Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Columbia Lily

Erika and I found Columbia Lilies along the roadside in the Kennedy Flats area west of Olympia on 17 June 2020. They seemed to be fairly common, although they are rare in other areas, since people often dig them up to plant in gardens. The plant grows in western North America, from British Columbia to California. In Washington, they are encountered in coastal marshes, low and mid-elevation forests, and subalpine meadows.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Banded Skimmers

A few days of sunshine and 80 degree temperatures brought out a myriad of dragonflies. We found two females on 23 June 2020 at the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. The first is an Eight-spotted Skimmer, a common species of western North America from southern Canada to the Mexican border. Males sport bright white wing marks around their black patches. The second species looks quite similar. Note that this next dragonfly has black wingtips, a field mark of a female Common Whitetail. Males have much larger, black wing bands and develop white abdomens.
Twelve-spotted Skimmers are found across all of the United States except Florida and northwestern Washington. Records exist in the Vancouver/Portland area and up the Columbia River Valley. These dragonflies are even found in parts of southern Canada, so they should be found in the Seattle/Olympia area too. I will keep my eyes open. Males have white spots in their wings alternating with the black bands. As you can see in this final photo, female Twelve-spotted Skimmers are quite similar to female Common Whitetails. Note that the whitetail’s abdomen have yellow spots along their sides, while Twelve-spots sport almost unbroken yellow abdomen stripes. I took the Twelve-spotted photograph on 13 June 2016  in Dakota County, Minnesota.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Polyphemus Moth

On 23 June 2020, I was walking across a suburban parking lot. I stumbled upon this Polyphemus Moth, Antheraea polyphemus. Polyphemus refers to the one-eyed cyclops who invited Odysseus to lunch. The moth has a large eye in the center of each hind wing. Antheraea is derived from the Greek for  flowery, brilliant color. Presumably the moth “eyes” discourage predators. If I were a flycatcher, I would think twice about attacking this moth. Some variation exists in this moth's appearance. Note the amazing, comb-like antenna, which are used to sense sex pheromones.

Polyphemus Moths are common across North America. I am surprised I have never seen one before. They are found in every Canadian Province and all but two southwestern American states. This moth inhabits woodlands, orchards and wetlands. If they were more common, this species might cause damage to trees. They may cause damage to California plum orchards. Caterpillars eat entire leaves, and then cut off the leaf stem so it falls to the ground—perhaps to eliminate signs of feeding (Butterflies and moths).

Adults are attracted to night lights. Adults do not feed. I came upon this moth around 9:30 in the morning. This individual was in ragged shape. Probably it survived the night. Usually adults emerge from the cocoons in the late afternoon. Mating occurs during the ensuing 24 hours, usually that evening.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Red-veined Meadowhawk

On 18 June 2020, Erika and I discovered this dragonfly at Olympia’s Priest Point Park. I initially believed this was a female Cardinal Meadowhawk, which are infrequently observed. When I posted the top image in the Western Odonata FaceBook page, several red flags became apparent. The base of the abdomen seems too swollen for a Cardinal Meadowhawk. The legs are black, unlike the colored legs of the Cardinal Meadowlark in my last post. The abdomen sides are quite dark in a Red-veined Meadowhawk. In the second photo, note that there are no black marks in the wings and the red wing stripes reach all the way to the black spots near the front-wing tips. All these field marks add up to Red-veined Meadowhawk. Curiously, Erika and I found this species on 1 August 2019 at the same location—practically on the same perch.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Cardinal Meadowhawk

Near home in Olympia on 18 June 2020, Erika and I found several Cardinal Meadowhawks. These common dragonflies are fairly easy to identify. For one thing, they one of the few spring meadowhawk in the area. Note also the relatively conspicuous yellow spots on the sides of the thorax. The females, which are either brown or reddish (and possibly polymorphic) are less often observed than are the males (Paulson 2009).

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Lorquin’s Admiral

On 17 June 2020, while walking along a dirt road in Kennedy Flats west of Olympia, Erika and I found several Lorquin’s Admirals. These butterflies are fond of mud, where they presumably sip moisture or drink minerals. They also feed on various plants, but also bird droppings and dung. These admirals are common in a wide variety of habitats, even urban settings, from western Canada south through the Rocky Mountain West south to California.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Western Forktail

On 18 June 2020, I found this male Western Forktail in a flood control pond about a mile from our home. Only three forktail species inhabit Olympia. These damselflies are relatively easy to tell apart. I was, however, concerned about the blue sides to this ode’s thorax—this color should be green. Dennis Paulson explained to me that the blue indicates that this individual is probably a young male whose sides will become green. 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).

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Spotted Towhee

This Spotted Towhee is just recently out of the nest. The plumage and dark eyes are confusing. The bird does have large, white tail spots which help with identification—along with upset parent towhees in the nearby bushes. Interestingly, when a baby bird squawks, birds of many species are often attracted. Spotted Towhees are among the most common birds at our backyard feeders. Erika and I took this photograph on 17 June 2020.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Savannah Sparrow

As was the recent Savannah Sparrow post, the bird, we found at the Nisqually wildlife refuge on 16 June 2020, is one of the small, pale western races. Erika and I discovered this sparrow during our effort to record a singing Common Yellowthroat. BirdNet, our bird song identifying app, concurred with our yellowthroat identification but indicated a Savannah Sparrow song was also present in our recording. Directly behind us, actually. Note the relatively long claws on the hind toes of this bird. Long claws are often present in ground-foraging birds.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Brown-headed Cowbird

On 16 June 2020 at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge, this Brown-headed Cowbird appeared to be auditioning for Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. These cowbirds usually walk rather than hop and are known to run after insects (Lowther 2020). You may recall that cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Ornithologists have listed at least 220 host species (although not all of these raised the young cowbirds to fledging).

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Erika and I discovered a pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckers feeding young in a dead tree in the Nisqually wildlife refuge on 16 June 2020. Both the male and the female made repeated visits to the tree. They used at least two holes in the trees. We heard begging young. The birds’ using more than one hole is odd. The birds are not colonial and, although trees used in previous years are reused, new nest cavities are excavated each year (Walters et al. 2020). Perhaps nest cavities can have multiple entryways.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Clodius Parnassian

The Clodius Parnassian is found across much of the western United States and adjacent Canada. Although this is the first one I’ve seen, it is conspicuous and common in the Pacific Northwest. Erika and I found it on 14 June 2020 at the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. At first I thought we had an odd swallowtail and, in fact, parnassians are in the swallowtail family. Notice in the second photo that the wingtips are almost transparent. The red, black-circled wing-dots amazed me. These butterflies are highly variable across their range, which can make their identification difficult.  This species is found at lower elevations than many of its close relatives. I am not certain as to the derivation of the name Clodius Parnassian. Parnassian may refer to the Greek mountain that was scared to Apollo and the Muses. Alternative names for this species include Apollo and American Parnassian.

Monday, June 15, 2020

American Robin

This photo, taken on 11 June 2020 at the Woodard Bay Preserve, is the most recent image of many American Robins that Erika and I have taken since moving to Olympia. We are not certain, but this bird appears to be carrying Thimbleberry fruit. A Thimbleberry looks like a  raspberry. Perhaps the bird is carrying the fruit to feed nearby young. Judging by the cacophony of scolding robins in the area, an owl or other predator may have been lurking nearby in the dense forest. We looked, but saw nothing.

Robins in the Pacific Northwest are darker plumaged than most of their continental relatives. As you cross the America, robins have smaller and smaller white spots at the ends of their outer tail feathers. These spots are nearly absent by the time you reach Washington. Consequently our birds are classified as a distinct subspecies.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Although the Black-throated Gray Warbler is common across much of the American West, from southwestern British Columbia to northern Mexico, very little is known about the bird’s natural history. The species feeds on foliage insects and ants in trees and shrubs. Guzy and Lowther (2020), however, make no mention of this bird’s foraging on the ground. This female is clearly feeding on the ground beneath Erika’s garden plants on 11 June 2020.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Greater Scaup

You wouldn’t think a duck would need to bathe. Greater Scaup, like this one on 18 May 2020 in Olympia, do a lot of preening. This scaup busily preened in Budd Bay off Olympia on 18 May 2020. Greater Scaup circumpolar breeding range across Alaska, northern Canada, and northern Europe and Asia. Although these ducks (at least those on this continent) winter across North America, most are found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts,

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbirds, like this one on 28 May 2020, visit the flowers in Erika’s garden. These little birds are interesting and I have previously written about various aspects of their biology, Mostly we see females in the garden, Female Anna’s Hummingbirds are much drabber than their gaudy males. Females and males come in contact only for copulation. The females defend feeding territories, make their nests, incubate the eggs, and feed the young (Clark and Russell 2020).

Monday, June 8, 2020

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhees are among the most common birds in our backyard. On two days this spring we watched some interesting towhee personal maintenance behaviors. When most birds bathe in water, the bird does some splashing and is done with it. In the first photo, on 1 May 2020, the bird perched on the edge of the bird bath. Then the towhee ran through the bath, flapping its wings, and submerging itself about half way. The bird reemerged on the opposite lip of the bath, shook itself, and then ran back through the water to the bird’s first perch. This behavior was repeated several times.

The second towhee appears to be anting on 28 May 2020. Birds often allow ants to swarm over their bodies. The bird spreads its wings and tail and raises its feathers. Ornithologists are not sure why birds ant. A number of hypotheses exist. The ants often secrete formic acid, which may kill mites and other feather parasites. Perhaps formic acid soothes skin irritated by molting feathers. Another possibility is that the birds crush the ants, forcing the arthropods to release their acid, thereby making the ants edible for the birds. Other researchers suggest that anting makes birds feel great. The acid appears to stimulate the birds and may be addictive. Note that the towhee has its mouth open, almost an ecstatic posture. One author refers to formic acid as “bird catnip” (Atlas Obscura, Feinstein 2011).

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Orange Honeysuckle

Erika and I found Orange Honesuckle, Lonicera ciliosam, on 15 May 2020 at the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. Since then, we found it in our backyard. This honesuckle runs along the ground and grows up trees. The plant can rearch lengths of almost 19 ft. The flowers attract hummingbirds and other wildlife and are of special importance to bumble bees. The genus is named for Adam Lonicer, a German botanist and physician (1528 - 1586). The plant grwos in open woods and thickets from soutern British Columbia to northern California, east to central Rocky Mountain states. Orange Honeysuckles are also commercially available (LBJ Wildflower Center),.

Friday, June 5, 2020


Ospreys returned to their nest in the Port of Olympia lumber yard. The nest sits on top of a tall security floodlight pole. Erika and I took this image on 22 May 2020, although my first sighting was made on 2 April and others reported seeing them even earlier. Ospreys are slick birds, specialized for catching fish. Ospreys are found around the world and enjoy amazing feats of migration—often over 3000 miles. Many North American birds winter well into central Brazil.

Ospreys are in their own family, Pandionidae, but clearly closely related to eagles and hawks, Accipitridae. A few ornithologists argue that the two families should be merged. Molecular scientists have also argued for the past deeade about how treat the world’s Ospreys. The data suggest Ospreys represent at least two, and perhaps up to four species, one species each from the New World, Indo-Australasia, Europe and Africa, and Asia. At this time, however, only one species with four subspecies are officially recognized (Bierregaard et al. 2929).

Thursday, June 4, 2020

MacGillivray’s Warbler

This spring I banded only one MacGillivray’s Warbler—on 6 May 2020. This species is common but hard to see in its montane, riparian breeding habitat. Isolated populations breed across western North America and winter along of Pacific Coast of Mexico and Central America. This male seems to be a strikingly plumaged bird—indeed, coastal MacGillivray’s Warblers are brighter than birds from areas further east. These far western birds are recognized as a distinct subspecies.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

May Lily

May Lily (aka False Lily-of-the-valley), Maianthemum dilatatum, is another spring lily we discovered on 20 May 2020 at the McLane Creek Nature Trail. Growing from mats of rhizomes, they form small patches. According to the LBJ Wildflower Center, gardeners should be cautious. This plant is extremely aggressive and can escape the garden. It will grow in nutrient poor soil. This species is found from Alaska along the West Coast to California and Idaho.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadees are among the most frequent visitors to our backyard feeder. Other common birds include Black-capped Chicadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. During the winter, all of these species often feed in mixed species flocks. Although Chestnut-backed Chickadees enjoy a varied diet and appear at the feeders all year, they specialize on insects that live at the tops of conifers. We took this image on 24 May 2020.