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Saturday, August 18, 2012

August Adventures: Outer Islands, Pond Sleuthing, Sunrises, and More

As much as we complain about our summer weather (or lack thereof) here in the San Juan Islands, we've really had a pretty summery August with lots of sunshine and warm days - at times even bordering on hot. In the last post I updated on a great extended weekend of orca sightings, but here are some of the other things I've been looking at this month...

On August 4th, my work sponsored a party aboard a local barge, complete with live music, catered food, and sand on the ground of the boat. We made a stop at Stuart Island, one of the outer islands I've long wanted to visit. While some people swam in the harbor, others of us took advantage of the short time at anchor to hike out to the Turn Point Light Station at the northwest end of the island. We had to hoof it to make it there and back, but it was worth it to visit a spot I've long seen from the water but never set foot on from the land side.

Here's a view of it from the water - taken today actually!

I imagine it would be a great spot to view the whales from shore; living up to its name, the whales often make a sharp turn there to go from Haro Strait to Boundary Pass, passing close to shore. There weren't any whales when we there, which was probably a good thing because I would have missed the boat back to watch them, but I'll definitely have to go back sometime to spend some more time there and try to see whales. It was still a pretty spectacular view that late afternoon, though.

I've been spending some early mornings on the west side of the island hoping to get one of those quiet, glassy water whale passbys. That hasn't happened yet, but I've seen some other cool stuff. One morning, this fledgling bald eagle chick flew up and landed - right in the top of a little madrone tree. It was kind of an awkward perch for an eagle, but he tested his wings a bit before taking flight again:

Yesterday morning when I was getting ready to head out, I paused to take in the sunrise from right here at our marina. It was pretty spectacular to see it coming up right over the side of Mt. Baker:

The activity at the bird feeders here on the houseboat seems to have really slowed down, though I did see my first chestnut-backed chickadees at the feeders in what seems like months. This wasn't a feeder visitor, but one afternoon a great blue heron perched right on the walkway railing just off our front porch:

On a warm Sunday afternoon I spent some time walking around a pond on a friend's property. Lots of insects were enjoying the sunny day, including these dragonflies:

Eight-spotted skimmer (Libellula forensis)

Cardinal meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum)

There were also lots of damselflies, and this single butterfly was a beauty:

Hoary comma (Polygonia gracilis)
The the abundance of bullfrogs were interesting to look at, but unfortunately are having what I'm sure is a pretty negative effect on some of the other local wildlife. Native to the eastern US, they are an invasive species here in the west, where they eat anything smaller than themselves including the tadpoles of most native frog species.

Today, despite a lack of orca reports, we went out on the Western Prince, the boat I used to work on. We didn't see any cetaceans, but there were tons of bald eagles all over the place. We easily saw more than 20 throughout the course of the morning. 

The most interesting was an adult feeding on what looked like a dead harbor seal pup on the north side of Spieden Island. Right above it on the rocks were one of the several small herds of Mouflon sheep we saw right along the beach. I know the sheep like to lick the salt of the intertidal level, but several were actually trailing pieces of seaweed from their mouths while they were walking! The eagle's kidn of hard to see, but it's in the middle of the bottom of the picture - you can just make out the gray lump its sitting on:

We saw some of the other Spieden Island "native" wildlife, including these male European fallow deer:

We saw tons of harbor seals hauled out everywhere, too, since it was a pretty low tide. There wasn't a lot in the way of sea birds, though I did spot two kinds of gulls, a pair of marbled murrelets, black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets, and pelagic cormorants. It was neat to see the cormorants had returned to a former nesting site of theirs right by Turn Point on Stuart Island. Those little ledges sure don't look like they offer much in the way of nesting space to me, but to each his own!

As you can see here, they don't form huge nesting colonies like some other sea birds, but do aggregate in small groups. They roam around from year to year, too, which perhaps explains why this site has been empty for several years prior to this one.

There - I think that catches me up a bit on sharing pictures from this month! There are more adventures in store, and I'm hoping more whales and nice weather too, so I'll try to get back to posting in a more timely manner.


Vera said...

Very interesting blog. You're never bored, are you? Wonder where you got that from!

Susan said...

Newest follower!! Just found your blog and I look forward to admiring more of your AMAZING photos. Curious what camera settings you use to photograph orcas, we have been spending a bit of time in the Gulf Islands and really hope to encounter some orcas soon. I don't want to mess up!

Monika said...

Susan - Thanks for finding the blog, and for commenting! I'm glad you're enjoying it. As for camera settings, when in doubt or in a hurry, I use the "action" setting which usually does me pretty well and was all I used for the first years of photographing. Otherwise, shutter priority mode is the way to go to make sure you get stop-action clarity on the whales, with a setting of at least 1/1250. A fantastic resource for more details about ISO, etc. is this site which walks you through all the different camera settings to fully optimize specifically for shooting wild dolphins:

Hope that helps, and hope you see some whales soon if you haven't already!

Susan said...

Thank you! No whales yet...maybe on the long weekend--fingers crossed!