Wednesday, April 29, 2020

White-crowned Sparrow

Searching for an empty place to walk, Erika and I, on 17 April 2020, strolled around the Washington capitol grounds. Several White-crowned Sparrows greeted us. Four races, each with slightly different song dialects, are known. This bird is Puget Sound race, ranging from Vancouver Island south to northern-most California This subspecies is recognized by its yellowish bill (muddy in this image) and pale lores (the area between the eye and the bill). A lot is known about song acquisition in this species (Chilton et al. 2020). Very briefly, young birds learn the song of nearby birds, not just from their fathers. Birds at the edges of subspecies ranges often are bilingual, learning more than one racial dialect. Females in multiracial regions are attracted by more than one song dialect.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Ring-necked Duck

How many Ring-necked Ducks would you have to photograph before you came up with a Tufted Duck? Erika and I found this male Ring-neck on Olympia’s Capitol Lake on 23 April 2020. Its profile is even somewhat tufted, but this field-mark turns out to be acceptable for the species. Adult Tufted Ducks, found across the Old World, have much longer crests, almost like pony tails. Tufted Ducks are occasionally seen in Washington and across North America. Hybrids between the two species are also reported. I have seen Tufted Ducks in Switzerland and once in Minnesota. The Minnesota duck, however, was later determined to have escaped from captivity. By most rules of the sport, escaped birds can not be counted on one’s list.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Woodland Forget-me-not

Erika and I discovered a blue wildflower on the side of our driveway on 21 April 2020. We presume this plant is a Woodland Foreget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica, which is a European plant that has escaped from cultivation in many locations in the Northern Hemisphere. Native Myosotis also exist, and all appear to us to be similar. The native species, however, often grow in wet habitats and flower later in the year.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Erika and I listed Lincoln’s Sparrows at Nisqually refuge last year, but this bird, banded on 20 April 2020, is the first for our yard. Note the gray sides of the face and the thin breast streaks. Not so clearly shown in this image is the yellowish chest color. Lincoln’s Sparrows can be hard, but not impossible, to see in shrubby undergrowth. Occasionally they will perch in plain view. Audubon first encountered this species in Labrador in 1833. He named this bird for his traveling companion, Thomas Lincoln, who was an independently wealthy Maine farmer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Straightbeak Buttercup

Most of our hiking places are either closed and/or full of people. Kennedy Flats is on private land that allows trespass and cosists of a maze of logging roads up into the Black Hills south of Olympia. The roads pass through various stages of forest, from clearcut to fairly mature woodlands. The area is usually remarkably birdless. On 14 April 2020, Erika and I found a few buttercups growing in a roadside pool alongside a tiny trickle of water. Due to this habitat, the Burke Museum’s Washington Wildflower App quickly took us to Straightbeak Buttercup, Ranunculus orthorhynchus. The name refers to seed structure. The plant is also known as Swamp Buttercup, but that name is shared by a few other buttercups. This species is common, blooming from April to August,  in western North America from Alaska south to California and east to Montana, Wyoming and Utah.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Greater Yellowlegs

On 8 April 2020 at Schneider Creek in Olympia we spied a single Greater Yellowlegs near the Killdeer of a previous post. This shorebirds breed in mosquito-infested Alaskan and Canadian muskeg. They winter across most of South America, although they also winter north to the northern coasts of the United States. Shorebirds often stand on one leg. This habit enables birds to conserve heat and energy. By standing this way, birds cut heat loss by at least half.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

California Darner

California Darner, Rhionaeschna californica. Washington: Thurston Co.: Olympia. 16 April 2020. Immature male. My first drangofly of 2020. This species is, indeed, one of the first dragonflies to flt in the spring. Thanks to Dennis Paulson for ID confirmation.

Thursday, April 16, 2020


Despite Killdeer’s being fairly common all year in Thurston County, Erika and I this year did not find this shorebird until 8 April. Migratory and resident populations inhabit western Washington. Three birds foraged and rested along the shell-strewn mudflat where Schneider Creek enters Olympia’s Budd Bay. There is a small overlook here that is usually deserted, making it ideal for these days of social distancing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Arctic Sweet Coltsfoot

In Kennedy Flats, on 7 April 2020, Erika and I found what we take to be Actic Sweet Coltsfoot, Petasites frigidus. Coltsfoot is a Composite (Asteraceae) found in northern regions of both hemispheres. In western North America, it reaches down to California. This plant flowers in early spring and then produces large leaves during the summer. It prefers moist, shaded ground, often near streams or springs. Wikipedia maintains that the leaf stalks and flowers are edible but, because of toxic alkaloids, consumption should be very limited. We kind of think this statement implies that coltsfoot should be considered to be inedible.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Scotch Broom

Scotch Broom, Cytisus scoparius) is an invasive plant in western Washington. We found several of these shrubs in Kennedy Flats west of Olympia on 7 April 2020. This plant is in the Pea Family, Fabaceae, and is native to Europe. Now it grows in India, South America, Australia, New Zealand and western North America. You can find it along roadsides and in pastures and disturbed areas. Scotch Broom out-competes native herbs and young trees, which results in loss of grasslands and open forests. The seeds are toxic to livestock. In Washington the distribution, transport, or selling of this plant is illegal (nwcb).

Friday, April 10, 2020

Horned Grebe

Erika and I watched a Horned Grebe dive at the Bremerton Ferry on 14 February 2020. Grebe legs are so far back on their bodies that they can't walk on land. Their legs propel them into and through the water. They have lobed toes, which act as paddles on their back strokes and dives, but which fold into streamlined blades when moved forward.

Grebes are usually thought to be closely related to loons. Although ornithologists are not in complete agreement, many current studies suggest grebes are actually very closely related to flamingos! These morphological and genetic data suggest that these two apparently disparate families should be considered to be descended from the same ancestor and are, in fact, in the the same order of birds (Winkler et al. 2020),

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

“Pink” Moon

Last night, 7 April 2020, the moon’s orbit brought it closer to the earth than it will be for the rest of the year. The moon lit up our backwoods. The resulting supermoon, the frst full moon of the spring, is often called the Pink Moon, since Phlox subulata, or Moss Pink, blooms in the early spring. Other ;names include the "sprouting grass moon" or "egg moon,” Blue moons occcur when two full moons occur in the same month, which will happen this October (CNN).

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Western White-ribboned Carpet Moth

A sure sign of spring, several Western White-ribboned Carpet Moths flitted about the garden on a sunny, 60 degree afternoon on 5 April 2020. When flying, these small moths looked mostly white. Their forewings, however, are exquisitely patterned. This moth found across much of western North America.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Ruby-crowned Kinglet vs Hutton’s Vireo

I was surprised at how few times I’ve posted about Ruby-crowned Kinglets, which are common birds in both Washington and Minnesota. So I made sure to take this top photograph when I banded a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet on 3 April 2020. Much less common on Washington and absent from Minnesota is the Hutton’s Vireo. I took the bottom photo on 16 December 2019.

Sibley (2014) writes that these two species are “strikingly similar.” Not only do they look alike, they behave the same. I don’t think they are that hard to identify in the hand. The kinglet has an almost completely black, thin, pointed bill. The vireo’s bill is somewhat thicker, paler, and hooked at the end. Furthermore, the vireo is a stubbier bird. The vireo’s head appears to be slightly flatter in profile, while the kinglet’s head is smaller and rounder. These traits are very hard to see in the field. Erika began to notice that birds we called kinglets seemed greener backed than others with more grayish-green. We suspect kinglet backs are subtlety brighter than vireo backs. The two birds have different songs, but they are hard to see as they sing and both are quiet in the bird net. See also my previous post.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Pacific Wren

Although I have banded a couple in our backyard, I can’t really tell how common Pacific Wrens are around here. I don’t think I could take you out to and I have banded a couple in our backyard. I don’t think that I could take you and and promise that we could find one. Even when you do see this scretive bird, like this one at the Woodard Bay Natural area on 3 March 2020, the wren is briefly visible, but disappears before the automatic focus kicks in. If we do search, we may have to be content to hear one singing from the dense tangles of Old Growth Forest. Here is an interesting discussion of their song.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Hooded Merganser

I have been making a slight effort to photograph pairs of ducks. Here are a pair of Hooded Mergansers that Erika and I found at the Tumwater Historical Park on 5 March 2020. These ducks produce single broods. These birds nest in tree cavities in bird boxes. Females often select breeding sites the summer before they pair.  Pairs form in November. Nesting season depends on location, with southern birds beginning before northern ones—late February to mid-April in Washington. Males abandon the nest as incubation begins and only the females care for the  hatchlings. The females abandon the young after about five weeks (Dugger et al. 2020).