Friday, May 24, 2019

MacGillivray’s Warbler

MacGillivray’s Warblers breed in the Rocky Mountains and winter in Mexico and Central America. Their range and taxonomy are both interesting, but today I write about their nomenclature. They are one of the few birds named for more than one person. Their scientific name is Geothlypis tolmiei. William Fraser Tolmie was a physician and worked for the Hudson Bay Company. He made the first recorded ascent of Mount Rainier. John Townsend named this warbler for him in 1836.

William MacGillivray was a zoologist who ultimately taught at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and helped write many of Audubon’s publications. Audubon gave Macgillivray scant recognition but did name this bird after him--Sylvia macgillivrayi. Unfortunately, Townsend published his description of the bird slightly before Audubon, so Townsend’s scientific name takes precedence. Audubon’s common name remains in the popular literature. 

I was delighted to band this female MacGillivray’s Warbler in our Olympia backyard on 18 May 2019. The bird was in a huckleberry thicket. Usually they are found in brushy riversides. Although relatively common, they are often hard to see.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Dot-tailed Whiteface

The Dot-tailed Whiteface is a dragonfly with which we were familiar from Minnesota. We found this individual at a barrow pit near our home in Olympia, Washington. This whiteface enjoys a transcontinental distribution. It frequents all sorts of lakes, including farm and garden ponds. They can also be found along slow streams and even perched on waterlilies.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Cardinal Meadowhawk

On 13 May 2019 Erika and I found outselves in the Olympia Watershed Park, a surprisingly wild area just blocks from the state capitol. The park paths often wind along on boardwalks over a small creek. Within the forest, we discovered this Cardinal Meadowhawk. It repeatedly returned to the same perch within a tiny clearing. I believe this individual is an immature male, in which case it will become bright red. Paulson (2009) writes that females are seen only infrequently. The species is common along the west coast and in the Southwest.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Spotted Towhee Fledgling

My third fledging of the season—a Spotted Towhee, almost unrecognizable compared to the adult plumage. You can see just a hint of what will become this bird’s chestnut sides. Identification was helped by the nearby scolding parents. The date of this record was 19 May, which seems a tad early for a fledgling towhee. Marshall et al (2003, however, report fledglings in Oregon on this date. The second photo is of an adult female, which fearlessly foraged in Erika’s garden after raking.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Baby birds are beginning to leave their nests. On 18 May in Olympia, I banded this recently fledged Red-breasted Nuthatch. This species forms pairs at almost any time of year. These nuthatches usually raise one clutch per year, but individuals may pair twice in a single year. They excavate oles in tree snags. Finding nuthatch holes is not proof of breeding, since the birds may begin excavating and then move elsewhere to actually breed.  Young fledge after about three weeks. They stay with their parents for about another two weeks but some parents may feed their young for longer times (Ghalambor and Martin 1999).

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Western Forktail


While searching for female Pacific Forktails (see yesterday’s post) in the barrow pit near our Olympia home, I photographed a male Western Forktail. The Western differs in having broader black thoracic stripes. This small species is fairly common across much of western North America. Males are less often encountered than are females. Sometimes at ponds no males are observed. Females only need to be fertilized once in their lives, and can store the males’ sperm for future use (Paulson 2009). If you look closely, you might see that the underside of this forktail’s abdomen is full of tiny, red, water-mite larvae.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Pacific Forktail

Pacific Forktails are abundant damselflies of western Canada, western United States, and northwestern Mexico. They are found in almost any pool with vegetation, even small ponds in city parks. We found these forktails in a barrow pit about a mile from our house in Olympia. The first is a male, the second is a young, andromorph female. I have posted on this phenomenon before, where females look somewhat like males—an andromorph—or have distinct coloration—a heteromorph. The advantage of looking like a female is fairly obvious. That way males easily recognize with whom to mate, and the job gets accomplished with relative ease. The advantage of being a female who looks like a male is less obvious. A female only needs to have her eggs fertilized once. After fertilization, not being harassed by males may be to the advantage of a weary female. Recently a report was published of female dragonflies playing dead to avoid obnoxious males.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Caspian Tern

During a 7 May 2019 stroll at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, we spied a flock of about a dozen Caspian Terns. These terns are found almost around the world. In North America, they breed along our coasts, and in the Midwest. They winter from our southern coasts to Venezuela and Columbia.

Caspian Terns dive for fish. Like the tern in the bottom photos, they also court with fish. Males carry their prey over a tern colony. A male then lands near the other birds, often near a female at the edge of the flock. Still carrying the fish, the male bows. The female might ignore the male, try to steal the fish, or initiate copulation. She may beg for the fish, which the male is often hesitant to give her. If the male is successful, he may feed the fish to the female. Copulation oftren follows courtship feeding. Males may make several different colony sites a day until her acquires a mate (Cuthbert and Wiens 1999)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

American Robin at Suet Feeder

I have never seen American Robins at my suet feeders. In Olympia, however, we often have this thrush at the suet. The key here may be that, for the first time, we are serving calcium-enriched suet. Calcium proves to be essential for egg production. So far we do not have other odd birds at the feeders. National Public Radio suggests baking and crushing egg shells and feeding this to be birds as a calcium supplement.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Bluebell Harebell

On 20 April 2019, near Olympia, Erika and I found Bluebell Harebells, Campanula rotundifolia. In parts of Europe, harebells are associated with witches. Apparently witches transformed themselves into hares by drinking harebell juice. It is bad news if one of these hares crosses your path. Other names for the plant are Witch’s Thimble and Dead Mens’ Bells. The Haida People of the Pacific Northwest called this Blue Rain Flowers—picking them causes rain.