PAWS Magazine

Issue 36, Winter 1998

Urban Wildlife Viewing

Washington is teeming with wildlife. Even city dwellers can get immediate access to wildlife all year round, only minutes from home. Here are a few highlights...

Raptor watching is an all season sport in the many parks along Puget Sound. Sharpshinned hawks, Cooper's hawks, red-tailed hawks and merlins are just a few of the raptors that can be seen. Discovery Park and Lincoln Park, with their big bluffs and open fields, are good places to observe hawks. The majestic bald eagle is frequently sighted at parks around the city. There are known nesting pairs in Seward Park and Discovery Park.

Marine Birds and Mammals: A good bird book like the National Geographic or National Audubon Field Guide will help identify the variety of migratory ducks that are found around Puget Sound in the winter, as well as resident species all year. Alki Beach provides an easily accessible waterfront where you can see a number of varieties: buffleheads, Barrow's goldeneyes, grebes, mergansers and more. Be prepared with binoculars, these birds are quick.

You won't need a book or binos to identify harbor seals and California sealions, frequently seen along the beach parks. Keep an eye out for orca, especially when the salmon are running.

Try gull gazing at Golden Gardens. With a good bird guide book you'll quickly discover there's no such thing as a "sea gull." There are glaucous winged gulls, western gulls, ringbilled gulls, Bonaparte's gulls and more. All are unique in plumage, size, and calls. One easy key to identification is their foot color. Are they pink, yellow, or grayish blue?

Night Roost: Winter time finds the Arboretum serving as a night roost for crows. Anywhere near the wetland trail about an hour before sunset you will see clouds of crows blanketing the sky. Even though you see them daily in your neighborhood, it's fascinating to see a steady stream of them converging from all points around the city.

The Winter Duck Dodge at Greenlake is a great place to see a large variety of migratory ducks, where the calm water and border path make for great viewing. Listen for the familiar sound of your typical rubber ducky bathtub duck and you have found wigeons. These migratory ducks display beautiful markings and graze in large flocks on areas of open grass. Harder to spot water birds that appear in smaller numbers are mergansers (slender ducks with long bills and sometimes-crested heads), and the smaller pied-billed grebes. Summertime at dusk, big brown bats can be seen near the Bath House Theatre.

Waterfowl and Aquatic Mammals: Sitting quietly along the shore of the Arboretum at dusk it is not uncommon to see a beaver quietly paddling by, guiding a branch in front of him. If startled, he'll slap his tail on the surface and quickly dive under. Smaller in appearance and with a long tail instead of a paddle tail are muskrats. River otters are another aquatic mammal commonly seen in Puget Sound, Lake Washington and Lake Union. Beavers and muskrats are herbivores where as river otters are carnivores. In the spring, the Arboretum is a good place to see newly hatched Canada goslings and mallard ducklings. The hidden inlets and abundant vegetation provide the perfect habitat to raise a waterfowl family.

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