Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Barred Owl 2

As I watched the Barred Owl in our backyard on 15 October 2021, and I reported on my last post, the bird preened, fluffed out its feathers, and violently shook its whole body. 

To my surprise, little information has been published on Barred Owl’s preening, stretching, or other aspects of self maintenance (Mazur and James 2021). I regret not having photographed the preening, which appeared to be typical of most birds, with the owl’s bill pulling at its flight and body feathers. I did catch the body-shaking behavior. The owl remained at its perch when the shaking was finished.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Barred Owl 1

On 15 October 2021 in the mid-afternoon, while doing house chores, I returned an empty trash barrel from our curbside. This endeavor is noisy. As I strolled out of the forest and into our front yard, I was surprised to spy a raptor fly along the forest edge and perch low in the outside edge of one of the Western Red Cedars. I abandoned my trash bin, ran into our house, and returned with my camera. The Barred Owl took little notice of me. Barred Owls seem to be fairly common in our woods, but we seldom see them in the day. More often we hear their calls during the night.
Barred Owls regurgitate pellets of fur and bones of their prey. I believe, however, that here I captured the owl’s yawning. Barred Owls apparently sleep much of the day. Captive owls sleep about a third of each hour between 5 am and 6 pm (Mazur and James 2021). Most spend their days roosting deep within tall trees. Finding this owl in the middle of the day at the edge of the tree was a surprise.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

American Kestrel

Falcons are another family of birds in systematic flux due to molecular studies—in this case, an American Kestrel on 1 October 2021 at the Billy Frank Jr National Wildlife Refuge. Falcons were thought to be close relatives of hawks and eagles. In this new research, falcons cluster closer to screamers (large South American ground-birds) and parrots (Winkler et al. 2020). Most recently published books reflect this interpretation of these data.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Horned Grebe

About the only other bird of interest that Erika and I saw during our 9 October 2021 eBird Big Day Count was this Horned Grebe seen at Capitol Lake in Olympia. Red eyes found on many diving waterfowl apparently are not visible under a few feet of water. Apparently this adaptation makes the eyes hard for prey to see and thereby recognize the approaching predator. In the first photo, notice the individually webbed toes present on grebes. Grebes are not closely related to ducks. According to Winkler et al. (2020), grebes have traditionally thought to most closely related to loons. Recent studies, however, conclude that grebes and flamingos are each other’s closest relative. This conclusion is so surprising that many ornithologists have been slow to adopt the new classification.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Belted Kingfisher

After the Snow Goose counted on our 9 October 2021 eBird Big Day, a female Belted Kingfisher flew by and landed on a nearby pier piling. It so happens that fish over 10 centimeters are hard for kingfishers to swallow. After catching a fish, kingfishers often flies to a perch. There the bird pounds its prey by sidewise head movements. This behavior stuns the fish allowing the kingfisher to swallow the fish headfirst. Pounding may also break stickleback and bullhead spines (Kelly and Hamas 2020).

The white spots in these photos, by the way, are plumage patterns in front of the birds’ eyes. The birds apparently use these as sights that the kingfishers use to line up their prey with the tip of their bill. Birds whose white spots were painted black by researchers are unable to successfully hit their prey.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Snow Goose

A Snow Goose strolled by our parked car during our eBird Big Day on 9 October 2021. Erika waited in the car while I looked for birds along Puget Sound. “Look over here!” shouted Erika. “It looks like a Snow Goose!” “Yeah,” I replied, “A Snow Goose is going to be walking in a parking lot?” But the goose came out from behind a bush and walked across the tarmac. The bird appeared to be wild and uninjured. Snow Geese are super abundant in some parts of western Washington, but are seen less frequently here in Olympia. This goose was our first for the season this year for us. I thanked Erika for finding the bird by asking her “Why did the Goose cross the road” jokes for the rest of the day. I think she was glad to see the end of the eBird Big Day count.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Brown Pelican

Twice a year, eBird hosts a Big Day. This fall this event fell on 9 October 2021. When I last checked their website, over 32,000 observers around the world had contributed almost 76,000 checklists containing 7,103 species of birds for the day. In the old days, before computers, I always did a Big Day once a year in the spring. I was fanatical about it and usually totaled over 100 species. Now I am lazier, and try to contribute five checklists to the event. For Erika and me, this fall’s highlight are these six Brown Pelicans, common along the Pacific Coast but rare birds here in the south end of Puget Sound. Like Heermann’s Gulls, these pelicans have an odd range. Here in the United States' West Coast, they breed off central California before wandering north along the Pacific Coast in the late summer and fall. Then most turn around and head south for the winter. Those few that might remain in Washington do not breed here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Varied Thrush

October is Varied Thrush month in Olympia. We banded this male on 10 October 2021 in our backyard. Varied Thrush are common permanent residents in western Washington. The situation is complicated. Before logging and urban development, these thrushes bred in the lowlands. Now that are mostly restricted to the mountains. Migration in “uncertain,” complicated by elevational movements during inclement weather. Wahl et al. (2005) report movements in mid or late September and larger influxes  in November or December. In our backyard, birds reappear in the spring. On top of that, populations fluctuate, with more birds present in some years than in others. Varied Thrushes also tend to wander in the fall and winter—to almost every state in the Union—but these vagrants may or may not find their way bvack to their breeding grounds in northwestern North America.


Monday, October 11, 2021

Song Sparrow

This Song Sparrow photo was taken at Lighthouse State Park near Westport, Washington, on 25 September 2021. Song Sparrows are one of the most variable North American songbirds. Up to 52 races of this species have been described, although only about 38 are recognized by the American Ornithological Society, the arbitrator of such matters. We thought this individual was paler overall, but with a much deeper chestnut tail than our Olympia birds. All, however, should be Melospiza melodia morphna.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Northern Pintail

One of our first Northern Pintail this fall, on 1 October 2021, was this rather regal hen. An early fall migrant, this duck arrives on wintering areas beginning in August. Note the hen's chestnut head and all-black bill. In many ways, she is as pretty as her mate, like the drake in the second photo from 4 March 2021. Pintails breed across the northern parts of both hemispheres. They winter from the Pacific Northwest and the southen United States to northern South America. Old World breeders winter in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, and southeast Asia. Erika and I found both of these ducks at the Billy Frank Jr National Wildlife Refuge.