Names--unperturbed by dogs and children frolicking below. The intense orange-yellow eye reveals that it's a juvenile.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Display on Display

Unexpected servings of sunlight this morning revealed a Northern Flicker pair in full-on mating display at the Montlake Fill. The male drilled at the snag, fanned out his salmon-bright tail, then the female answered with her own fan display.

He threw back his head a number of times, exposing his spotted breast. They would then switch positions--she'd be higher up for a bit, then he'd ascend to show off again from a higher branch. This duet of contortions and acrobatics lasted at least ten minutes; the mating imperatives made them indifferent to me.

About thirty minutes later, they landed on a nearby parking lot light structure; the male began rat-a-tat-tatting on the lamp. A male interloper joined them for a few seconds, and then was off to the south, probably in search of a solitary female.

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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Four-winged, two-backed beast

My romantic life has been so barren of late that I have had more luck finding birds in courtship/mating mode than in engaging in such behavior myself.

Friday was a bonanza for observing mating rituals--spring is stirring and I was in prime raptor habitat: the Cle Elum to Thorp area, where coniferous mountains give way to rolling shrub-steppe and flat agricultural land.

I arrived at the Cle Elum River around 7:30. Within minutes, raptor-ish squawking  was overhead: a mature eagle (meaning it sported a fully white head and tail) heading toward the river. Then another.

Female on right; females are typically
larger than males.

They were flying very close together--a mated pair. After zooming over the water, one landed atop a snag and the other soon made purchase on her back. For bird sex, it was long-playing—29 seconds, according to my camera's metadata. Like males of many species, among them homo sapiens, he threw back his head, proclaiming pleasure and conquest, both during and after copulation.

From a distance, their bodies merged, becoming a beast with two backs--plus four wings. Below is the sequence:

The male is now on the right.