Shy but Hungry


This week’s photo, taken November 21, 2015 in the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA, features a female VARIED THRUSH.

The VARIED THRUSH, a rare sight in most regions of the United States, is fairly common in the Pacific Northwest during the winter months. Yet, due to its secretive nature, it often remains hidden from bird-watchers who hope for a glimpse of this attractive thrush.

Nevertheless, when there’s food available, even a shy bird will come out in the open. Last Saturday, while we were conducting a monthly bird survey in the Arboretum for the Seattle Audubon Society, half a dozen or more Varied Thrushes gathered to feast on the colorful and irresistible berries of a Sorbus tree.

Notecards and prints for the holidays:

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Higher Than An Eagle


This week’s photo, taken November 18, 2015 from the Edmonds Pier in Edmonds, WA, features an adult BALD EAGLE cruising by the pier.

Whenever the BALD EAGLES show up at the Edmonds waterfront – and they often do this time of year – the other birds are on high alert. When an eagle approaches the area, all of the gulls take flight. Apparently, they feel that they are too easy a target if they continue to sit on their favorite perch.

Since eagles are famous for soaring to great heights, from my point of view, it’s pretty cool to be positioned higher than an eagle as it flies by.

Holiday gifts:

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Of Special Concern

This week’s photo, taken September 28, 2015 from the Edmonds Pier in Edmonds, WA, features a juvenile PEREGRINE FALCON cruising by the pier.

The PEREGRINE FALCON is a species formerly listed as endangered in North America, primarily due to eggshell softening caused by the pesticide DDT. Since the banning of DDT, the world’s fastest bird has been making a slow but steady recovery and is now upgraded to a status “of special concern.”

It’s always exciting for bird-watchers when a Peregrine Falcon shows up, and it’s especially exciting for other birds, its main source of prey, since the Peregrine will attack its prey in a lightning quick mid-air attack.

Nice gifts for the holidays:

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Look for It


This week’s photo, taken November 4, 2015 from the Edmonds Pier in Edmonds, WA, features a BONAPARTE’S GULL, the smallest regularly appearing gull in the Puget Sound.

It’s funny how we can struggle to separate a bird from similar looking species in the same family, then one day we have a blinding flash of the obvious. For me, with BONAPARTE’S GULLS, it was a blinding white flash. At first, I had a difficult time identifying “Bonies” from a distance, especially if they were mixed in with other gulls. Now I look for the white on the leading edge of the outer wing; it’s amazing how noticeable that wedge of white is, even from a great distance.

Why didn’t I notice the white flashes before? Because I wasn’t looking for them; that’s why.

Bird Cards/Prints for sale:

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Out of the Fog


This week’s photo, taken October 26, 2015 from the Edmonds Pier in Edmonds, WA, features a SHORT-EARED OWL coming out of the fog.

I’ve heard stories of people on pelagic bird trips spotting Short-eared Owls flying over the ocean with no land nearby. That sounds unreal to me, since most raptors are not comfortable flying over large bodies of water.

However, I’m now a believer. 3 weeks ago, I stood on the Edmonds Pier and watched a Short-eared Owl complete a flight of a few miles across the Puget Sound. Even though the bird was far north of my position, its slow moth-like wing movements stood out amongst the rapid wing beats of the many gulls that frequent the sound.

Last Monday, I watched another Short-eared Owl complete the journey across the sound, and an hour later, another one arrived and flew right by the pier. It was a fairly foggy morning, and the sudden appearance of that owl was quite exciting and surprising. Apparently, if a Short-eared Owl has somewhere to go, it will not hesitate to fly over water to get there, if that’s what it needs to do.

Bird Cards/Prints for sale:

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How to Identify Gulls


This week’s photo, taken June 26, 2015 from the Edmond’s Pier in Edmonds, WA, features an adult RING-BILLED GULL in breeding plumage.

Gee, it can’t be that difficult to identify gulls, can it? After all, the gull in the photo above has a ring on its bill, so it must be a RING-BILLED GULL, right? Wow, that sure was easy.

Well, don’t think for a moment that gull identification is a snap. Several gulls have rings on their bills during certain stages of development.

To identify gulls, look for as many notable features as possible. Yes, the gull in the photo has a ringed bill, but that fact alone doesn’t always determine the species. The gull above also has mostly black wingtips, a light gray mantle (the center of its back), a rather small bill, a red gape (looks like a frown extending back from the bill), a light-colored eye, and a red eye ring. All of those details, taken together, help us conclude that it is indeed a Ring-billed Gull.

My best advice: take photos of gulls (as well as other birds), and then attempt to determine the exact species later while you sit in your cushy desk chair and study your photos on your computer.

Subadult gulls can be notoriously tough to figure out. Many of them begin life as various combinations of mostly grays and browns, and many have black bills. Many juveniles of different species tend to look alike, and many gulls won’t display the distinctive markings of adults until 3 or 4 years have passed.

Therefore, one more bit of advice. When you begin your quest to identify gulls, focus mainly on adult gulls. Even then, be patient, and good luck.

Bird Cards/Prints for sale:

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Above Average IQ


This week’s photo, taken October 11, 2015 on private property on Whidbey Island, WA, features a male RING-NECKED PHEASANT with an above average IQ.

It’s hunting season up here in the northwest, and while we were staying with friends on Whidbey Island this past weekend, we could hear the hunters off in the distance. Designated fields are stocked with RING-NECKED PHEASANTS, a game bird introduced to North America from Asia. Hunters use dogs to flush the pheasants, then the hunters aim and shoot when the the birds take flight.

Some of the pheasants have an above average IQ. Those would be the ones that wander out of the hunting fields and onto neighboring private land, where hunting is not permitted.

Bird Cards/Prints for sale:

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