Monday, April 8, 2013

Satyr comma, Oak Bay Native Plant Garden

Out for a stroll between rainstorms this weekend, I came across this beautiful fellow catching some sun on a patch of yellow marsh-marigold. It's a satyr comma. I don't know how this insect is anything like the man-goat hybrids that cavorted around the god Pan, but the comma name is for the white mark on his lower underwings. This species hibernates as adults, emerging on warm days. I suppose that a good chunk of Saturday in Victoria qualified as a warm day. There were two of them in the Oak Bay Native Plant garden. I think they were both males. One reason I think this is that both had the same bright coloring. The other is that in between spells of basking in patches of sunlight, they would fly at each other, in a flurry of wing-beats, sometimes touching. It was probably quite a savage scene from a butterfly's perspective.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

No dragonflies

Yesterday, I spent a sunny half-hour sitting by a nice little pond. The things I do for science. My reason for being there is the Dragonfly Pond Watch Project, a citizen science project aiming to record the movements of five different dragonfly species: common green darner, black saddlebags , wandering glider (the most widespread dragonfly on the planet, according to Wikipedia), spot-winged glider, and variegated meadowhawk. I like the idea of these creatures zooming hundreds of miles on their shiny wings, and I would love to see some of them on their journey. Yesterday was an unlikely day for it, because the earliest any of them are expected to show up is April. I did see yellow-rumped warblers, chickadees, robins, and two tree-loads of pine siskins. A male red-winged blackbird let off a volley of sound from a bush next to me, as a female picked through the branches. A ruby-crowned kinglet ventured within arms length. Two song sparrows sang at each other, a flicker let off a hicupping tirade and a male rufous hummingbird zipped by, making that mechanical chirp that always reminds me of a 1980s sci-fi space laser. A male Anna's Hummingbird did diving displays over the pond. When he went off, a female quietly came in and gathered fluff from the top of some of the cat-tails. No dragonflies, though.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Making noise, Mountlake Fill

The first thing that hit me when I opened the car door was the sound of red-winged blackbirds, male ones, perched on trees, bushes and cat-tails, flashing their red epaulettes and declaring their territorial dominance and their availability to mate. Another sign of spring: tree swallows and violet-green swallows, newly arrived and chittering and swooping around. Sometimes a male would feed a female in mid-flight.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Back yard visitors

A pair of western scrub-jays hang out in our yard. We call them Mr. and Mrs. Boink. They appear have caches of hazelnuts from our trees. They enjoy our seed feeders and the flooded flowerpot that serves as a bird bath, and in the past few weeks they've spent an awful lot of time darting in and out of a thick hedge in our yard. We hope that means that they are setting up to have baby Boinks. Here's a picture of Mrs. (or Mr.) Boink: Other birds come and go, chiefly black-capped chickadees and juncos. There's a flicker or a towhee from time to time, white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows, Anna's hummingbirds, robins and roving flocks of bushtits or house sparrows. Today the Boinks had new visitors: a pair of Steller's jays. That got the scrub jays' attention. For a few minutes the two sets of jays hopped around each other. The Steller's Jays looked very fluffy of feather, as if they were trying to seem big. Eventually the scrub-jays started flying at the Steller's Jays. Three or four skirmishes, and the Steller's Jays flew across the street. One of the Boinks sat on the power line yelling after them. Later on, the chitter of a flock of chickadees and juncos turned to alarm calls, and found another new bird sitting on my fence. It's a young sharp-shinned hawk, a predator of small birds. The boinks weren't around when it settled on the fence, and it didn't stay long. I wonder if I'll see it again.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Carkeek Park, February

Tucked in the upper reaches of Carkeek Park is an old orchard, planted by homesteaders in 1890 or so. For the past thirty years or so, volunteers, including the Friends of Piper's Orchard have been tending it and planting more trees. About 15 of the original plantings remain, ancient breeds such as Wealthy, Red Astrachan,Gravenstein and Guyot Pear. I watched a flock of about 70 pine siskins flutter around the orchard and then settle on a big tree at the back (a Rhode Island Greening, if I'm reading the map correctly). It is a magnificent tree. Really, I should have lingered and taken a good portrait of it. But instead I took bad pictures of the birds... ...who promptly flew away. Pine siskins spend their winters roaming around in flocks. Where they go depends on the supply of seeds. They seldom winter in the same area two years in a row. This year, they favored our region, and showed up on in record numbers on the Christmas Bird Counts. They're fun to watch. In his "Essential Field Guide Companion," Pete Dunne describes the pine siskin as "a quick, nervous, dark, drab, ultra-streaky pipsqueak of a bird that makes up in sass and belligerence what it lacks in size." Pete Dunne is fun to read. Moving along a trail, a willow which fell down over the winter is still alive. But then, it is hard to kill a willow. These are trees that evolved to coexist with beavers, ruthlessly efficient tree downers, who happen to find willow cambium delicious. But then there are plants that are tougher, such as the ivy still growing up the willow's trunk.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Not really raining, Montlake Fill

This morning we had the kind of precipitation that Seattlites often call "not really raining." The expression applies to two distinct types of weather. One is a slow drizzle. The other is a light mist with drops so tiny that they don't fall to the ground but waft with the air currents and pool on the surface of your skin. It's not really raining, but more like a cloud coming to ground. It's not fog - you can see things, sort of. Here's the 520 bridge.
In fact, the not-really rain illuminates things that we overlook on clear days, such as the tiny webs of spiders, still active in February.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Winter Walk, Discovery Park

When you first enter the woods, there's a feeling of hush. Even the colors are quiet.
Then the details pop out. The underbrush is full of song sparrows. Most of them are giving simple chirps, but every so often one of them lets loose a barrage of notes and chuckles. Breeding season is coming.
At the pond, yellow-rumped warblers, flutter from willow to willow, peck and squeak. Their nickname is one of my favorite pieces of birder slang: butterbutts.
On the north beach a group of lesser scaup rest and preen.
When a dog appears on the trail, they take to the water.
But then a pair of sea lions swim by... they head back to the beach.
The bluff has some fresh landslide scars.
Buds are bursting on the Indian Plum.
A pileated woodpecker methodically rips up a log, plucking out fat pearly grubs.
What a beauty.