Coots are not members of the duck family but rather are related to rails and cranes. They have large lobes on their feet that are used for swimming and also fold as they walk on land. The feet seem bigger than you would expect for this sized bird; the large feet help support them on marsh vegetation. As adults they have a dark grey body, red eye and white bill. Sometimes they will have a red dot on the white shield above the bill. They feed primarily on vegetation and algae but will also take insects and small animal prey. I have watched them forage across the lawns at Green Lake picking up small grubs, especially after a light rain and bite off pieces of grass. They tend to form large flocks during the winter. During the breeding season, they become territorial and pairs defend their piece of the marsh. Adults will build a floating nest by piecing together cattails and other vegetation to make a platform for their eggs. The young leave the nest soon after hatching and stay with their parents until they are grown.
Check them out the next time you visit Green Lake. I have seen them on all sides of the lake as I walk the loop.
The other day I was crossing the George Washington Memorial Bridge on Route 99 in Seattle when I spotted a Peregrine Falcon sitting on one of the light poles on the bridge staring west, probably in search of prey such as a pigeon or flying duck. It reminded me that conservation is very successful when we can identify the threat and deal with it. When I was in high school in the late 60s in Pennsylvania it was a rare sight to find a Peregrine Falcon. They had virtually disappeared as a breeding bird in the contiguous 48 states because of the pesticide DDT. The accumulation of DDT in their body resulted in the thinning of eggshells and the eggs would break when the parent attempted to incubate. DDT was banned in the 70s and considerable effort was put into captive breeding and ‘hacking’ out young into the wild. Now Peregrines are breeding in many places.
In the wild in preindustrial times, they typically nested on cliff faces. Now they often use bridges and buildings, finding ledges very similar to cliff faces. One may be nesting under the route 99 bridge? A pair is definitely nesting in downtown Seattle right now. You can watch it on a cam that has been set up to observe the nest.
I was birding in Skagit County in March with several friends and we watched a Peregrine Falcon swoop in on a flock of feeding ducks. It did not catch one but we were so impressed with its grace and speed. This falcon is amazing to watch flying; they are so agile and quick in their flight. Peregrine Falcons are now pretty common in the Pacific Northwest especially as migrants and wintering birds. Keep your eye out for them when you are about.
I had some fun, making abstract art with some of the designs formed by the mixed colors.
The warm weather has really caused lawns to green up and flowers to push through the grass carpet. A montage of white daisies interspersed the lawn at Matthews Beach Park and gave it an interesting white and green mosaic. A first-year Mew Gull was busily searching for grubs and insects in the lawn. It would walk one way and then the next, looking between grass blades and under leaves for possible morsels. Notice how the wing feathers are light brown and look worn. The brown wing feathers and brown feathers along the body indicate this individual hatched last summer. Soon it should be replacing the feathers on its back with gray feathers typical of adults. They take two full years to attain adult plumage. Mew Gulls nest north of Puget Sound and breeding individuals should be heading north to Canada and Alaska soon. Some, possibly this individual, may stay here for the summer and not attempt to nest this year. These gulls are much smaller than the more common Glaucous-winged Gull. Note how small and delicate its bill looks and its general smaller size. Keep your eyes out for Mew Gulls as you walk along the shore in Puget Sound, Lake Washington or other water bodies in the Pacific Northwest.
I was excited to spot a Trillium under a tree on the hill to the east side of Azalea Way in the UW Arboretum. This sighting flooded me with fond memories of searching for Trilliums in Pennsylvania with my mother and sisters. Finding this showy 3-petal flower confirms that spring is here and we can rejoice that more flowers are on their way. For them everything is in threes; petals and leaves. My family use to take long walks through the hollow on our farm to look for Trilliiums and see what other flowers might be coming soon. Seeing this flower in Seattle was wonderful for me. The Pacific Northwest’s Trillium is larger than Trilliums in western Pennsylvania. The plant I saw was 18-20 inches tall and the flower was at least 2 inches across. This one was starting to show a little pink in the middle indicating that it had been open for a while. They gradually develop some pink as they age. One-flower blooms each year on an individual plant and it is really a beauty. White-tailed Deer in the east have really decimated trilliums. Deer repeatedly eat them to the ground and eventually the plants die. It looks like trilliums are doing well at the arboretum.
The Pacific Northwest Trillium is common in woods throughout western Washington and Oregon. I saw a number of others as I strolled through the Arboretum. Look for them in the next few weeks if you are out enjoying wildlands.
On Wednesday, I watched a pair of American Crows walking along the shoreline at Matthews Beach Park in Seattle. This pair was only partially interested in feeding and seemed to have something else on their mind. First one individual would approach the other and begin to preen the others feathers. A few minutes later the other individual would begin preening the first. This behaviour is known as allopreening and in crows is a behavior used in solidifying the pair pond. One individual seemed slightly larger than the other and I assumed this was the male. The sexes overlap in size but generally males are larger than females. Over a 30-minute period they worked several hundred feet along the shoreline. Stopping occasionally to pick things from the ground or along the shore. At one point, the presumed male held some food in its bill and the female took it by twisting its neck almost upside down and softly picking it from the other. I suspect the pair will nest in a tree in the vicinity of the park. The pair flew off when someone walked down close to the shore. Next time you see a crow, remember that they have complex behaviors and are quite fascinating socially.
On Wednesday, I took a late afternoon walk through Magnuson Park. The trees were beginning to bloom. Some of the willows had beautiful flowers opening along their branches. They looked so delicate in the late afternoon sun. New leaves were beginning to emerge from the branches; soon the area will be green with fresh leaves. Several cherry trees had flowers and other species were beginning to flower too.
I spotted a small flock of bushtits feeding in the bushes along the trail. These birds are incredible acrobats, hanging upside down to feed and working all sides of branches to find small insects, spiders and other tasty morsels. They would flip rapidly from one branch to another jumping along branches to see what was present. Some individuals were very brown while others had more yellow on them. One individual seemed to be itching the side of its head on a branch, first on one side and then the other. These birds traveled in flocks up to 40 or more individuals. There were at least a dozen in this group. In some parts of their range, a breeding pair will have helpers at the nest. These may be young from previous years or non-breeding individuals. They build a hanging nest that is completely enclosed. The nest and a safe nesting site is a valuable commodity for this species and scientists think that having more than a pair at a nest may improve reproductive success. Nesting should start soon in Washington.
I saw a Mourning Cloak butterfly crisscrossing the field too. Mourning Cloaks are different than most butterflies in that adults over winter in Washington in cavities or under bark crevices. This gives them an advantage in spring in that they can emerge, mate, and immediately begin laying eggs. Willows are one of their favorite foods for the larva and this strategy allows the first brood to feed on the newly emerging and tender leaves.
I will definitely return to Magnuson Park to see what happens latter this spring.
The chickadees and juncos were singing away as I strolled along the path. Several robins were also telling the world they had staked out territories for the coming breeding season. I watch several crows work the lawn for grubs and worms. The place was alive with activity and showing signs that spring is here.
Take a walk in the woods to see what spring offers.