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There was a nice morning walk with the dogs. I saw quite a few bird species – the most so far this spring. Here is the list:

Canada Goose
Mallard
Dusky Grouse
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Rufous Hummingbird
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Say’s Phoebe
Black-billed Magpie
Clark’s Nutcracker
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee
Pygmy Nuthatch
Western Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Spotted Towhee
Brewer’s Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Cassin’s Finch
Red Crossbill
American Goldfinch

Then a brief stop at a yard sale and a walk through Winthrop looking for images.

Vieques, like many other islands around the world, has been plagued by non-native animals introduced for one reason or another. The human population is less than 10,000 and the horse population is around 3,000. Many of these horses are feral and some are perhaps simply let out to graze til their owners decide they need them. More people appeared to ride horses than bikes. Chickens are everywhere. Their incessant crowing woke me up at night. Dogs and cats are allowed to roam and most do not appeared to be neutered. I was disappointed with the lack of birds – both in numbers of birds and diversity of species. It may be a slow time with many having migrated away for the ‘winter’ season however I was told that there are never a lot of birds, certainly nothing like Florida. Even sea birds which would presumably not be affected by the introduced species on the island, were few and far between. Frogs, toads and lizards were everywhere. At night the frog sounds provided a white noise for sleeping. I named one frog the marimba frog due to its call that sounded like marimba notes. Another tiny frog says its name ‘coqui’. We saw one bright green iguana on the west end of the island. These were introduced for a reason that I don’t know.

What happens when two birds of different species get together and make a nest? Hybridization. According to an article by Kim Romain-Bondi in North Central Washington Audubon Society’s newsletter, The Wild Phlox, “these two species are sympatric, meaning that during the evolution process, they became two new species while inhabiting the same geographic region. Generally speaking in Washington, the Red-breasted live on the west side, the Red-naped on the east side of the Cascades……. These two species of sapsuckers are known to hybridize in south-central Oregon, northeastern California, along the California-Nevada border, and in southern Nevada.”

Kim has located a nest near one of the trails on the grounds of the North Cascades Basecamp which she and her husband own. It includes a male Red-breasted Sapsucker and female Red-naped Sapsucker. I was lucky enough to have her show me the nest in a water birch tree. We observed both birds going to and from the nest, catching bugs and visiting sap wells before returning to feed young. On one departure I observed that the male was carrying a fecal sack. These birds like to keep their nest tidy.

Now I don’t do a lot of bird photography. I love to bird and I love to make images however it’s often challenging for me to both well. I lack the really long telephoto lenses to get the extreme sharp close-ups so my bird images are mostly for documenting a particularly striking or unusual bird or one that is otherwise noteworthy. I thought this situation was noteworthy and worth recording.

Red-naped Sapsucker female

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Red-breasted Sapsucker male

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The landing – feet first

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They always looked out of the cavity in all directions before exiting.

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Sapsuckers make ‘wells’ in trees to get to the sap. They are evenly spaced in neat rows and the birds return to them year after year. Hummingbirds will also sip from the sap wells. I saw a Black-chinned hummingbird at this tree.

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Yesterday, other birders observed that the birds were catching bugs; taking them to the sap wells and dipping the bugs before taking them to the youngsters in the nest. Sort of like coating cold cereal with sugar so the kids will eat it.

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Here is the female rocketing out of the hole.

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And here, the male is carrying a fecal sack away from the nest.

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And there he goes!

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Two birding posts in a row? I don’t think this is a serious trend.

This sweet Downy Woodpecker was very cooperative and allowed me to get close enough to make images of him with my small camera. He would get one sunflower seed at a time out of the feeder and then carefully wedge it into a crack in the snag, saving it for a future meal. The Hairy Woodpeckers do the same thing.

 

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Birding always brings something interesting. Sometimes when we go with expectations of seeing something in particular, our hopes are dashed when we miss it. But the search is always fun. Yesterday we went down to the Columbia River where it was warm and spring-like. Despite the warm temperature we did not see any swallows or bluebirds which have already made an appearance at my house. The water was calm and glassy giving us a beautiful background for the numerous waterfowl we observed. They are all in their spring plumage and the colors are brilliant in the strong sunshine – mallards, goldeneyes, canvasbacks and many more species were seen. We saw nests of Common Ravens and also Great-horned Owls. Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks were paired up and some were cavorting in flight! We heard the songs of a Bewick’s Wren and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Western Meadowlarks sang in several locations.

We did have a target bird yesterday – Northern Saw-whet Owls. People have observed as many as five of them in the state park and we even knew which campsites to search for them. Unfortunately the state park staff was engaged in clean up with noisy machines – leaf blowers and leaf vacuums. We picked the group site to begin our search, as far from the machines as we could get. Two big evergreens seemed like likely candidates to shelter these tiny owls. We found the white wash we were looking for and even found pellets but could not spot a small owl. We began to take apart the pellets (a pellet is the part of the meal that is undigestable and is regurgitated onto the ground, usually composed of bones and fur) to entertain ourselves, making a tidy display of teeny little bones on a board.

Having had enough of fur and bones, we moved on to the rest of the campground despite the machinery. After a while I tired of that but Juliet kept looking while I went to the riverbank to see what I could see. I caught up with her at the last area, nearest where we had left the car as she was searching intently high in a dense tree with her binoculars. She said, it has to be here; look at this big white wash! I stood there and looked straght up into the tree and what did I see? A bird butt! I moved around and sure enough, there it was, a tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl looking down at me.

 

Small mammal bones

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These bones are tiny. The jaw bone on the left is maybe half an inch long.

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Small but ferocious

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The owl was more interested in people farther away than us immediately under it.

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It wanted us to leave so it could go back to sleep.

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This is a Double-crested Cormorant skull, one of two that we saw on the riverbank.

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