Bird on a Stick

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This week’s photo, taken May 20, 2016 at Richmond Beach Park in Shoreline, WA, features a SPOTTED TOWHEE.

Which is the finer work of art in this photo, the handsome SPOTTED TOWHEE or the twisty branch it’s perched on? Perhaps, it’s the bird AND the stick together.

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Spot On

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This week’s photo, taken May 6, 2016 at Richmond Beach Park in Shoreline, WA, features a SPOTTED SANDPIPER in breeding plumage.

When you observe a SPOTTED SANDPIPER in winter plumage, you may question how the heck this bird got its name, since at that time of year its belly is plain white and absent of spots. But view the same bird in spring, and you’ll see that its name is spot on.

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Take Me with You!

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This week’s photo, taken May 4, 2016 at Richmond Beach Park in Shoreline, WA, features a migrating WESTERN SANDPIPER in breeding plumage.

Migrating shorebirds are moving through our area now. WESTERN SANDPIPERS are heading north to their breeding grounds in Western Alaska. Last week I observed a flock of 5 as they made a refueling stop on the rocky beach in front of me. Maybe by chance or perhaps on purpose, they were foraging in a northerly direction as they walked the shoreline. One small sandpiper step at a time, they were inching closer to their final destination.

I can’t help but imagine how exciting it would be to travel with these tiny shorebirds all the way to Alaska. When I asked them to take me with them on their journey, they told me I probably would complain about their diet, which includes insects and marine worms. So, I decided to stay put in Seattle.

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The Chase

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This week’s photo, taken May 4, 2016 at Richmond Beach Park in Shoreline, WA, features a male ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD.

The photo above reminds me of the wild chase I witnessed yesterday at Richmond Beach Park. Hummingbirds will frequently and fearlessly go after other birds because they know they can outmaneuver them and avoid capture or harm. I’ve seen hummingbirds boldly pursue sparrows, robins, hawks and even eagles. They are intimidated by no other creature of the avian kind.

But yesterday, right in front of me, an ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD was not doing the chasing; it was being chased. For probably less than one minute, but what seemed to me like a much longer period of time, a WILSON’S WARBLER, with major attitude and aggression, flew after the hummer, and the performance by both birds resembled a high speed, synchronized aerial dance. The show was spectacular to watch, and I had a front row seat.

A warbler can fly incredibly fast and change direction in an instant; nevertheless, a hummingbird can perform any flight maneuver a warbler can, and do it better and with less effort. Yet, as the two miniature acrobats rocketed up, dove down, banked left and then right, the warbler stayed within a few inches of the hummingbird. Suddenly, the hummingbird screeched to a halt and executed its signature move: hovering in mid-air, and the warbler did the same. I think that momentary pause was a signal for me to break into applause, but I was too caught up in the action to take the hint.

At one point the two tiny birds landed briefly on separate branches in a nearby tree, giving me the chance to identify the fast-moving flash of yellow as a Wilson’s Warbler. Then the chase resumed, and a few seconds later it abruptly ended when the hummingbird zoomed off in one direction, but the warbler didn’t follow. Instead, determined to leave the audience of one with a lasting memory, the warbler flew straight towards me at eye level, waiting till the last possible moment to power up and avoid crashing into my face. Yep, it was a strong finish, indeed.

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Spy-hopping

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This week’s photo, taken April 18, 2016 from the 76-passenger vessel Wilderness Discoverer off the coast of San Juan Island, WA, features a spy-hopping ORCA, with a member of its pod close behind. While passengers and crew were watching this pod of at least 5 Orcas (or Killer Whales), suddenly one Orca rocketed half its body out of the water. Since that display lasted no more than 1 1/2 seconds, it was fortunate that I already had my camera aimed at the right spot, and I was rewarded with my best image of the entire cruise.

Last week I did a weeklong cruise through Washington state’s Salish Sea with Un-Cruise Adventures, a Seattle-based company that features small ships, a very helpful crew, and plenty of on-water and on-shore activities. I highly recommend their adventure cruises.

We explored the Hood Canal, hiked in the Olympic National Forest, rode around Protection Island in a 8-person skiff, did short hikes on Stuart and Sucia Islands and one “big” hike on Orcas Island, where we climbed to the summit of Mt Constitution, the highest point in all of the San Juan Islands.

The birds were impressive on our bird-themed cruise, yet the marine mammals were the highlight of the week for me and many other passengers. On 3 occasions, we spotted ORCAS, the largest member of the dolphin family, and one afternoon we were lucky to observe 2 normally elusive MINKE WHALES, the smallest of the baleen whales. The Minkes were part of a feeding frenzy that included several hundred birds, mostly COMMON MURRES, RHINOCEROS AUKLETS and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS.

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West or East

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This week’s photo, taken April 8, 2016 at Richmond Beach Park in Shoreline, WA, features a male NORTHERN FLICKER.

The Red-shafted form of the NORTHERN FLICKER, generally found in western North America, displays reddish-orange under the wings and tail, while the undersides of the wings and tail of the Yellow-shafted Flicker of the East show yellow. Although the flicker in the image above, with its folded wings and shaded tail, isn’t revealing any of those details, other features help us determine its geographical preference.

Its red “mustache” and brown crown indicate that it’s a Red-shafted Flicker. A Yellow-shafted Flicker would have a black “mustache” and gray crown. So, we can relax. This bird is exactly where it’s expected to be – out west.

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Singing a Different Tune

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This week’s photo, taken April 1, 2016 (no foolin’!) at Richmond Beach Park in Shoreline, WA, features a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW caught in the act of singing.

Most WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS in the Pacific Northwest sing a slight variation of the song of the White-crowns I used to hear every winter in Southern California and Northern Mexico. Both populations start out with a long introductory whistle, followed by a series of up and down notes. It’s at the end where there’s a difference.

In the Southwest, the White-crowns end their song with a relatively long buzzy note. Meanwhile, up here in the Northwest, White-crowns add on an additional note to the end of their song. Either way, I’m definitely not complaining; I’m just observing. My ears never tire of listening to either version of their sweet song.

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