Monday, March 30, 2020

Spotted Towhee

On 17 March 2020. we found a Spotted Towhee singing from a woodpile in a clearcut at Kennedy Flats, west of Olympia. The Spotted Towhees of the Northwest are less heavily spotted that other populations across wesztern North America. I have not seen a photograph of a Spotted Towhee with such as prominent crest as this one sports. Perhpas this male was particularly jazzed up with testosterone. Erika and I were not close to this bird when we took this image, so I do not think this crest raising was due to our presence. This behavior does not seem to be mentioned by Smith and Greenlaw (2002) in Birds of the World.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Golden-crowned Kinglet

This image looks like a cute photo of a Golden-crowned Kinglet next to a dandelion. But it is not cute—the bird is distressed. The bird hopped up to us while we were cleaning a bush pile in our backyard. It remained in the vicinity while I ran indoors to fetch my camera. The kinglet’s left side was badly damaged. The left eye was missing and the left wing was mutilated. We are not sure that the bird could fly. The bird appeared to have barely survived a predator attack—perhaps by a small owl, another raptor, or a cat. We did not put the bird out of its misery, although that may have been the humane action, and did not find the kinglet later in the day.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Enchoria lacteata

Enchoria lacteata is a common, small, day-flying moth restricted to Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Erika and I found many at Darlin Creek Preserve southwest of Olympia on 19 March 2020. This moth seems to lack an English name—Horse Shoe Curve Moth may be a reference to where one was found, rather than referring to the moth itself. At first the moths looks nondescript but we were amazed by its intricate wing pattern. The larva feed on various herbs, including Claytonia, the genus of the Siberian Springbeauty that I wrote about in my previous post and that was flowering at the preserve.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Siberian Springbeauty

On 19 March 2020, Erika and I found a new wildflower for our list—Claytonia sibirica—the Siberian Springbeauty. The genus is named for John Clayton, one of America’s first European botanists (1693-1773). (Sibirica refers to Siberian.) This spring wildflower grows from Siberia and Alaska south to northern California. The plant was introduced to Great Britain in the 1700s and is now widespread there and elsewhere in Europe. The stamens release pollen before an individual plant’s female reproductive organ, the pistil, is mature, assuring flowers don’t pollinate themselves. Self fertilization is generally genetically a poor idea. Springbeauties also can reproduce asexually by spreading runners from the parent plant.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Turkey Vulture

17 March 2020—at Kennedy Flats west of Olympia, Erika and I spied the first Turkey Vultures of the Spring. Turkey Vultures usually winter from northern California across the border states to the southeastern United States south into northern Mexico, where they intermingle with resident populations. Only rarely are these scavengers found further north in the winter, but have been observed in British Columbia and Ontario.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Pacific Trillium

17 March 2020—our first Pacific Trillium of the Spring at Kennedy Flats west of Olympia. I have previously posted about this wildflower. Pollination is acieved by bumblebees, moths, beetles, and other arthropods. The seeds produce substances that attract ants that carry the seeds to feed their young. The young ants, while consuming the attractant substances, do not destroy the seeds. The seeds are left to sprout away from the parent trillium.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Starry Flounder

On 16 March 2020, Erika and I found a gull munching on a flatfish. Note that the eyes are displaced on one side of the head, so the fish can see while it lies on the bottom of sea. I thought it looked like a Rock Sole, but Dennis Paulson wrote me that it is more likely to be a Starry Flounder. One reason is that the eyes are on the left side of the fish’s head. Unlike the Starry Flounder, most of Washingtons flatfish havc their eyes on their right side. Starry Flounders are common in Washington waters and are usually found near shore, often entering brackish or freshwater (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife). This flounder lay dead some distance up Macalister Creek in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The gull is also interesting. Its white eye suggests it may be a Herring Gull, but it is more likely a Western Gull or a Western x Glaucous Gull hybrid, which is abundant in the Puget Sound.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Red-flowering Currant

Ribes sanguineum, the Red-flowering Currant, is found in the western United States and Canada—British Columbia south to Californoia and east to Idaho—from sea level to middle elevations. The bush is also grown in gardens and various varieties, and a range of white, pink or dark red flowers have been cultivated. They flower early in the spring and their fruits (described as tasteless or insipid) attract birds. Erika and I took this image on 12 March 2020 at Tumwater Falls in Olympia.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

American Dippper

On 12 March 2020, Erika and I searched for American Dippers at Tumwater Falls in Olympia. Dippers seem to be there all year, but they are hard to see—gray birds against black rocks. Despite several attempts, we had yet to add a dipper to our year-list. Today we found two, I learned two things. First, the white flashes from a dipper’s eye is not due to its nictitating membrane but, instead, a white eyelid. Second, dippers, as you can see in the second photo, stick their heads (and occasionally the rest of their bodies) under water with their eyes open. This trait does make sense if you are searching for aquatic insect larvae. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Yellow Skunk Cabbage

Erika and I saw flowering Yellow Skunk Cabbage (aka Swamp Lantern) near Olympia today, 11 March 2020. This image, however, was taken almost a year ago. Yellow Slunk Cabbage grows in swampy areas of the Pacific Northwest, from Alaska to California, east to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. This species was introduced to Great Britian in the early 1900s, where it escaped into the wild. They emit a skunky odor to attract beetle and fly pollinators. Like the Eastern Slunk Cabbage, it is one of the first plants to bloom in the late winter or early spring. In North America, Yellow Skunk Cabbage has a number of native uses, but consuming too much skunk cabbage can be fatal. The plant is also eaten as a laxative by bears coming out of hibernation (Wikipedia).

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Review: Birds in Minnesota

Birds in Minnesota. Robert Janssen. University of Minnesota Press. 2020. 584 pp. Softbound. $34.95. ($30.93 when clicking here.)

This book is essential for all but the most casual of birders. The book is a compendium of dates and distributions of Minnesota birds, including an appendix with first and last dates of seasonal occurrences. The book, however, is not for those birders interested in learning identification or behavior of Minnesota birds. Not even brief species accounts are to be found about habitat, ecology, behavior, or keys to identification. 

To my mind, this book presents a number of quirks. The first is authorship. The cover indicates this tome is the revised and expanded edition by Robert Janssen. The title page credits Janssen along with David Cahlander. Kim Eckert wrote the introduction and Carroll Henderson contributed a preface.

I find the book’s design somewhat odd. The font size is unusually small. The graphs of north and south state abundance are color-coded, with the curve for northern abundance being red.  Red is a color that should be avoided in deference to color-blind people. An infrequent species curve is sometimes obscured against the horizontal axis.

Single photographs accompany most common species, but the photo sizes are not uniform. Although it is obvious what species is shown, each photo has a species name below it, but no photographer citation. You must to go to the back of the book for that. The photos are a bit unnecessary, since only common birds are included. Images of Minnesota’s rare and casual species would have been of more value to the reader. The photos are of excellent quality, except, in my opinion, for the cover. The cover is a striking image of a Three-toed Woodpecker, but the bird is not a crisp contrast to the background. A black and gray bird against a gray background is hardly an image to jump out at a prospective purchaser. (The image above is actually a bit better than on my copy of the book.)

Range maps are illustrated in green, with the shade of green indicating abundance for each county. Tiny black dots indicte breeding within the county or where very rare birds were seen. You have to look very closely to see dots on the state line at Duluth. Whole counties are shaded in, which is misleading if birds are found only in partial areas of the county in question. As many as four maps occur in the account margins, for each of the seasons. Common, statewide, resident species have identical maps for spring and fall. These could be combined. Finally, a little island sometimes occurs to the right of the map—Twin Cities metro counties?

Despite these quirks, I highly recommend this narrowly focused book for serious birders. The information is useful and appears to be accurate.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Northern Shoveler

Erika and I have often seen this curious behavior by Northern Shovelers. I have always known that they use their large bills to strain tiny crustaceans out of the water. Often you find shovelers swimming in a tight circles, apparently using their bills as stirring spoons, driving their prey off the bottom of the lake and up to the surface. Almost always we find pairs acting like this, which suggests this behavior is both cooperative feeding and a pair bonding activity. Solitary birds of both sexes, however, are known to twirl for their food.

This video is my first bird movie. If it does not appear in this post, the clip can be accessed through my eBird checklist of the day:

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Pelagic Cormornant

We took this photograph of a distant Pelagic Cormorant on 3 March 2020 at Woodward Bay Preserve near Olympia. I don’t think I have ever seen this species in its breeding or definitive alternate plumage, which occurs from March through August. Perhaps I never noticed the slender, white filoplumes on the sides of the birds’ necks. Although I’ve used the white patches. present in summer birds, on their sides, behind their wings, I have have not seen philoplumes on the birds’ backs. These feathers seem long in this bird—the filoplumes are usually only 1.5 inches at the longest. The feathers are “very brittle and easily brocken or lost” (Hobson 2020). 

Friday, March 6, 2020

Great Blue Heron

A Great Blue Heron convention on 3 March 2020 at Woodard Bay near Olympia. We count about 30 birds in the photo, but we estimated 50 altogether. The birds are on an abandoned logging pier, which is no longer connected to the mainland. The pier is controversial. On one hand, birds, like these herons, use the pier to roost. More amazing, in the spring, hundreds of bats roost under the pier and make nightly migrations to Capitol Lake to feed on insects. On the other hand, the pier is an unnatural structure. Worse yet, it is heavily treated with creosote, an oil distilled from coal tar, which is a source of pollution. I think there is talk of treating the pier with some kind of creosote blocking agent.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Cedar Waxwing

Erika and I photographed this Cedar Waxwing on 5 July 2019 at the McLane Creek Nature Trail near Olympia. Ever since, the image sat in my blog queue. Looking at my eBird records, we found this species three times in July, seven in August, once in September, twice in October, after which we found a flock only once again, on 25 January 2020. This lack of winter records surprises me, even though waxwing distribution is known to be erratic as they search for fruit. The folks at eBird have been using user data to produce fascinating maps that show bird movements across North America. Their Cedar Waxwing map indicates that these birds are seldom observed in the Pacific Northwest in the winter.

Monday, March 2, 2020


More Mallard photos. These are at Capitol Lake in Olympia on 25 February 2020. The striking green of the Mallard’s head is the result of feather structure rather than of pigmentation. Birds (and some aquatic mammals) are able to sleep with one eye open and half of their brains awake. The ability, termed “unihemispheric sleep” allows them to sleep and be alert for predators