Category Archives: Trees

Feast of Fogamar

Fogamar, “of wind and abundance,” Old Irish for this season we call autumn. It’s the perfect word for our annual shift from daylong predictable sunlight to those interesting grays and shifting breezes, and the occasional convergence zone with its furious rains and towering charcoal cumuli.

Convergence-zone rain over Puget Sound

Convergence-zone rain over Puget Sound

When we first met our new home a few months ago, the air was lilac-laden, dizzying in its sweetness. The blooms were fading by the time we moved in at the beginning of August, and by a couple of weeks ago the tall shrubs were looking pretty bedraggled, with shriveled brown seedheads sticking above the brown-edged green leaves.

But oh, they are beloved by the birds. Continue reading


Blockwatch Success! Two Tiny Chickadees Get a Little Help From a Federal Act, a Huge State, a Public Utility, and a Private Company

A flash of yellow, glimpsed through the trees outside our living-room window, brought my partner out to the street. It came from high on the light pole that had been of such interest to flickers and chickadees the day before—this time, though, it wasn’t a feathered worker but the widespread, easily-identifiable-without-a-field-guide Yellow-Vested Utility Crew. Bright and early this Monday morning, they were transferring wires from the old, hole-ridden pole to the fresh new one beside it, then would remove the old pole.

Utility worker on nest pole

Utility worker on nest pole
(Photo by Rob Duisberg)

My chickadees! Now what?

The crew finished that day’s work and left. Would the chickadees return, or were they too alarmed by the noise and vibration and tapping of screwdrivers and pliers?

Phew – the next afternoon, Tuesday, the chickadees were back to their diligent excavations. But the drama wasn’t over yet, not by far.

Black-capped Chickadee excavating nest hole

Black-capped Chickadee excavating nest hole

I’m embarrassed to say that the following day, Wednesday, it took me a while to realize that that day’s chickadees continuing the work on nest excavation—

Chickadee peeking out of nest hole

Chickadee peeking out of nest hole

—were not just new birds, but a whole new kind of chickadee. A pair of Chestnut-backed Chickadees had taken over the nest hole since Tuesday: the third species in the span of a few days to study the hole in detail, and to work on remodeling it to their specs.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee exiting nest hole with a little bit more sawdust than he can carry

Chestnut-backed Chickadee exiting nest hole,
with a little more sawdust than he can carry

Did the Black-capped Chickadees decide to abandon this nest hole and look for a place in a quieter neighborhood? What would happen to my new little chickadees when the remaining wires were transferred to the new pole? And worse, when the old pole got removed altogether? Could the chickadee nest be saved from being toppled and tossed into a shredder?

A quick call to Seattle Audubon got me the phone numbers of people to call at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW’s excellent wildlife biologist Chris Anderson) and Seattle City Light (SCL). As each phone rang, I mentally worked up my argument about why even a daily little bird like a chickadee should be protected just as carefully as “charismatic mesofauna” like owls, osprey, and eagles.

Of course, I had to leave a message in each case. Here we go, I thought, eternal phone tag. But I was astounded when in each case, a live human being called back within about 30 minutes: “Of course we’ll get the work stopped on that pole. Let me get your contact info and I’ll copy you on the emails.”


To my surprise and delight, it turns out that the state and the utility want to help wildlife—even two tiny would-be chickadee parents.

Chickadees aren’t endangered and they sure don’t seem too migratory except between my birdfeeder and the cedar beside it, but they’re on the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protected list. Ron Tressler, the wildlife biologist who heads up SCL’s Wildlife Research Grants Program, explained that this means that the WDFW has issued guidelines to help SCL respect all bird nests, not just the big fancy obvious ones:

  • Leave all nests in place if they do not represent a threat to reliable operations, public safety, or a constitute a nuisance;

  • Remove nuisance nests only when the nesting season is complete and the nest is inactive

Of course, usually SCL gets called about the immense osprey nests that those birds like to build on top of tempting tree-like objects with a fine view of fish-filled water: a perfect description of a high-voltage powerline tower in the Seattle area.

I had a terrific conversation with Scott Thomsen, SCL’s Senior Strategic Advisor for Communications & Public Affairs, who described what’s involved in protecting ospreys and their kids from electric dangers, and who was justifiably proud of SCL’s quick response to my chickadees. (In fact, he’s written about our chickadees for SCL’s own blog — check it out!)

My initial contact at SCL generously offered to contact the local TV/cable company to alert them to hold off on removing the final cables and pole until after nesting season. Mom and Dad Chestnut-backed Chickadee are safe for the season, hopefully along with many chickadeelets. Blockwatch success!

Chestnut-backed Chickadee removing construction debris from his home - now safe for children

Chestnut-backed Chickadee removing construction debris
from his home – now safe for children

It’s part of SCL’s stated mission to be good environmental stewards while working to provide cost-effective power so we can cook our food, heat our homes, and write blog posts on computers. Unlike a lot of organizations that like to sound green, I think these folks actually mean it. Half an hour to get back to one random citizen-naturalist wanting to protect a pair of birds who, if they held wings and jumped together on a postage scale, might tip it at one ounce? With an “of course we will”? That’s pretty good.

Thomsen said he thinks this is the first time SCL has gotten a citizen call about chickadees; if we can all pay attention to avian homebuilding on our blocks, maybe it won’t be the last. Little parents everywhere need your
helping hands.Bird in the hand - Trileigh Tucker

Time rewound, for a moment

After several cloudy, mizzly days, I woke up this morning to the stiff north breeze that carries the promise of blue skies all day long. Dazzling! I wasn’t the only one out luxuriating in it; almost as soon as I got to the path, an eagle soared overhead. Shortly thereafter, a gull circled repeatedly, apparently enjoying an invisible wave of cold Canadian air cresting over the bluff.

Gull soaring in north wind

Although there are still autumn colors in the woods, most of the leaves have undergone abscission and are lying quietly on the forest floor, beginning the slow journey into compost.

Autumn path near end of season

Always habitually scanning (consciously or not) for signs of birds, my attention was caught by a flicker of movement to my right, a flash of yellow soaring upward. A (very) late warbler? No.

It was like seeing time spin backward. A fallen Bigleaf Maple leaf had been retrieved by the wind and was spinning up the bluff, dancing upward in ecstasy through the mostly-bare branches, as if retracing its journey to its tree of origin.

I smiled as I watched it twirl through the tangled twigs, circle round a sturdy fat trunk, fly across my path. And then I laughed out loud when it actually managed to land upright on the thin branch of a young tree—it had made it back home!

Bigleaf Maple leaf, back in a tree for one brief shining moment

Did it feel, perhaps, that it had been granted a second chance, a new lease on life, a last chance before death to once again breathe in sweet carbon dioxide, feel the freshness of water flowing in its stem and the strength of sap surging out to its tree?

Maybe to fix a mistake or two: an occasional lack of generosity in sap supply, a desire to outshine its neighbor leaves with a particularly brilliant yellow?

Or possibly just to revisit the old home place, remember what it was like to be part of a tree, view again the vistas up and down, recall the soft vibration of a pair of life-mated crows grooming on your branch in spring.

Crows grooming on Bigleaf Maple, leaves in background

The leaf was only allowed to enjoy its time travel home for a brief moment (during which I was miraculously able to snap its portrait above) before the next gust returned it to the forest floor. But I wanted it to have just a little more time, so I picked it up and nestled it into a nearby trunk, a finger of bark holding it close, where it can imagine for a few more moments that it’s still part of a living tree.

Bigleaf Maple leaf held by a finger of Douglas Fir bark

We’re due for big storms this weekend, so the leaf will be back down in the duff soon enough. If you pass it while you’re walking through the park, please feel free to greet a time-traveler who was given one last chance.

What would you do with one last time-travel gift?