The Chase


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.

Bird cards and prints (including hummingbirds and warblers):

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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.

Bird cards and prints:

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West or East


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.

Bird cards and prints:

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Singing a Different Tune


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.

Bird cards and prints:

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Ping Pong Ball Owl


This week’s photo, taken March 25, 2016 on private property north of Seattle, WA, features a WESTERN SCREECH-OWL in an owl box. Actually, the owl is more than halfway out of the box, but you get the picture. Photographing the owl was a challenge because I had to aim through a tangle of foliage, resulting in the blurry effect in the foreground of the image.

This was the first time I’ve ever seen a WESTERN SCREECH-OWL during the day. When I lived at the spa in Mexico, a couple of times I saw a shadowy figure at night, but I never got to see any detail.

On several occasions, however, I heard Western Screech-Owls after nightfall. Their whistled hoots start slowly and then accelerate. The rhythm of its song may remind you of the speeding up sound a ping pong ball makes as it repeatedly bounces on the ground.

Bird cards and prints:

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Underground Owl


This week’s photo, taken March 13, 2016 near Othello, WA, features a BURROWING OWL.

On our way back to Seattle from our recent birding trip in Walla Walla County, we took a slight detour through the small town of Othello, where we hoped to spot one particular species of bird. After half an hour of slowly cruising a few gravel roads in this agricultural community, we found our target bird, a BURROWING OWL. It stood motionless for several minutes, paying little attention to us or to the intensifying rain. Conveniently, for us and for the owl, we took our photos without getting out of our car. Contrary to the nocturnal behavior of most owls, Burrowing Owls frequently stand outside their burrows during daylight hours.

Bird cards and prints:

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Look Down, Not Up


This week’s photo, taken March 12, 2016 in Walla Walla County, WA, features a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL, a life bird for me.

One of the best ways to find a roosting NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL during the day is to look for whitewash (bird poop) on the ground under a fir or pine tree. That evidence might indicate that a saw-whet is concealed in low branches directly above the poop mark. That’s how we found 3 saw-whets in 3 separate trees last weekend in Walla Walla County.

The saw-whet owl has been at the top of my wish list since I moved to the Pacific Northwest 3 1/2 years ago. I knew that when I finally encountered one that I would be impressed by its cuteness, but I wasn’t prepared for its smallness. A saw-whet is less than the size of a robin. It’s adorable, and tiny.

So, when you are searching for a saw-whet owl, don’t look up. Instead, look down, find the poop, then look up, and you may find yourself staring at one of the most precious little creatures you will ever see.

Bird cards and prints:

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