Brown Creepers breed from Alaska acorss southern Canada south through most of the Great Lakes states and across much of the northeastern United States. They also breed through the Rocky mountains to Nicaragua and down our Pacific Coast states. Only a few areas of the United States lack Brown Creepers in the winter. Poulin et al. (2013) write that this species is “one of the continent's most inconspicuous songbirds.” Erika often calls creepers “tree lice.”
We photographed this Brown Creeper near Olympia on 20 April 2019. Creepers are most common in mature forests that contain both healthy and dead timber. They use the dead wood for nesting and live trees for foraging. Wintering birds use almost any wooded area. Populations have increased duirng recent years due to reforestation along with trees dying from insect outbreaks. Outright habitat loss, however, is a threat to this bird.
Townsend’s Chipmunks are found in from British Columbia, throgh western Washington, south to Oregon. Note the gray and brown tail and the lack of a black line between the nose and the eye. This squirrel is named for the 19th century ornithologist, John Townsend. These chipmunks may hibernate or be active all year, depending on the climate. They are omnivorous. We photographed this individual in our Olympia backyard on 29 March 2019.
On 12 July 2019, we found ourselves once again photographing Pigeon Guillemots at the Seattle-Bremerton ferry dock. Perhaps not surprising, the foraging behavior is not well known for a bird that feeds deep in the water. These guillemots eat bottom dwelling invertebrates. But they also feed on a wide variety of fish. Prey items are usually eaten under water—only larger crustaceans and fish are brought to the surface (Ewins 1993).
I assume the Doublas Squirrel is named for the Scottish botanist for whom the Douglas Fir gets its name—David Douglas (1799-1834). Douglas explored Scotland, North America, and died under suspicious circumstances in Hawaii. This reddish-brown bellied squirrel lives in the Pacific Northwest, from southwest British Columbia to California. Sometimes they are called Chickarees, but that name is also used for Red Squirrels, which replace Douglas Squirrels in most of the rest of North America. Douglas Squirrels prefer Old Growth and mature second-growth forests. Douglas Squirrels are “larder hoarders,” shoring food—usually fir, spruce, and pine seeds in middens. Their discarded conifer scales can pile up to over a meter across as generations of squirrels use the same midden (Wikipedia). This image was taken in our backyard when we first moved to Olympia. Note the ticks in its ear.
We were in Seattle on 12 July 2019. Friends showed us Discovery Park, which I have been lobbying to visit. Local birders have been seeing alcids there. About a half-mile distant, we spied two birds, dots on Puget Sound. Alcids are a circumpolar bird family. They look vaguely like ducks, but appear to be more closely related to shorebirds and gulls.
Once home, to my surprise, I discovered that the two photos I took are of different species. In the field, I thought both birds were Marbled Murrelets, like the bird in the first picture. These brownish seabirds are found from Coastal Alaska to California. The Marbled Murrelet differs from other alcids because it nests in coastal Old Growth forests. The second photo turned out to be of a Rhinoceros Auklet. The curious horn on breeding birds is an extension of its mandible. The function of the horn, the same size in males and females, is unknown. Rhinoceros Auklets breed from coastal Alaska to California. The bird is common in Puget Sound. The species is also found in the western Pacific south to Japan. Both of these alcids are new to my photographic collection. Obviously I look forward to closer views of these handsome birds.
The red bump at the top of an American Coot’s bill is called the callus. Almost all North American coots, like this one we photographed on Olympia’s Capital Lake on 27 June 2019, sport a reddish callus. Only rarely is the callus white or yellowish. In the eastern Caribbean, however, most coot calluses are white. Other than that, most North American coots are similar, although recent studis suggest that western birds may have smaller frontal sheilds on their bills (Brisbin and Mobray 2002).
Eastern Gray Squirrels greeted our arrival in Olympia. This image was taken on 29 March 2019. Western Gray Squirrels do exist, but they are a threatened species now found only in three areas of Washington associated with oak woodlands and pine/fir forests. The western squirrels suffered from fire suppression and consequent loss of oak forests, urban development, and commercial forestry practices.
Eastern squirrels, told by the brown color on their heads, were introduced to Washington and other parts of western North America in the early 1900s. They are now the most common tree squirrels in many urban areas (Wikipedia). Eastern Gray Squirrels are also introduced to parts of Europe, South Africa, and elsewhere around the world.
I’ve been looking for the late-flying California Spreadwing, but it took David to find and photograph one for me. Usually spreadwings, especially immatures like this one, are very hard to identify. This damselfly can be told by its large size and bulbous abdomen end. This creature was perched in cattails in a small urban park in Olympia on 6 July 2019. The species is found from northern Washington south to Baja California and Sonora.
Dennis Paulson alerted me to the occurrence of River Jewelwings along Black Creek in Grays Harbor County. He wrote to look where Highway 12 crosses Black Creek. Our son, a recent convert to dragonfly chasing, lacked this stunning damselfly on his list. Finding ourselves at a public boat launch along Black Creek on 8 July, we stopped and looked for jewelwings. David quickly spied one across a small feeder creek. As I struggled to find it, this stunning damselfly flew across the creek and landed a few feet from us. Not often do you encounter a people-watching dragonfly!
River Jewelwings were among the first dragonflies I listed in Minnesota in my new-found career as an entomologist. I wrote about that encounter in this blog. The species is found from southern Canada to the northern United States. Paulson, in his new book on Odonata, writes that male River Jewelwings flutter in front of females. Then they land on the water, presumably showing the female that the current is perfect for carrying oxygen and slow enough that the eggs will not be washed away.
This image of a female Common Yellowthroat skulking among my blog queue since Erika and I founnd this bird on 23 May 2019 at the Nisqually National Wilflife Refuge. This bird is common across much of North America. This species is one of the first American birds described by European ornithologists. Yellowthroats are found in a variety of habitats, especially tangles in wetlands, from which they sing their song, sounding like “witchity, witchhity, witchity.”
With such a wide range, it is not surprising that many local races are described. These subspecies differ slightly in male color and pattern. Unexpected is the finding that. although the mitochondrial DNA of Eastern birds is similar, Western birds carry quite different sequences than Eastern ones. Erika and I notice that the calls of Washington yellowthroats are much slower than the calls we are used to when we were in Minnesota.