Sunday, September 22, 2019

California Speadwing

On 16 September 2019, a California Spreadwing flew between perches along Olympia’s Capitol Lake. You may recall my recent account of our finding this species for the first time, when David and I found an early-flying, immature female. This spreadwing is an adult. Males of this Western damselfly are usually found near water and “often conspicuously perch in open on dead twigs, and defend small territories” (Paulson 2009). Females lay eggs in plant twigs, even a few feet above the water. When not defending territory or laying eggs, California Spreadwings can be found far from water.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

River Otter

This River Otter was one of four that Erika and I saw on Olympia’s Capitol Lake on 20 August 2019. We did not expect to see otters in a city lake. These  weasels fare poorly in the face of pollution and habitat destruction. Being at the top of the food chain means that they also depend on a variety of prey items, mostly fish, but also almost anything they encounter—amphibians, mollusks, turtles, crayfish, and even small mammals. With environmental protection, otter populations are recovering across much of North America.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Great Blue Heron

I am surprised that Vennesland and Butler (2011) in The Birds of North America do not mention that Great Blue Herons yawn. After all, this resource covers most of what is known about the birds of our continent. But I think that is exactly what this heron is doing. We came upon this bird as it slept along Olympia’s Capitol Lake on 10 September 2019. The heron nestled its head under its wing coverts. Unfortunately, the bird woke up before I could capture its image. The heron yawned, but did not fly away.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Horned Grebe

I think I’ve mentioned that I have signed up for hourly eBird reports of species I lack on my county list, but that other birders have seen in Thurston County, Washington. Of course using this service requires that you enter all your records into eBird. The 12th of September found Erika and me searching Olympia’s Capitol Lake for Horned and Red-necked Grebes. Erika quickly located the Horned Grebe in this image—field marks include the grebe’s distinct, dark cap, relatively short neck, and small bill. We did not find any Red-necked Grebes.

One problem is that eBird does not guarantee the accuracy of the forwarded records. You are able to look at the submitted lists and check if photographs were taken or if you know the observer. The first Red-necked Grebe report was by a excellent birder. No sooner than we got home, however, another Capitol Lake record, made very soon after our visit, dinged on my cell phone. Could the observer misidentified our Horned Grebe? No Horned Grebes were included on his list.

I am not sure how I feel about these eBird lists. It is interesting to know what birds people are seeing in our county. Running every which way searching for specific birds, however, does seem a bit compulsive. Moping around the house, fretting over birds you’ve missed also seems a tad sad. I tell Erika that it could be worse. I might have signed up for birds I haven’t seen in the entire state or whole country—such alerts would quickly clog my email account. We did enjoy seeing the Horned Grebe. We conversed with a few passersby, who asked what we were doing. And, after consulting eBird when we got home, I was surprised to learn that the Horned Grebe, although new for me in Thurston County, was not new for my state list. I have four other state records, the first seen on 8 August 1968 at Deception Pass State Park.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Purple Finch

What looks like a male and female Purple Finch, in a flock of a half-dozen birds, on Orcas Island on 6 September 2019 isn’t necessarily so. The “female”-plumaged bird could well be a first or second-year male. Purple Finches may even breed in this drab plumage, although less regularly than do the older, purple males. Purple Finches were fairly common this spring in our forest in Olympia and we banded a few at our feeders. Curiously, we never saw a purple male in Olympia. I don’t have a ready hypothesis for this apparent absence.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Striped Meadowhawk


We found this Striped Meadowhawk on 6 September 2019 on Orcas Island after we discovered the White-faced Meadowhawk described in my last post. The two dragonflies look similar, but we noted the obvious yellow stripes on the sides and top of this species’s abdomen. Oten very common, Striped Meadowhawks are found across most of western North America. Paulson (2009) writes that males often set up territories over dry, grassy, weedy basins near water. They often lay their eggs on the ground, hoping the area will later flood. They may perch on the ground, like this one. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

White-faced Meadowhawk

We found a White-faced Meadowhawk in our Orcas friends’ garden on 6 September 2019. Identification took an embarrassingly long time, since the whote face and red abdomen are diagnostic. This dragonfly is common across most of southern Canada and the northern United States. This ode was common in Erika’s Northfield, Minnesota, garden. Here in the West, the species is often found in mountain forests, where they can be “superabundant” (Paulson 2009). Although White-faced Meadowlarks are almost never found right on the Pacific Coast of the United Stetes, numerous records from Vancouver Island, BC, exist. To our surprise, our record appears to be a first for Washington’s San Juan County (Odonata Central).

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Turkey Vulture

An adult Turkey Vulture and its young stood in the grass along an Orcas Island roadside on 6 September 2019. I am not sure what they were doing there—probably feeding on roadkill, although possibly the red-headed adult was feeding the young bird. Both birds flew up to nearby trees, which supports the roadkill hypothesis. The birds could have been waiting our departure before returning to a feast. We don’t see vultures very often in Olympia, but they appeared to be common on Orcas.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Orcas Island

Erika and I spent the weekend with friends on Orcas Island—a bautiful and remote location. Verizon welcomed us to Canada, although we had our feet firmly planted in the United States. Granted we were north of nearby Victoria, BC. We enjoyed an excellent time, although the birds and dragonflies were not very cooperative. Images will follow over the next few days.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Common Merganser

In the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge on 22 August 2019, Erika and I watched a large flock of Common Mergansers feed cooperatively. These ducks swam in a loose line, with birds in the rear splashing the water as they tumbled forward and leap-frogged the birds in the front. The whole scene was chaotic, but the flock slowly moved forward, driving their prey ahead of them. Adding to the tulmult, several gulls scavenged overhead, stealing fish from the merganser flock.