A newly hatched bald eagle chick is attended to by an adult. (Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)

A newly hatched bald eagle chick is attended to by an adult. (Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)

On the Trails: Springtime fun and signs of new life

When spring finally came, it came in a rush. Cottonwood and alder leaves fairly leaped from the buds and grew rapidly toward full size.

I like the soft, light-green foliage contrasting with the somber greens of the conifers. The delicate fragrance of cottonwood delighted our olfactory sense. So did the sweet floral aroma of skunk cabbage, and beetles thronged to the pollen-bearing flowers. Depending where one walked, a variety of flowers showed their colors: pink nagoon and salmonberry, white starflower and baneberry, purplish lupine, golden marsh marigold, creamy-white elderberry, and others. On some forest edges trailing black current shrubs were covered with flowers — if they get pollinated the fruits will make good bird food.

A male Wilson’s warbler shows his distinctive black cap. (Courtesy photo / Helen Unruh)

A male Wilson’s warbler shows his distinctive black cap. (Courtesy photo / Helen Unruh)

More kinds of birds were seen and heard; hermit thrushes and ruby-crowned kinglets sang even on warm afternoons (often a low-activity time). Various warblers sang from the trees. Savanna sparrows on the wetlands had claimed territories and males advertised that achievement enthusiastically. At Point Louisa, pairs of marbled murrelets swam and dove just offshore.

On my home pond most of the mallards had left, leaving one or two males behind. A female began to return (perhaps she lost her first clutch of eggs), usually in late afternoon or evening, and kept company with a male. On one of those days I chanced to see some flurried activity in a secluded little cove on the far side of the pond, well shielded by leafy branches. The two of them emerged, presently, side by side, with much settling of feathers. AHA! Now I knew their trysting place. That same pattern was repeated on several subsequent days.

The wood ducks hung around the pond for about ten days and then disappeared. We know they nested near the community gardens last year: a female was seen with ducklings. Wouldn’t it be grand if some little fuzzy wood ducks appeared here in a couple of weeks!

A visit to Kingfisher Pond — that little gem of habitat restored from a quarry — always pays off. Male red-winged blackbirds sang lustily and a female carried nesting material into one of the islands of aquatic vegetation. I heard Wilson’s warblers and song sparrows. Tree swallows were zipping around, sometimes checking the nest boxes.

The railing of the viewing platform is a popular perch. Two barn swallows sat calmly on one side, allowing my friend and me to move quietly and gently onto the other side of the platform. Later, we saw 10 tree swallows lined up on the railing. Just a bit later there were eight tree swallows and two barn swallows: one of the tree swallows rose up and bounced on the back of a barn swallow, returning quickly to its perch. The barn swallow was little fazed, staying in place for a bit before leaving.

Small maple trees and bird cherries were flowering, and we looked closely at the maple flowers. They seemed to be both male (with stamens) and female (with a central stigma). But maples in general are not so consistent. Sometimes male and female flowers are on separate individuals, sometimes on different branches of the same individual, and sometimes the sexes occur together in each flower. A very flexible arrangement. Why?

Bog laurel flowers with stamens sprung out from petals by foraging insects. (Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)

Bog laurel flowers with stamens sprung out from petals by foraging insects. (Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)

Herbaceous species were flowering as well, including two kinds of violets. A stroll through some muskegs on North Douglas found thousands of cloudberry flowers, almost making a white carpet with the help of trailing raspberry. Dwarf dogwood flowers were open, the surrounding bracts just turning white and enlarging. The first bog laurels were opening their sharply pleated buds, exposing the stamens lying flat against the young petals. When the petals mature and spread, visiting insects searching for nectar disturb the bases of the stamens; this activity springs loose the pollen-bearing anthers from the little pocket where they were held. As the anthers pop out they release small clouds of pollen, which can be collected by bees or get stuck on insect exteriors and carried to another flower. The yellow flowers of villous cinquefoil decorated a big rocky outcrop just above the high tide line; the mature, flowering individuals were surrounded by scattered small juvenile plants — evidence of previous years’ successful seed production.

On a North Douglas rocky beach a raven walked around on barnacle-laden mussels. Two crows were swooping and diving over the raven, who protested vocally with raised head, but to no avail. Tired of hunching down to avoid a diving crow, the harassed raven finally fled to the forest edge, where the crows continued a verbal assault. What was its real or imagined crime, to make the crows so fussed?

Big news: on about May 24 an eaglet hatched! Another egg lies in the nest and should hatch soon. Chicks are hatched with a covering of natal down, which is replaced by a second downy coat in week two. Feathers start to develop, but don’t show right away. During weeks three to five, size differences between male and female begin; females are larger than males. By the end of week six, a chick has usually achieved about three-quarters of its full weight, the feathers are well-emerged and the feet are nearly fully grown. By week eight or nine, a young bird may start walking out on branches around the nest. Chicks fledge before their feathers are fully grown, leaving the nest at 10 to 12 weeks of age.

The parents will tend them well (https://youtu.be/DnVxXm6-2BQ). They’ll feed small bits of fish or bird or carrion until they are big enough to swallow chunks and pull apart carcasses left in the nest. Later on, when the chicks gets bigger, pink salmon are often an important prey — pinks (or humpies) make spawning runs into streams in July and August, and before that they may mill around in groups near the mouth of a stream for a while. They are small enough (just a few pounds) for an adult eagle to carry quite easily. But their numbers vary from year to year — and this year the forecast is for a rather poor run.

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