Friday, July 31, 2020

Pale Snaketail

Erika and I returned to the area near the mouth of the Black River south of Olympia in Grays Harbor County on 29 July 2020. Snaketails were our quarry. We began at the Oakville # 2 Chehalis River Boat Launch. We vowed to turn around if there were other people, but we had the parking-lot to ourselves. We got out of the car and this snaketail flew up and landed a few feet in front of us. Never has a target species been so easy to find!

Snaketails are found near rivers. Males perch on sand, rocks, or on twigs over their streams. They often prefer riffles. They spend more time perched than they do in flight (Paulson 2019). Thus our parking-lot visitor was somewhat out of normal habitat.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

American Crow

These images (upper = 21 Mar 2020 at Capitol Lake in Olympia, lower =21 July 2020 at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge) are of the bird formerly known as the Northwestern Crow. Ten years ago, I would have identified these birds as Northwestern Crows, a distinct, small version of the closely related American Crow. Now both these crows are considered to be American Crows. My list of birds seen is down one species. The American Ornithological Society, the group that decides such matters, wrote succinctly that the two former species are to be merged “based on genomic data that indicate a lack of reproductive isolation..., [no] clinal variation, and a lack of consistent differences in size, ecology, and vocalizations.”

DNA research studied DNA from 259 crows across western North America. American and Northwestern crow populations became isolated by late Pleistocene glaciers. During their isolation, coastal populations became smaller than interior ones. When the ice sheets retreated, crow populations again came into contact. Although the populations had changed, they still freely interbred. Today, along their 900 km area of overlap, from Washington across British Columbia, researchers can find no pure American or Northwestern crows. Furthermore, these crows have been hybridizing for a long time, well before modern regional habitat changes. Researchers found pure American Crows in Oregon and pure Northwestern Crows in Juneau, Alaska. All the crows in-between are mixtures between the two.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Mylitta Crescent

Erika and I photographed this Mylitta Crescent along a logging road along Kennedy Flats west of Olympia in Mason County on 25 July 2020. Although common in western North America, from southwestern Canada well into Mexico, this sighting is our first for this species. They are ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest in disturbed habitats. They breed and feed in thistles, so their larvae help regulate thistle populations. Mylitta was an ancient Babylonian goddess of fertility and is a good name for this multiple-brooded butterfly (Kelly Brenner).

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Banded Alder Borer

Along a woodland trail, on 23 July 2020 at the Nisqually wildlife Refuge just east of Olympia, Erika and I found a Banded Alder Borer, Rosalia funebris. Actually we discovered this longhorn beetle because two other visitors were taking pictures of it. These beetles are found from Alaska to California and New Mexico, often on alder tree bark. These insects are not thought of as pests, since their larvae generally bore into downed wood. The adults usually feed on flowers (Wikipedia).

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Cabbage White

We found this Cabbage White in our backyard on 15 July 2020. You can tell it is a female because it has four black wing spots. These butterflies are abundant around the world. They probably originated in the Eastern Mediterranean, and spread across Europe and Asia. They were accidentally introduced to North Africa, North America, New Zealand and Australia. Almost all types of habitat attract these butterlfies—weedy areas, gardens, roadsides, cities and suburbs (Butterflies and Moths).

Cabbage White larvae devour cabbage, kale, broccoli, radishes, and mustard crops. The English tried applying DDT to their fields, but the larvae became reisistant to the pesticide.  Bacillus bacteria have also been applied to gardens to try to beat back larvae—a bad idea since the bacteria also kill other butterflies. Pyle (2002) writes, “Better to pluck off the larvae [and] accept a little steamed protein in the broccoli…” As far as I am concerned, the Cabbage Whites can have the kale.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Four-spotted Skimmer

This Four-spotted Skimmer has been languishing in my blog queue since 22 June 2020 when I took this photo in Olympia. This species is found across much of North America, from Alaska and the Yukon south to Arizona and New Mexico. This dragonfly is cirumboreal—also being found from Europe to Africa east to Asia and Japan. Mating takes place in the air. Females lay eggs on floating vegetation. The larvae take two years to develop (there are a few dragonflies that take more than five years to mature). Adults consume small flying insects. Larvae feed on aquatic insect larvae and on tadpoles. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Brown Pelican

On 21 July 2020, Erika and I, feeling house-bound, drove over to nearby Grass Lake. The tiny parking lot there was full. So we serendipitously  decided to head east to see if anything was at Schneider Creek, where it enters West Bay near Olympia. Here sits a small viewing stand overlooking Puget Sound. “What is that big bird?” asked Erika. “A Brown Pelican,” I replied. We knew these pelicans are occasionally reported in the Sound, but this one was our first. We saw them last year at the Pacific Ocean, where these birds can be common. 

This pelican bathed in the Sound. It swam back and forth some distance from the shore. As it swam, it showered by splashing the water with its wings, reminding us of an old paddle-wheeled steam ship. Then it rolled and dunked its head completely under water. Finally it flew over to the creek’s entrance to the bay. Here the pelican climbed out of the water and preened, surrounded by large flocks of gulls and crows. Truly one of the joys of birding is to be at the right place at exactly the right time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Striped Meadowhawk

Striped Meadowhawks breed across most of the American west and are very common in the Pacific Northwest lowlands. Temperatures have been high and rain nonexistent—my flood control dragonfly haunt, which I visited on 15 July 2020, is becoming fairly murky. Males defend territories near water. Often females lay eggs onto dry ground, which hopefully will flood in the spring. Males sometimes dip their abdomens, perhaps showing females good places to lay (or drop) their eggs (Paulson 2019).

Monday, July 20, 2020

Chalk-fronted Corporal

On 17 July 2020, Erika found a Chalk-fronted Corporal along the shores of Lake Lucinda in the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. This dragonfly enjoys a strange range. It occurs across most of northeastern North America. The range becomes narrower across the upper midwest, and then very narrow across central Canada. (We saw many in Minnesota.)  Finally, the range dips south through southwest Canada and northwestern United States, south trough central California. The species is common in Washington, yet Erika’s record is one of relatively few from the western part of the state listed in Odonata Central.

These dragonflies get their name from the two bars on the top of their thorax These bars look like a corporal’s insignia. According to Paulson (2019), Chalk-fronted Corporals often perch on the ground and on lakeshore vegetation. They also land on trees facing the sun. They are aggressive towards each other. They tend to feed away from the water.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

River Jewelwing

Yesterday, 18 July 2020, Erika and I drove 40 minutes to the Black River, southwest of Olympia in Grays Harbor County. Dennis Paulson wrote us that this location was good for River Jewelwings and snaketails. We did not stay long along this gorgeous river—way too many maskless people tubing in the creek. Although we missed snaketails, we easily found a few male River Jewelwings. These elegant damselflies cavorted along the river’s edge. They occasionally fluttered their wings--apparently a territorial display directed toward other males, since we saw no females. When females are around, males will drop to the water and float past them, apparently communicating the habitat conditions (quality and current) of their territories. (Paulson 2009, 2019).

Saturday, July 18, 2020

American Robin

On 13 July 2020, Erika and I watched an American Robin bathe in our garden fountain. The young bird quickly figured out the most efficient perch on other otherwise bird unfriendly water feature. In our defense, the birds do have a bird bath right next to the fountain.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Orange-crowned Warbler

On 4 July 2020, we banded a wet and exceptionally worn Orange-crowned Warbler. Apparently the bird was caught just after it bathed in our water-feature. Usually the orange crown is hardly visible or is invisible to the casual observer. Although this warbler is one of the most common breeding birds in much of wesrtern Washington, they can be difficult to see. I have banded them during both migrations, but this is my first summer observation. Orange-crowned Warblers breed across Canada and Alaska, in to the upper midwest, and south through western United States; In many areas this bird is the most abundant warbler.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

California Scrub-Jay

Along the southern Chehalis Bike Trail on 8 July 2020, Erika and I rode up to a California Scrub-Jay. This recently recognized species (all of the western scrub-jays were once considered to be one species) is spreading north. This jay is found along the West Coast from Washington to Baja California. It spread into Washington in the 1970s, and now breeds in southwest British Columbia.  Forest clearing and urbanization between Oregon and northern Washington probably facilitated this range expansion. California Scrub-Jay populations also moved east during the past 40 years in Oregon Idaho, western Montana and California (Curry et al. 2020).

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Western Bluebird

I thought that a good field mark for identifying Western Bluebirds was the male’s brown back. As you can see in the first photo, back color is an unreliable characteristic. Western Bluebirds have variably colored backs, from brown to all blue—like this one Erika and I found along the southern end of the Chehalis Bike Trail near Olympia on 8 July 2020. Instead you have to rely on the Western Bluebird’s blue throat and blue sides of the head. As their name implies, Western Bluebirds breed in western North America, while Easterns are found in the East. Both species are found in Mexico.
The final photos are of one of two young birds accompanying the adult pair. Sibley states that young Western and Eastern bluebirds are very similar. Western Bluebirds are socially monogamous. Both parents care for the young, but both sexes mate with other bluebirds. Young birds, therefore are not always related to both of their parents. Young birds, often males, are known to assist their parents raise subsequent offspring (Guinan et al. 2020).

Monday, July 13, 2020

Oregon White Oak Gall

Erika and I were pleased to identify Oregon White Oaks along the Yelm-Tenino Bike Trail on 5 July 2020. These trees grow from California to British Columbia. In Washington, this oak is found west of the Cascades, and is especially common in the Puget Sound lowlands. Oregon White Oaks depend on fire to keep back fir forests and often are cut to prepare land for human industry. Some oak populations are greatly reduced, which is unfortunate as many other plants and animals depend on oak forests.

One Oregon Oak harbored two ping-pong-sized galls. Galls are produced on Oregon Oaks by at least six species of wasps and by other insects, which lay their eggs in them. Galls do not normally damage or kill the trees. Squirrels often do more damage as they destroy the galls and tree branches in search of insect larvae.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Great Blue Heron

On 9 July 2020, along with American White Pelicans, Erika and I counted 60 Great Blue Herons. We were at the estuary formed by McAllister Creek as it enters the Nisqually estuary below the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. These herons breed found across North America from Alaska and southern Canada to the Mexican border and Baja California and Cuba. They winter along the coasts and south to northern South America. They mostly eat fish, but also take amphibians, invertebrates, reptiles, mammals, and birds (Vennesland and Butler 2020). I have often said that, because of low avian survival rates, one should avoid the bird line at the reincarnation center. Perhaps a worse choice would be the line to be reborn as an estuary fish. Note in the second image four Double-crested Cormorant have also joined the feast.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

American White Pelican

American White Pelicans are rare visitors to western Washington (Wahl et al. 2005). For the second year in a row, a small flock of pelicans were reported on eBird from the estuary formed by McAllister Creek as it enters the Nisqually estuary below the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. Earlier this week we made an unsuccessful attempt to see these birds, but on 9 July 2020, Erika quickly spied the pelicans from Lehr Beach, downriver from the refuge. 

The pelicans formed a line across part of the creek as it enters Puget Sound. We counted eight pelicans and 60 Great Blue Herons, all feeding on fish in the creek. American White Pelicans are known to feed cooperatively, circling prey, and driving small fish and other aquatic animals to the center of the flock, thereby causing the prey to concentrate for easier harvesting. For more on pelican cooperative hunting, see my blog post of 27 April 2011.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Red-breasted Sapsucker

On 6 July 2020, Erika and I spent the morning searhing for the sapsucker nests at our local wildlife refuge, only to band one in the backyard in the afternoon. This find is somewhat surprising, since lately we have not seen sapsuckers in the yard. Although not as brilliant as an adult, This young woodpecker's dusky beauty impressed us. The sapsucker made clear what it thought of the banding process.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Showy Milkweed

Also along the Yelm-Tenino Bike Trail on 5 July 2020, Erika and I encountered Snowy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, found from western North America and the upper Midwest. Snowy Milkweed sometimes hybridizes with the eastern Common milkweed. Like other milkweeds, the western species hosts Monarch butterflies and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. This species is “one of the least toxic of the milkweeds” but milkweed stalkers should be very careful since some similar species are poisonous (LBJ Wildflower Center).

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Red-shafted Flicker

Another Red-shafted Flicker photo, again from the Billy J. Frank Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, this one on 6 July 2020. This individual was one of an apparent family of four. The bird in the first photo is probably an adult female. Flickers are ground-feeding woodpeckers that specialize on eating ants and beetle larvae—their sticky tongues reach out as much as 4 cm beyond the tip of their bills (Wiebe and Moore 2020). In the winter, their diet includes fruit. Flickers hop short distances while they feed. I do not recall ever seeing flickers run on the ground—usually they fly between feeding sites. The young bird in the second image is running after its mother, begging to be fed. Note that, like most woodpeckers, flickers have two toes facing forward, and two face backward.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020


Along the Yelm-Tenino Bike Trail on 5 July 2020, Erika and I recognized Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium. This wildflower grows in dense patches. If transplanted to gardens, this plant is aggressive, spreading from underground runners. Bees, moths and hummingbirds feed on its nectar. Very young shoots and leaves can be eaten as cooked greens (LBJ Wildflower Center). Fireweed is found across most of the United States and Canada, except for most of the southeast. It grows is disturbed areas, especially in recently burned areas.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Nuttall’s Larkspur

I think this wildflower is Nuttall’s Larkspur, Delphinium nuttallii, which is common in south Puget Sound prairies. This habitat is exactly where Erika and I found a few along the Yelm-Tenino Bike Trail south of Olympia on 5 July 2020. The relatively unicolored flowers that lack white spots should serve as field marks for this species. I have always though that larkspurs are named for the long back claws of larks.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

American Robin

This leucistic American Robin greeted Erika and me at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge on 16 June 2020. Being leucistic is different from being albino. Albinos have pink eyes and are completely white. Leucistic birds, for one reason or another, are patchy white or abnormally pale. This bird was not symmetrically leucistic—the right side of its head was more or less normally colored.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Black-tailed Deer

Upon returning home on 2 July 2020, Erika and I were greeted by this buck Black-tailed Deer. The taxonomic status of this deer is unclear, as I have discussed in this blog. Most biologists consider this deer to be a subspecies of Mule Deer, found in western Washington and Oregon. Black-tailed Deer eat a variety of herbs, shrubs, and trees. They are fond of many of Erika’s garden plants. Bucks grow antlers from April though August. They shed them between January and March. We often see these deer; our neighbors feed them. Where not so tame, Black-tailed Deer are crepuscular, feeding at dawn and dusk, resulting in frequent collisions with cars.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Red-shafted Flicker

At Nisqually national wildlife refuge on 2 July  2020, Erika and I photographed a Northern Flicker. Although not clearly visible in this image, this bird was the expected red-shafted race that inhabits much of western North America. I have discussed racial differences in flickers elsewhere in this blog. This bird appears to be young. Young males may have some red in their crowns—females usually lack this color. In this plumage both sexes can have red mustache stripes. This field mark tends to be more pronounced and brighter in males than in females. This bird, therefore, is probably a female.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Cardinal Meadowhawk

On 24 June 2020, we found a female Cardinal Meadowhawk. Erika and I strolled on the St Martin's University Campus, which contains some excellent storm retention ponds. Identification was cinched by the female flying in tandem with her mate. He guards her assiduously, since the first thing another male does is remove competitor’s sperm from a new mate's abdominal tip. Once mated, Cardinal Meadowhawks lay eggs in beds of low vegetation, exactly the habitat we saw our pair. According to Paulson (2009), females are infrequently observed, at least in comparison with other meadowhawks. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace is native to Europe and Asia and introduced into Australia and North America. It is also known as Wild Carrot. When we found it along the roadside in Kennedy Flats on 27 June 2020, I commented to Erika that the plant has carrot-like leaves. Grocery store carrots are derived from the wild variety, and are considered to be a subspecies. Wild Carrot is tough and inedible by the time they flower. Although some people consider this weed to be beneficial—it can attract bees and wasps and provide cover for other crop plants—the State of Washington and other states consider Wild Carrot to be a noxious weed. Wild Carrot is accused of destroying grasslands by out-competing native species, being poisonous to livestock, and producing inferior crop carrots though interbreeding. Consequently, Washington warns that you are “prohibited to transport, buy, sell, offer for sale, or distribute plants or plant parts of [this] species…or sell, offer for sale, or distribute seed packets of seed, flower seed blends, or wildflower mixes” containing Wild Carrot (WA Noxious Weed Control Board).