Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel

Storm-petrels are small, tube-nosed seabirds that are found in most of the world’s oceans. They do most of their foraging in flight, fluttering over the water, their feet dangling behind them, as they eat zooplankton, small fish, squid and small crustaceans. Their feet often dangle behind them and, consequently, storm-petrels are often called “Jesus Christ Birds.” 

Photographing a storm-petrel was one of my goals on my 29 July 2021 venture out to sea. On a foggy, windy day like this one, a photographer has to be satisfied with what he can capture. Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels are abundant breeders in Alaska casually south to northern California and along the northeast Asian coast. After breeding, these storm-petrels disperse across the North Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Pink-footed Shearwater

Among the Sooty Shearwaters we found following a shrimp boat on a foggy 29 July 202l, we frequently spied Pink-footed Shearwaters, Shearwaters can be recognized by their odd, tube nostrils, evident in the lower photo. Tube-nosed seabirds are in the order Procellariiformes. The two species can be told apart by the Pink-footed Shearwater’s white underparts (and also by its larger size). Unlike the Sooty Shearwater, the Pink-footed does not have a world-wide distribution. They breed on the Juan Fernandez and Mocha Island off central Chile, and migrate across the whole eastern-Pacific Ocean during the southern winter. Pink-footed Shearwaters feed on fish, squid, and crustaceans, both by plucking them off the surface and by diving from the air. Both shearwaters readily flew up to our boat as the crew chummed miscellaneous fish-bits into the sea.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Sooty Shearwater

Fog and a four-foot ocean swell on 29 July 2021 assured that, compared to the pelagic birding trip I made twenty years ago, I saw fewer birds. Birds become evident when we pulled up behind a shrimp boat, which the seabirds follow, hoping for morsels when the nets are emptied. One of the first birds we saw were Sooty Shearwaters. 

The distributions of oceanic birds is endlessly fascinating. One of the most common of the world’s seabirds, Sooty Shearwaters breed in huge numbers—up to 2.5 million pairs in some colonies—on islands off southeastern Australia, New Zealand, southern Chile, the Falkland Islands, and Tristan da Cunha. After breeding, these shearwaters begin one of the largest of bird migrations. They appear in all the world’s oceans (although not in the northern Indian Ocean). They begin to move toward the northwest from their colonies and then proceed to the east. They arrive in western North America and Europe in late summer, before proceeding to fly back to their breeding grounds (Carboneras et al. 2020). 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Pelagic Birding

Twenty years ago, I took a ocean birding trip from Westport, Washington, 60 miles to the edge of Grays Canyon. A host of interesting birds can be found there. That first trip was one of my best birding experiences, so I jumped at the chance of going again when I discovered an empty slot on one of Westport Seabirds often-filled, all day pelagic trips. Erika said, “Go for it!” but had absolutely no desire to accompany me.
July 29th began and remained windy and foggy for the whole day. The trip embarked at 5:30 in the morning an returned around four in the afternoon. Grays Canyon lies about 60 miles from shore.  A four-foot sea swell gave me second thoughts. The fog did not lend itself to superb bird photos. My goals for the day where to take a picture of a Common Murre, which made my traveling companions laugh—an easy bird to see. I just have never taken a good image of one. Second on my list was a photo of any storm-petrel—seabirds I have never photographed. Third was a Scripp’s Murrelet, a seabird that has been described since my trip 20 years ago. 
I did not see the murrelet, but we did find, as you will see in the next week or so, a far more elusive bird. The boat conveyed about 12 participants, two crew, and three or four volunteer bird-spotters. Not only did the spotters know their seabirds, they also kept an eBird list that they shared with me after the trip. So I had no worries about dropping my cell phone into the 3000 foot deep Grays Canyon. Stay tuned as I report on a few of the fantastic birds we encountered. (I have never suffered from sea-sickness, and was glad not to sucumb on this trip.)

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Great Blue Heron

I think I have mentioned the difficulty we have passing by photogenic Great Blue Herons. This one was stalking prey on 20 July 2021 at the Billy Frank Jr National Wildlife Refuge. Herons are successful about half the times they try to catch prey. Larger heron groups are more successful than solitary ones and young birds are less successful than adults. This heron’s fishing attempt proved to be unsuccessful.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Bald Eagle

One of three Bald Eagles feasting on a dead, young seal—seal tartare—on 23 July 2020 at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. I doubt the eagles killed the seal, since eagles are opportunistic feeders, often consuming carrion. Eagles take three or four years to attain adult plumage. This bird does not have long to go to get to adulthood, judging by the tinge of black at the end of the tail and on its white head.
Although Bald Eagles often forage for fish or waterfowl, they eat whatever they can find—dead or alive. In his list of prey species, Buchler (2020) lists muskrats, rabbits, and Great Blue Herons and a wide variety of other mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and crustaceans. This source also mentions eagles’ eating garbage in Alaskan dumps.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Willow Flycatcher

We photographed a Willow Flycatcher at the McLane Nature Trail near Olympia on 22 July 2021. The bird’s white throat, brown back, and marshy habitat all contributed to the bird’s identification. These images are all of the same individual. At one point the bird appeared to be choking. As I snapped images, the flycatcher appeared to fling a beetle carcass. Further research suggests this behavior is called pellet-casting, which is fairly common. The oval pellets are “presumably composed of carapaces, legs, and other hard body parts of insects” (Sedgwick 2020). 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Mount Rainier Wildflowers

Carpets of wildflowers were the highlight of our 19 July expedition to Mount Rainier National Park. Here are four of them. The first is Glacier or Yellow Avalanche Lily (Erythronium gradiflorum). Clearly this plant is closely related to the White Avalanche Lily we found a few days ago at the Olympic National Park. Both are found at Mount Rainier and, indeed, we saw more of the white lilies in Rainier. The two species do not usually grow in the same areas, although this flower patch supported both. Glacier Lilies often bloom earlier than White Avalanche Lilies. Glacier Lilies are found from British Columbia and Alberta south to New Mexico and California.
Western Anemone (Anemone occidentalis)—also named Western Pasqueflower—is found from British Columbia to Montana and California. The plant grows in meadows and in rocky soils on mountain slopes. Western Anemone are common in Mount Rainier meadows.
Scarlet Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) grows from Alaska to Ontario south to California ad New Mexico. As in other species of paintbrushes, the red structures are flower bracts The tubular flowers appear between the bracts. At Mount Rainier, this paintbrush is common above 5,000 feet.

American Bistort (Polygonum bistortoides) is a perennial herb in the Buckwheat family. This species is an abundant, early blooming wildflower. The flower is found in the Rocky Mountains from Alaska to California. This plant provides important forage for a host of wildlife. Many native peoples ate Bistort roots, which taste like chestnuts. The seeds can be dried and made into bread flour. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Yellow Pine Chipmunk

Yellow Pine Chipmunks are the most common chipmunk in the Mount Rainier National Monument, where Erika and I visited on 19 July 2021. This species was the third rodent we found, and also the smallest. The dark line that runs from the snout to the eye identifies the Yellow Pine Chipmunk. This rodent is mainly vcegetarian, but will also consume insects. They are found across the greater Northwest south through the Sierra Nevada of California.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

This Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel—our second rodent in the Mount Rainier National Park on 19 July 2021—is much smaller than the marmot in my last post, but far larger than any chipmunk. It lacks a chipmunk's striped face. These ground squirrels are common at tree-line in the park. They are primarily vegetarians, but also eat fungi and insects. The species occurs from southwestern Canada through the Rockies in the United States.