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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Birding Skagit County

After several birding trips on San Juan Island didn't result in any new species to our year list efforts, it was time to head off island and take advantage of a sunny (if chilly) winter weekend day. Skagit County is always a pleasure to bird in the winter, and it did not disappoint! In six hours we turned up nearly 50 species.

Our second bird of the day was a peregrine falcon - no complaints there!

64th bird species photographed this year - peregrine falcon

As hoped for, the raptors were everywhere, and for a while it seemed as if there was a new species to stop and observe around every bend in the road....

American kestrel (65)

Northern harrier (66)


Rough-legged hawk (67)
Taking flight!

Another rough-legged hawk
One species that was still a "big miss" on my photo year list was a red-tailed hawk - it had become a bit of a running joke, as Jason added it on day one and I always seemed to be on the wrong side of the car or it would take flight as soon as I lifted my camera, etc. I thought I might have to use this shot, which does at least show some field marks:


But luckily near the end of the day, after several others flew away before I could snap a photo, I finally came across this cooperative fella (or lady):

Red-tailed hawk (72)
Most water was still frozen, which put a bit of a damper on the waterfowl and shorebird front, but sure made for some beautiful landscapes:



And there were still hundreds of trumpeter swans and thousands of snow geese in the flats:


Trumpeter swans in front of the Olympic mountains
Snow goose (73)
Snow geese in flight after a hunter fires a shot

It was the bald eagles that stole the show, however. We started counting early and tallied over 100 for the day, including some fantastic looks...



A quick way to boost the count - more than 15 in one tree!
Lots of aerial acrobatics as an adult chased a juvenile out of its territory

Even as daylight dwindled all too early, we kept snapping photos in the dusk...

Killdeer
At the Anacortes ferry landing I was hoping for a ring-billed gull, but was happy to take the photogenic mew gulls.


Surprisingly there were more than 10 great blue herons roosting with them on the dock pilings - haven't seen that in this location before!


By the day's end I had added 12 new species to my photo year list total, and more than that to my overall year list. We heard a Virginia rail, though weren't able to see it or photograph it, though a couple of our friendly competitors in Vancouver, BC have gotten great shots of this species this year! We also flushed an American bittern but I wasn't quite quick enough on the trigger to get a identifiable shot of one. Also, I was surprised not to see any short-eared owls! But I guess that's what keeps us going back, isn't it? :)

So as of today I've got 88 species on the year list and 76 species on the photo year list - still keeping that 85% ratio going! I just love how much I've been out taking photos as a result of this challenge so far, and seeing what everyone else is turning up has been just as fun!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Week One of 2017 Photo Year List

It's one week in to 2017, all of which so far for me has been spent on San Juan Island. Despite lots of wind, the birding has been great, and I've already managed to photograph 60 species! My goal for the year is 150, so I'm off to a great start. Even though I'm focusing on the photo year list this year, because I use eBird it's keeping track of my "normal" year list, too. So far I've seen/heard 71 species. It's amazing to me that in a week I've been able to photograph nearly 85% of the species I've seen! If that percentage holds up, I should be in good shape. (Over 7 years of year listing, my average is 205 species, and 85% of that 174 species!)

But enough with the numbers, and on to the photos - here are some of my favorites from week one...

First bird of the year - chestnut-backed chickadee

#15 Great blue heron

#16 Trumpeter swan
#27 Northern shoveler

#31 Spotted towhee

#32 Purple finch

#38 Hairy woodpecker
#41 Long-tailed duck

#46 Pileated woodpecker

#53 Marbled murrelet

#58 White-crowned sparrow

So far, nothing too unusual or unexpected, but I'm going to run out of common species here on San Juan Island pretty quick, so perhaps a trip to the mainland will be in order, at least before the winter species start to move back north! But one reason I love year listing is because it makes even the most abundant species exciting again, as you pay attention to every bird. If I wasn't doing a year list, I don't think I would ever say things like "Why haven't I seen a starling?" It also makes me pay attention to where the common species hang out locally, and which ones have increased or decreased in abundance. It's all just another way to look at, enjoy, and appreciate nature, and provides motivation to get out even when the weather is less than ideal or the schedules are busy.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

End of 2016: One Year List Ends, Another Begins

On December 7th, I was grateful to have one final orca encounter for the year, and it was an extra special one because it was totally unexpected! We were out for a walk on Lime Kiln on a beautiful, crisp day when a friend messaged me telling me to look north. Sure enough, there were blows from J-Pod! The whales were very spread out, but one active group gave us an awesome pass close to shore.


J41 Eclipse and J51 Nova
J37 Hy'shqa

On the year list front, I was thrilled to add not only a year bird but a life bird to my list in late November when a friend found a burrowing owl (year bird 205) hanging out at South Beach. Amazingly, it has stayed for weeks within yards of the same spot! Can you see it? It's well camouflaged.


In December, I also added ancient murrelet (206) when I saw some from the ferry, the sharp-shinned hawk (207) when one visited the yard - I was surprised I hadn't seen one yet this year!

By the time we headed down to Oregon for the holidays I figured my year list was done, but that didn't keep us from checking out some of our favorite birding spots. It's amazing to me how many species we can see in the Portland area that we don't have on San Juan Island!

Great egrets at Scappoose Bottoms

Some of the best birding is at my parents' bird feeders, where they get an impressive array of species, all at close range. 10 minutes of watching birds can sometimes turn up a dozen species!

Red-breasted nuthatch

Female California quail
Male and female California quail
Another awesome phenomenon we got to witness was something called ice hair, where apparently a fungus interacts with soaked, barkless, broadleaf wood in sub-freezing temperatures to create these amazing ice formations. Water basically freezes and then squeezes out of the pores in wood to create these hair-like structures. My parents had seen it several times, and I felt lucky it occurred while we were here!





Finally, we also got to visit Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, one of my all-time favorite birding spots but a place I hadn't been able to visit in a couple years.

Close up of a hunting great egret

Red-tailed hawk takes flight
Female and male hooded merganser
Perched red-tailed hawk
We didn't see any uncommon species, though we did tally 28 species in just over an hour. But, it also turned out tundra swan (208) was a year bird. All my crazy travels and life changes this last year has led to me almost missing some "gimme" species! :) But, my goal was 200, and I made it! There are still a few days left, but my dad is sitting at 185, same as Dave in England! So the victory should be in the bag.

But next year will hold a different challenge! For several years my dad has talked about doing a photo year list, where we count not species identified but species photographed for the year. Both Dave and I signed up for this new twist for 2017, along with a few other friends, so it should be interesting! Each bird can only be "submitted" once and must be identifiable in the photo, which lead to some interesting new considerations. Should we use the first photo opportunity we get of each species, replace with better photos as the year goes on, or wait for what we think are better than average photos for common species? Also, what will a reasonable target be? My dad is hoping for 80% of his typical year list, which for this year would be equivalent to nearly 150 species. Out of the gate Dave is going to be targeting 100 species. I think somewhere between the two may be the result, but 150 would be awesome! We will be tracking our joint progress via Facebook photo albums, but also I'm sure on the blogs as usual. If anyone else wants to join in, let me know! I'm looking forward to it as I'm sure it will lead to me having my camera out more than usual.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

CALF IV Workshop

Last weekend we held our fourth CALF (Community Action - Look Forward) workshop on San Juan Island. The purpose of these workshops is to come together to brainstorm grassroots ways we as citizens can help advocate for more Chinook salmon for our Southern Resident Killer Whales, especially as we feel in many cases our governments are not doing enough. After last week's election results and what they likely mean for environmental protection in the next four years, it felt like a key time to be in a room with 50+ other activists. Needless to say, there was a lot to talk about.

My favorite slide of the day, courtesy of Michael O'Leary
The day included talks about current salmon issues on the Columbia-Snake and Fraser River basins, as well as breakout discussions to discuss next steps. I wanted to share what I took away as they key actions we can take for those who weren't able to attend the workshop...

NEPA Public Comment Period 

In May a judge ruled against the federal recovery plan for Columbia River Chinook salmon for the fourth time, specifically requesting that new approaches such as considering dam removal are taken. Federal agencies were ordered to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to support an updated Biological Opinion (BiOp). Currently, there is a public comment period on what the scope of the EIS should be. You can read the bulletin about the process here and find more info here.
  • Submit public comments online here. Some points to include are:
    • The public hearings are a disappointment in that they are not allowing for any public discourse - it's more looking at posters and typing comments on a computer than actually having your voice be heard. We have until December 1st to request that actual public hearings be held, and that the comment period is extended by 60 days to add additional meetings in places like Friday Harbor, Bellingham, and Tri-Cities. 
    • There is already an extensive EIS in place that was published in 2002; we're wasting time by putting several years into developing another one. Ask that the existing EIS be used instead.
    • This is our chance to loudly voice that orcas need to be considered when looking at Chinook salmon recovery on the Columbia River and that removal of the four Lower Snake River dams should be seriously considered.
  •  If possible, attend the December 1 public meeting in Seattle. A group of orca advocates are holding a rally starting at 4 PM and will all go over to the Town Hall together. Meet at One Union Square, 6th and University, in Seattle. 
Columbia and Fraser River Chinook: Overharvested in Alaska

One major issue Chinook are facing is that mixed stocks are heavily harvested in Alaska, meaning that in all likelihood there is over-harvesting of Fraser and Columbia River Chinook. These harvest limits need to be re-evaluated; wild Alaskan salmon isn't as sustainable as we thought it was.
Dealing with the Reality of a Trump Administration   
  • We're lucky to live in a progressive region - let's focus on what our state's can accomplish with regards to climate change, oil spill response, habitat recovery, etc. People are ready to be mobilized and we can become a leader in how these issues should be handled
  • This is a time to build relationships - we need to look for all the allies we can, including in unconventional places. Let's attend the meetings of tribes, farmers, fishermen, etc. and listen to what they're talking about and find our common ground when it comes to salmon recovery, with the goal of having a CALF workshop representing multiple interest groups.
  • Make monthly donations to organizations that advocate for environmental protection and will take to court anyone who breaks our environmental laws. NRDC and Earthjustice in particular are good choices. 

We can't become complacent - we must keep watch and keep fighting the good fight!