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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October Sunshine: Catching Up

Our incredible sunny and warmish weather has continued through this first week of October, and let me assure you that every bright blue-sky moment of it is being relished by yours truly. With the warnings of a very wet and cold La NiƱa winter looming just ahead, I know it's important not to take this type of weather for granted! Maybe it's because I've been spending so much time outside that I haven't had time to update my blog for a couple of days! Or, maybe it's because my parents have been visiting, and I've been busy being out and about with them. In any case, I have some sightings to catch up reporting on.

First of all, on Monday afternoon my dad and I went out to do a COASST survey and also bird-watch at the south end of the island. The scoters, loons, and grebes are becoming more numerous by the day, but it's interesting to me that the bufflehead haven't shown up yet. Are they always the late-comers? Here are four horned grebes just off of South Beach:

 This next one isn't a great image, but it's worth posting just because it contains three grebe species in a single photo! From left to right we have a western grebe, a horned grebe, and a red-necked grebe - cool!

Tuesday morning we hung out near False Bay where my parents were staying at Mar Vista Resort. Mar Vista is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place to stay on San Juan Island, as long as you don't mind staying in rustic, though very comfortable, cabins. It's right on the westside of the island where you can see the whales, and is situated on a meadow near the Bay where deer, otters, raccoons, eagles, seals, and other wildlife are abundant. There is also a short trail down to the beach, where we went and explored in late morning.

There is always a lot to discover in and among the tide pools and the surf. The vibrant colors of this knot of eel grass caught my eye:

My dad, who deserves a lot of the credit for turning me into the curious naturalist that I am, discovered an interesting phenomenon down on the beach: the sand fleas hiding under all the driftwood. Photos just don't do the action justice, so here is a short video clip showing what would happen if you turned over a log:

We went into town to grab some lunch, and then wanted to go look for some American pipits. This species, which probably should have been on my life list by now, has for some reason always eluded me, but after talking to several birders who have seen pipits on the island in the last few days I had a renewed desire to go out and find them. We were just leaving town to head to South Beach, where some had been seen the day before, when my dad had me pull over just outside of Friday Harbor to look at what we both thought was probably a sparrow. But, lo and behold, it was an American pipit (NA life bird #338, year bird #220)!!! There were in fact about twenty of them foraging in the field, which were hard to see until we stopped and looked at the one that was perched up on a rock. I wonder how many times I've driven by such a flock of them without even seeing them?

All in all the afternoon yielded some pretty good birding. We saw four species of gull at False Bay (glaucous-winged, Heermann's, mew, and California), the same three species of grebe as the day before, both surf and white-winged scoters, a large flock of Pacific loons, a hermit thrush, and down near Cattle Point four black-bellied plovers in winter plumage

While we were looking at the plovers, I noticed some whale-watching boats in Cattle Pass, heading north up San Juan Channel. As we left, I pulled over at Griffin Bay to see what they were looking at, and saw in the far distance a pair of transient killer whales. An added bonus!

Back at Mar Vista there were just enough clouds for a stunning sunset. 

While taking it all in we heard a very unusual and distinct bird song that none of us recognized. My dad was able to make a recording of it on his iPhone, so I hope we'll be able to figure out what it was, because it's definitely something I've never heard on the island before! Identifying that bird would put our total for the day at 40 species, but for now we'll call it a respectable 39.

Not only were the colors in the sky amazing, but the reflections in the water were pretty spectacular too. On the horizon right you have the southern end Vancouver Island, and on the left are the Olympic Mountains.

This morning after seeing my parents off I decided to go for a hike over on the west side of the island. I started at Deadman Bay and made my way towards Lime Kiln Lighthouse. I hadn't heard any news about the resident whales, who headed out to the open ocean last Sunday night and hadn't been seen since, so I was very surprised to look up and see some orcas in Haro Strait! At first I thought I was seeing Dall's porpoise, because there were also a lot of them rooster-tailing about, but sure enough it was actually J and K Pods slowly making their way north. I sat at the lighthouse and watched them for about two hours - not a bad way to spend an October afternoon! The whale in the photo below is facing south, but the whales were actually slowly traveling north, though many of them were doing lots of circling around and foraging.

As the whales receded into the distance, I was watching a bait ball of gulls when all of a sudden a bald eagle flew overhead, causing quite a ruckus.

The fog is supposed to move in again tonight, with rain expected again this weekend, so I'm very thankful I was able to go out and enjoy this autumn sunshine as much as I have in the last couple of days!


Lois Evensen said...

Glorious images. Wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

eileeninmd said...

Sounds like a wonderful day of birding and seeing the whales. The sunset is gorgeous, the colors and reflections are amazing.

Kate said...

absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing...:)

Yuri Richardson said...


Thanks for sharing the photos and about the various wildlife you see up there.

It is a blessing to be able to spend the kind of time you do out in nature.

Have a good weekend.

The cabin resort sounds really nice.

PenobscotPaddles said...

Wonderful pictures of whales. I think I've only spotted one small porpoise here in Maine this year.