Monday, October 24, 2016

California Scrub-Jay

California Scurb-Jays were common along with Steller’s Jays in Olympia, Washington. This jay is a relatively new bird to my life-list. Only recently have ornithologists concluded that California Scrub-Jays are a distinct species, separate from other scrub-jays. These birds differ in habitat and are brighter blue than are inland scrub-jays (now known as Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay). They do not, however, vary greatly genetically and they interbreed in narrow hybrid zones where their ranges overlap.

Our scrub-jays fed on fruit trees. Elsewhere they are opportunistic feeders, taking arthropods, lizards, fruits and seeds. They will eat ticks off of deer. They are not adverse to eating carrion. We watched the jay below cache his fruit under some bushes along a sidewalk. This behavior is well-known. Most caching is done in the fall and their buried bounties are consumed from mid-winter until spring.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Steller’s Jay

We saw many Steller’s Jays during our Olympia visit. These photos were taken over several days in September. This species is usually found in coniferous forests, but is also to be expected in tree-filled urban areas. (Coincidently, I posted an account of this jay just before we embarked on our trip.)
Steller’s Jays are closely related to the Blue Jays of eastern North America. They share the same genus. The two species are known to hybridize where their ranges overlap. Hybrids are intermediate between Blue and Steller’s jays. One hybrid between a Steller’s Jay and a California Jay is reported (Walker et al 2016).
Talk about a Bad Hair Day. The wind blew this jay’s crest way out of kilter—especially when the bird turned its head. We found one Steller’s Jay feeding on sunflowers. Judging by the yellow at the corner of the gape, this bird is probably an immature.
Steller’s Jays take a wide variety of food items. These jays eat many plants and animals, including arthropods, nuts, seeds, berries and fruits. They consume small vertebrates, even other birds’ nestlings. They often visit bird feeders or clean up the left-overs after human picnics (Walker et al 2016).

Saturday, October 22, 2016


During our swing through the ponds below Washington’s capitol, I photographed a feral, female Mallard. Not that I have that much to say about Mallards—this just seemed like a pretty picture. Mallards are the most common North American Duck. Feral Mallards inhabit the cites of the world, where they survive because people feed them. These ducks are the evolutionary source of almost all our domesticated ducks (Drilling et al. 2002).

Friday, October 21, 2016

Glaucous-winged Gull

In my last post, I wrote about the hybrid swarm of Western x Glaucous-winged gulls in Puget Sound. Seeing pure parental types of birds is not impossible, especially in the fall when young birds of either species may wander into the area. In the northern Capitol Lake in Olympia, I believe we had several immature Glaucous-winged Gulls. These birds are told from the other gulls in the area by their relatively pale wing tips. The dark tail band probably indicates that this bird is approaching its second winter.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Olympic Gull

On 18 September, Erika and I took a swing around the Olympia harbor. I photographed a couple of gulls in close attendance with young birds. The adult in the first picture slipped off his perch on a metal roof. The young bird followed in hot pursuit. Both adults appeared to ignore their young, perhaps attempting to wean them from parental feeding.

These birds are “Olympic” Gulls, hybrids between Western and Glaucous-winged gulls. The ranges of these two gulls overlap here, the result being a hybrid swarm in the region, with almost no genetically pure individuals. Given this situation, I think that they should be considered a single species.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hooded Merganser

A few years ago, I wrote, “although male Hooded Mergansers are stunning, hens are ducks with unruly coiffures.” Perhaps I wrote in haste. This merganser hen that Erika and I found on Monday in eastern Northfield is quite a beauty in her own right. Assuming, of course, that this bird is a female. Sexes of Hooded Mergansers are hard to tell apart in their first fall. Eventually males’ eyes become yellow, while female eyes remain brown. By spring, males acquire their yellow eyes and striking plumage.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Swamp Sparrow

Erika and I kicked up about a dozen Swamp Sparrows on Monday as we strolled along the Jefferson Parkway Wetlands in eastern Northfield. Mowbray (1997) writes that this sparrow is “common, if elusive and local” across eastern North America, breeding from Canada to our northern states.  As far as Swamp Sparrows go, this individual is remarkably handsome. I usually think of Swamp Sparrows as duskier-plumaged birds. Since they molt on their breeding grounds, I suspect this is a freshly molted bird in its first-basic plumage.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Striped Meadowhawk

Our stroll through St. Martin’s Univesity on 18 September also yeilded a plethora of Striped Meadowhawks and a few photographically shy darners.  Although we saw the meadowhawks during last year’s Washington visit, we enjoyed seeing these dragonflies again. I wrote, “Striped Meadowhawks range in western North America from British Columbia to the Southwest, and east to the western Great Plains.  Males defend territories in weedy area and over grassy lawns. More than other meadowhawks, they often perch in shrubs, and are usually found near water (Paulson 2009).”

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Douglas Squirrel

On the morning of 18 September, Erika and I discovered the campus of St. Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. This spacious open area includes a system of storm ponds, ideal for birds and dragonflies. A Douglas Squirrel, also known as a Chickaree, greeted us at the edge of the visitor’s parking area.

We were unfamiliar with this species, found along the West Coast, from British Columbia to central California. Douglas Squirrels are closely related to the more widely distributed Red Squirrel. Burt and Grossenheider write, “does little if any harm; affords pleasure to campers and visitors of parks within its range.”

Douglas Squirrels prefer old growth or mature second-growth forests. The area around our parking lot contained large trees, and this environment apparently satisfied the squirrel's requirements. They mostly consume fir, spruce, and pine seeds.

Friday, October 14, 2016

American Coot

When entering American Coot observations into eBird, I was perplexed with the choice of checking American Coot or American Coot (Red-shielded). My research into this conundrum indicates that almost all North American coots have a red callous, or shield, on the top of their bills. This coot, found in Northfield on 13 October 2016, shows this field mark.

Coots found in the Caribbean have white frontal shields. Ornithologists do not know if these Caribbean Coots are a separate species or if they are just a color morph of American Coots. Caribbean birds occasionally show up in Florida. Payne and Master (1983) found a successfully breeding mixed pair of coots in Michigan. They could not confirm that the white-shielded bird was a Caribbean Coot, but concluded that their ability to interbreed suggested that red-shielded and white-shielded birds are, indeed, but color morphs of a single species.

Why the choice in a Minnesota eBird checklist?  Often the shield color is hard too see in poor light or from even moderate distances. A white-sheilded coot is quite unlikely in Minnesota, or anywhere north of Florida. But they are not impossible.