Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Shadow Darner

On 27 September 2020, Erika found me a Shadow Darner at Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. I have seen dark darners several times there, but this is my first successful photograph, Most of its field marks, aside from its small abdominal spots, are not clearly shown in this image. This dragonfly, however, is a late-flying species—into December in Oregon (Kerst and Gordon 2011)—that often oviposits in rotten wood (Paulson, pers. com.). This species is found from southern Canada and across must of the United States north of the extreme south.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Summer Swallows

Barn Swallow. Washington: Thurston Co.: Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. 25 June 2020. The white feathers behind the wings may be out-of-place underwing coverts. I have seen other photos of Barn Swallows with similar patches. I can find no mention of swallow’s using these feathers for anything like nest lining or anything.

Tree Swallow. Washington: Thurston Co.: Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. 25 June 2020. Note the dark sides of the face, compared to the Violet-green Swallow below. 

Violet-green Swallow. Washington: Thurston Co.: Rainier. 5 July 2020. An adult (above) and a recently hatched bird (below). I narrowly missed photographing the adult feeding the young bird.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Rufous Hummingbird

I have previously written about the elliptical migration route made by Rufous Hummingbirds. About the last Rufous Hummingbird I recorded here was on 3 September. Now we have several Anna’s Hummingbirds visiting the nectar feeders. I do not know if the Anna’s are the same birds that we have enjoyed all summer, or if these are new birds coming in from elsewhere. 

This Rufous Hummingbird hit the bird net on 6 August 2020. Another species, the Allen’s Hummingbird, is theoretically possible in western Washington. They are found along the coast from southern Oregon into western Mexico. Young birds may make post-breeding dispersals into our area, Although considered by Wahl et al. (2005) to be a casual vagrant here, there is only one known specimen for the species, taken in 1894, from the state. Other records are unconfirmed or mistaken. The two species can be extremely similar. One difference is that the outer tail feather is very narrow (pin-like) in the Allen’s Hummingbird. But my hummer’s outer tail feather is definitely rounded, so I figure it is a Rufous Hummingbird.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskins are year-round visitors to our backyard. In the summer they bring young to the feeders. This photo was taken on 13 July 2020. Pine Siskins breed in evergreen forests from Alaska across Canada, including the far North Woods of the eastern United States. They are also found in the Rocky Mountains south through Mexico to Guatemala. In the winter they spread out across almost all of our country, southern Canada and Mexico. Across this wide winter range, siskins tend to be of unpredictable occurrence and numbers They can be abundant one year but absent the next. They will even breed south of their normal breeding range after invasion years. Ornithologists assume this variation in distribution is caused by fluctuation in the seed numbers on which they feed (Dawson 2020).

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Red-winged Blackbird

I believe these two Red-winged Blackbirds are young birds. Immatures of this species are often very similar to adult females. The first photo, taken on 11 August 2020 at the Nisqually wildlife refuge, shows the yellow in the face typical of immature birds. The second photo, taken on 19 September 2020 at Capitol Lake in OIympia, has pointy tail feathers, as do most immature birds. Red-winged Blackbirds enjoy a variable diet, usually taking more animal matter during the breeding season, and more plant material in the winter. The bird in the second photo appears to be eating alder seeds, which would hardly be surprising, although not specifically mentioned as a food source by Yasukawa and Searcy (2020). These authors, nevertheless, list “tree seeds” in their discussion of Red-winged Blackbird diet.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Northern Shoveler

The ducks are migrating into the Olympia area. At Capitol Lake on 19 September 2020, Erika and I found a dozen Northern Shovelers among twice as many Mallards. This individual’s dark crown and black, tan-edged, back feathers suggest to me that this bird is a male in mostly immature (Basic) plumage. Shovelers breed from Alaska across central Canada and the northern Great Plains. They also nest from Europe across northern Asia. They winter south to northern South America, central Africa, and much of India and southeast Asia.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

American Pipit

On 15 September 2020, Erika and I spied an American Pipit at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. Pipits are sparrow-like birds with small pointed bills. “American” is an odd name for a bird that breeds from central Asia south to Japan and only then across Arctic North America and Alaska south through the Rocky Mountains. Europeans more appropriately call it the Buff-bellied Pipit. Actually this bird was until recently called Water Pipit, found from Great Britain east to North America. Genetic work, however, indicates that the North American birds, along with those in eastern Asia, are genetically distinct from those in the western Old World.

Hendricks et al. (2020) warn that "Subspecific identification of American Pipits is difficult, and should be undertaken with great care.” Four races are known from our continent. The bird in the photograph appears to be the Pacific American Pipit, the race expected here in the Pacific Northwest. Clues to its identity include the faint back streaks, the moderate breast streaking that appears to be almost spotted on the sides, and the yellowish belly.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Golden-crowned Sparrow

On 16 September 2020, I banded a young Golden-crowned Sparrow, one of the few fall migrants I have caught this year in our backyard.  This sparrow is an abundant west coast bird. They breed from Alaska across much of British Columbia. Norment et al. (2020) relate that Western gold miners called this bird “Weary Willie” due to its song, “I’m so tired!”  These authors also relate that “Others called it the "No Gold Here" bird, and disliked it because it repeatedly sang this unpleasant, but often correct, phrase.”

Friday, September 18, 2020

Belted Kingfisher 2

Two more Belted Kingfisher photographs, these taken on 15 September 2020 at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. Imagine how fine these images would have been on a day without both fog and smoke! These pictures are of the same male kingfisher. This species excavates burrows in which to nest. Although both sexes excavate the site, most of the digging is done by the male.The burrows are usually near water, “but ditches, road cuts, landfills, and sand or gravel pits, sometimes distant from water, are also acceptable. Unusual nest sites include sand dunes, sawdust piles, dredge spoils, mud slides formed by beaver, a furrow in a plowed field, and holes in dead trees and stumps” (Kelly et al. 2020). Burrows extend a couple of meters into the substrate and are unlined. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Glaucous-winged Gull

Erika and I found what appears to be a Glaucous-winged Gull at the Billy Frank Jr. National Wildlife Refuge on 14 August 2020. This gull breeds along the coasts of the North Pacific from Russia to Washington and northern Oregon. The species winters south to Japan and Baja California. Elsewhere I have written about the frustration of gull identification in Puget Sound, where Glaucous-winged and Western gulls massively hybridize, resulting in young with every imaginable mixture of field marks. The hybrids even have their own name, Olympic Gulls, but you don’t get credit for either bird when you report the hybrids on eBird. This situation is further complicated by Glaucous-winged Gulls hybridizing with Herring Gulls in Alaska. These birds also migrate down the Pacific Coast, but I have yet to feel confident that I have seen either a Herring Gull or one of the Alaskan hybrids here in Olympia.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Cooper’s Hawk

Our backyard forest treetops resounded with chattering birds on 12 September 2020. Such a racket is often a sign of an owl nearby. I scanned the woods and was surprised to see a Coopers Hawk perched on an exposed tree branch. Its crop bulged—I hope its prey was not one of my banded songbirds. Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks can be difficult to tell apart, especially when the bird is some distance away. One field mark is the nape—gray in the Cooper’s, black in the Sharp-shinned. The Sharp-shinned is a smaller raptor than the Cooper’s and has a rounder, less square head profile. The tail shape also differs, but, I could not see the tail. I hope this hawk does not stick around my bird feeders.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Belted Kingfisher

All year I attempted without success for a stellar image of a Belted Kingfisher. The species is common across  most of the United States and Canada and many attempt to winter where open water persists. Kingfishers perch over water and dive for fish and other aquatic animals. They are noisy birds, and you can often hear their loud rattles as they defend breeding territories. To a human eye, females, with their rusty flanks, are the prettier of the sexes. The rusty flanks are barely visible in the second photo, taken at the Nisqually refuge on 11 September 2020. The male is only blue and white, like the bird in the first photo taken at Capitol Lake in Olympia on 9 November 1019. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Blue Dasher

2 September 2020—the dragonfly season is coming to an end. Erika and I found this Blue Dasher at the Darlin Creek Preserve just south of Olympia. Blue Dashers are abundant dragonflies, found across most of the United States, and ranging north to southern Canada and south to northern Mexico. Blue Dashers tolerate poor water quality and are found almost anywhere with still water.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Dragonfly Books

I have updated my dragonfly book. Now it is two volumes, the first devoted to damselflies, the second, to dragonflies. The critters in the book include species Erika and I have seen in our travels through the United States and during a dragonfly tour of Costa Rica. Accompanying text covers identification, ecology, and behavior. Two .pdf files, compatible with most, if not all, platforms, are available for $9.99 each. Hardcopy formats can also be purchased, but, since they are produced on a per-order basis, they tend to be a bit pricy. Details and sample pages can be found at either of these two links:

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Townsend’s Chipmunk

This Townsend’s Chipmunk image has been languishing in my blog queue since 20 April 2020. This squirrel is named after the early 19th century ornithologist, John Townsend. It inhabits Pacific Northwest forests, and is particularly attracted to brushy areas—like our backyard. It feasts on a variety of seeds and berries, spilled bird-feed, and insects. They are said to be shier than other chipmunks, but can be quite noisy, Their loud call is reminiscent of a pygmy-owl's series of repeated, high-pitched chirps, given towards predators and other chipmunks. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Red-breasted Sapsucker

This post might be titled “Sapsucker 15, Bander 0.” I took this photo on 6 September 2020. This bird was a retrap—I first banded it on 17 May 2019, almost a year and a half ago. (The oldest Red-breasted Sapsucker, banded and recovered in British Columbia, was at least five years old (All About Birds).)  Clearly I got the worse end on this second encounter with my sapsucker. My son, Jon, not-so-sympathetically remarked “clearly the sapsucker remembered you.” This encounter also reminds me of the definition of a field biologist—one who does not believe in the germ theory of medicine.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

European Starling

This rather odd-plumaged bird is a young European Starling that Erika and I saw on 21 July 2020 at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. The salient field marks include its sharp-pointed bill and speckled sides—otherwise it does not look like a speckled, shiny black adult. Unlike House Sparrows, which were introduced to multiple North American locations, all the 200 million Starlings on this continent are descended from 100 birds released in New York City in 1890 and 1891. The starling’s “phenomenal” success, however, has been detrimental to many native cavity-nesting species (Cabe 2020).

Friday, September 4, 2020

Pied-billed Grebe

On 1 September 2020, along the Chehalis Bike Trail just north of Olympia, Erika and I encountered a young Pied-billed Grebe. The bird displayed a bunch of self-maintenance behaviors, including stretching and preening. Grebes are interesting birds because they consume lots of feathers. One hypothesis is that grebes continually molt their flank feathers all winter, providing a constant flow of new feathers. Grebes also do a lot of preening just to keep their feathers water-proof.

Ingested feathers are found internally in two locations. Most are found in the stomach. I always thought that these feathers protect the digestive lining from being punctured. Most fish bones, however, completely dissolve in the stomach. Muller and Storer (2020) suggest that the feathers provide substance to the stomach contents, which grebes use to make pellets that they “spit” up. The pellets keep parasites from building up in the upper digestive tract. Feathers are also found at entrance to the small intestine, where they keep hard pieces of prey from entering the intestines.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Great Egret

Great Egrets are uncommon fall visitors to the Puget Sound region of western Washington. The species spread into the state only in recent history. The first state record was in 1949. Birds began breeding in eastern Washington in the 1990s and spread down the Columbia River, with egrets nesting near the mouth of the river in the early 2000s. Egrets have spread north across the continent, with birds now breeding in Oregon and Idaho. One thought is that birds seen near Olympia are due to post-breeding dispersal by young egrets that hatched south of us. Egrets are now seen annually in the Olympia area. This bird was reported on eBird over the weekend at the Billy Frank Jr. National Wildlife Refuge. In these covid-ridden times, we do not visit the crowded refuge on the weekends. Erika and I waited until Monday, 31 August 2020, to find this bird surveying the refuge marshlands. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Paddle-tailed Darner

As is often my habit, on 20 August 2020, I took an early afternoon swing through our backyard. Dragonflies were my prey, but, finding none, I stood alongside a forest edge of bushy Evergreen Huckleberries. This gorgeous darner flew up and landed in the bushes in front of me. What a gem! No wonder I became fascinated by these creatures. 

Unless you net them, darners are difficult to identify. I was confident, and Dennis Paulson confirmed, that this dragonfly is a Paddle-tailed Darner. Its 10th abdominal segment has a blue spot. The lines on the thorax sides do not have backward sloping extenstions. But most of all, the abdominal extensions on this beast are wicked long—spined and broad. Dennis assured me that this species is common in western Washington, emerging relatively late in the season, after the first flush of Blue-eyed Darners. Paddle-tailed Darners are Western dragonflies, found from Mexico and southwestern Canada east into the central Great Plains.