[Tweeters] Bullock's Oriole and Thornton Elementary at Green Lake, Seattle (long) and request for help (at end)

Martin Muller martinmuller at msn.com
Sat May 21 10:52:36 PDT 2016

Greetings Tweeters,

Yesterday (Friday) morning I had a lovely visit with the Thornton Elementary School first grade class at Green Lake.
Their teacher annually uses Green Lake and its birds as a central theme for their studies. The end result is a beautiful “field guide” their teacher puts together using the students’ drawings and notes on the bird of their choice, not to mention an incredible amount of information locked away (for future reference) in these young brains.

I meet with them at the lake a few times each year trying to let them observe birds at close quarters (and through my scope) and talk about what’s going on with the birds that particular season. Their teacher is sweating bullets when the kids line up to look through the scope, but they are very respectful and mostly remember not to touch the scope (that makes it shake too much too see properly anyway).
During their late-winter visit they got excellent views of Double-crested Cormorants and Bald Eagles through the scope (as well as the eagle parading by at low level), and up close views of a myriad other birds when they explored (under parental supervision) in small groups.

Yesterday we got to watch both Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows land on the ground, collect small sticks (from the path and the fresh wood chips placed in planting beds), then move to the edge of a drying puddle to collect mud, and then fly to their respective nest sites (all while standing on the lake side of the Bathhouse Theater). The task for the kids was to id the swallow (no problem), and follow individual birds flying off with nest building material and determine where they are building their nests (a bit more challenging).

The Tree Swallows unfortunately are (once again) trying to build nests inside the hollow plastic pipes at the swimming beach that soon will have the ropes marking the shallow portion of the swimming area threaded through the (currently open) holes. I’m always surprised that the birds apparently have somehow built a nest structure inside those pipes. For now it’s a great opportunity to observe male and female Trees Swallows up close.

The Barn Swallows have chosen an even poorer nest location. They are taking nest material beneath the diving platforms, which are barely 18” above the water surface. If they do manage to raise young there, their first flights are going to be extremely difficult (low clearance and relatively long lateral flight before they clear the water). I doubt fledging will be successful here.But again, for now it’s a wonderful observation opportunity.

The most valuable lesson was when a Great Blue Heron landed nearby and decided to try for a spot of fishing from the beach steps. The kids wanted to run over for a closer look. I stopped them (remember when you disturb this bird it can’t find food for the young in its nest and they will go hungry!) and convinced them to take a seat on the steps and hope that the bird would come to them rather then flushing the bird. My bluff paid off (after all the heron could have decided to walk in the opposite direction) and after a few minutes of patiently and quietly waiting (I am SO impressed with these first graders!), the heron came into view and gradually came closer and closer, until some people unaware of the situation came running over and flushed it (but only to the diving platform).
Green Lake really is a wonderful teaching resource.

While I was waiting for the class to arrive I explored along the lake’s western/northern shore.
Again no Pied-billed Grebe nests that I found (among the water lilies along Aurora Ave. at least).
Mallard, Gadwall, Canada Goose all with young. I did not find the reported female Wood Duck with ducklings (only one record of that at Green Lake back in 1993).
Lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, some Wilson’s, Song Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, Red-winged Blackbirds.
And the promised (female) Bullock’s Oriole, soaking wet (probably just bathed) in the top of the trees just west of the Bathhouse Theater, along with some House Finches feeding fledged young.
I suspected an oriole nest at the lake in 1989, but only once, in1990, confirmed Bullock’s Orioles nesting at Green Lake (but I haven’t done systematic searches the past 10 years). I didn’t have time for a search for the nest this time around either.
There were 4 (female) Buffleheads out in the center of the lake, and lots of Violet-green Swallows up higher foraging, but mostly over land.

Wondering if the recent Alum application to the lake (to reduce algae) has resulted in lower-than-usual insect availability from the lake. But since Seattle doesn’t believe in properly studying a setting before altering it we will never know. While Green Lake is a naturally-formed lake (but altered by humans since the early 1900s), the only way Parks seems to think of this lake is as a (active) recreational (swimming, rowing, fishing) lake (not to mention everything else that occurs on the land surrounding the lake). “Passive” activities like nature education are not on their radar (Discovery Park volunteer rangers a few years back set up tables along the lake’s path on Saturdays and had HUGE interest from visitors). Not sure why that was discontinued. A huge missed opportunity, really.

As I mentioned each student has chosen their own bird species. All have seen “their” birds, except for the one boy who has the Wood Duck.
I know 2 pairs with ducklings were reported from Marymoor Park by Michael Hobbs, Thursday. Does anyone have a location in Seattle where (relatively inexperienced) birders can see Wood Ducks? If you wouldn’t mind letting me know I can forward that information to their teacher and hopefully our fellow bird student will be able to crown his year of studying birds with actually seeing his lifer Wood Duck.
Thank you in advance.

Martin Muller, Seattle
martinmuller at msn.com

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