The Nest Box

Nesting season is over. I went out to clean out my chickadee box. I had seen Bewick’s wrens in the spring, bringing nest material to it. I got so excited, I figured wrens had beaten chickadees to prime real estate. I watched and watched. But after a while did not see any wren activity at the box. I assumed they had abandoned it.

I also watched for chickadees, but never saw any going in or out.

But opening the box just now, I got such a surprise! A beautiful little nest. There must have been a clutch! But whose?

Here’s the nest. You can see moss, twigs, feathers and other materials.

My first peek
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Note the blue feather! Must be a Stellers Jay
Out of the box
For size

Bunny Visit

On a recent morning, as I was lifting the window blinds, I saw a tiny bunny munching on grass in my front yard. What a sweet surprise! It looked very small and seemed completely at ease.

I do occasionally see them around, cottontail rabbits, but not often in my yard. Once in a while one shows up on my camera trap that is set up in the back.

Cottontails are common throughout North, Central and South America. If you want to get uber scientific, there are many subgenera, such as Eastern cottontail, desert cottontail, mountain cottontail and swamp rabbit. Most have the little white fluff that gives them their name.

Females can have up to three litters a year, with an average of four young. they grow quickly and are considered full grown at three months! They live in burrows and are quite sociable with others in their group.

The life of these cuddly creatures is short though, averaging two years. They are appealing to many predators, including birds of prey, foxes, coyotes, cougars, dogs, cats, snakes and even squirrels!

I was able to get some good photos of my visitor before she or he left.

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Eerie Anniversary: Mount St. Helens

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Now that I am living in earthquake territory, the fact that today marks the 40th anniversary of Mount. St. Helens’ most recent eruption is a stark reminder of the earth’s power, and the power to shake us out of our daily complacency at any second.

I can’t let this anniversary pass without a decent amount of acknowledgment, respect and awe.

Before the eruption, Mount St. Helens was to be a popular recreation spot. Lots of trees, trails, a magnificent mountain, boating on Spirit Lake.

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1953 Postcard

The lake was beloved by picnickers and families. I recall a woman remarking sadly after the eruption, “Spirit Lake was gone.” I found a charming vintage postcard, furnished by the Washington State Progress Commission, showing a uniformed serviceman and his family enjoying a picnic amidst the Pacific Northwest scenery. The back of the card reads “Write the commission … for Victory File for use in planning your first after-war vacation.”  mt st helens2

I vaguely recall my visit to the national park back in 2007. On my way there, I saw a lot of destruction. Felled trees, layers of ash in the Toutle  River.

Here are some photos from that visit.

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Toutle River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the park, I looked out over the scene and the topped cone. It still lives. Scientists keep a regular eye on its activity.  lahar area

But flowers and plants have returned, and hikers visit every year. I need to return to see how it’s evolved since I visited.

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For now, I am thankful that the eruption didn’t reach Seattle. But we live along the Ring of Fire and that’s little comfort.

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Three Birds, Two Continents, One Burning Question

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“Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.” — E.O. Wilson

As we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I wanted to present something intriguing. The one thing that leapt out at me was something that’s been nagging me lately and I’ve been meaning to look into it.

So, here it is. I’ll drag you along as I explore these incredibly colorful birds. These species have survived despite the onslaught of humans. They are similar yet different, if that makes any sense. You’ll see what I mean.

My question is, Why? Why has nature given these birds such similarly distinctive patterns?

Thousands of their ancestors suffered being trapped and moved thousands of miles, to live out their lives in cages. Today, some wild birds still face being sold for pets, but there is hope that wild populations can continue to exist.

Painted Bunting

These are perhaps the closest thing we have to parrots in the U.S. (though there are some introduced, non-native parrots.)

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Males are spectacular with a blue head, red on the breast and back, and bright yellow-green around the shoulders and upper back. Females are green-yellow.

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Female and Male Bunting

 

 

 

Native to North America, they breed in the southeastern and south-central U.S. and winter in Mexico and Central America. They favor scrubby and coastal habitat. With their thick bills, it’s easy to see that they’re seed eaters.

Painted buntings have always been prized for their beautiful feathers and they’ve long been captured to be sold as caged birds. In the mid-1800s, John James Audubon reported that thousands were being caught and shipped to Europe.

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Today, birds are still illegally caught and sold in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. I cannot imagine these wild birds living very long in a cage.

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Their overall population is said to be stable, though like most birds, they suffer from habitat loss. The eastern population favors swampy thickets and woodland edges that often are destroyed by human development.

Gouldian Finch

Also known as the Lady Gouldian finch or rainbow finch, these are native to the grasslands of Australia. Male plumage can vary in the color pattern. In the wild, males usually have black faces, but can have yellow or red variations.

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Captive birds for the pet trade are selectively bred for red faces. The males feature turquoise around the face, green on the back, purple on the chest and yellow on the belly. Females have a similar color pattern, though not as bright.

About the time that painted buntings began to be trapped and exported from America to Europe for pets, Gouldian finches also were similarly being extracted from the wild.

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By the 1980s, trapping had reduced the wild population to only about 2,500. In 1992 they were declared endangered in the wild by the Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Today, it’s illegal to export them from Australia, but they continue to face challenges to increasing their wild numbers. finch variations

Gouldian finches may be as challenging to save in the wild as our endangered orcas – the Southern Resident Killer Whales – native to Puget Sound. Both species have incredibly narrow, specific food preferences.

Gouldian finches eat seeds of certain native grasses and conservation biologists discovered that they nest only in specific types of deep hollow branches of only two types of eucalyptus trees. Researchers are hoping that by installing specially constructed nest boxes in the wild, they can help boost finch numbers.

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Other factors that impact Gouldian finches are their bright colors, which make them easy targets for predators, diseases and wild fires. They are still popular as pets, though all sold are captive bred. They do not like to be handled and don’t do well with a lot of human interaction, compared to other finches kept as pets. Their average lifespan is six to eight years.

Rainbow Lorikeet

This brilliantly colored bird is also native to Australia. A blue head, red beak, orange and yellow breast, blue belly, and green wings and back make this species distinctive among parrots. lorikeet3

They grow to about a foot long from beak to tail.

In the wild, their preferred habitat includes woodlands, and lowland forests, and rainforest. Like the Gouldian finch, lorikeets prefer to nest in hollow limbs and holes in eucalyptus trees.

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But they have been moving into more urban areas and easily adapt. Their diet includes fruit, nectar and pollen, and they will visit bird feeders and eat various seeds. They have even become pests in some areas, such as orchards and farmlands, and in New Zealand, where they were illegally introduced.

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Needless to say, this species not threatened or endangered. In fact, they can out compete other native species of parrot and cockatoo for nesting holes.

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Rainbow lorikeets are very popular as pets, with captive bred birds available worldwide. They can live up to 30 years.

In conclusion

I have not answered my question. Why? Why are there such brightly colored birds? It’s no camouflage against predators. I have noted that most such colorful birds live in more tropical environments. Does climate have something to do with coloration? More questions needing more research.

Mother Nature has given us many mysteries, but one thing we do know, she has it all worked out. Everything is the way it is for a reason. Everything is linked to something else. We are running out of time to preserve the links.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” — John Muir

 

*Not my photos

A Walk on a Glacier

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Edith Cavell Glacier

Last fall I visited Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. My first time in Alberta. I was excited to see the Canadian Rockies close up. The timing was perfect for glorious fall foliage. The changing elevations and landscape in the park offered a mix of seasons, first fall, then a bit of spring, then a bit of winter, and back to fall. I was well prepared with a range of clothing.

One of the popular excursions in the park is a chance to “walk” on a glacier, the Athabasca Glacier.

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Athabasca Glacier

I knew it was a touristy thing to do, but how many chances do you get to do that? To reach the glacier area, I drove the Icefields Parkway, winding through the Columbia Icefields, to the visitor center. I picked a tour time and bought my ticket. Luckily I had time for a nice warming lunch before heading to the glacier. DSC_0400 - Copy

An outside deck at the visitor center provided an ideal seat facing the mountains and glacier. And, the sun added the perfect touch.

It reminded me of when I visited Switzerland, gazing at the alps on a sunny winter day, from a dry and snowless path. It didn’t seem right.

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A bus heads up to the snow coach

As the time for my bus ride to the foot of the glacier approached, the sky closed in and a sudden snow squall let loose!

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No doubt, this was the coldest, snowiest part of the park. I enjoyed the view going up the slope to where we would transfer to the giant snow coaches.

We climbed aboard. We could see the glacier.

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The glacier, through the snow coach window

The coaches are well-equipped for moving over snow. Moving is a relative term. Crawling is more like it. As one goes up the snow-packed road, one is likely going back down. We pause to let one go by. The stream of tourists proceeds on schedule every day.

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View from our snow coach

I had every confidence in our driver to keep us safely on the road. His job seemed a little treacherous, but to him it may have been just another day at work.

When we arrived at the parking area, the snow passed, the sky cleared and the sun came out. There were a couple other coaches and groups of travelers already scattered across the ice. Some were posing, some lying on the ice or otherwise frolicking.

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Though it was sunny, it was quite windy on the glacier. I noted the various state of dress of the visitors.

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Most were well prepared, but some, I thought, had to be beyond freezing. With a cover of snow, the ice still posed dangers. I walked gingerly. We had to stay within the specific area that was deemed safe.

The scene was a mix of international visitors, a good match for the row of flags of all nations that whipped in the gusts.

For a brief time, it was like there were no countries. Just us, the ice and snow, frozen in time. The scene took my mind to Antarctica. I know there are similar flags there too, whipping in similar winds, in a similarly frigid white landscape. DSC_0425

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It was perhaps odd to see such unnatural bright colors in the arctic-like landscape. It brought us back to our individual national identities.  Like the other visitors, I finally found my country’s flag. It didn’t feel like anything special. It was simply a curiosity, a photo opp. After all, it wasn’t the pole. It was Canada.

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Textures

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Having had enough time to take it all in, we boarded our snow coaches for the slow journey back to the bus.

I was glad for the experience. I was glad to have seen, touched and walked on something that is, in fact, going away.

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Sometime after my liftetime it will cease to exist.

Photos Don’t Lie

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Historic comparison of Athabasca Glacier

Textures and Tones

On a recent day that began very overcast, I visited Mount Rainier National Park. There are several rivers in the park, and the Nisqually is one of them.

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Here it is a very narrow, shallow ribbon cutting through a rocky bed. You can see the low clouds over the valley.

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These were shot in color, but I have converted them to black & white, to focus on the patterns in the water and colors and patterns in the rocks.

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The tone of the water reminds me of chocolate milk.

These views were shot from a bridge over the river.

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Arctic Sunrise – A Greenpeace Ship with a Brutal Past

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise came to Seattle recently for a visit. The ship was touring the Salish Sea and working with the Puyallup Nation to raise awareness about a liquefied natural gas facility being built in Tacoma, the ancestral lands of the Puyallup. The LNG plant and the Trans Mountain Pipeline threaten the health of the Salish Sea, the waters that surround Tacoma, Seattle, and up into Canada.

A crew member tells us about all the controls

Arctic Sunrise is one of three Greenpeace ships that ply the waters worldwide; the other two are the Rainbow Warrior and Esperanza.

Overlooking the Lake Union area in Seattle, where the ship was moored.

While they take actions to protect our marine ecosystems, they also visit ports to meet local people, learn about their environmental issues and educate people about actions they can take to make their communities healthier and more sustainable.

Three years earlier, I had a memorable experience visiting the flagship of Greenpeace, the Rainbow Warrior, when it stopped in Seattle. So, I was excited to learn that the Arctic Sunrise was coming!

An ironic tale told by a crew member: the ship was once a whaling boat! It became available for sale, and Greenpeace eyed it for a new fleet addition. The seller refused to sell it to a group that fights whaling. Greenpeace set up a third party to buy the boat, and the deed was accomplished! Hurrah!

Specs of the boat

The ship is an icebreaker, has a “rounded keelless hull” (for those of you who like tech specs), and can land a helicopter.

From the Greenpeace website:

In 1997, The Arctic Sunrise became the first ship to circumnavigate James Ross Island in the Antarctic, a previously impossible journey until a 200m thick ice shelf connecting the island to the Antarctic continent collapsed. This was just one of the many signs of climate change which the Arctic Sunrise has helped document.

In 1999, a Japanese whaling ship rammed the Arctic Sunrise while Greenpeace was peacefully protesting its illegal whaling around Antarctica. Fortunately, no crew members were injured.

We learned about threats to the Salish Sea from oil refineries and pipelines along the coast.

Aside from their own research, Greenpeace sometimes assists scientists with accessing remote areas.

In 2009, the ship supported a researcher from Cambridge University who was documenting changes in Arctic ice volumes and thickness, as part of climate change studies.

We went below for a short video and saw some crew areas.

Bicycles are the preferred mode of transport when they are in a port.

Greenpeace is known for hanging large banners at protests and confronting illegal whaling, but the staff is also respected for conducting serious scientific research. I volunteered in the Washington, DC, office many years ago, and I know how dedicated the staff is.

No large people need apply!

If you ever get a chance to visit a Greenpeace vessel, I highly recommend it!