Monday, August 31, 2020

Mourning Dove


Erika and I do not see many Mourning Doves in the Olympia, Washington, area. Our paucity of observations is a bit odd since Wahl et al. (2005) write that this dove should be fairly common all year in the south Puget Sound region. Perhaps this situation is due to our mostly birding away from agricultural land, the preferred habitat of these doves. We occasionally see or hear them, especially in the Kennedy Flats of neighboring Mason County, where we found several birds in a forest/clear-cut mosaic landscape on 18 August 2020. 

Mourning Doves are found across North America, through most most of Mexico to southern Canada. Birds vary from dark in the east to pale in the west. Eastern and western races are described, with intermediately colored birds in the Midwest. Otis et al. (2020) warn, however, that genetic analysis inticates that the “separation of these two groups into sub-species [has] minimal genetic support.” 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Striped Meadowhawk

I took these photos of Striped Meadowhawks on 28 July 2020 and 28 August 2020. The first was patrolling Erika’s garden, the second  pair were in tandem at the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. Striped Meadowhawks breed across most of the American west and are very common in the Pacific Northwest lowlands. The pair are in what is called the wheel position. The male grasps the female’s neck while she collects sperm to fertilize her eggs. The neck hold prevents the attachment of other males, whose first order of business would be to flush out fertilized eggs from previous males.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawks appeared in Erika’s garden on 26 August 2020. These are among the last dragonflies of the season. Fall and winter can not be far ahead. Males, like the dragonfly in the first photo, will become bright red as the season progresses. Kaya Shirao (1738-1791) wrote:
The start of autumn
is decided
by the red dragonfly

Friday, August 28, 2020

Franklin’s Gull

Not the world’s greatest, but this photo confirms the distant presence of a Franklin’s Gull at Olympia’s KGY point on 16 August 2020. Reported the day before, Erika and I decided to drive the two miles from our home to search for this bird. We sat on a park bench when another birder appeared and asked “are you looking for the Franklin’s Gull?” We replied, “Yes, but we have not seen it.” A few moments later, we spied a small gull. “Is that the gull?” I asked. Indeed, it was. 

Franklin’s Gulls breed in the northern Great Plains and the central Canadian Prairies. Most migrate south Mexico and along the Pacific Coast of Central America, to winter in the Pacific Ocean west of South America. This gull is uncommon in Washington during the fall migration, and is rare to casual in other seasons. During the past fifty years, the breeding range has drifted westward, with nesting birds discovered in Idaho and Oregon. Increasing observations in Washington may reflect post-breeding dispersal rather than southward migration (Wahl et al. 2005; Berger and Gochfeld 2020).

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Lance-tipped Darner

While Erika and I returned to our car at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge on 24 August 2020, a dragonfly flew up and perched in the tall roadside grass. With help from Dennis Paulson, we identified it as a Lance-tipped Darner. This species can be told by the female’s large, prominent cerci—the terminal appendages at the end of the abdomen. Lance-tipped Darners are found across the northern United States and southern Canada. Although they are common east of the Cascades, very few records exist in western Washington. The wildlife refuge is only one of two locations were populations are known—the other records are from the Columbia Valley in the southern part of the state. Unlike other darners, this species lives at seasonal ponds that dry up in late summer (Paulson pers. com.). I found Lance-tipped Darners in Minnesota, including in Erika’s Northfield garden.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

California Tortoiseshell

On the afternoon of 25 August 2020, on a dragonfly search of the yard, I happened upon an unfamiliar butterfly—a California Tortoiseshell. This species is said to be enigmatic (Pyle 2002). They breed in much of the Rocky Mountain West and in southwestern Canada. Populations build up over the years and then numbers explode, their caterpillars defoliating host plants like Mountain Balm and Deerbrush. The butterflies spread out across the northern Great Plains. Butterflies reach Minnesota, Iowa, the Great Lakes, and even stray east to Vermont. During non-invasion years, these butterflies may be absent. What causes these fluctuations is unknown. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Band-tailed Pigeon

Anywhere from one to a dozen Band-tailed Pigeons visit our feeders every day. These birds appeared on 20 August 2020. The rather drab immature bird, as evidenced by its lack of a white collar or iridescent nape, is the first pigeon that I have seen in the birdbath. Previously I only saw them occasionally drinking at the water. I call these birds Vulture Pigeons, as they gluttonously consume my birdseed. Erika is more fond on them. Sibley (2014) writes that young pigeons, although most common from June until November, can be observed at any time of the year. These pigeons are only common in Washington in the west and they are usually less common in the winter, when many birds migrate south of us. Apparently Band-tailed Pigeons at bird feeders suffer from outbreaks of protozoan diseases (Wahl et al. 2005).

Monday, August 24, 2020

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Another bird at the bird bath, although on 19 August 2020, several days after the birds in the previous few posts. This Pacific-slope Flycatcher is the second one I’ve seen bathing. The first was almost in the exact same location and nearly the same time of month as the first, about which I previously blogged. Both birds repeatedly dove at the birdbath, splashing into the water, and quickly flew to a nearby perch. You can see the result of these belly flops, evidenced by the flycatcher’s wet breast.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Red-breasted Sapsucker

On 16 and 19 August 2020,  two young-looking Red-breasted Sapsuckers visited the tree next to the birdbath. Both birds looked down toward the water and both flew over towards the bath, hovered a few seconds, then returned to their original perches on the tree. After another minute or so, both birds flew away, not to be seen again. Curiously, Walters et al. (2020), in the newly published and encyclopedic Birds of the World, do not mention anything about Red-breasted Sapsuckers’ bathing.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Swainson’s Thrush

The exceptionally hot 16 August 2020—with an official temperature of 98 degrees—brought three Swainson’s Thrushes out of the shade of the forest surrounding our home. We enjoyed thrushes singing from the woods all summer. Swainson’s Thrushes normally do not visit bird feeders. But these birds drank and bathed in the birdbath. The second image is of a very young thrush banded on 11 August 2020. Note the heavy molt and the teardrop spots on the bird’s shoulders and wings.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Western Tanager and Pine Siskin

More birds on the exceptionally hot 16 August 2020—with an official temperature of 98 degrees. The first photo shows a Western Tanager—probably an immature female. We have not seen these tanagers at our feeders. (I have, however, banded a few in the backyard.) Nevertheless, this summer I was aware of Western Tanagers calling from the surrounding forest. Despite searching, I never saw the birds in the treetops. Thus, Erika and I were delighted to see this tanager at the birdbath. Unlike most of the other birds, the tanager only drank and did not bathe. A Pine Siskin photo-bombed the Western Tanager. The siskin’s mouth is open, but I think it was drinking, not panting. The siskin also drank but did not bathe. Unlike the tanager, a few siskins frequented at our feeders all summer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Steller’s Jay

During the bird parade at our birdbath during the record high temperatures on 16 August 2020, most birds did not just drink, but, like this Steller’s Jay, also bathed. The nearly 100 degree F degrees may have presented the birds with heat stress as well as dehydration. These jays are known to bathe under normal conditions. Walker et al. (2020) note, however, that the crest is usually depressed “when a bird is at rest, foraging, or preening, and during courtship; higher crest angle indicates greater aggressive arousal or stress.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Until Sunday, 16 August 2020, few birds visited our front-yard birdbath. Sunday saw record temperatures in Olympia—officially 98 degrees F, 100 degrees on our outdoor thermometer. Starting in the early afternoon, a parade of birds descended upon the birdbath. Chestnut-backed and Black-capped chickadees appeared first. Since these species are among the few birds that previously came to the bath, we wondered if the other birds that were soon to be see followed the chickadees to the water. Note that both these birds are banded. Both birds, therefore, are probably residents. Both chickadees are abundant, the Chestnut-backed being the most numerous. Other images of birds at the water will appear in subsequent posts.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Pied-billed Grebe

Erika and I watched this Pied-billed Grebe at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge on 11 August 2020. The grebe was actively diving but often raised its bill after many of the dives. Was the bird drinking? Or swallowing prey? This grebe is opportunistic in prey selection—it takes whatever is available, including fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects. Most prey is caught under water. Large prey are brought to the surface, killed, and swallowed. When drinking, a Pied-billed Grebe tips its head back about 45° and opens and closes its bill (Muller and Storer 2020). 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Common Raven

Not an award-winning image of a Common Raven, taken on 12 August 2020 in Chehalis, Pierce County. I was waiting for Erika, and serendipitously took a photo of one of two ravens from a great distance, maybe a half-mile. The photo is interesting, however, because it clearly shows the raven’s wedge-shaped tail; also you can see that both first primaries, those closest to the secondaries, are molting. This molt indicates my raven is at least a second-year bird. 

No primaries are molted the first time a raven go into their First Basic Plumage, which is complete during the summer of their second year. During their second year, ravens molt again from late April or May to mid-December. Primaries are replaced in order from the first to the outer-most 10th. In Michigan, raven primaries are replaced at four to six day intervals and take four weeks to reach their maximum length (Boarman and Heinrich 2020).

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Tule Bluet


On 13 August 2020, after a couple of days of unsuccessful dragonfly hunting, Erika and I found several Tule Bluets. These damselflies flew in tandem, with the male protecting his mate from competing males by holding on to the back of the female’s neck. Dennis Paulson writes me that Tule Bluets are the most common bluet in most of Washington. The species tolerates various human-modified habitats. Unlike Northern and Boreal bluets, the Tule is relatively easy to identify (at least in Washington). Compared to other species, males sport more black on their central abdominal segments. The first segment appears to have a mushroom-shaped black dorsal spot. The female’s eight abdominal segment is dorsally black. Paulson (2011) writes that Tule Bluets deposit their eggs on submerged plants and sometimes on rushes, even a foot above water. Larvae live for over a year and go through almost a dozen stages (instars). They overwinter in one of their later instars. Tule Bluets are common across northeastern and western North America south to Baja California. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Purple Martin

Erika and I stopped at KGBY point in Olympia on 11 August 2020. We watched about a dozen Purple Martins as they flew around the harbor. I previously reported that western Purple Martins differ from their eastern cousins by breeding in natural holes in trees or, occasionally, in single-hole human-made bird houses. Western martins do not seem to prefer the multi-room apartments inhabited by eastern birds. Many of the martins we saw flew about what appeared to be numbered bird boxes placed on harbor harbor poles. Certainly this placement protects the martins from most land predators. In other locations across the country, dragonflies make up a large portion of their diets. Hardly any dragonflies, however, breed even near salt water, so these birds must be eating something else. Fortunately, martins also eat a wide variety of other arthropods. In these photos, the top bird is an exceptionally iridescent male. The flying bird, judging by its dark secondary feathers and by the blue on its forehead, is a probably a young male. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Striped Meadowhawk

At the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia on 11 August 2020, Erika and I saw a half dozen Striped Meadowhawks. This individual is a female, quite yellow unlike her scarlet mate. An older female’s abdomen may become bright red. This dragonfly is found across much of the western United States up into southwestern Canada. It is very common in the Pacific Northwest. We have seen many this July, including in Erika’s garden. In late July I photographed a bright male near our home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Common Wood-Nymph

On 9 August 2020, Erika and I happened upon several Common Wood-Nymphs. These butterflies flitted nervously among the shrubs and fallen timber on the side of the logging Road that runs along Kennedy Flats in Mason County, just west of Olympia. Common Wood-Nymphs are found across almost all of the United States and they spill into southern Canada.We found them in Minnesota, too. Across their wide range, populations tend to be quite variable, resulting in a confusing taxonomy. They are absent from northwestern Washington, except immediately around Puget Sound. Generally, however, the species avoids areas with excessive rainfall (Pyle 2002), 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Spotted Spreadwing

These imaged are of Spotted Spreadwings in our yard on 28 July and 3 August 2020. Spreadwings are damselflies that don’t completely fold their wings behind their backs. Spreadwings, at least for me, are exceptionally difficult to identify. They are told by the jagged brown stripe along their sides above their white undersides The bottom of the thorax has an often hard to see black spot. As they mature, males’ eyes turn blue and the abdomen develops a blue pruinosity. According to Dennis Paulson, an authority on damselflies and dragonflies, Spotteds are the most common spreadwings in western Washington. Nymphs tolerate a wide range of lake types, from ones that dry out in the summer to large ones full of predatory fish. 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Barred Owl

Trying to keep our requisite 6-feet of social distance from another couple in the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia on 6 August 2020, Erika and I noticed that they appeared to be gazing up into the foliage. “Look at the owl we found!” they explained. Clearly a Barred Owl. I suspect this bird is immature. The  owl appeared to be small and the sides of its neck looked white and downy. The facial disc was also oddly colored—I do not recall ever seeing an adult Barred Owl with such a gray, smudgy face. As for the eyes, Barred Owl eyes are always dark.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Bald Eagle

On 21 July 2020, at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Erika and I came upon a first-year Bald Eagle standing on the ground near a flock of Canada Geese. We thought it odd that the geese felt safe to sleep with the eagle so near. Perhaps the waterfowl depended on the one goose obviously awake. 

Bald Eagles are an "opportunistic forager.” Usually eagles are found near water and in most locations they prefer eating fish. Birds and mammals are often eaten as carrion—already dead. They are known to eat garbage at dumps. The list of what a Bald Eagle will eat is long and varied. The list includes fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans and birds, including ducks and geese, gulls, and Great Blue Herons (Buehler 2020). 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

California Scrub-Jay

Erika was driving on 29 July 2020 on a dragonfly search. She applied the breaks and commented, “That was a strange bird—perhaps a shrike—we should back up and take a look!” It took our seeing an adult California Scrub-Jay flying away for us to realize our bird was a juvenile of the same species. Juvenile-plumaged birds look quite different from the adults. For one thing, a breast band is not evident. We did not notice the blue in the wing, which would have allowed us to identify the bird more quickly. This bird is in First Basic Plumage, which is present mostly from May through July. California Scrub-Jays inhabit the United States western coastal states south through all of Baja California.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

European Garden Spider

Eruopean Garden Spider is probably a poor name for this arachnid that I photographed along the garden fence on 4 August 2020. The species is holarctic—ranging across all of Europe and from southern Canada to Mexico. Araneus diadematus goes by a few other names, including Diadem Spider and Crowned Orb Weaver.

I ran and fetched my phone camera, and the Android assistant, without hesitation, identified the spider. Color is said to be variable, but all have mottled white marks forming crosses on their dorsal abdomens. So I went back for my big camera and took a photo of the back, crosses and all. This individual is probably a female, since males are even smaller and may not be responsible for making webs. Occasionally the female eats her suitor after mating. Only if provoked will European Garden Spiders bite humans. The venom causes swelling and itches for a couple of days (Wikipedia).

Monday, August 3, 2020

American Bittern

Last year our seeing an American Bittern at the Nisqually wildlife refuge took us some effort. This year we’ve got two records, including this bird, on 30 July 2020, that flew across the marsh and landed next to a small, wet open space. Erika took careful note of the landing location, and we easily found the bittern. We were not that close to this bird, which has, nevertheless, assumed an alarm stance—its feathers compressed, its bill pointed upward and body stretched vertically.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Woodland Skipper

I photographed this Woodland Skipper in our yard on 31 July 2020. Skippers all look the same to me, so I submitted this image to Butterflies and Moths, which verified my initial and very tentative identification. Woodland Skippers are common and widespread from southwestern Canada south to southern California and east to western North Dakota, Colorado, and Arizona. Although often the most common orange skipper in its range, especially from mid-summer through fall, this is my first encounter with one.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Western Pondhawk

On 12 July 2020 and again on 24 July, we found Western Pondhawks in our yard. The top image is of a female, the bottom is a male. Our property really is not prime dragonfly habitat, being about a mile from three or four ponds from which a dragonfly might emerge. Both the Western Pondhawk and its Eastern counterpart usually prefer wetlands. Surprisingly few dragonflies inhabit our surrounding woods, so I suppose the open area around our house must attract traveling pondhawks. Dragonflies are renown for their ability to disperse and colonize. A long term project for me is to build a few shallow ponds in hopes of attracting breeding Odonata. In any case, young male Western Pondhawks look like the female. The males slowly acquire their blue color as they age, although often green can remain visible on their thorax.