Friday, May 23, 2008

5:52 AM

May 23, 2008. 5:52 AM, 48 Degrees Fahrenheit

Bath time. This pair of Anna's Hummingbirds took turns bathing and drinking from our fountain.

I need coffee.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Leucism or Piebald



Piebald is probably easier to remember and may be heard more often. In either case it can really make bird identification difficult at times when the bird you are looking at is not the right color!

I have encountered two leucistic birds in the past four months both in the same place.

Leucistic Crow

At the waterway mentioned in previous blog entries several hundred crows congregate during low tide to feed, bath and socialize. Here in the Puget Sound area every low tide exposes thousands of square miles of fresh forage areas to exploit. Today was one of those days. Tide out, overcast, windy and in the mid-fifties. Large numbers were spread out all along fresh waters edge of the tidal mud flats protected from the winds out on the sound.

I was focusing on crows picking up small mollusk shells, flying straight up in the air and dropping them to the rocky areas below in an attempt to crack the shells so the juicy insides could be eaten. With each sortie the crow would drop from the sky nearly as fast as the helpless shell to ensure no other crow could steal their prize. Each reward would take several drops to accomplish a good cracking if at all.

As I was pondering on how to represent this behavior with a digital SLR camera I caught a flash of white on an incoming crow off to my left. I had seen this crow once before about two weeks ago just a short distance further up the drainage. It was during a driving rain that caught both of us without cover. The crow flew directly over head and I saw the white on the wings from below but did not have a chance to take a photo. The second encounter I got these photos.

Please excuse the low quality of these photos, time, lighting and speed did not permit better. There has been no color or contrast alterations.


Out going.

This crow came in from the south, landed and walked toward my location. Turning away I got a good view of the coloration on the back with the wings folded. A Bald Eagle screamed as it approached it’s nearby nest disturbing all of the crows on the flat. This flushed our bi-colored crow and it flew further way but exposed it’s back to the camera.

With hundreds of crows in the area my eyes are already straining to catch a glimpse of this minuscule patch of white. I will keep looking and post new photos if I can get them.

Leucistic Red Tailed Hawk

In February and then again in March of this year I encountered this off colored Red Tailed Hawk. The first sighting I saw it flying with a smaller “normal” colored Red Tailed Hawk. Due to the size difference I can assume the larger bird is a female.

When I first saw the white on this hawk through the camera when I zoomed in, I had no clue as to what I was looking at. I thought it was a Gyrfalcon and could hardly contain myself. Then I saw the red on the tail and realized the shape was wrong I figured they were probably a pair of Red Tailed Hawks migrating north together.

She flew in slow circles near a pair of Bald Eagles that were building a nest but kept her altitude high making it difficult to get sharp photos.
The second sighting was fleeting, she was being pursued by a twenty to thirty Crows at low altitude and I have not seen her since.

I have maxed out the cropping of these photos to show as much detail as possible but I have not done anything with the brightness or contrast to keep the colors as true as possible.

Again, I will keep looking, she is out there, maybe near you. If you see her, let me know.

Take care

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Crow Co-op

The waterway near my home is a frequent source of my photography and Blog entries. I invite you to read older entries so you may get a better understanding of the overall environment described here.

I took the following series of photographs on May 16, 2008 around 11:15 AM. It has taken me a while to filter through the scores of shots taken in a few minutes. I now realize that as I was firing away I was missing what was really going on. I feel these photos best convey this story.

Discharge chute.

On the southern side of this waterway there is an eighty-plus acre parcel of land which is covered by a closed wood processing plant. The hills that surround this piece of land are drained by an underground stream and directed to an outflow pipe downstream of a 16 foot high dam. In early April of this year 200,000 Coho salmon hatchings were released at the dam. Over the past few weeks the young salmon have been moving back and forth with the changing brackish waters adapting their body chemistry to prepare them for the next four years at sea. After their four year absence they will return, spawn and perish.

Bald Eagles, Osprey, Great Blue Herons, Terns and Common Mergansers are only a few of the numerous predators that have been feeding on these small fish since their release. This particular location does not offer any cover from which to photograph the wildlife that collects at the discharge point at low tide. On this day the sunlight was at the right angle, intense and shining on a Great Blue Heron at the turbulent pool at the bottom of the discharge chute. It was worth taking the chance to sneak up and get a nice “head shot” while it was feeding. I never had a chance, the heron’s eyes locked onto me the moment I got out of the car. Like I said there is no cover here, I would try anyway.

I did get this photo of the Heron from the other side of the discharge chute a few days earlier.

Common Merganser Pair.

Caspian Tern

As the heron flew off a small group of Common Mergansers swam to deeper water. I had not notice the crows but now they were all that was left. They were intently focused on the surface of the fast moving water one half to six inches deep. They were fishing. The angle of the sun behind me was in the crow’s eyes. That did not really matter, they were so engaged with their fishing they never noticed my approach or my taking a position. I began taking photos trying to frame the “perfect” picture of a crow catching a fish. After a few moments I was able to slowly work my way down the embankment a short way to a better position.

After getting a number of photos I began to “see” what was going on. There were two very wet crows actively fishing and moving their catches to shallower water then passing the fish off to a group of five to six dryer crows.

Master fisher.

The capture.

The maiming.

Before the wetter crows dropped the fish for the dryer ones they seemed to purposely reposition them and drop them a few times. This process “maimed” and starved the small fish of oxygen making them easier for the dryer crows to handle.

A short wait for a hand off.

That "perfect" shot I was looking for?

The wetter crows snapped up the small fish as they struggled in the shallower waters and at times actually dove into the deeper water submerging themselves to catch fish. The dryer crows ability to pick up the fish varied from bird to bird. Some struggled to re-catch the fish delivered by the wetter ones. Sometimes the wetter crows had to come back and re-captured the fish and “give’ them to the dryer ones more than once.

The hand off to the dryer crows.

Once the dryer crows secured the fish they immediately departed for the distant tree line. They flew with a directed purpose and did not consume the fish they were picking up. Over the course of my short encounter I saw eight fish carried off. I do not know how many left before I realized they were leaving or for how long they had been doing it before I got there or how long they continued after I left. It was a fish catching frenzy. I quietly eased myself out of the area as the crows continued to collect fish in this manner.

Returning for more fish.

Please remember, I am an amateur and there may be room to interpret my following conclusions.

These crows were co-operatively collecting small fish and taking them back to nestling in the distant tree line. Older birds who had acquired these fishing skills were passing wounded fish to younger crows using them as a means of transport and training them at the same time. I believe it is understood that non-breeding and juvenile crows from previous years remain with the family group and help care for the young of the current year. During this extended family period they gain skills that are passed along from the older birds and learn how to exploit seasonal food sources.

Regardless, I feel privileged to have witnessed this intense and well orchestrated activity and I am honored to be able to share it with you.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Killing an hour

I was traveling to south today and I had an hour to spare. I stopped in at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge located along Interstate-Five between Tacoma and Olympia. The weather over the weekend was in the low nineties and sunny, today was overcast, muggy and in the sixties. That is how it works here.

The following is a sampling of what I came across in one short hour. I think it was well spent.

A true sign that summer is near here in the North West, Turkey Vultures circling high overhead. They need the warmer air thermals to soar effortlessly. Only summer time brings breezes warm enough for Turkey Vultures to migrate this far north. They are smaller than the Black Vultures seen further south.

Male Song Sparrow. Dozens of them fill the woods with their territorial notes.

A young Raccoon hunting for frogs. Not very graceful but successful.

Raccoon food....lucky Raccoon food it got away.

A fantastic pair of Wood Ducks.

Close up of the Drake Wood Duck.

Male Yellow Warbler. He flew up on me while I was trying to photograph another one near by. We startled each other. He hopped off in to the brush.

A Marsh Wren that would not turn around. Not very social.

Male Common Yellow Throat. He was social and posed for several photographs.

Barn Swallow perched near it's nest.

Mama Goose herding the young ones as a pair of hawks flew over head.

Cliff Swallow in nest.

Cedar Waxwing.
Silky ghosts of the forests. This is the closest I have ever gotten to one of these.

You may be familiar with Canada Geese, these are a Cackling Geese a smaller sub-species a little bigger than a large duck. They stand in sharp contrast with the larger more commonly seen cousins.

Here a Cackling Goose on the left flies along side a more common Canada Goose on the right.

Yes, I do take photographs of things other than birds. Here is a brown butterfly. But it flies.

Here is a blue flower. It would not fly.
I am sure if it was a bird I would be able to tell you what it was.

A turtle basking in the filtered sunlight. Very filtered.

This is my prize of the day.
I had not seen one of these in almost twenty years. It is an American Bittern. Shy and secretive this one was so close I had to back off to get the camera to focus.
For such a large bird their slow gait and superb camouflage make them a treasure to behold.

Over all not a bad walk, I could have spent the whole day.

Get out and take a walk.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Afternoon visitors

Yesterday was the warmest of the year so far reaching the low eighties. I had a series of chores around the the house that kept my home all day. With everything wrapped up by mid afternoon and it was time to chill out. The following pictures were all taken from my yard. After looking at what was in the yard I guess I didn't need to go anywhere at all.

This Black Tailed Buck was eating my neighbors bushes in the front yard while she worked in the backyard.

We caught the yearling Buck eating our Cherry tree's leaves. As he left the yard in haste he almost ran over one of our rabbits.

As always the Crows kept the Red Tailed Hawks in their place.

The upper bird is a Towhee the lower a Robin. They were having a singing battle each being courtious and respectfully taking turns.

Soon this Black Headed Grosbeak came to join in.

Then a male House Finch had to have the last word.

This male Robin was seen sneaking to the fountain.

Here a Cedar Waxing eats the flowers of a Madrona tree.

There were many other photos taken yesterday and many missed. After this male Western Tanager came in for a drink and bath everything else paled by comparison.

The trees are filled with the songs of the migrants returning, now the challenge begins Swainson's Thrushes, Humming birds, Band Tailed Pigeons and Pewee's are all out there tormenting me. I must get pictures of them. Stay tuned.

Take care.