A glaucous-winged gull cruzes along the beach at Mukilteo Lighthouse. (G. Thomas Bancroft)
I stopped by Mukilteo Lighthouse to see what birds might be there. I had hoped to find surf scoters and Barrow’s goldeneyes feeding on mussels by the ferry terminal but none were present. They may not have moved south from their breeding grounds yet. I did watch a red-breasted merganser that had the last inch of its lower mandible-missing. It dove repeatedly just off the beach and successfully caught three fish in the half hour that I watched. Its plumage looked in good shape as if it had not had problems preening and caring for its feathers. I wonder how long this bird has been like this. Heading north, a flock of 20-40 red-breasted mergansers flew by a few hundred yards off shore but the one I watched made no attempt to join its brethren.
A red-breasted merganser pauses between fishing dives along Mukilteo Beach. Notice that it is missing the end of its lower mandible but was able to catch serveral fish while I watched. (G. Thomas Bancroft)
A head shot of a glaucous-winged gull. (G. Thomas Bancroft)
A common crow pauses for a portrait along the beach. (G. Thomas Bancroft)
Glaucous-winged gulls and common crows were numerous along the beach and at the ferry terminal. When ferries came and went, many gulls flew out to where the water churned from the ship’s propellers. I guess the ship stirred up morsels for them to catch and eat. Others seemed content to feed along the beach or lounge in the parking lot. A family with two children fishing at the peer beside the ferry terminal put the birds in a frenzy each time they pulled something up from the water but I never saw the birds successfully snitch something from the family. By the boat launch, I watched a couple hold a piece of food out for a gull. The gull sat just beyond their fingertips leaning toward them clearly frustrated and wanting the food but would never take the final step to grab the morsel from their fingers.
I found a pair of rock pigeons roosting peacefully on a crossbar of the ferry terminal. I thought they might flush when a ferry pulled into the dock but they stayed content in their little spot, out of the wind and resting shoulder to shoulder. They looked like an old couple sitting peacefully on a park bench enjoying the day. Just the way I felt after my short walk; content, calm, and relaxed.
Two rock pigeons rest on a cross arm of the pillings at Mukilteo Ferry Dock. (G. Thomas Bancroft)
Caspian tern does acrobatic manuvers with a fish in its mouth. It repeatedly flew over a flock of terns on the beach, occassionally stoping for a few minutes before flying around again. This bending-display is an integral part of courtship. (G. Thomas Bancroft)
A few weeks ago, I found a small flock of Caspian Terns roosting on the beach at Iverson Point on Camano Island. One tern seemed to not know that we are no longer in the breeding season. It was undertaking what looked like normal courtship behavior that males use to attract and form a pair bond with a female.
Holding a fish cross-wise in its bill, I watched a bird go through all the normal behaviors associated with courtship. He flew repeatedly low over the flock calling to the group below and flying higher to undertake the acrobatic “bending display” where he twists and turns upside down and side-ways heading strait downward toward the water just off-shore from the flock on the beach. Several times the male slowed as it flew over the flock, dropping to the sand and walking around among the resting birds.
A Caspian tern with a fish flies low over a roosting flock giving courtship calls to entice a female to follow. (G. Thomas Bancroft)
The only response I saw from the flock was when a few individuals responded somewhat aggressively by hunching their backs and heads, pointing their bill at the displaying bird. For pair bonds to form, females should respond to this display by following the male with a fish on a flight out over the water and eventually landing together on the sand where the male approaches the female, bows a few times and feeds the fish to the female.
I watched for 30 minutes and this male never ate the fish or successfully enticed a female to chase him and begin courtships initial phases. It was fun to watch even it was outside the normal breeding season. It never hurts to practice something so important as courtship and pair bond formation.
A black bear checks me out along the trail to Comet Falls in Mt Rainier National Park. (G. Thomas Bancroft)
I was the first at the trailhead and the air smelled fresh, sweet and damp in the forest as I started up the trail to Comet Falls in Mt Rainier National Park. Western Hemlocks and Douglas Firs towered over the trail creating a cathedral feeling of wonder and amazement. I moseyed along just absorbed by the quiet atmosphere, almost drifting into a self-absorbed trance when the bushes to my left exploded into a fury of crashing and twisting branches. I felt like I jumped right out of my skin before I stopped dead still in the middle of the trail.
A black bear climbed 6 to 8 feet up the backside of a western hemlock and then peaked around the right side of the trunk staring right at me. I had disturbed him from sleeping late under the bushes. He looked like a newly independent three-year old. Big but not as big as an adult bear, the size of a pro middle linebacker rather than a lineman. His sides bulged; he was fattening nicely for his long winter nap. His eyes showed as much fear as mine probably showed him. He pulled back around the tree and a few seconds later looked again at me from the left side of the trunk, still not sure what I was doing in his forest.
We both were trying to assess whether to run or simply ignore the other. My muscles remained tense and the adrenaline flowed freely through my arteries preparing myself to make lots of noise if he looked like he might become aggressive. After what seemed like forever but probably was only a few seconds, he slid down the trunk to the ground to peer at me through some bushes. I imagined then that he shrugged his shoulders at me. Well at least he simply turned and began to mosey up through the forest, stopping several times to feed on berries in the understory bushes. After a minute or two he had disappeared into the dense understory.
I stood, breathing heavily for a while before I relaxed enough to continue up the trail, my closest encounter ever, thrilling and scary, definitely setting the mood for a great day in Mt Rainier Wilderness.