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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Birds and Flowers at British Camp

We had to cancel our trips today due an unusual late season storm being in the forecast. That left me with an unexpected afternoon off, and since the storm hadn't yet arrived by noon I decided to go for a hike at British Camp.

The bay is quite empty compared to the winter when many ducks and geese are found there. That didn't, however, mean it was quiet as four black oystercatchers were loudly chasing each other around the bay. I was trying to get a photo of all four of them when they had seemingly settled down to forage for a bit, but they were right at it again. This action shot is actually cooler anyway:

I was proud of the fact that I was able to identify the Hutton's vireo and chipping sparrow by call after I successfully learned their vocalizations when seeing and hearing them in the field two weeks ago. I also heard my first yellow warblers of the season (160). This is a bird I have known by call - sweet sweet sweet I'm so sweet - for years.

Another call I didn't recognize stopped me alongside the trail for a good ten minutes or so as I hoped to get a glimpse of the bird. I was only rewarded by the briefest of glances as it took off from the tree tops - confirming that it was indeed a small bird but not even giving me a good enough look to determine which family (warbler? flycatcher?) it was a part of.

I kept hearing the bird in the distance, but decided to move along, stopping a little later on to enjoy a rare view of a pacific-slope flycatcher out in the open. Amazingly enough, while watching the flycatcher the culprit of the mystery call hopped right into the field of view of my binoculars - a striking male townsend's warbler (161)! Add another song to the repertoire.

All in all I saw and heard 24 species while hiking the loop, but the only other photographic opportunities came from wildflowers. There are two common plants that are found all over San Juan Island but often blend in and get overlooked except for a short time in the spring when their showy pink flowers demand attention. One of them is American vetch (Vicia americana) - a vine member of the pea family that crawls in and among all the other plants trail-side:

Those thorns aren't part of the vetch, but rather the other pink flower in bloom: Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana). I've heard this described as the most common shrub on the islands, and I really didn't believe it until last spring when I noticed these papery flowers everywhere:

Here's another flower that is a little rarer but was out in force on one particular hillside: harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida). I love the spiky-flowered paintbrushes, mostly because of their non-traditional flower shape, but also their bright colors:

The storm delayed long enough for me to enjoy my hike - but it's here now! High winds and rain....this is more like November than May!

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