Archive for the ‘Green Lake’ Category

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
Mar 13

Red-winged Blackbirds displaying at Green Lake

The male Red-winged Blackbird was displaying and calling vigorously from a cattail perch.  The displays were to keep other mailes out and attrack prospective mates. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The male Red-winged Blackbird was displaying and calling vigorously from a cattail perch. The displays were to keep other mailes out and attract prospective mates. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

On February 8th, I noticed that male Red-winged Blackbirds had moved into the cattails and begun to set up territories.  I watched one male display repeatedly from the top the brown seed-head.  It would puff out its wings to show the red epaulets, lean forward, and give its territorial song.   This male was in a patch of cattails along the west side of Green Lake.  A large willow tree separated this patch from a similar patch down the shoreline and the second patch had a second male calling away.  When the second male flew from its set of cattails to the willow, the male I was watching moved onto a large willow branch where it increased its intensity of displaying and calling.  The willow tree seemed to be the boundary between the territories for each of these males.  After a few minutes of vigorous displaying, the two males returned to their respective cattail patch.  On the March 15th, the two males were still vigorously displaying.  I did not see a single female in or around the cattail patches.  It will be interesting to see when they move in and start to build nests.   Owning one of these patches is critical to successfully breeding and seeing these males vigorously defend them for several months before females arrive shows how important this is.  Next time you walk along the west side of Green Lake check out the cattail patches to see if you can spot male or female Red-winged Blackbirds.  They are a wonderful sight to see.

PS:  The Spring Best of Northwest 2013 Art Show is this weekend, March 23 and 24th, at the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal on Pier 91 next to the Magnolia Bridge, 2001 West Garfield St, Seattle.  I will be there showing some of my photographs.  Come on down to enjoy the artwork, music, wine and beer.  More than 140 artists will be present.

 

23
Jan 13

Is spring around the corner at Green Lake

The male bufflehead was feeding actively just off shore.  It would dive for 15 or 20 seconds before surfacing for a few seconds.  The male gradually moved along the edge of the tree reflections and the pattern was intriquing. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The male bufflehead was feeding actively just off shore. It would dive for 15 or 20 seconds before surfacing for a few seconds. The male gradually moved along the edge of the tree reflections and the pattern was intriquing. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

This was the first morning in four days that we did not have thick fog in Seattle.  I headed up to Green Lake to see what was happening.  A Bufflehead male was actively feeding adjacent to a wonderful reflection of trees.  The reflection of the bird and the trees was an interesting contrast.  Along the west side of the lake is a fringe of cattails.  The seed stalks from last year are still standing and the seeds are beginning to flack off the stocks.  It is an interesting design against the water background.  I did not see any new growth starting but I am guessing it will be soon.  The Red-winged Blackbirds at least think spring is just around the corner.  I heard several males in the tops of trees giving partial territorial songs.   The males were together in the trees so they have not become territorial yet.  In a few weeks they will be defending sections of the cattails and trying to attract females.

The red alders still have seed cones present from last year and the new catkins are beginning to develop.    Fresh leaf buds are beginning to swell along some of the branches.  Other branches had not shown any signs of new leaves.

I will check to see when the leaves start to open.  A good sign that spring might be coming.

The red alders are forming catkins and buds are beginning to swell. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The red alders are forming catkins and buds are beginning to swell. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The seeds had already dropped from the alder's pod and they looked just like minuature pine cones. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The seeds had already dropped from the alder’s pod and they looked just like minuature pine cones. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

10
Jan 13

Green Lake morning walk and wintering ducks

The female bufflehead surfaced from a dive.  A few water droplets stayed on her back as she rested a few seconds before her next dive. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The female bufflehead surfaced from a dive. A few water droplets stayed on her back as she rested a few seconds before her next dive. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The sun had just risen above the horizon at Green Lake and was peaking through some slits in the otherwise solid cloud cover.  The light reflected off the rippling surface of the lake and the clouds created a dramatic reflection.   The air was crisp, with the temperature just above freezing.  The ducks and coots were still actively feeding along the shallows.  A female bufflehead dove repeatedly along the shore.  She would surface for a few seconds and then pushing hard down with her tail, she would leap up into the air with great energy to start her dive.  Her tail feathers spread to create a good rudder as she pursues underwater prey.  Buffleheads are the smallest of North America’s diving ducks and generally feed in water less than 10 feet deep.  Several pied-billed grebes were also actively feeding.  They stayed on the surface for only a few seconds between dives and would often pop back up 50 or more feet from where they dove.  These birds are pursuing small fish.

By an hour after sunrise, some ducks were coming to roost along the shore having found sufficient food for a while.  I watched three shovelers preening and taking a quick bath.  They would fluff their feathers and throw water across their backs by dipping their heads into the water.  One sat on a log, working to preen individual feathers, straightening out shafts and recoating feathers with oil to keep them waterproof.  It is amazing that something as delicate as a feather can create a waterproof coating for a bird allowing them to swim and be dry and warm.  Even a small amount of water on the skin can quickly cause a bird to become hypothermic and die that is why oil spills are so dangerous for birds.   A female shoveler having finished both feeding and preening had found a good resting place on a branch over the water.  She had her bill tucked under her scapular feathers and seemed to be resting contently.  Once when a dog barked briefly she pulled her head out for a quick look around.  Deciding that nothing was serious, she stuck her bill back under her feathers and seemed to go back to sleep.

The Bufflehead sat on the surface for a few seconds after she poped up from her last dive.  I watched carefully as she prepared to dive and noticed that she spreads her tail as a large paddle and pusing hard down to propel her up and straight down on a dive. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Bufflehead sat on the surface for a few seconds after she poped up from her last dive. I watched carefully as she prepared to dive and noticed that she spreads her tail as a large paddle and pusing hard down to propel her up and straight down on a dive. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

(G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pattern formed by the branches extending down into the water was fascinating and the female shoeveler sleeping on one foot added an interesting element to the picture. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The pattern formed by the branches extending down into the water was fascinating and the female shoeveler sleeping on one foot added an interesting element to the picture. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The high pitch whistle of the American widgeon caught my attention and I looked around to see where it came from.  I discovered more than a hundred widgeons foraging on the lawn as if the mass was a giant mowing machine.  They flowed left and right along the grass as one bird or another changed direction.  Occasionally, an individual would fly into the center of the flock and disrupt everyone’s concentration on foraging.  A runner caused them to shift direction back toward the water with a few individuals leap frogging over the mass.  I wonder how much grass they consume in the morning.

The mass moved one way and then another almost as if all the individuals were connected by a magical cord. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The mass moved one way and then another almost as if all the individuals were connected by a magical cord. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Just before the parking lot, I heard the chip of two Bewick’s wrens and discovered them foraging at the base of a pine tree.  They were hoping up along the bark of the tree picking at things in the bark and flipping needles around the base of the three.  A flock of 30 robins were scattered under the pines looking for worms and grubs.  Staying in numbers was providing more eyes to warn the group of approaching predators.  The robins were actively running along the ground, stopping, and cocking their heads as they looked for food.

Something startled the feeding flock causing them to raise their heads and excitedly whistle.  I looked to see if an eagle or hawk was near by or whether it was a passing dog.  I could not tell and the flock went back to feeding in a few seconds indicating they did not feel it was serious. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Something startled the feeding flock causing them to raise their heads and excitedly whistle. I looked to see if an eagle or hawk was near by or whether it was a passing dog. I could not tell and the flock went back to feeding in a few seconds indicating they did not feel it was serious. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

As I climbed back into my car, a few large snowflakes were falling with the light rain; a wonderful morning to be out.