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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Another New Visitor

The bird feeders have been busy this week, and one afternoon I glanced out and noticed a different silhouette at the suet feeder. It was a downy woodpecker! Here he is opposite a chestnut-backed chickadee - it's kind of cool how different species share the feeders nicely:


I remember downy woodpeckers at the suet feeder in the backyard when I was a little girl, but as I got older we saw fewer and fewer of them in the neighborhood. I see them occasionally on the island, but this was a new species to visit our feeders here on the houseboat. I haven't seen it again since then, but I hope he becomes a regular visitor!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September Southbound Sunset Superpod

Today after work we headed straight to the west side of the island, hoping to catch the whales. Earlier in the day all three pods reunited and made their way south from the Fraser River. They made good time, and a few of them had already passed by the time I pulled into Lime Kiln Point State Park. Many of the whales were way, way offshore, and all you could see were the blows illuminated by the sun several miles away. A few family groups were a little bit closer in, like these K-Pod whales:
 

It was a surprisingly warm and very tranquil evening, and the lighting made it an especially magical moment.


The whales didn't seem to be in any hurry, with several animals stopping to forage. Three whales circled around at the edge of the bay just to the north of the lighthouse, then passed by pretty close just a little ways off the kelp:


With the last group of whales many miles offshore, I began to notice some of the other wildlife taking advantage of the last light before dusk. A belted kingfisher flew by. A few rhinoceros auklets were diving for fish, and soon a bait ball formed which attracted some gulls. Gulls aren't normally considered diving birds but these guys did their best to get down to those fish:


A small harbor seal also popped up near the bait ball, and a little further offshore half a dozen Dall's porpoise went by heading north. We stayed long enough to watch the sunset, and overall the evening provided a much-needed lifting of the spirits!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ks and Ls Southbound

We had strange weather today - I heard someone say we had all four seasons just this morning! There was fog out, then sunshine and blue skies, then a rain shower, and at first it was warm and almost muggy, then there was frigid breeze, and then it warmed up again. It made for an interesting view across Haro Strait looking towards the Olympic Mountains. That's a layer of fog below the mountains, some rain clouds above, and then some blue sky!


I spent part of this morning while doing chores around the house listening to the whales on the hydrophones and based on where they hung out yesterday I figured they were going north. Then, I heard they turned back south again, so I bolted out to the west side to see if I could catch them! I got to Land Bank just in time to see a group of K and L Pod whales make their way south a little ways offshore.



There was a group of mostly males from the L12 subpod being followed by a research boat. The person in the bow pulpit is ready to scoop up prey and fecal samples given the opportunity. This group of orcas was pretty active, including several breaches - it's always quite a sight to see a big adult male launching himself completely out of the water! Amazing that there is actually heat distortion in this distant shot!


The whales have been around a lot all summer and into the fall. Everyone is starting to wonder just how long they'll stick around before they start roaming further afield to their fall and winter hunting grounds. Hopefully there's still plenty of fish here and they'll be around for a few weeks yet, but every encounter this time of year is a special one!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

South End Scavengers

Yesterday summer gave us one last hurrah - a welcome break from what has been a dreary September. With sunshine, blue skies, and temperatures in the 70s (!!!) I made sure to spend a few hours outside, soaking up some Vitamin D while it's still possible.
The wildlife highlight of the day was during a walk I took down at Mt. Finlayson. I was making my way along the hillside when all of a sudden seven turkey vultures erupted into the sky. I thought I might have startled them (they sure startled me!), but as I looked closer at where they took off from I saw a fox had scampered up to the deer carcass they were feeding on, and that was what probably flushed them.

I'm kind of surprised to still see so many vultures hanging around - I saw several others throughout the day, too. Surely they'll be departing soon for more southerly regions....if I was migratory the cold, wet, windy weather of this month would have been encouragement enough to depart early!


 I really shouldn't complain about the weather. Most of the rain has been coming at night (last night it was awesome to listen to what was a pretty spectacular downpour), making it nicer to get out and about during the daylight hours.  This afternoon I took a short walk down at South Beach, where a few rafts of birds were just visible on the edge of the fog that never quite dispersed today. Most abundant were the surf scoters. There are a few Heermann's gulls mixed in to this flock, too.


The main other bird sighting of note was a respectable three grebe species! Horned grebes and red-necked grebes have returned for the winter, and I also spotted a western grebe - a nice find.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Five Marine Mammal Day - From Shore!

 On Wednesday we had another beautiful, calm, sunny day - a rarity this month! I knew the orcas were still in the area so I decided to head out to the west side and see if I could see them, and maybe some other wildlife. As I pulled up to Lime Kiln I saw a big group of racing Dall's porpoise (species #1) heading up Haro Strait. Just like last year, Dall's porpoise were very scarce in the area during the summer months, but seemed to have returned in pretty good numbers this September.

I found a comfortable rock (yes, there is such a thing!) to sit on, when someone coming by pointed out there was a harbor seal (species #2) sitting right behind me! Funny how I didn't even see him at first, but he didn't seem to mind my presence.


I saw some boats in the distance and, sure enough, I could see they were with the killer whales (species #3) coming east across Haro Strait. Unfortunately for me they decided to go south instead of north towards me, but through binoculars I watched them breach up a storm, which was awesome to see even from a distance.

Another whale-watching boat was heading out towards the whales when all of a sudden it stopped and did a 180 degree turn - a sure sign they spotted something. I looked through binoculars and saw they were with about 15 Pacific white-sided dolphins (species #4)!!!!!!!! This species is normally pretty rare here, but has been seen quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, including groups of them at times seemingly harassing the orcas. I'm not on the water as much anymore, so I hadn't had a chance to see them yet, but they're one marine mammal I've always wanted to see, and this was a very exciting "life mammal" for me. They were making their way closer to where I was sitting when they all dove down, never to be seen again by me, the other shore-based observers watching them, or several boats that searched the strait for them!

I sat and read my book in the sunshine for a while, waiting to see what the orcas might decide to do. When it became clear they were definitely heading south, I decided to pack up and head towards the south end of the Island too. I decided to walk out to the Cattle Point Lighthouse for a panoramic vantage point of the straits:

 

I sat down on the cliff in front of the lighthouse looking out towards the Olympic Mountains in the distance. The water was glassy calm, and I could see the orcas spread out for miles offshore. Their blows were illuminated by the afternoon sunlight, and I could hear them breathing even from this distance. The few boats that were out with them were all stopped, just hanging out and letting the whales travel and forage where they may. It was a peaceful scene, and as I sat and soaked it all in I lost track of time for a little while. I had such an incredible close encounter with the whales the day before (see my previous post), but this moment reminded me that you don't always have to be close to appreciate the sheer beauty of nature.

I was snapped out of my reverie by a loud "kawpfff!" down below me. It was a Steller sea lion (species #5):


There were more sea lions hauled out over on Whale Rocks across the pass, and they could be heard growling and roaring across the way too.

By the time I got back home, the clouds were starting to move in again, but they created a beautiful pattern in the sky right above our marina:


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Epic Whale of a Day

As we head towards fall, there are probably only a couple more weeks of consistent whale sightings before they move on to look for fish in other waters. I felt in need of what I call a "whale fix" since it has been a while since I've had one of those special encounters with them, so I went for a ride-along today on the Western Prince. It seems like most of September has been foggy, rainy, and/or windy, but today was an absolutely perfect day for being out on the water. Here's a photo I took off the back of the boat as we were cruising north in San Juan Channel:


On our way north we stopped to look at a nice group of maybe 20 or so harbor porpoises, and we also saw lots of harbor seals in the water. Another unexpected bird sighting was a pair of western grebes. one of the local seabird species that have experienced the greatest declines in recent years.

We met up with the whales just off of Turn Point on Stuart Island, right where Boundary Pass and Haro Strait come together. Captain Hobbes dropped the hydrophone in the water and immediately we heard several loud S19 calls and a couple of S18s, which told me it was L-Pod approaching us. (The Southern Resident killer whales have a shared dialect of 27 or so tonal discrete calls that are their primary social vocalizations. Even though they share calls, each pod has its own unique dialect including a couple of signature calls, so a trained ear can determine which pod or pods are present just by the vocalizations. I was a research intern focusing on orca bioacoustic and also did my undergraduate senior thesis on Southern Resident vocalizations, so I know the calls pretty well.)

As they rounded Turn Point the whales fanned out, meaning before long there were whales every direction we looked. The first two we got a good look at were L72 Racer and her youngest son L105 Fluke, and they passed us right off the bow:

L72 Racer






L105 Fluke
The whales were active and we saw just about every behavior including spyhops, breaches, dorsal fin slaps, pec slaps, and of course tail slaps and cartwheels:


Then, a big freighter came through. The whales definitely heard it coming from miles away, but a group of them were hanging out right in front of the path of the ship. That got us to wondering if they might be interested in surfing the freighter wake, something I've only ever seen once before. Sure enough, just after the freighter passed we saw several whales sharking and porpoising in the waves behind the ship. It's kind of hard to see the swells in the photo, but there must have been some massive water motion they were playing in:


The L-Pod whales started to make their way south down Haro Strait, but we could see a lot more whales behind them still in Boundary Pass. We motored north a little ways to take a look at that group. Some of them stayed far away and eventually ended up going back north up Swanson Channel (J-Pod?), but the next group that headed south towards us was a big group of K-Pod whales. They didn't seem in as playful a mood as the Ls, but were definitely interested in foraging the tide rips as they were circling around and just hanging out in one spot. One whale in this group was K37 Rainshadow, who circled around us several times. Here's Rainshadow with the Turn Point lighthouse in the background:


We were just stopped in the water but it was difficult to know which way to look as the whales were circling in all directions. Some animals were apparently resting as they were logging at the surface, but we saw many lunging at the surface which often indicates they're in pursuit of a fish, like this whale maybe was:


We saw a big male heading towards us, and as he got closer we were able to identify him as K25 Scoter:


Then, something happened that I have never seen before. Scoter started swimming closer to the boat, so we could see him underwater. As he got nearer to the surface, it became apparent that he was carrying a fish in his mouth!!! When he came up to breathe we could actually clearly see his teeth and the fish he was holding...



Needless to say, I was ecstatic to see this, let alone get photos of it! What an amazing experience.

But we weren't done yet. Another young whale started getting playful and gave a couple of half breaches while its family continued to forage:


Then it was time to go, but we had trouble leaving because there were so many whales spread out everywhere. Before we left we got one more close pass from K35 Sonata. I cropped this picture in to show just the front of the whales, because I thought the water at the front of his rostrum looked so cool:


You would think after an amazing trip like this (probably my best of the season) I would have had enough whales, but of course I hadn't. Instead of going home for dinner I went out to the westide of the island to watch the sunset and see if some whales might be heading down that way. Sure enough, as it began to get dark, five whales came into view. They were well offshore, but their blows echoed across the strait and their dorsal fins were silhouetted against the golden waters. It was a peaceful ending to an exciting day.


Monday, September 20, 2010

An Unexpected Bird!

This morning I went down to Fourth of July Beach to do a COASST survey and see what sort of bird activity there was. Right away I saw three river otters out in the bay, repeatedly coming to the surface with fish - surely a good omen! There weren't any beached birds on the shoreline, just two beached lion's mane jellyfish, but there were a lot of birds at the far end of the bay so I walked down that way.

The biggest flocks were of surf scoters, increasing in abundance seemingly by the day. Mixed in a were a couple of white-winged scoters and probably some harlequin ducks, though I wasn't able to pick any out. A few common loons were out in the open avoiding the mobs, and two or three red-necked grebes dove at the perimeter of the flocks of scoters. A bunch of mallards were sitting on the shoreline, which was kind of an odd sight for this beach, and behind them a great blue heron stood on the rocks.

A flock of about 20 western sandpipers flew around and around, circling me and the bay but never really settling down anywhere as far as I could tell. A red-tailed hawk kited up above, and a turkey vulture could be seen in the distance. I could hear the calling of a belted kingfisher and also of a northern flicker.

Lots of glaucous-winged gulls were wheeling about overhead, when something distinctly un-gull-like caught my eye. The bird was about the same size as a gull, but with dark pointed wings, a white belly, and a long tail - a parasitic jaeger!!!!!!! (NA Life Bird 337, year bird 218) I have a 1987 San Juan Island guide the describes parasitic jaegers as being numerous from late August through mid-October, with "up to a dozen birds terrorizing a single stretch of water at a time", but I have never seen one in my ten years of birding here, so this was a fantastic and exciting find for me.

It was a gray, drizzly, windy morning, but it gave way to a brighter, clearer, windy afternoon. It sounded like all the whales might have headed out west when some were discovered right on the west side of San Juan Island, perhaps overlooked earlier in the day due to the rough sea conditions. I got word they were headed towards Lime Kiln, so I hopped in my car to head out there, and on the way out of town a sharp-shinned hawk (year bird 219) flew over the road - a definite bonus! Funny to have the year list grind to a near halt only to get two species added to it in one day.

I caught the end of the whales heading north, and they were hard to spot among all the white caps. This one was easier to see when it cartwheeled!


While watching the whales head north I saw a bald eagle. This is the one time of year where eagles aren't as common as a lot of them apparently head to the mainland to feed on salmon at the rivers over there, so after their young fledge in mid-August we see fewer birds until later in the fall.

I also saw a harbor seal pup in the kelp, which reminds me to share a seal encounter from the other day. This was also out at Lime Kiln, when a seal came up right in front of a couple of us just offshore of the lighthouse. It had a big orange fish in its mouth (maybe a rockfish?) and proceeded to eat it while looking right at us. I was on the rock right above it so could look straight down on it - an amazing perspective! Unfortunately it happened to fast to pull the camera out, but it was awesome to witness a seal feeding at such close range. It didn't seem at all worried about us there just feet above it!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Beetle and Sand Flea

With all the fog and rain we've had of late, it's been a good time to look down at your feet while hiking, which has led me to discover these two critters. This first one is a carrion beetle, Nicrophorus defodiens:


This one is a sand flea, an amphipod I found on the beach. I believe it may be of the genus Orchestia:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Birding Third Lagoon

We've had strange weather the last couple of days. In the morning it is gray, dismal, and foggy, and it looks like it's going to stay that way until about 2 in the afternoon when the sun finally burns through.  Usually our summer morning fog burns off by noon or so, leaving the whole region clear. These last two days, it gets bright and sunny over the island for a couple of hours, but remains socked in over the water.


Katie and I went for an afternoon walk down at Third Lagoon, cameras in hand. On the way there I had to pull over to photograph this bathing northern flicker - probably my best photo of the day:


The lagoon itself was pretty quiet at first. There was a small flock of pigeon guillemots in winter plumage out in the middle of the bay, and also a couple of red-necked grebes - my first of the winter season. I suspect it won't be too long until the horned grebes and bufflehead join them. 

This great blue heron was the only one in the lagoon. There was a thin layer of fog lifting off from the lagoon, giving the scene an almost mystical look:


Towards the end of the beach we spotted some harlequin ducks in the distance. We quietly made our way closer, and stopped along the way to take a look at this savannah sparrow:


By the time we had gotten our sparrow pictures, the harlequin ducks were on to us and were floating further away. We decided to take the shoreline trail which winds up the cliffs overlooking the bay, and this turned out to be a great idea because it gave us an even better, almost aerial view of the harlequin ducks. There were more than 15 of them, and from this vantage point we could see them underwater as they dove to feed. This photo shows two ducks on the surface, with three more just under the water diving down:


They looked pretty comical as they popped back to the surface. It was awesome to watch:


There must have been something good to eat down there, because a couple of surf scoters came over to join them:


While we were watching the ducks and scoters, a belted kingfisher flew by. We walked back through the forest where there wasn't much bird activity, but we did hear a bald eagle and also some red-breasted nuthatches.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mixed Flock at British Camp

This afternoon I took a hike at British Camp to see what sort of bird activity was going on there. There was surprisingly little activity on the water - the regular gathering of double-crested cormorants hanging out on the pilings across the bay and a few unidentified gulls, and that was it. The woods, however, were much busier, and I came across a large mixed flock of birds. I knew they were there because I heard them up in the treetops, but the first one to come down and check me out was this golden-crowned kinglet:


The kinglets seemed to make up the majority of the flock, but I also saw the expected chestnut-backed chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches. I was looking for any ruby-crowned kinglets that might be mixed in when a ruby-crowned kinglet look-alike popped into view: a Hutton's vireo. These guys look very similar to the ruby-crowned kinglet, but have a much stouter beak (compare to the golden-crowned kinglet's beak above) and also lack the black behind the second wing bar.


There was one other species I thought was likely to be in this flock, and sure enough just before I moved on I saw three or four brown creepers. They can be difficult to photograph, but this one was quite obliging for a moment, allowing me to get this photograph:


I heard a few spotted towhees and a northern flicker, and saw an American goldfinch in the parking lot as I was leaving, but that little hotspot was definitely the highlight of my birding walk.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pelagic Cormorants at Anacortes Ferry Landing

I was looking through some of my bird photos the other day and I realized I don't have any good photos of any of our local cormorant species. Yesterday I made my way back to the island after a nice visit in Portland, and the ferry terminal in Anacortes was the perfect place for me to take some pictures of pelagic cormorants.


These smallish cormorants of the north Pacific usually nest in small groups on cliff faces, but this particular colony has made its home on the large pilings at the ferry terminal, nesting on the little ledges inside the guide boards that direct the ferry into the slip. Quite a few of the birds hanging out there were juveniles, distinguishable from the adults by lacking the iridescent plumage and having dark eyes. This bird is a juvenile:


On this adult you an see a little bit of the iridescent coloring, but also the two crests and the beautiful emerald eye:


I even saw one parent come back and feed its chick. I guess cormorants must not have a gag reflex?


The pelagic cormorant is closely related to the red-faced cormorant, a relatively unknown North American bird that I saw for the first time earlier this summer near Homer, Alaska. Adults of these two sympatric species are distinguished only by the amount of facial skin showing (more on the red-faced) and the size of the crests (larger on the red-faced).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Record Fraser River Sockeye Salmon Run

Salmon are the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest coastal ecosystems, and with some runs having declined as much as 90% or more in the last 50 years their recovery is a central conservation issue in the region. Salmon politics are controversial, since many competing interests come into play: commercial fishing, recreational fishing, Native fishing, fish farms, hydroelectric dams, agriculture, development, logging - all play a role in altering salmon populations and their habitats.

This year, after several seasons of extensive fishery closures due to record low numbers, the Fraser River in southern British Columbia is experiencing a huge sockeye salmon return unlike any other since 1913. The International Pacific Salmon Commission is now estimating a total run of 34,546,000 fish! Compare that to last year's dismal run of barely over 1,000,000 fish and you'll get an idea of how amazing these numbers are. It seems they keep increasing the number every few days as more and more fish come back.

A huge run like this is obviously good news for everyone. Fisherman are having  a field day, though some are trouble meeting their high quotas as the facilities just don't exist anymore to handle and process such a bounty. It's certainly good for all salmon-eating predators in the ecosystem, though just how good it is for our  fish-eating Southern Resident orcas is up for debate. The vast majority of these whales' diet is salmon, but past research shows they preferentially feed on Chinook salmon. They have been around a lot this summer, leaving inland waters less than normal, so one has to wonder if they are taking advantage of the sockeye feast. Best of all, the salmon returns this year prove that our oceans and rivers are still capable of supporting this many fish when conditions are right - a hopeful sign for the future and the long-term recovery of all five of our salmon species.

Unfortunately, many are quick to take credit and/or shed blame as a result of these great salmon numbers. The Departments of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada are claiming this as a conservation victory, and all the parties mentioned above as having a negative impact on salmon populations are using this statistic as proof that they aren't the culprit for the decades of low salmon numbers. Even 34 million is a fraction of what this ecosystem used to support - regular returns of over 100 million fish before the dawn of the commercial fishing age. The fact of the matter is, one great year does not undo the last century of damage done to local salmon populations, and the fact that nobody saw this coming points out that despite the best population estimates science currently has to offer there are great gaping holes in our understanding of what influences salmon returns. Last year, they predicted more than 10 million fish to return, and less than 1.5 million did. This year, they predicted  about 11.4 million sockeye, and now the numbers are triple that. Even in retrospect, nobody seems able to offer a complete explanation as to why so many salmon returned this year compared to others.

So while I meet this historic salmon year with a sense of cautious optimism, to me it points out yet again just how little we understand nature. Hopefully everyone will enjoy the abundant salmon this year, a reminder of the "good old days" for all of our west coast rivers, and a taste of what the future could hold if we renew our efforts to conserve one of our region's most valuable natural resources: the wild Pacific salmon.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chapman School Vaux's Swifts

I left the island to come down to Portland for a few days for a friend's wedding, and between the drive down and the social events surrounding the wedding this weekend I haven't had time to blog for a few days. This evening, however, my dad and I went out to dinner, and on the way we stopped at Force Lake in north Portland to see what sort of bird activity was going on. Several species were actively feeding including three great blue herons, a small flock of mallards, a belted kingfisher, some barn swallows, and a green heron - a great find! We also saw a pair of juvenile American coot:


There were also a lot of bullfrogs along the perimeter of the lake. These guys are unfortunately horribly invasive in this part of the country:


After dinner we went down to Chapman Elementary School where thousands Vaux's swifts (year bird 217) gather to roost in the school's chimney for the month prior to their southbound migration. Every night during September as many as 2000 people come out to see the swifts congregate and swirl through the air prior to sunset, then funnel into the chimney as darkness begins to fall.

Swifts are small (about four-inch long) insect-eating birds that never perch like you would picture a bird doing. They eat, drink, and even gather nesting materials and mate while on the wing. The only time they rest is while sleeping or nesting, and in these cases they cling to vertical surfaces using their claws and tails. They look a lot like swallows in flight, but have stiffer wings, so when flapping they always remind me of little airborne wind-up toys.

When we got there, there wasn't a swift to be seen. Suddenly, there were a few dozen. Then a few hundred. Then several thousand!

(For an interesting exercise in estimating bird numbers, how many swifts do you think are in the photo below? Go all the way to the bottom of this post for the answer.)


I saw this amazing spectacle a few years ago, and I think I went later in the month since there were more birds there than we saw tonight. Still, there were easily a couple thousand birds. The Portland Audubon Society has volunteers on site to educate the public about the birds, and they estimatesthat some years there are upwards 20,000 Vaux's swifts that roost in the chimney.

Until the year 2000, the students and teachers of Chapman Elementary would actually go without heat until the birds had left for their winter grounds. A fundraiser was held, however, to redo the heating system and decommission the chimney, leaving it as a permanent safe refuge for the swifts. Well, safe from human interference anyway...



That's a Cooper's hawk perched on the edge of the chimney. It's no surprise raptors have learned this a good place to catch a meal in the evenings. While the swifts are apparently too small for predators like red-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawks and peregrine falcons come to dine on them. This particular hawk caught one swift, flew to a nearby tree to eat it, then came back and caught a second one before all the swifts had descended into the refuge of the chimney tower. This "evil" hawk was met by boos from the onlookers, but hey, he's gotta make a living too!

The swifts are a beautiful sight to watch, but as they maneuvered through the air I found myself wondering what dictates their complicated choreography. The birds circle over the chimney for more than half an hour before sunset, diving down towards the opening but not going in. Other birds join in as they arrive at the roosting site from all directions. Occasionally the flock disperses, or veers away from the chimney before circling back. Then, about 5 or 10 minutes after sunset, they somehow all  agree that it's time to enter the chimney and they funnel down to cling to the inside walls. 



The photos don't quite do the whole thing justice, so here's a short video clip to give you more of an idea what this amazing spectacle is like!

video 

(There are just under 200 birds in the first swift photo above. How close was your guess?)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Sampling of Birds

We had an amazingly rainy day on Tuesday - not the kind of day that made one feel like venturing out. The only birds I saw that day were the ones that came to the feeder, or were they just getting out of the downpour? In any case, there were a lot of them, but only three species: house sparrows, chestnut-backed chickadees, and red-breasted nuthatches. Here's a nuthatch photo that demonstrates how dark and gray it was that day!


Yesterday the weather was much nicer and I went for a hike at the Friday Harbor Lab trails. As I pulled in there was a flock of about two dozen California quail around the lab buildings, the second large flock of quail I've seen this week. As soon as I got out of my car this hairy woodpecker (the first of three for the day) was nearby:


The first part of the trail was pretty active, with spotted towhees, American robins, more chickadees and nuthatches, a Bewick's wren, and a song sparrow. The most surprising sighting was a turkey vulture that flew in through the trees and and landed on a snag! I usually associate these birds with the open farmlands of the island where they are able to soar, so it was bizarre to see one in the woods. On the ground were lots of slugs and also this snake:


Once the trail delved deeper into the woods it got a lot quieter bird-wise with only another pair of hairy woodpeckers and a northern flicker spotted. Later in the day, though, we drove out to the westside of the island to see the sunset, and on the way out I saw a crow, a pair of cedar waxwings, and a Eurasian collared-dove all sitting on the same telephone wire!

Out in Haro Strait was an active bait ball. With the early evening lighting it was tough to make up all the species out there, but closer to shore was a group of glaucous-winged and Heermann's gulls settling down for the night. I also saw a single rhinoceros auklet and a trio of red-necked phalaropes. The day ended with 21 species sighted, but I've got an excursion planned for next week that will hopefully result in another species for the year list...