Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Yellow Avalanche-Lily


Port Townsend is just over a two-hour drive from Olympia. We drove there on 22 June 2021 to help friends take care of a cat while they enjoyed dog-sitting duties. We overshot Port Townsend by about an hour, since we had never been to the Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge. Beautiful place, although full of people and lacking much for wildlife. The ridge was worth visiting once. We did see some interesting wildflowers and one endemic mammal. One of the flowers was the Yellow Avalanche-Lily, Erythronium grandiflorum. This species is common in Washington in alpine meadows down into forest openings and sagebrush in the Columbia River Basin. The plant blooms just after snowmelt and grows across much of the western United States and Canada.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Cardinal Meadowhawk

Dragonflies obelisk on hot days. They point their abdomen directly towards the sun, presumably to reduce heat exposure. This Cardinal Meadowhawk—you can identify it by the yellow spots on the sides of its thorax and pale-colored legs—was perched atop a sapling on the St Martin’s University campus on 28 June 2021. Obelisking was a good idea. At 10 in the morning the temperature was nearly 90° and predicted to reach a record-shattering 111°.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Pelagic Cormorant

The last couple of weeks have been busy. David and Megan’s visit overlapped one day with Erika’s sister and brother. On 19 June 2021, we took my in-laws to Seattle. As is our habit, we snuck into town via the Bremerton ferry. We waited an hour there, which I enjoy, since I can scope out the birdlife. I took way too many photos of Pelagic Cormorants feeding near the docks.

One cormorant hopped out of the water, clearly showing its diagnostic white flank feathers. The bird scampered up an embankment next to the ferry dock. Near the top of the bank, the bird stretched out its neck and collected a mouthful of dead grasses.
Pelagic Cormorants usually nest on narrow ledges on high rocky cliffs.  They build saucer-shaped nests, which they glue in place with guano. Nests are made with grass and seaweeds (and sticks, feathers and marine debris), and lined with dry vegetation. They pluck dry grass near the nest site, wherever they are not harassed by gulls (Hobson 2020).
They are known to nest on human-made structures. This Pelagic Cormorant probably nested under the ferry dock, because that is where this bird carried its cache of grass.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Pale Swallowtail

During David and Megan’s Olympia visit, we found a strange butterfly—not a yellow and black Western Swallowtail, but, rather, a Pale Swallowtail—the only black and white swallowtail in the West. Pale Swallowtails enjoy a wide range of habitats, from stream-sides like we found this one along the Black River, to timberline. They are often found in urban areas. David took this image on 17 June 2021.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Cinnabar Moth

David and I found many Cinnabar Moths around a small, flood-control pond near our home in Olympia on 15 June 2021. This day-flying moth is native in Europe and eastern Asia. They were introduced to New Zealand, Australia, and North America because the larvae eat ragweed. According to butterfliesandmoths.com, they are found in far southeastern Canada and the American west, especially the Pacific Northwest. The larvae are poisonous to most predators. Females lay up to 300 eggs on ragweed leaves, which the larvae eat. After the larvae consume the ragweed, they sometimes eat each other. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Tule Bluet

Tule Bluets are found along streams and lakeshores. These damselflies can be identified, at least in Washington, by their relatively dark abdomen.  The species is found across much of the west, and across the content to northeastern North America. These two individauls are forming what is called the Wheel Position. The male grasps the female by the back of her neck, thereby preventing interference from competing males. She, then, raises her abdomen and collects gametes from a receptacle on the bottom a the male’s thorax. Damselflies often fly about in this formation. Female Tule Bluets come in two color phases. Some individuals are brown, but others, like the one in these images, appear blue, similar to the males.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Western Wood-Pewee

A Western Wood-Pewee greeted us at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Recreation Area on 14 June 2021. Western Wood-Pewees are about identical to Eastern Wood-pewees but, as their names suggest, one is found in eastern North America and the other is in the west. They are best distinguished by their calls—a plaintive, high, clear whistle in eastern birds, a blurry, nasal, rough whistle in the western. The bird in this photo appeared to be on territory, frequently calling from both low and high perches. In my excitement of recording the call, I did not even hear the other bird chatter in the background. I hope you can tell which is the pewee call—it calls several times, including the last one on this file.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sora

Recently Erika and I have heard Soras calling in the Nisqually national wildlife refuge, but on 4 June 2021 we actually saw one of these elusive marsh birds. Soras look like little chickens, but are classified as rails, but are long-toed and laterally compressed birds. They effortlessly slip through the marsh vegetation. Compared to other rails, Sora bills have relatively short bills. According to Gruson (1972), the origin of the word “Sora” is unknown, but may be derived from a Native American word. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Emma’s Dancer

On 17 June 2021, I took David and Megan searched for Pale Snaketails, dragonflies I had seen along the Chehalis River last year in Grays Harbor County. We thought we were successful when David spied this dragonfly emerging from its larval exoskeleton. It slowly dawned on me that this critter could not be a snaketail, or even a dragonfly. Dragonfly nymphs have gills inside their bodies. This critter’s gills are clearly external—a damselfly hallmark. A quick query to Dennis Paulson proved not only that this was, indeed a damselfly of the genus Argia, but that the only Argia along the river and in the county is the Emma’s Dancer. Its colors and pattern will develop later. This species can be very common along many western rivers.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Common Green Darner

During our visit to Darlin Creek Preserve on 12 June 2021, David and I photographed a Common Green Darner. As the name implies, this species is both green and common. To my surprise, despite having seen it many times, I have never added it to my Washington dragonfly list. This darner is found across southern Canada, the United States, and through Mexico into Central America. Many populations of this dragonfly are migratory. The precise summer and winter ranges, however, are poorly known. Individual migrants have strayed to Europe and to northeastern Asia (Paulson 2009).

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Lesser Goldfinch

My eBird app is set to alert me when birds I haven’t seen in our county are reported in Thurston County, Washington. Lesser Goldfinches have been frustrating. Although not found in western Washington until the 1970s or so, the species is becoming more frequent. (This goldfinch is common across most of the southwestern United States.)  I got almost weekly eBird alerts. Our efforts to see a goldfinch were infrequent and unsuccessful, despite the species being seen at feeders right in Olympia. One recent report was from the Scatter Creek Wildlife Recreation Area, about 20 miles south of town. Erika and I went there searching for dragonflies on 14 June 2021. We saw no dragonflies, but we did see a half dozen goldfinches. This is not a fabulous photo—the birds were distant and wary. But you can clearly see the bird's dark bill—not pale like on an American Goldfinch—and note the black crown, green back, and dull yellow underparts.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Beaverpond Baskettail

How do you entertain your son and his wife when they visit from Texas? The answer is obvious if your offspring have become accomplished dragonfly enthusiasts. On 12 June 2021 Erika and  picked them up at the Seattle airport and drove them directly to the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. They quickly added a half-dozen dragonflies to their life-lists. I noticed an odd dragonfly perched on the side of a dead herb. I thought it might be an American Emerald, but David correctly deduced that the yellow dots on the edges of the abdomen meant this dragonfly is a baskettail. Two extremely similar baskettails live in our area, the Spiny and the Beaverpond. Dennis Paulson assured us that the projections from the tip of the abdomen clearly indicate that this dragonfly is a Beaverpond Baskettail, the rarer of the two species. Note that this projections are down-curved—the key to identification. This dragonfly is a new one for both David and Erika and me! David and I took these photos from opposite sides—too bad we did not capture images of each other in the background.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Eight-spotted Skimmer

Here you have an Eight-spotted Skimmer just south of Olympia at the Darlin Creek Preserve on 2 June 2021. This dragonfly is common over much of western North America and can be found over ponds and nearby fields. The species lacks the black wingtips of the more widespread Twelve-spotted Skimmer.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

A Chestnut-backed Chickadee brought three fledglings to our backyard on 5 June 2021. The young perched on a curved pole above the suet feeder. The parent busily flew up from the feeder and stuffed pieces of suet into the babies. This must have been a lot of work. When the parent finished feeding, the bird dropped back down to the feeder for more food, not even opening its wings, glad, I think, not to have to fly for more sustenance.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Cinnamon vs Blue-winged Teal

This May, Erika and I found many Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal at the Billy Frank Jr National Wildlife Refuge. The drakes of these two species dramatically differ. The hens, however, are almost indistinguishable. Even the drakes seem to have a tough time, the two species often hybridizing. Female Cinnamon Teal have a slightly larger bill and usually have warmer brown plumage. In these photos, I suspect the pair of Teal are both Cinnamon, whereas the single hen in the last photo is a Blue-winged. She was in consort with a drake of that species.

The two teals’ ranges overlap across much of the western United States. Genetic research is somewhat confusing. The two species are very closely related. Blue-winged Teal, however, are more closely related to South American Cinnamon Teal than North and South American Cinnamon Teal are to each other (Gammonley 2020).

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Vine Maple

“Those are odd maple leaves,” commented Erika as we strolled along the Kennedy Flats logging road on 3 June 2021. Google and iNaturalist had no hesitation identifying this bushy tree as a Vine Maple--Acer circinatum. This species is native along the American west coast, from southern British Columbia to northern California. Cultivated plants are occasionally found elsewhere. The shrub gets its name from its habit of sprouting from its tip if it gets bent over to the ground.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Marbled Murrelet

On 30 May 2021, Erika and I threw all caution to the wind (see sign in the image below) and birded the Bay Beach Access, at the Chambers Bay Golf Course in Pierce County. Alone in Puget Sound, swam a Marbled Murrelet, a species whose numbers have greatly declined. In North America they breed from the Aleutian Islands south to northern California. These seabirds breed in solitary nests in coastal old growth forests, an increasingly threatened habitat. Gill-net fishing and oil spills also threaten this species and its prey (Nelson 2020).

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Chalk-fronted Corporal

Chalk-fronted Corporals are another dragonfly that Erika and I found on 2 June 2021 south of Olympia at the Darlin Creek Preserve. This species is found from southern Canada to the northern United States. This odonate’s name comes from the corporal’s bars on the upper side of its thorax. Chalk-fronted Corporals defend territories along the shoreline and in vegetation growing in ponds. Adults can be quite abundant, but their breeding reproductive life span tends to be short (Paulson 2009),

 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Yellow-breasted Chat

For the past two summers, Erika and I have heard a chat singing in an extensive bramble patch under the high tension power-line right-of-way that crosses the Kennedy Flats logging Road in nearby Mason County. This year, on 3 June, I heard it again. I made spishing sounds and, unlike previous years, the bird flew up, briefly checked us out, and then disappeared. Chats are found across most of the United States and southern Canada south through Central America. In eastern Washington, chats are relatively common breeding birds, but they very rare migrants and breeders in the western part of the state. 

Ornithologists traditionally considered Yellow-breasted Chats to be aberrant warblers—twice the size of other warblers. Other researchers placed them with the New World Blackbirds (Icteridae). The chat’s exact systematic status is still unclear. Recently researchers elevated Yellow-breasted Chats into their own family, Icteriidae, which consists of this single species (Billerman in Birds of the World 2020). It is not clear to me why Icteriidae is named so similarly to Icteridae (the family name for blackbirds). Perhaps the different spellings emphasize that the two families are closely related.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

American Emerald

An American Emerald, another dragonfly found on 2 June at the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. Several made repeated flights up and down our path. The ones in flight were impossible to capture with our camera. This individual obligingly perched in heavy undergrowth along the side of the trail. Like the Dot-tailed Whiteface, this emerald is found from coast to coast, from our central states to southern Canada.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Western Tanager

A Western Tanager on 3 June 2021 at the suet feeder—how cool is that? This sighting initiated thoughts of spark birds—birds that inspire people to begin birding. I don’t think I have a spark bird. Instead I have a spark person. My seventh grade teacher, John Trott, opened a door for me to a whole world of birds and wildflowers. I asked Erika if she has a spark bird. I thought perhaps she would answer, “Western Tanager.” We saw these birds on the western trip when we first met and, when I first visited her parents, I gave them a watercolor portrait I painted of a Western Tanager. To my surprise, Erika replied, “White-headed Woodpecker. We saw it on a Fuzzy Mullen. I was describing the woodpecker, not naming it!” 

Friday, June 4, 2021

Dot-tailed Whiteface


An 80° F  2 June 2021 promised  a plethora of dragonflies, which Erika and I discovered at the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. The first of these were several Dot-tailed Whitefaces. You can easily see the yellow dot on the top of the abdomen on the male in the first photograph. The male and female in the “wheel position” in the second image are showing off their white faces. The species is widespread, found all the way across the central and northern United States and southern Canada.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Fledglings

On 31 May 2021, Erika and I banded several recently fledged Red-breasted Nuthatches (above) and Dark-eyed Juncos (below). According to the Burke Museum (Washington Bird Phenologies), the earliest egg laying date for the nuthatch is 19 April and the junco is 11 April. Typical incubation time is a day or two shy of two weeks. Thus these May records are not exceptional.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Red Crossbill

When Erika and I moved to Olympia just over two years ago, I predicted we would host Red Crossbills at our feeders. Finally, on 30 and 31 May 2021, a flock at least ten birds, red males and greenish females, descended from the surrounding forest and into our feeding station. The birds use their curiously crossed bills to open conifer seeds.

These crossbills showed no interest in our birdseed or suet, drinking, instead, at our water-feature. I’ve never given any thought to how crossbills drink. The process appears to be inefficient, considering that the crossed bills prohibit their tightly closing their bills. In some future post, I will write about the ten species of North American Red Crossbills—you tell then apart by their flight calls. Apparently they don’t interbreed. Unfortunately did not hear our visitors. The birds avoided our banding nets. Measuring a bird or two would have proved to be interesting.