Friday, July 10, 2020

All About Barred Owls And Four Eared Cottontails

Here is a recent post from the Union Bay Watch Blog published by Larry Hubbell, long-time local photographer and birder.

Here also is an in-depth article about Larry and his work.

Survival Skills

At mid-day, this adult Barred Owl was wide awake with an unobstructed view of Arboretum Drive. Generally, owls sleep during the day. At noon they are often hidden deep inside the shadows and foliage of a Western Red Cedar. 

This owl was out in the open and surprisingly alert. Curiously, it did not appear to be hunting. My friend, Carlene, had mentioned seeing a young owl in the area. So, after taking a few photos, I left the puzzling owl behind and moved on.

Sure enough, in the nearby shadows of Sequoias, a young owl noticed my arrival. It bobbed its head around in the exaggerated fashion of youth - apparently calculating the distance between us - adults do a similar maneuver but it is almost imperceptible. The youthful behavior and all the fluffy white down clearly indicated its lack of maturity. 

I stood quietly. The young owl's interest declined. I suspect it is one of the two young documented in the June 14th post - two weeks ago. 

It resumed the removal of down.

After a while, it began stretching and moving about inside the grove. The bare inner branches resemble a Jungle Gym for young owls. It is interesting to notice the occasional pure white feathers highlighted against the beige and brown.

I read somewhere that young owls retain the light beige stripes in their tail feathers for the first year. The implication being that by the second year the off-white coloring in the tail is replaced with white. Later, in the post, you will see an adult example that makes me question this logic.

The young owl's increased activity showed off its 'pantaloons'.

The fluffy 'leggings' must help retain heat but as the weather warms up that becomes a somewhat questionable benefit. In any case, they certainly give the young owl a comical and immature look.

Occasionally, it exhibited flashes of focus. Similar to way adults behave when hunting. I did not think much of it. 

I was startled to see how much its tail feathers had grown. If we assume the young owl is about two months old then it has been out of the nest for about a month. From previous sightings, I assume they leave the nest without visible tail feathers. If the tail feathers in this photo are approximately eight inches long then they would have grown at a rate of nearly 2 inches a week. I have made multiple assumptions, so the true rate may vary considerably. However, there is no doubt that their tail feathers grow fast.

Similar to Cooper's Hawks, the tail feathers must enable the owls to make tight turns between the branches, trunks, and foliage of the inner canopy. For a predator who makes its living catching smaller creatures, sharp turns are critical.

Finally, after circling around inside the grove and the young owl perched on the fence. It was close to the ground and fairly close to the adult. I would not have been surprised to see the adult bring it food.

This photo shows another example of the young owl's intense focus. I was too distracted to really take notice at the time. While this was transpiring, the first adult moved closer, I spotted the second young owl high overhead and the second adult flew into the grove while being escorted by a highly, aggressive crow.

The second adult owl with beige stripes on its tail feathers. Reproducing adults are said to be at least two years old. At this point, the beige stripes in the tail feathers should have turned white. Something does not add up.

However, the movement of the first adult, from its original position, between Arboretum Drive and the young owls, suddenly made sense. I suspect it was on guard duty, watching the young owls while the mate was out hunting. Sadly, the mate returned 'empty-handed'.

Despite their exceptional skills, the owls do not always find food. Their special predatory adaptations include excellent eyesight (including low-light vision), pinpoint hearing, and wings which allow virtually silent flight. Plus, they can eat small prey whole and simply cough up a ball of indigestible bones, feathers, or fur.

I overlooked and underestimated the young owl on the fence. When I turned back it had food. Immediately, I began to wonder what it was eating. It took a while for me to realize that the young owl most likely caught the food all on its own. 

The young owl carried its meal up to a broad moss-covered branch, which provided a stable 'table' and a higher level of safety

However, the tree was closer to Arboretum Drive and ultimately the young owl decided to move a little further away. It finished the food deeper in the shadows of the grove.

From when I first saw it, with the partially eaten prey, until the food totally disappeared was over fifteen minutes. The young owl struggled with the process. I don't think it fully understood how to use its bill. Ultimately, it tried to swallow the bulk of the body whole. At that moment, I was afraid it might choke. Fortunately, it did not.

Locally, I believe Barred Owls eat primarily rats, rabbits, and squirrels. It is kind of ironic that Barred Owls originated in the eastern part of North America as did the Eastern Cottontails and the Eastern Gray Squirrels. The majority of our rats are from Norway. All four species had help from humanity (intentional or not) to reach this area. None of them are natives of the Pacific Northwest. Our local ecosystem is a curious conglomerate of creatures.

When I noticed movement out the corner of my eye I glanced back toward the fence. This time one of the adults was on the fence. What I saw, was the flash as it went to the ground. It promptly returned to the fence with food.

It took just six minutes for the adult to consume its prey. Experience counts. It actually parsed out many small mouthfuls and ended up swallowing a much more manageable final portion, as compared to the youngster. During the process, the second adult moved to the fence. Quickly, it jumped to the ground and came up with a third prey item.

The second adult carried its catch up near the second, more sedentary young owl and shared its food. I have watched owls catch prey before but never like this. Three catches in less than 30 minutes and all four members of the family fed. 

Apparently, the first young owl located a rabbit's nest. I have read, that when young rabbits are born their mothers are unable to carry them to a safer location. The best they can do is to cover and hide the young. They must return to feed them but apparently minimize their trips to avoid detection. 

These particular young were getting fairly good-sized. I suspect they may have been starting to move around and look for food on their own. Obviously, their hearing, eyesight, and escape-speed was not up to the task of evading Barred Owls - even an inexperienced one.

A couple of days later I spotted this rabbit in the same area. To survive, among hungry owls, the Eastern Cottontails will need to up their game.

Exceptional hearing might help.

I wonder if having four ears will do the trick.

By the way, if you would like to see another surprise sighting don't overlook the challenge in the Going Native section below.


Tsuloss Watch:

The young eagle in Monty and Marsha's nest continues to grow. Sometime in the next month or so, I expect Tsuloss will leave the nest. Several readers have now sent in their guess for when Tsuloss will fledge.

If you would like to play along send me your name and the date when you hope or expect Tsuloss will leave the nest. July is just around the corner!

July 1st - Barry Saver
July 2nd - Tyler Mangum
July 4th - Larry Hubbell
July 6th - Joe Clancy
July 8th - Cynthia Jones
July 9th - Lynne Kelly
July 10th - Lynn Adams
July 14th - Helen Spiro
July 15th - Jeff Graham
July 16th - Audrey Weitkamp

(By the way, the nestling period for Bald Eagles, as stated on All About Birds, can vary quite a bit. It is listed as 56 to 98 days. This implies to me that Tsuloss might just as well fledge in late July or even August.)

The only rules I can think of for this impromptu, prize-less contest are:

A) I plan to only publish the name associated with the first entry I receive for each date. I want to encourage the widest variety of dates as possible.

B) Practice hops do not count e.g. when the young eagle flaps, lifts up and then comes right back down in the nest.  Also branching - hopping from branch to branch - does not count. Tsuloss must leave the air space above the nest.

C) Falling does not count. Tsuloss must leave the nest and exhibit an ability to stay in the air. However, if you do see Tsuloss fall from the nest and land on the ground, especially if unable to fly, please call:

 Lynnwood PAWS at 425-787-2500

PAWS has rehabilitated and released 3 out of Tsuloss's 4 siblings during the last 2 years. (The fourth sibling did not require assistance.)

The following information may help you make a more accurate guess:

Eaglet Patrol - The post suggesting when Tsuloss might have hatched.

Tsuloss - The last eagle update.

By the way, Tsuloss is most easily seen with binoculars from the north side of Montlake Cut. The nest site is shown on this Union Bay Map.

What species is this? Is it native to Western Washington?

Long-tailed Weasel: Surprisingly, this small, native predator was seen running down the street in front of my house and crossing (the very busy) 24th Avenue in Montlake - twice. This is the first time I ever remember seeing one. I have no doubt our current influx of rabbits has made Montlake a much more appealing location for weasels.

Here is one more photo for those who read all the way to the end.
 Did you notice the black tip on the tail?

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Public Process Waived Due to Lack of Technology

The Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) published this information in a recent newsletter:

Public Process Waived Due to Lack of Technology 
In a city known for technology, Seattle cannot provide for virtual public meetings. To ensure transparency, the City’s land use and permit processes require public comment and design reviews as part of the normal approval process, in addition to the staff reviews by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). During the Covid-19 restrictions, the City’s approval boards, such as the Design Review and Landmark Preservation Boards, have not been offered an electronic meeting option for public participation. 
On April 20, instead of providing technology for virtual meetings, the Mayor’s Office and City Councilmember Straus (District 6) introduced Council Bill #119679. This Bill extends permit deadlines and waives public comment and public meetings requirements in order to expedite developers’ permit approval processes for six months, plus another six months for projects that can be grandfathered into the SDCI permit process if substantially ready. CMs offered many amendments including a 60-day duration (with renewability), but none passed. This Council Bill was initially defeated, with District 4 Councilmember Pedersen and two other members voting against it.
The Bill does not meet the requirements of Governor Inslee’s Emergency Proclamation 20-28, as providing an immediate emergency service or providing an immediate product for the Covid-19 pandemic. State Rep. Gerry Pollet, Chair of Local Governments, wrote his objections to the legislation to Councilmembers stating: “Subject to the conditions for conducting any meeting as required above, agencies are further prohibited from taking ‘action,’ as defined in RCW 42.30.020, unless those matters are necessary and routine matters or are matters necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency, until such time as regular public participation under the Open Public Meetings Act is possible.” 
In a rare move, however, the City Council voted to reconsider the Bill, and passed it on April 27, with CM Pedersen and Herbold again voting “no”, but CM Morales flipping her previous vote to an approval. The Bill will be in effect during the Governor’s Emergency Proclamation, or until the City’s SDCI and Department of Neighborhoods can find a way to conduct virtual meetings and include public comment. 
City Council members supporting this Bill claim that it will benefit the low-income population by providing mandatory affordable housing (MHA), although this affects developments only in the design review stage right now. MHA projects with approved permits and construction in process were never stopped with Covid-19 restrictions. 
LCC expressed concerns that the MHA projects on paper should not be exempt from Design Review as a matter of social justice, and that MHA residences should receive design review and public participation to ensure the same quality-of-life amenities as other City residences – such as walkability, light, window placement, access to transit, setbacks, neighborhood character and scale, tree preservation, and adequate vegetation. In addition, LCC expressed concerns that, while the Historic Preservation process could delegate its Board’s authority for minor modifications on landmarked properties, authority should not extend to new development or to controls and incentives without the public’s participation. These actions should be delayed until the City can provide virtual public participation. 
The City offers written comment options, but they seldom receive a response from the City. Local public comments in the context of a project almost always produce a better review guide for staff and result in better outcomes for the built environment. After the pandemic is behind us, the City should not be permitted to use this emergency legislation to pave the way for developers to justify expedited reviews and eliminate public participation.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Friday Food Truck At St. Bridget's Church


St. Bridget Church let the Laurelhurst Blog Staff know they are hosting a food truck every Friday through August in their parking lot (4900 NE 50th Street).

St. Bridget told the Laurelhurst Blog that on Friday Woodshop BBQ will be serving the public from 5-7pm. Here is the menu.

Only credit cards will be accepted and there are no pre-orders. Event will happen rain or shine.

Go here for more information.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Hospital Construction Activity This Week

Building Care, also called Forest B, of Phase 2 of Children's Hospital expansion is underway and the new building is planned to open in Spring of 2022. 

The 310,000 square-foot addition will add an eight-story building and will includes diagnostic and treatment facilities, primarily out-patient cancer and others) labs, new state-of-the-art operating rooms, 20 inpatient beds, and a lobby. There will be two floors of underground parking and sterile processing. This will bring SCH bed total to 409, up from 200 before its expansion 2012 plan. 

The helicopter landing pad moved temporarily to the roof of Forest A (176’), now known as Friends of Costco Building, Phase 1 of the expansion. The landing pad will be active until Building Care is completed. Noise is expected to be louder than the former ground-based helipad. When Forest B is complete, the helistop will moves to its permanent location on top of the Friends of Costco Building (same height). 

Lights were added to the horizontal swing arm (boom) portion of the tower crane to increase safety for helicopter landings. These are in addition to the lights at the end of the boom and on the crane operator’s cab. The additional lights will help the helicopter pilots in identifying the location of the boom when landing or departing the helipad in the dark. While the lights are visible from the ground, they are not bright enough to interfere with any neighboring properties. As a reminder, the tower crane is scheduled to remain onsite through August 2020.

The Hospital posted this information on their Construction Blog about specific construction activity this week: 

  • Wednesday: some dead and dying trees will be removed from around the perimeter.  The work will occur along the south side of NE 47th Street, the west side of 45th Avenue NE, and the north side of NE 45th Street. Crews will use chainsaws and chippers, which will generate noise. We will replant to fill any visible holes in the fall.
  • Pour concrete for walls, shafts, slabs, and pads
  • Install fireproofing
  • Paint
  • Set and weld exterior walls
  • Install roofing
  • Install air flow louvers
  • Install glass
  • Install mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment
  • Install drywall
  • Build out electrical, mechanical, generator and pneumatic tube blower rooms
  • Install insulation
  • Install fire sprinkler systems and alarm controls
  • Install flooring
  • Load in and set air handling units
  • Install exhaust air, plumbing and medical gas risers
  • Install soil
  • Interior activities: install drywall, insulation, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing for new chapel location on River A level 7; install mechanical, electrical and plumbing in lower level 1 of Forest A for future connections; set up infection prevention barriers and demolish existing ceiling tiles on level 8 of Forest A for future connections
Construction noise will be generated throughout the week. Expect heavy truck traffic, primarily for concrete and material deliveries. Construction activity is weather-dependent and subject to change based on conditions.
All work will take place 8-6pm weekdays and 9-6pm on Saturday. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Laurelhurst Blog Staff On Vacation This Week

The Laurelhurst Blog staff is on vacation this week and will return to posting on Tuesday, July 7th. 

In the meantime, please keep sending in your informative emails and we look forward to responding.

Also the Seattle Fire Department sent out this notice:

Be Safe this July 4th and Leave the Fireworks to the Professionals
Seattle Fire Department, Harborview  Medical Center and the Seattle Police Department are reminding the community to stay safe this Fourth of July.
Fireworks pose a fire hazard to property and present a safety risk to those who use them. Every year, the Seattle Fire Department responds to fireworks-related fires and injuries. These incidents could have been prevented by leaving the fireworks to the professionals.  
On the Fourth of July, 911 centers can become overloaded with non-emergency fireworks calls. Do not call 911 unless you have a life-threatening emergency and need immediate help from police, fire or medics.
Any fireworks-related fires or injuries should be reported directly to 911. Other fireworks violations may be reported by calling the Seattle Police non-emergency number at (206) 625-5011.

Happy 4th! 

Friday, June 26, 2020

All About Pileated Woodpeckers

Here is a recent post from the Union Bay Watch Blog published by Larry Hubbell, long-time local photographer and birder.

Here also is an in-depth article about Larry and his work.

Le Coup d'Etat

This year's young Pileated Woodpeckers look out on a changing world. 

Paradigms and power structures can suddenly shift. Leaders can be left aimlessly adrift, flailing wildly and watching helplessly, as the parade of life disappears in the distance. Looking back, the sudden change can be seen as the obvious result of mounting pressure. Historically, their pompous, bombastic rantings, along with their numbers and intelligence, have made American Crows one of the most dominant avian species around Montlake.

Last year, a change began when pair of Common Ravens settled in near Union Bay. Most likely, they are the first resident pair in Montlake since the forest was cleared over a hundred years ago. However, their full impact was not immediately felt. 

Early this spring, they built their first local nest and laid their eggs. Time passed as they incubated and defended them. The eggs hatched and as their nestlings grew so did the pressure. There was a growing demand for food. If there was a moment when the power shifted I suspect it was when the young ravens fledged. Suddenly, there were four large, hungry ravens to be fed. With each raven weighing as much a four adult crows their combined hunger had an immediate impact. 

Lately, I have found the inedible wings of crows scattered across Montlake. Young crows, still stuck in their nests, unable to fly, provide easy targets. Adult crows defending the nests are simply somewhat larger meals. More than once I have heard about uneaten food left lying on the ground. I suspect the young ravens, still developing their coordination, dropped the food. Initially, knowing no better, they simply sat and wailed louder, expecting their parents to bring more.

At the end of March, I found Chip, the adult male Pileated Woodpecker, excavating the nest. The process appeared identical to previous years. He was once again working in the decomposing remains of a large Red Alder. As the chips flew, he earned his name anew.

When Bald Eagles flew over Chip would somehow notice even when he was working deep inside the nest. The varying length of the wing feathers indicates this was a young Bald Eagle in its second year.

Chip was alert to the Bald Eagle's presence and not afraid to extend his head and watch it glide away.

At the end of April, an adult Raven flew in, vocalizing loudly and landed near the nest. At this point, I suspect the woodpecker eggs had been laid. Chip was in the nest but he never looked out. I believe he did not want to give the Raven any hint of the nest's location. Being of the same mind, I focused my photography on the Raven.

Early in June, after the eggs had hatched and the young Pileated were getting fairly good-sized, all four Ravens came in and landed near the Pileated nest. The adult woodpeckers were both outnumbered and outweighed. I listened and watched as one of the adults sat in a nearby tree and cried incessantly. Apparently, it worked. The Ravens never seemed to notice the nest. Evidently, the adult's cries distracted or annoyed them. The begging calls of their own young may have played a part as well. In any case, the Ravens quickly moved on.

A couple of days later, I watched as Goldie, the adult female, returned to the nest with food.

Pileated Woodpeckers eat a lot of carpenter ant larva. When feeding their young they regurgitate the masticated white paste and deliver it deep inside the throats of their young.

The next day, a delivery from Chip was also met with enthusiasm.

It is interesting to note how he carefully took turns feeding the young.

As the young grow their cries get louder and they become ever more demanding and potentially dangerous.

Perhaps, by approaching from the side Chip is minimizing his exposure to their bills.

Last week, their curiosity about the outside world was obvious. 

Their time for sheltering-in-place was coming to an end.

They were nearly ready to make the leap into the unknown. At one point, I watched as Chip circled around the nest from one tree to the next, calling loudly. The young answered excitedly but choose not to leave the nest while I watched. 

However, I have not seen them since. I suspect they are somewhere in the greater Montlake area. Historically, during the first summer, the young follow the adults from one location to the next. During the process, they learn where to find food and I suspect the adults teach them about the various dangers they may encounter e.g. Barred Owls, Cooper's Hawks, and now Common Ravens.

The question is, Where are they now? Have they survived in the Raven's world? Have the parents led them to food and safety? I have searched high and low but I have not found any of the four during the last week. I doubt the Ravens could have caught them all. Plus, I have not seen any feathers that would indicate the demise of a Pileated Woodpecker. 

Hopefully, they are adapting to the new world and simply evading the Ravens (and me). I would appreciate it if you would keep your eyes open and let me know if you see any of them. 

In case you are luckier than me, here are some critical differences to help you identify them and their feathers. 

Chip is the only male in the family. As such he has a red stripe on his cheek and a red forehead. He is also the only one with yellow irises, which is more of an individual variation and not gender-related.

Goldie has a dark forehead with highlights of golden-brown, which explains her name. She has black stripes on her cheeks. Her irises have a hint of red. Over the years, I am starting to suspect they are slowly turning yellow.

The girls are of course both female with dark foreheads and dark malar stripes. Their irises generally appear dark at this age. However, in direct sunlight they sometimes reflect the light blue color of the sky. It also may be helpful to notice that their 'topknots' have a slightly orange cast and the feathers tend to be shorter, fluffier, and often more erect than the parents.

On occasion, the adults raise their crests as well.

The lower thirty percent of a Pileated Woodpecker's primary feathers are white which as far as I know is a unique pattern among local species. They are also much thinner than the dark primary feathers of a crow. 

Primary wing feathers are some of the longest feathers on most birds. They are also meatless and, in my mind, likely to be left where they fall by a predator. A single feather, like this one, was probably dropped during the process of being replaced. On the other hand, a clump of feathers generally indicates that the target bird has been consumed.

Thank you for following along and watching out for our local family of Pileated Woodpeckers.


Tsuloss Watch:

The young eagle in Monty and Marsha's nest continues to grow. Sometime in the next month or so, I expect Tsuloss will leave the nest. A number of readers have now sent in their guess for when Tsuloss will fledge.

If you would like to play along send me your name and the date when you hope or expect Tsuloss will leave the nest. 

July 1st - Barry Saver
July 2nd - Tyler Mangum
July 4th - Larry Hubbell
July 6th - Joe Clancy
July 8th - Cynthia Jones
July 9th - Lynne Kelly
July 10th - Lynn Adams
July 15th - Jeff Graham
July 16th - Audrey Weitkamp

(By the way, the nestling period for Bald Eagles, as stated on All About Birds, can vary quite a bit. It is listed as 56 to 98 days. This implies to me that Tsuloss might just as well fledge in late July or even August.)

What species is this? Is it native to Western Washington?
Note: These questions apply to both flora and fauna.

Rufous Hummingbird: Our original native hummingbird that annually migrates to Mexico and back.

Black Twinberry: It is a native plant and it attracts native hummingbirds!

It is interesting to note that every Pileated Woodpecker nest site, that I have found in the PNW, has had an egg-shaped hole. The only one I have found on the east coast was round. I wonder where the shape change occurs?