Saturday, July 31, 2021

Great Blue Heron

I think I have mentioned the difficulty we have passing by photogenic Great Blue Herons. This one was stalking prey on 20 July 2021 at the Billy Frank Jr National Wildlife Refuge. Herons are successful about half the times they try to catch prey. Larger heron groups are more successful than solitary ones and young birds are less successful than adults. This heron’s fishing attempt proved to be unsuccessful.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Bald Eagle

One of three Bald Eagles feasting on a dead, young seal—seal tartare—on 23 July 2020 at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. I doubt the eagles killed the seal, since eagles are opportunistic feeders, often consuming carrion. Eagles take three or four years to attain adult plumage. This bird does not have long to go to get to adulthood, judging by the tinge of black at the end of the tail and on its white head.
Although Bald Eagles often forage for fish or waterfowl, they eat whatever they can find—dead or alive. In his list of prey species, Buchler (2020) lists muskrats, rabbits, and Great Blue Herons and a wide variety of other mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and crustaceans. This source also mentions eagles’ eating garbage in Alaskan dumps.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Willow Flycatcher

We photographed a Willow Flycatcher at the McLane Nature Trail near Olympia on 22 July 2021. The bird’s white throat, brown back, and marshy habitat all contributed to the bird’s identification. These images are all of the same individual. At one point the bird appeared to be choking. As I snapped images, the flycatcher appeared to fling a beetle carcass. Further research suggests this behavior is called pellet-casting, which is fairly common. The oval pellets are “presumably composed of carapaces, legs, and other hard body parts of insects” (Sedgwick 2020). 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Mount Rainier Wildflowers

Carpets of wildflowers were the highlight of our 19 July expedition to Mount Rainier National Park. Here are four of them. The first is Glacier or Yellow Avalanche Lily (Erythronium gradiflorum). Clearly this plant is closely related to the White Avalanche Lily we found a few days ago at the Olympic National Park. Both are found at Mount Rainier and, indeed, we saw more of the white lilies in Rainier. The two species do not usually grow in the same areas, although this flower patch supported both. Glacier Lilies often bloom earlier than White Avalanche Lilies. Glacier Lilies are found from British Columbia and Alberta south to New Mexico and California.
Western Anemone (Anemone occidentalis)—also named Western Pasqueflower—is found from British Columbia to Montana and California. The plant grows in meadows and in rocky soils on mountain slopes. Western Anemone are common in Mount Rainier meadows.
Scarlet Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) grows from Alaska to Ontario south to California ad New Mexico. As in other species of paintbrushes, the red structures are flower bracts The tubular flowers appear between the bracts. At Mount Rainier, this paintbrush is common above 5,000 feet.

American Bistort (Polygonum bistortoides) is a perennial herb in the Buckwheat family. This species is an abundant, early blooming wildflower. The flower is found in the Rocky Mountains from Alaska to California. This plant provides important forage for a host of wildlife. Many native peoples ate Bistort roots, which taste like chestnuts. The seeds can be dried and made into bread flour. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Yellow Pine Chipmunk

Yellow Pine Chipmunks are the most common chipmunk in the Mount Rainier National Monument, where Erika and I visited on 19 July 2021. This species was the third rodent we found, and also the smallest. The dark line that runs from the snout to the eye identifies the Yellow Pine Chipmunk. This rodent is mainly vcegetarian, but will also consume insects. They are found across the greater Northwest south through the Sierra Nevada of California.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

This Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel—our second rodent in the Mount Rainier National Park on 19 July 2021—is much smaller than the marmot in my last post, but far larger than any chipmunk. It lacks a chipmunk's striped face. These ground squirrels are common at tree-line in the park. They are primarily vegetarians, but also eat fungi and insects. The species occurs from southwestern Canada through the Rockies in the United States.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Hoary Marmot

The Hoary Marmot is the first of three rodents Erika and I saw at the Mount Rainier National Park on 19 July 2021. This marmot, the size of a small dog, is common near tree-line in the park. You may recall our seeing an Olympic Marmot at the Olympic National Park—you can easily identify Hoary Marmots by their silvery backs. Marmots feast on meadow vegetation, which builds thick layers of fat that the rodents use to survive eight to nine months of hibernation (nps.com). Hoary Marmots are found in the Pacific Northwest, from southern Alaska to Washington, Idaho, and western Montana.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

American Pipit

American Pipits look a bit like sparrows, being brown-backed and streaky-breasted. Their bills, however, are narrow, adapted for consuming insects and other invertebrates rather than seeds. How pipits are related to other songbirds is unclear. Pipits often feed on snow-fields and in grassy areas. This image clearly show this pipit’s toes, especially the long hind claw typical of many ground-feeding birds. We saw two pipits during our hike in Mount Rainier National Park on 19 July 2021. We were disappointed to list, during our visit to the park, only eight bird species.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park is only about two hours from Olympia. On Monday, 19 July, Erika and I spent the day exploring the park. Despite an early start, the park was crowded when we got there about 8:30 in the morning. By the time we left, the place was a zoo—at least 100 cars waited at the incoming gate. We saw very little wildlife, but enjoyed our hike through the wildflower strewn tree-line meadows. In upcoming posts, we share with you some of the animals and plants we encountered.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Wilson’s Snipe

Eagle-eye Erika spied me a Wilson’s Snipe in the Nisqually national wildlife refuge on 16 July 2021. I have no clue how she saw it. Snipe are long-billed shorebirds that probe the mud for their invertebrate prey. Adaptations to this feeding strategy include having their nostrils at the base of their bills rather than at the tips. Snipe can also find their food by having sensory pits at their bill’s tip.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Blue Dasher

Erika and I photographed a lot of Blue Dashers on 11 July 2021 at the Darlin Creek Preserve south of Olympia. I had trouble identifying this one. I first thought it was a Western Pondhawk, which has a blue thorax and abdomen. When I posted this photo in a dragonfly Facebook page, readers quickly pointed out that pondhawks have green faces, not whites one. They also lack the amber color at the base of the hind wings. Apparently as they age, especially western, male Blue Dashers become more solidly blue. Usually the species sports conspicuous lateral thorax stripes, like this male we photographed nearby. Blue Dashers are found across most of the United States and southern Canada and northern Mexico. There are, however, relatively few records from North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.

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Friday, July 16, 2021

Barn Swallow

This Barn Swallow greeted Erika and me at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge on 12 July 2021. We knew this bird to be a male by its relatively long tail—females have much shorter tail feathers. Once Barn Swallows nested in caves, but they now nest on buildings, under bridges or in culverts. Barn Swallows are abundant and enjoy a nearly world-wide distribution. In our hemisphere, the species breeds from Mexico to northern Canada, and winters from Central America to the southern tip of South America.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinches are somewhat uncommon at our backyard feeder. Erika and I found this one on 6 June 2021. I suspect our woodland surroundings do not offer much appropriate habitat for these thistle-lovers. One slick aspect of eBird is that you can produce abundance bar charts for species. Here is one for our feeders from data taken during the past two and a half years. As you can see, I only have summer records.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Black-headed Grosbreak

Black-headed Grosbeaks are fairly common summer residents here in Olympia. Males, like this one at our feeders on 26 May 2021, sport flashy plumage. Males and females, however both share nesting duties. Both sexes sing—they sound kind of like jazzed up robins. Males mostly sing to defend territory. Females communicate with males and young with a simplified version of the male song. Occasionally females sing a male rendition of their song “to deceive mates about the presence of intruders and force greater nest attentiveness” (Ortega and Hill 2020).

Monday, July 12, 2021

American Dipper

This American Dipper has been sitting patiently in my blog queue since 28 May 2921, when Erika and I photographed it at our dipper spot, Tumwater Falls Park in Olympia. Dippers are identified by their frequent bobbing up and down and by their often jumping into turbulent, freezing water. The white spots at the end of the flight feathers indicate this bird is relatively recently hatched.
Dippers often blink their white eyelids, especially while they are bobbing. Both the upper and lower eyelids are adorned by narrow, white feathers. This blinking must have some behavioral significance, but I am not sure what it is. Perhaps the white flashes produce some sort of territorial advertising to other dippers.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Wandering Garter Snake

Searching for dragonflies on 6 June 2021 along the Chehalis River in Grays Harbor County, I kicked up an unfamiliar snake. With help from Dennis Paulson and iNaturalist, I concluded this snake is a Wandering Garter Snake, Thamnophis elegans vagrans. Although terrestrial, this variably patterned species often swims away from predators. I have seen a photo of one eating a submerged fish. These snakes a wide variety of prey. Their diet includes “slugs, leeches, snails, and earthworms; fish; amphibians - tadpoles, frogs, (and probably salamanders); snakes and lizards; birds; and small mammals such as mice and voles.”  In the Pacific Northwest, these garter snakes are fond of slugs (Californiaherps.com). Apparently when garter snakes eat newts, which are poisonous to most predators, the snakes develop resistance to newt toxins. Furthermore, the snakes retain these toxins for several weeks, making the snakes poisonous to snake-eating birds or mammals (Californiaherps.com).

Saturday, July 10, 2021

River Jewelwing

A few miles from the snaketails I previously wrote about that we saw on 6 July 2021, we encountered River Jewelwings—truly gorgeous odonates. These stream-bank inhabiting damselflies seem to be quite common in western Washington along the Chehalis River and its tributaries. Several flew about on the Black River south of the town of Gate. This was my first photographic record from Thurston County, although it is by no means uncommon here. David, Megan, and I found River Jewelwings at the same location on 17 June, but neither David nor I manage an in-focus photo. River Jewelwings occur from coast to coast across the northern United States and parts of southern Canada.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Pale Snaketail

On 6 July 2021, Erika and I searched the lower reaches of the Black River for Grappletails, a distinctive but somewhat uncommon western dragonfly. Our quest was unsuccessful. We were greeted by several Pale Snaketails at a boat launch along Highway 12 in adjacent Grays Harbor County. This is only the second time we’ve seen these snaketails, the first being once several miles west on the highway—so a good consolation prize. Our snaketails perched on the wet stream-sides on the mud and on rocks and made repeated forays low over the river—only to return close to where they had first launched.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow chicks peered out of their nest on 2 July 2021 at the Billy Frank Jr National Wildlife Refuge. These swallows have a small colony plastered along the roof shading the boardwalk along the estuary. This group of mud nests is comparatively small, perhaps a couple of dozen nests, nothing like the 6,000 nests sometimes found in large colonies. The second photo shows adults building their nests in the same colony on 29 May 2021. Cliff Swallows show some strange behaviors in their colonies. Sometimes they lay their eggs in neighboring nests—others move their eggs to be cared for by foster parents (Brown et al. 2020). 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Rock Pigeon and Pigeon Guillemot

Yet another bird introduced to North America, Rock Pigeons have gone feral across the continent and elsewhere in the world. Pigeons were first brought here from Europe or eastern Asia in the 17th century. In case you wondered why the Pigeon Guillemot, a native seabird across the northern Pacific is named as it is, examine these images. I always thought the vaguely similar wing patterns of both species account for the guillemot’s name. Gruson (1972), however, speculates the reason is that the guillemot and the pigeon are about the same size. Erika and I took both of these images at Port Townsend, Washington, on 23 June 3021.

Monday, July 5, 2021

European Starling

European Starlings are another introduced bird we photographed in Port Townsend on 24 June 2021. Originally found across Europe and much of Asia, 100 starlibgs were introduced 1890 and 1891. Now found across the United States and southern Canada, all are descended from birds in the original introduction. This spectacular success has been bad news for many of our hole-nesting, native birds. I am not sure what this starling is eating—perhaps an insect or small weed fruit. Starlings consume both, as well as an occasional small vertebrate such as frogs, lizards and newts (Cabe 2020).

Sunday, July 4, 2021

American Robin

A dark, northwestern America Robin greeted Erika and me at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, our last stop on our way to Port Townsend on 22 June 2021. Note that this robin’s bill is full of what appear to be sandflies. The refuge is mostly a long, beautiful, sandy spit arching into the Salish Sea. I am sure that during migration and it in winter, this must be full of birds. In late June, all we saw were people. Our eBird list had only three species checked. Nevertheless, we will definitely return. 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

House Sparrow Dust Bathing

House Sparrows are no birder’s favorite bird. They are an invasive bird first introduced to North America from Eurasia in 1851. Subsequent releases have resulted in this sparrow’s being found nearly worldwide. We photographed this male House Sparrow during our visit to Port Townsend, Washington, on 24 June 2021. This bird is dust bathing, a common maintenance behavior among birds. Dusting is presumed by many ornithologists to control feather parasites. No scientific evidence supports this hypothesis. Evidence does exist, however, that shows dusting keeps plumage lipids, like preening oil, from coagulating on feathers. Feathers on birds prevented from dusting become oily and matted (Stanford.edu). 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Port Townsend and Chicory

Despite our seeing few birds or dragonflies, we enjoyed our four day sojourn at Port Townsend. We had a good time with our friends, ate at fancy restaurants, took long walks, and toured the Victorian architecture and art galleries in the town. The weather was perfect and the views, like of Mount Baker, were spectacular.
Also entertaining were a plethora of feral wildflowers. Chicory is a common, invasive weed across most of North America. The pant was introduced from Europe with hopes of using the roots as a coffee substitute. Erika and I have a fond spot in our hearts for Chicory. The fields when we married in Ohio were full of chicory. We took this photo in Port Townsend on 23 June 2021.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Olympic Marmot

During our visit to the Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge on 22 June 2021, the only vertebrate wildlife we identified was a lone Olympic Marmot. This large, burrowing rodent lived in a den in a meadow in front of the visitor’s center. Although known to screech at intruders, this individual was quiet. This species is endemic to high elevations in the Olympic Peninsula. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Olympic Marmots declined because of predation by coyotes and drier weather conditions due to global warming. Marmots eat a variety of wildflowers, including lupine and Yellow Avalanche-Lilies. They also eat roots and can double their weight in the summer before hibernating for seven to eight months (NPS.gov).