Archive for April, 2013

26
Apr 13

Magnolias, Cherries & Rhododendrons at UW Arboretum

The pink cherry flower glowed in the early morning light. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink cherry flower glowed in the early morning light. (G. Thomas Bancroft) [check www.thomasbancroft.com for more pictures at UW arboretum.]

A walk down Azalea Way at the University of Washington’s arboretum continues to be spectacular.  Several late blooming cherry varieties are now in full bloom.  One had such delicate blooms and another had very fluffy blossoms.  The Magnolias are open now and make for quite the showy tree.  Rhododendrons are just beginning to open.  I found one with spectacular flowers in large clumps on the hybrid trail.   It is definitely worth a visit.

 

Cherry flowers and new flower buds were clustered at the end of the branch.  The soft light allowed the light pink to sparckle in the soft light. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Cherry flowers and new flower buds were clustered at the end of the branch. The soft light allowed the light pink to sparckle in the soft light. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink rhododendron had large clusters of flowers on the ends of each branch.  This created quite the show.  I was intriqued by the detail in each flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink rhododendron had large clusters of flowers on the ends of each branch. This created quite the show. I was intriqued by the detail in each flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

22
Apr 13

American Coots are common at Green Lake in Seattle

The golden light of the morning sun highlighted the feathers of the Coot and created a stunning reflection (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The golden light of the morning sun highlighted the feathers of the Coot and created a stunning reflection (G. Thomas Bancroft)[see more at www.thomasbancroft.com]

Several hundred American Coots winter on Green Lake in Seattle.  This species breeds all across North American and south through Central America.  Large numbers from Central Canada and the US migrate west and south for winter.  The Pacific Northwest is an important wintering area for them.  The number of coots at Green Lake has started to decrease from winter highs as many move toward breeding grounds.  Some may stay to breed at Green Lake.  I will keep a look out this summer to see if they do.

The red eye and white bill of an American Coot are obvious when close. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The red eye and white bill of an American Coot are obvious when close. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

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.

Notice the lobbed toes of the Coot as it stands on the branch. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Notice the lobbed toes of the Coot as it stands on the branch. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

21
Apr 13

Peregrine Falcon swoops in on a flock of ducks

The Peregrine Falcon swooped in across the field where a small flock of ducks were feeding.  The ducks took flight and the falcon flew on to a tree on the other side of the field.  The grace and agility of this magnificient bird was awsome. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Peregrine Falcon swooped in across the field where a small flock of ducks were feeding. The ducks took flight and the falcon flew on to a tree on the other side of the field. The grace and agility of this magnificient bird was awsome. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

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.

http://1201thirdtenants.com/falconcam.aspx

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.

 

19
Apr 13

Fields of Tulips, oh it must be Holland; no it is the Pacific Northwest

Tulip colors varied across rows.  I was fascinated by the colors and how they formed a linear design. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Tulip colors varied across rows. I was fascinated by the colors and how they formed a linear design. (G. Thomas Bancroft) [see more photos on the web site at www.thomasbancroft.com.]

I went up to Mt Vernon in Skagit County to see if the Tulips were beginning to bloom.  Tulips are a major agricultural product for this part of Washington.  This area grows three-quarters of the tulip bulbs produced in the United States.  The rich organic soil of the Skagit plain is good for their growth.  I found fields stretching as far as the eye could see with wonderful colors.  Reds, purples, pinks stretched in long rows.  It was lightly raining while I was there which created perfect light for photography.  I found some wonderful specimens to capture.  You can see some more at http://thomasbancroft.photoshelter.com/gallery/Tulips-in-Skagit-County/G0000zx9niJPQpv0/C0000.fXuY8bBxag.  If you have a chance, it is quite the sight to see drive up to see these fields while they are in full bloom.

 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

(G. Thomas Bancroft)

I had some fun, making abstract art with some of the designs formed by the mixed colors.

The reds and whites of the tulips shot out from the center.  Green leaves gave some contrast to bright colors. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The reds and whites of the tulips shot out from the center. Green leaves gave some contrast to bright colors. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

16
Apr 13

Mew Gull searches for food on green park lawn

The young Mew Gull walked back and forth across the lawn searching for prey in the green grass (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The young Mew Gull walked back and forth across the lawn searching for prey in the green grass (G. Thomas Bancroft)

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.

The Mew Gull turned and looked right at me before resuming its search for food in the grass. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Mew Gull turned and looked right at me before resuming its search for food in the grass. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

14
Apr 13

A Pacific Northwest Trillium in bloom at the UW’s Arboretum

The showy flower of the Trillium caught my eye as I walked through the woods at the Univeristy of Washington's Arboretum. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The showy flower of the Trillium caught my eye as I walked through the woods at the Univeristy of Washington’s Arboretum. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

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.

8
Apr 13

American Crows court along the shore of Mathew Beach Park in Seattle

The crow walked up to its mate and began to preen indivudual feathers.  Thie allopreening is important in building pair bond between the mates. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The crow walked up to its mate and began to preen indivudual feathers. This allopreening is important in building pair bond between the mates. (G. Thomas Bancroft) [Photographs are available as prints by clicking on the photo to go to www.thomasbancroft.com]

We have probably all looked at an American Crow flying by and said, “oh, it is just a crow.”  They are actually really interesting creatures.  They form long-term pair bonds.   Some populations breed cooperatively with young from previous years helping raise the next brood of young.  They have a very complex social system with related families often forming larger flocks during the non-breeding season. They are incredibly smart and can learn to recognize individual people and respond to them.  I sometime just like to sit and watch them to see what they are up to.

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.

The one crow walded up from the shore with a morsel in its mouth and its mate twisted its head to take a piece from its mate. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The one crow walked up from the shore with a morsel in its mouth and its mate twisted its head to take a piece from its mate. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

7
Apr 13

Spring is starting at Magnuson Park in Seattle

The willows were beginning to flower at Magnuson Park.  The delicate white fuzz with yellow stamines were so beautiful.  New leaves were beginning to open too. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The willows were beginning to flower at Magnuson Park. The delicate white fuzz with yellow stamines were so beautiful. New leaves were beginning to open too. (G. Thomas Bancroft) [All pictures are available as prints by clicking on the print or visiting www.thomasbancroft.com]

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.

The bushtit flitted on the branch, hung upside down to search the underside of the branch.  It quickly moved along the branch, never staying in one place for more than a second or two. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The bushtit flitted on the branch, hung upside down to search the underside of the branch. It quickly moved along the branch, never staying in one place for more than a second or two. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

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 flock of bushtits were moving rapidly through the bushes looking for food when one paused for a few seconds to look at me. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The flock of bushtits were moving rapidly through the bushes looking for food when one paused for a few seconds to look at me. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The bushtit scratches the side of its face on the branch and appears to say 'oh that feels good!" (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The bushtit scratches the side of its face on the branch and appears to say ‘oh that feels good!” (G. Thomas Bancroft)

5
Apr 13

Cherry Trees in bloom on Azalea Way in the University of Washington Arboretum

The cherry trees along azalea way were in full bloom at the University of Washington's arboretum (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The cherry trees along azalea way were in full bloom at the University of Washington’s arboretum (G. Thomas Bancroft)  [All pictures are available as prints by clicking on the photo to go to www.thomasbancroft.com.]

The cherry trees in the UW Arboretum are in full bloom right now.  It was lightly raining while I walked along Azalea Way and the soft light made the cherry blossoms really glow.  Light rain and cloud cover creates a beautiful light for viewing flowers and really appreciating the intensity of colors.  The arboretum has a number of varieties of cherries and each is slightly different in their flowers and tree shape.  The twisted trunks of some trees created an intricate design with their knobs and blanket of moss.  A dusting of blossoms floated to the ground under a few of the trees.  Up close, the blossoms were just exquisite to study and the perfume of some trees was strong and sweet.  I stood for several minutes under many to just enjoy the ambiance of the moment.  A walk now through the arboretum is well worth your time.  Soon the azaleas and rhododendrons will be blooming.

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.

The twisted tranks and knobs on the trunk created an unusual design that was accentted by the soft light glowing through the flower pedals. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The twisted tranks and knobs on the trunk created an unusual design that was accentted by the soft light glowing through the flower pedals. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Flower pedals floated slowly down to join those already blanketing the ground under this cherry tree, (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Flower pedals floated slowly down to join those already blanketing the ground under this cherry tree, (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink wash on the white pedals draw the eye toward the pistal and stamines in the center of the cherry flower.  Water droplets from the light rain glide across each pedal.  The perfume scent of these flowers was strong in the stillness of the morning. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pink wash on the white pedals draw the eye toward the pistal and stamines in the center of the cherry flower. Water droplets from the light rain glide across each pedal. The perfume scent of these flowers was strong in the stillness of the morning. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

The cherry blossoms covered the ends of branches in a thick array. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The cherry blossoms covered the ends of branches in a thick array. (G. Thomas Bancroft)