05 January 2010

Seattle Birds

The holidays are the perfect time to visit old friends. At the end of December I was able to return to Seattle, where I grew up, to visit my family and friends who are still in the area. While I was there, I took the time to visit a few old avian friends as well.

Fox Sparrows are common over much of North America, and they can be found near my current home in Utah, especially in the summer. But there is variation among Fox Sparrows, and the subspecies found in Utah is not the same as the one in Washington. This is a Sooty Fox Sparrow I photographed near my parents' house in Issaquah.

One of the ornithological treats of visiting Washington is seeing the coastal species that don't usually occur in Utah. This flock of Brant is a perfect example, a species that lives almost exclusively along the coasts. Once every few years, one gets lost and turns up in Utah among a flock of Canada Geese, but here in Puget Sound they can be found in some numbers every winter.

Speaking of geese, one of my latest points of focus in my birding has been learning the subspecies of Canada and Cackling Geese. This recent split has left a lot of the country realizing how overlooked these geese have been. Travelling to Washington was a good chance to practice my subspecies identification. Here are three Ridgway's Cackling Geese with two Taverner's Cackling Geese (the middle bird and the bird behind it, to our right).

Another favorite of mine is the gulls. Gulls are one of the classic identification challenges in birding, and I love the challenge of sorting through a flock of gulls. This adult Mew Gull was feeding on a mayfly hatch on the shore of Lake Sammamish with Ring-billed Gulls, California Gulls, Glaucous-winged Gulls, and several hybrids. If you click on the photo you might be able to make out the insect about to be grabbed in the larger version of the photo. I have seen Mew Gulls in Utah before, but they are very rare there, and like Brant, are typically a coastal species in winter.

A lot of people I talk to who aren't birders know what a chickadee is, but don't realize that we have several species in the U.S. One of my favorites is the Chestnut-backed Chickadee, a resident of mostly coastal forests and to me a strong reminder of the Northwest. This image of a Chestnut-backed Chickadee clinging to Douglas-fir cones seems an almost iconic reminder of my friends and family in Washington and Oregon, and of course of my avian friends there.