Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Anna’s Hummingbird

Erika planted Salvia in her garden. Anna’s Hummingbirds immeadiately appeared. As I have previously written, these hummingbirds are relatively new to Washington, having expanded their range from California. Now they often spend the winter, although we do not know if wintering birds are the same individuals as those found in the summer. This photo was of a bird at the Salvia on 28 July 2019.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Western Pondhawk

Male (top photo) and female (bottom photo) Western Pondhawks flitted about the shoreline of Olympia’s Capitol Lake during my sickbed escape on 27 July 2919. This species is similar to the Eastern Pondhawk, but have a shorter, stockier abdomen with dark, not white, terminal appendages. Western Pondhawks are more likely to perch on the ground than other pondhawks. As their name implies, Western Pondhawks replace Eastern Pondhawks, occupying southwestern British Colombia, the Western United States, and parts of Mexico. Where their ranges overlap in the Southwest and in the southern Great Plains, hybrid swarms exist—which probably indicates these two species should be merged (Paulson 2009). Pondhawks are voracious predators of other odonates. Unlike their eastern cousins, Western Pondhawks prefer damselflies to dragonflies. The male in the upper photo is consuming a damselfly that appears to be a Tule Bluet.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Greater White-fronted Goose

My hiking has been restricted by minor foot surgery last week. I was able to sneak out of the house and down to Olympia’s Capitol Lake on 27 July 2017. I was vaguely aware of reports of a Greater White-fronted Goose in the area since June. I spotted it among several dozen Canada Geese. This species breeds in Alaska and the northwestern Canadian tundra. You would not expect one to spend the summer in Washington. It could be a wounded bird—I did not see it fly—but the goose appeared to be otherwise healthy. It was not banded, so it is unlikely to be an escaped bird from captivity. Perhaps it just exhausted its migtratory urge. And, yes, there is such a bird as a Lesser White-fronted Goose. This goose is an Asian duck that once was noted in the Aleutian Islands. Lesser White-fronted Geese have yellow eye-rings.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpipers are common migrants along Washington beaches, but this individual was the only one we saw during our trip to Ocean Shores on 20 July 2019. They can be identified by their relatively small size and relatively long, down-curved bills.

Although this species breeding range is restricted to  the tundra of western Alaska and eastern Siberia, Western Sandpipers are abundant. Many winter along our Pacific Coast, but they are also found on the Atlantic Coast and south to Peru and Venezuela. Females migrate farther south than males. Southern birds are larger and longer-winged than northern ones. Northern juveniles are more likely to try to breed in their first summer. Young birds that winter further south are more likely to delay their spring migration and not breed until their second summer (Franks et al. 2014).

Saturday, July 27, 2019


During our 20 July 2019 juant to Ocean Shores, Washington, I had no trouble identifying this first sandpiper as a Sanderling. The next shorebirds, with chestnut faces, threw me for a loop. Visions  of rare stints danced in  my head—until I tealized they were Sanderlings still in breeding plumage. Sanderlings breed in the Arctic and winter along ocean coasts, from British Columbia and Massachusetts south to southern Chile and Argentina. A large flock mingled with Semipalmated Plovers during our walk down the beach.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Heermann’s Gull

Heermann’s Gulls are another species with an odd, northward, post-breeding migration. Almost the total population nests fom March through July in a sanctuary in the Gulf of California in Mexico. Nonbreeders appear off southern California coasts at the end of May. Postbreeding birds appear a bit later. The gulls then migrate along the Pacific Coast, appearing in British Columbia during July and August. The gulls then turn south during the fall and winter, occasionally leaving stragglers to remain all year. Some feed along the coast, like this one Erika and I photographed on 20 July 2019 at Ocean Shores, Washington. Mosr feed several miles offshore, where they feed on herring, but are not adverse to stealing food from other seabirds. The Heermann’s Gull is named after Adolphus Lewis Heermann, a nineteenth-century explorer and naturalist (Islam 2002).

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Brown Pelican

The eBird website recently optimized some of their pages for cell phone viewing. These changes make it easy to use your smart phone to find nearby birds and birding hotspots. You do, however, probably have to sign up for a free eBird account. The Brown Pelican was a bird I hoped to find during our 20 July 2019 ocean trip. Several pelican sightings were reported in eBird. Turns out the Brown Pelican was an easy target bird. We saw at least six at the jetty at Ocean Shores—and this number was probably a serious undercount. 

The pelican in the picture is an immature. Tbe closest Brown Pelican nesting sites to Washington are along the central California coast. After breeding, California birds, and pelicans from the Gulf of California, wander northward—even as far as British Columbia and southeastern Alaska. Numbers along the northern Pacific coast peak in September and October, before birds return south to their breeding colones in December and January (Shields 2014). A few stragglers remain off Washington during the winter and spring.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plovers are common. They breed across Arctic Canada and almost all of Alaska. A few nest along the West Coast south to California. They winter along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts south through Central and South America. Their fall migration lasts a long time, since adults migrate before young birds. Unlike many other shorebirds, Semipalmated Plovers appear not to be declining in numbers. This trend may be augmented by their wide coastal distribution and their not specializing in particular kinds of invertebrate prey. During a day trip to Ocean Shores, Washington, on 20 July 2019, Erika and I photographed this plover running among among hundreds of other Semipalmated Plovers.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbirds from Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge—1 July 2019 and 19 July 2019. The first is a female, the second a streaky immature bird. Both are quite differrent from the brown-headed, black males. Cowbirds are primitive blackbirds; Among the cowbirds that lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, the Brown-headed Cowbird preys upon the largest number of hosts. Brown-headed Cowbirds wader widely during the breeding season, laying up to 40 eggs per season. The list of parasitized hosts is over 200 species. Hosts range greatly in size, from creepers to meadowlarks (Lowther 1993).

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbirds breed from Alaska and Western Canada to the northwstern United States. The are the most northern-breeding hummingbird. Alaskan birds have a short breeding season but exceptionally long days. Rufous Hummingbirds have an eliptical migration route—up the West Coast in the spring, but furthern east, through the wildflower-laden Rocky Mountains in the late summer. In British Columbia, most males begin their fall migration by early July, moving up to higher elevations. Females follow after their young fledge (Healy and Calder 2000). We photographed this immature bird in Olympia, Washington, on 5 July 2019, In Washington, males appear in early March, followed by females in the next couple of weeks. Numbers decline in August, becoming uncommon by September (Wahl et al. 2005).

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Brown Creeper

Brown Creepers breed from Alaska acorss southern Canada south through most of the Great Lakes states and across much of the northeastern United States. They also breed through the Rocky mountains to Nicaragua and down our Pacific Coast states. Only a few areas of the United States lack Brown Creepers in the winter. Poulin et al. (2013) write that this species is “one of the continent's most inconspicuous songbirds.” Erika often calls creepers “tree lice.”

We photographed this Brown Creeper near Olympia on 20 April 2019. Creepers are most common in mature forests that contain both healthy and dead timber. They use the dead wood for nesting and live trees for foraging. Wintering birds use almost any wooded area. Populations have increased duirng recent years due to reforestation along with trees dying from insect outbreaks. Outright habitat loss, however, is a threat to this bird.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Townsend’s Chipmunk

Townsend’s Chipmunks are found in from British Columbia, throgh western Washington, south to Oregon. Note the gray and brown tail and the lack of a black line between the nose and the eye. This squirrel is named for the 19th century ornithologist, John Townsend. These chipmunks may hibernate or be active all year, depending on the climate. They are omnivorous. We photographed this individual in our Olympia backyard on 29 March 2019.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Pigeon Guillemot

On 12 July 2019, we found ourselves once again photographing Pigeon Guillemots at the Seattle-Bremerton ferry dock. Perhaps not surprising, the foraging behavior is not well known for a bird that feeds deep in the water. These guillemots eat bottom dwelling invertebrates. But they also feed on a wide variety of fish. Prey items are usually eaten under water—only larger crustaceans and fish are brought to the surface (Ewins 1993).

Monday, July 15, 2019

Douglas Squirrel

I assume the Doublas Squirrel is named for the Scottish botanist for whom the Douglas Fir gets its name—David Douglas (1799-1834). Douglas explored Scotland, North America, and died under suspicious circumstances in Hawaii. This reddish-brown bellied squirrel lives in the Pacific Northwest, from southwest British Columbia to California. Sometimes they are called Chickarees, but that name is also used for Red Squirrels, which replace Douglas Squirrels in most of the rest of North America. Douglas Squirrels prefer Old Growth and mature second-growth forests. Douglas Squirrels are “larder hoarders,” shoring food—usually fir, spruce, and pine seeds in middens. Their discarded conifer scales can pile up to over a meter across as generations of squirrels use the same midden (Wikipedia). This image was taken in our backyard when we first moved to Olympia. Note the ticks in its ear.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Murrelets and Auklets

We were in Seattle on 12 July 2019. Friends showed us Discovery Park, which I have been lobbying to visit. Local birders have been seeing alcids there. About a half-mile distant, we spied two birds, dots on Puget Sound. Alcids are a circumpolar bird family. They look vaguely like ducks, but appear to be more closely related to shorebirds and gulls.
Once home, to my surprise, I discovered that the two photos I took are of different species. In the field, I thought both birds were Marbled Murrelets, like the bird in the first picture. These brownish seabirds are found from Coastal Alaska to California. The Marbled Murrelet differs from other alcids because it nests in coastal Old Growth forests. The second photo turned out to be of a Rhinoceros Auklet. The curious horn on breeding birds is an extension of its mandible. The function of the horn, the same size in males and females, is unknown. Rhinoceros Auklets breed from coastal Alaska to California. The bird is common in Puget Sound. The species is also found in the western Pacific south to Japan. Both of these alcids are new to my photographic collection. Obviously I look forward to closer views of these handsome birds.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

American Coot

The red bump at the top of an American Coot’s bill is called the callus. Almost all North American coots, like this one we photographed on Olympia’s Capital Lake on 27 June 2019, sport a reddish callus. Only rarely is the callus white or yellowish. In the eastern Caribbean, however, most coot calluses are white. Other than that, most North American coots are similar, although recent studis suggest that western birds may have smaller frontal sheilds on their bills (Brisbin and Mobray 2002).

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrels greeted our arrival in Olympia. This image was taken on 29 March 2019. Western Gray Squirrels do exist, but they are a threatened species now found only in three areas of Washington associated with oak woodlands and pine/fir forests. The western squirrels suffered from fire suppression and consequent loss of oak forests, urban development, and commercial forestry practices.

Eastern squirrels, told by the brown color on their heads, were introduced to Washington and other parts of western North America in the early 1900s. They are now the most common tree squirrels in many urban areas (Wikipedia). Eastern Gray Squirrels are also introduced to parts of Europe, South Africa, and elsewhere around the world.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

California Spreadwing

I’ve been looking for the late-flying California Spreadwing, but it took David to find and photograph one for me. Usually spreadwings, especially immatures like this one, are very hard to identify. This damselfly can be told by its large size and bulbous abdomen end. This creature was perched in cattails in a small urban park in Olympia on 6 July 2019. The species is found from northern Washington south to Baja California and Sonora.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

River Jewelwing

Dennis Paulson alerted me to the occurrence of River Jewelwings along Black Creek in Grays Harbor County. He wrote to look where Highway 12 crosses Black Creek. Our son, a recent convert to dragonfly chasing, lacked this stunning damselfly on his list. Finding ourselves at a public boat launch along Black Creek on 8 July, we stopped and looked for jewelwings. David quickly spied one across a small feeder creek. As I struggled to find it, this stunning damselfly flew across the creek and landed a few feet from us. Not often do you encounter a people-watching dragonfly!

River Jewelwings were among the first dragonflies I listed in Minnesota in my new-found career as an entomologist. I wrote about that encounter in this blog. The species is found from southern Canada to the northern United States. Paulson, in his new book on Odonata, writes that male River Jewelwings flutter in front of females. Then they land on the water, presumably showing the female that the current is perfect for carrying oxygen and slow enough that the eggs will not be washed away.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Common Yellowthroat

This image of a female Common Yellowthroat skulking among my blog queue since Erika and I founnd this bird on 23 May 2019 at the Nisqually National Wilflife Refuge. This bird is common across much of North America. This species is one of the first American birds described by European ornithologists. Yellowthroats are found in a variety of habitats, especially tangles in wetlands, from which they sing their song, sounding like “witchity, witchhity, witchity.”

With such a wide range, it is not surprising that many local races are described. These subspecies differ slightly in male color and pattern. Unexpected is the finding that. although the mitochondrial DNA of Eastern birds is similar, Western birds carry quite different sequences than Eastern ones. Erika and I notice that the calls of Washington yellowthroats are much slower than the calls we are used to when we were in Minnesota.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Western Tiger Swallowtail

This spring we watched a plethora of Western Tiger Swallowtails flit through the garden. Males fly back and forth searching for receptive females. They rarely perch, and, when they do land, it is but briefly. This behavior makes them hard to photograph. This image was captured on 3 July 2019. As the name implies, Western Tiger Swallowtails are found across much of the West, from British Columbia to North Dakota, south to Baja California and New Mexico. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, a larger butterfly, replaces it in the East. There is one flight from June through July. The western species spends the winter as chrysalids.

Friday, July 5, 2019

California Scrub-Jay

California Scrub-Jays are found along the West Coast from Washington to Baja California. Erika and I lack this common species for our yard list. Perhaps our habitat is too forested. We took this photo on 2 July 2018 two miles from home in a slightly denser suburban section of Olympia. Elsewhere in this blog, I wrote that the Western Scrub-Jay was recently split into two species, the California and Woodhouse’s jays. Woodhouse’s Jays range from the Southwest into most of Mexico.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Garter Snake

My guess is that this snake is a Pacific Sound Garter Snake. Erika and I found it at Saint Martin’s University on 28 June. The snake was pulling a dead Bullfrog into the undergrowth. Even with its unhinged jaws, typical of snakes, we could hardly imagine how the snake might swallow the amphibian. Here the snake has wrapped its jaws around the frog’s hind leg. Garter snakes eat amphibians, although Pacific Sound Garter Snakes, being somewhat smaller than other species, tend to specialize consuming worms and slugs (Paulson).

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Aaron’s Beard

Aaron’s Beard, or Saint John’s Wort, is a short, spreading shrub native to southeast Europe and southwest Asia. It is used as an ornamental, landscape plant in North America, where it often escapes to become a noxious, invasive plant. Erika and I found it along a parking lot edge at Saint Martin’s University on 28 June 2019. According to Wikipedia, extracts from these plants reduce depression in mice without various side effects shown in other, similar antidepressants. I suppose, if that’s what you do for a living, a depressed mouse is easy enough to recognize.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Lorquin’s Admiral

“There’s a different butterfly in the backyard!” exclaimed Erika. This Lorquin’s Admiral zipped around Erika’s garden, and made repeated stops on the edge of the bird bath. These butterflies are fond of mud, where they presumably sip moisture. They also feed on various plants, but also bird droppings and dung, which also may decorate the bath edge. The species, although new for Erika and me, is common in a wide variety of habitats, even urban settings, from western Canada south through the Rocky Mountain West south to California. According to Wikipedia, “They are extremely territorial and will attack any intruders into their habitat, including large birds.”

This butterfly is named after Pierre Joseph Michel Lorquin, a French lepidopterist who lived from 1797 undtil 1873. He collected butterflies and beetles in many parts of southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, South America, Africa and Europe. He worked in California in 1849 and 1856.