alexfandra: (Default)
2009-07-13 10:23 am
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And Be Sure to Pick Up After Your Pet, Too!

Seen at the Montlake Fill last week:

alexfandra: (Default)
2009-07-09 08:59 am
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Moulting (AKA Molting) Season

Birds replace old worn-out feathers through the moulting (or molting) process, and many do so after the breeding season. These male Wood Ducks, which have extremely colorful breeding plumage, moult into duller colors, called "eclipse plumage":



During the moult, most ducks cannot fly for one to three weeks. This Wood Duck was startled by something (not me! I swear!), and skittered across the pond, but did not take off. Normally a dabbling duck such as this can take off from the water directly into the air without a running start.



In completely unrelated news, this weekend I get to watch the Mariners take on their division rivals, the Texas Rangers. After a good road trip in which the Mariners took two out of three from the Dodgers(!) AND two out of three from the Red Sox, they've had an iffy homestand against the Orioles, with the bullpen (and errors) helping to blow late-inning leads. Please let them get back on track -- that's not too much to ask, is it?

Happy Almost Weekend!
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-07-08 08:27 am
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Breakfast of Champions

I was delighted on my most recent visit to The Montlake Fill to see that at least some of the Pied-billed Grebe chicks had survived to become juveniles. These two youngsters were extremely interested in the fish that an older grebe had caught:



The fish was nearly as big as the grebe, and the youngsters chased after the lucky bird, peeping madly, perhaps believing there was no way it could eat that whole thing.



I didn't think so, either, until I watched, amazed, as the grebe managed to get the whole thing down its hatch. The disappointed youngsters huffed off in search of their own food.

The lagoon/slough area of The Fill is now full of lily pads in bloom. Quite a lovely sight.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-07-07 08:42 am
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(no subject)

Seen in the Tri-Cities (Columbia Park) crossing the road and stopping all traffic:



And that was just a small selection...there's a pond in the park where dozens and dozens of geese (both wild and escaped domestic), ducks, and seagulls hang out:



This was back in early June. I'm slowly getting caught up since that Alasakan cruise back in May! Maybe by August I'll be done with July's catching up.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-07-06 08:45 am
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Catching Up: Bateman Island

Bateman Island is a birding spot in the Columbia River near the "Y" between Richland and Kennewick, WA. About a mile long and half a mile wide, it's connected to the mainland by a 1/4 mile causeway. Only foot traffic is allowed on, and there was very little of that the times I've gone out there.



Lots of scrub, lots of Russian Olive trees (ah-choo!). And lots of magpies:



I saw my first Gray Catbirds here (and heard them making the most amazing mewling sounds), my first Forster's Tern (I made the identification, and then had it confirmed by some folks from the local Audubon society, a nice moment). It's also home to lots of Black-headed Grosbeaks, and a few Bullock's Orioles. Here's one of the orioles:



All in all it's a lovely spot, though by 9am it was over 80 degrees. I'm going back on late August, when I'm sure it will hit 100 by early morning. Yay.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-07-02 07:22 am
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Catching Up: June trip

In June I visited the relatives in the southeastern part of the state, and of course, went birding.

This is near Wallula Junction, about halfway between the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla:



There were Bullock's Orioles, Western Kingbirds, White Pelicans, and Black-necked Stilts here.

And this is McNary National Wildlife Refuge just a few miles west of Wallula:



Here I saw the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, an Osprey, and more pelicans. Like this:



Temperatures hit 90 degrees every day. I got my birding done between 6 and 9am and was still sweating buckets by the time I called it quits. I felt extremely grateful to the McNary site for having a very modern educational building with air conditioning, clean restrooms, and drinking fountain. Especially as my car does not have air conditioning.

I didn't meet any other birders while at these two spots. I did meet a camper at Wallula and am also much obliged to him for telling me not to go down a particular path through high grass because of the ticks. Another downside of birding in the summer -- no matter how hot it is, you have to wear long pants and socks because you're almost always tramping through places with either insects or plants you don't want to expose bare skin to. Well do I remember my first summer of birding when I turned up at a guided walk in Discovery Park wearing Capri pants and wondered why everyone else wore long pants on what promised to be a 90-plus degree day. "Nettles", the guide explained. And I spent a good deal of the next three hours worrying over where I was stepping instead of enjoying the birds.

Tomorrow is a holiday for us State workers. See you all on Monday!
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-07-01 09:03 am
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(no subject)

Okay, you all know I love birds. However, my affection is being sorely tested of late, as I have a bird war going on in my backyard.

There are two Spotted Towhees battling it out with two Steller's Jays. If you go to this bird ID site and scroll down to the "Songs and calls" section, you'll be able to hear the raucous cacophony produced by the jay, and on this page if you listen to the whole thing, you'll hear the annoying screech of the Towhee. Now imagine two of each going full bore at each other ALL DAY LONG and ALL AFTERNOON and ALL EVENING.

Mind you, the Towhee is a pretty bird. Here's a photo I took yesterday when I was trying to relax on my patio:



Of the two, I'd much rather have them about than the jays, who are encouraged by my neighbors, who like to feed them (and the squirrels) peanuts. Grrr. Arrrrgh.

And here's the Steller's Jay gunning for Towhee:



The Cat is useless. He sits out on the patio watching the birds with no sign of interest whatsoever. I actually saw both a towhee and a jay fly down to the ground to screech at each other a mere ten feet from The Cat, who sat there looking at the birds for a few seconds, and then turned and casually strolled away. Honestly.

The Hounds are no better. They seem puzzled by all the racket, and Bodie barked once at a towhee, but this did not impress the bird much. Mostly the Hounds seem to want to come right back indoors.

And alas, despite the lovely sunny weather, so do I.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-06-24 07:12 am
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Alaska: Harlequin Ducks

We do see Harlequin Ducks in Washington State on the coasts and in Puget Sound, usually during Winter, but I've never managed to see one here. So it was a thrill to find several of them hanging out in Skagway.

I spotted this pair while crossing the pedestrian bridge to Yakutanina Point Trail:



The female caught a fish and went on land to consume it:



While she ate, the male swam back and forth nearby in a protective manner:



Later, along the trail, I came upon half a dozen more Harlequins hanging out on the shoreline. A very fine morning indeed.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-06-11 09:13 am
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Birding Luck

Sometimes the Birding Gods smile upon the beginning birder. I was visiting relatives on the other side of the state, where I've only birded once before. I decided to check out a few spots on the Great Washington State Birding Trail map for the area, and drove some 20 miles one fine morning at 6:00am to a park near Wallula.

I thought, "What birds might I see here that aren't in Seattle?" Well, the map had a couple dozen birds depicted on it, including a prominent Bullock's Oriole. Supposedly they can be found in the Puget Sound region, but I've never seen one. "It would be nice to see one of those," I said to myself, since no one else was there. So I looked it up in my field guide and familiarized myself with its markings.

And then I got out of the car, walked about 20 feet, and saw a flash of orange fly into a copse. When I clapped my bins on it, lo and behold, I was looking at a Bullock's Oriole. Finest kind.

A bit later I drove to the McNary National Wildlife Refuge, an excellent place, and I thought, "I wonder if they have Yellow-headed Blackbirds here." Presumably they turn up from time to time in the Seattle area, but again, I'd not seen one. I got out of the car, walked about 100 feet this time, and a bird flew up to perch on a fence. It looked like this:



I decided it was most likely the bird in question.

And I also decided I'd pushed my beginning birder's luck enough, and should probably not ask for a White-faced Ibis, though you never know. Perhaps I should have.

The only other birds I really wanted to see were the pelicans, and they turned up everywhere I went, in droves.

Maybe next time I'm over there, I'll ask for an avocet or two.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-06-10 09:36 am
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Back in town

I've returned from a brief sojourn to the other side of the state to see the relatives. While there, I got another five birds for the Life List: Black-necked Stilt, Bullock's Oriole, Forster's Tern, Gray Catbird, and the aptly named Yellow-headed Blackbird. Also got to see lots more of my favorite eastern Washington bird, the white pelican:



Other than that, it was hot (90) but bearable. My sister cooked dinner for us one night and I survived (chicken and dumplings). For various reasons, I wound up taking one of my hounds (Bodie), and he was an excellent travel companion. (Georgie is fine, but recovering from yet another back pain problem.) I, too, am recovering from back pain, having ironically damaged my lower back a week ago Saturday while trying to hoist Georgie up the back stairs because of *his* bad back. Honestly.

I hope to put up a lovely photo of the blackbird tomorrow, and then return to the neverending Alaska photos.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-06-03 08:38 am
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Alaska again

Back to the Alaska trip....

I tried to find the non-touristy places wherever we visited. There was a quiet woodsy trail by a stream in Ketchikan:



The touristy stuff was unavoidable, as were the tourists, since there were often four ships in port at the same time.



I overheard a passenger on our ship at lunchtime complaining to a staff person about all the ships arriving at the same time, dumping thousands of tourists on the town, "so you can't move through the crowds in the shops, and you get disgusted and leave." Well, I thought, you could always go for a stroll in a park.

The Ignorant Tourists appeared a few times in my presence. One of them called the ravens in Juneau "those big crows." A tourist in Ketchikan ("the salmon capital of the world") asked his girlfriend to pose for a photo "by that big shark sculpture" (yes, it was a salmon, very accurately sculpted and painted). But overall it wasn't too horrible. Whenever I was out on the promenade deck with my bins, people often asked if I'd seen whales, and when I said no, but I'd seen lots of interesting birds, several of them stopped to chat about what birds were out there and seemed genuinely interested.

Here is one of those "big crows" in Juneau -- it was odd that we saw only a few ravens in Ketchikan and Skagway, but there were hundreds in Juneau:



Every time I turned around, I saw (or heard) ravens, with flocks in trees, or strolling through the city parks, or perching on buildings. They were amazing. And very vocal!
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-06-01 01:08 pm
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Springtime for the Birds

We interrupt our scheduled Tour of SE Alaska for a brief visit to the Montlake Fill, where baby birds have been spotted, including this one:



This is a Pied-billed Grebe with a chick riding on the back. Nothing in Alaska was as adorable as this!
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-05-29 10:06 am
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In which the 200mm lens comes in handy

Close-up views of the Western Screech Owl at the Ketchikan bird rehabiliation center:



alexfandra: (Default)
2009-05-29 08:16 am
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Birds of Alaska (but not in the wild)

While in Ketchikan, I ran across some folks from a bird rehabilitation center who had this Western Screech Owl (as well as a Bald Eagle) for visitors to learn about (and to take photos of!):



This bird was TEENSY, probably all of 8 inches tall. Some people to whom I've shown this photo initially thought it was a wood carving until they looked closer.

Even closer photos are coming next.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-05-28 11:03 am
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Birds of Alaska

This is a Hermit Thrush:



They are normally quite shy and difficult to see, hiding under the brush. But in Ketchikan I found a shrub-covered hillside with open areas between the shrubs, and I was able to view it from above. There were Yellow Warblers, Wilson's Warblers, and at least two Hermit Thrushes foraging there, and I got to watch them for at least an hour. A rare and lovely experience.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-05-13 10:46 am
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Bird of the Day

We have a migratory sparrow zipping around the Fill (and many other places hereabouts) called the Savannah Sparrow. They like to flit about the meadows and they make a funny little buzzy trilling call.



This particular bird serenaded the area for quite some time before hopping off to the shrub next door for an insect repast. Very active little guys and enjoyable to watch.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-05-11 09:28 am
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Mother's Day

Here's what I got to see on Mother's Day:



Finest kind.
alexfandra: (Default)
2009-05-07 09:04 am
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Fly Away

Saturday May 9th is International Migratory Bird Day - don't forget to celebrate!

Our local patch is on the Pacific Flyway migration route (Alaska to Patagonia or thereabouts). Millions of birds fly this route every year. Some like to stop over for a little rest, giving us wonderful, if brief, glimpses of birds we might never see otherwise. Why do birds migrate? Well, mostly for food sources and breeding instincts -- here's a nice short explanatory site:
The Mystery of Migration.

Meanwhile, other birds don't go the whole Flyway route. Cinnamon Teal, for example, winter in Mexico or Central America, and head up north in Spring/Summer to breed, including in our neck'o'the woods. Here's one at the Montlake Fill:



I just learned that a group of Cinnamon Teal is known collectively as "a seasoning of teal." I am amused.

Happy Almost Weekend!