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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Taking in the Smaller Things: Birds and Reptiles

It's been a while since I've blogged about some of the smaller local wildlife, but that doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention. Just the other day after work I hiked the nearest public trail to our new house, one that I didn't used to frequent very often. In an open field I came across over 60 American pipits (169), the most I've ever seen at one time and a year bird to boot.

Speaking of the new house, I of course have started a new yard list - in fact, I added the first 12 species to the list during our home inspection! First, let me summarize the "yard" list I'm leaving behind at the houseboat and the marina....

In the eight summers and five full years of birding there, I tallied a remarkable 64 species. The first two species on the list, glaucous-winged gull and belted kingfisher, are probably also among the most commonly sighted being regular year-round visitors. Some other memorable and unexpected highlights include a brown creeper foraging on the siding of the marina building and barred owl sitting on the roof of the houseboat! The most recent addition to the list, a Caspian tern, was added just six week before we moved.

There are a lot of marine species there that more likely than not won't be added to the new yard list. Among the 64 species were at least 20 I would classify as "water birds". Without living there, I probably never would have had such a close up look at diving mergansers, grebes, and cormorants.

That said, the new yard list, spanning the six weeks we've lived here plus the one mid-summer visit for the home inspection, already tallies 25 species. I've never yet had again the variety I did during that first June afternoon here, where among the dozen species seen and heard were singing black-headed grosbeaks, house wrens, and Townsend's warblers. We have had a barred owl visit twice so far, and the woodpeckers are also abundant compared to in town. It will be a lot easier to add pileated woodpecker to the year list next year, as we see our hear them almost daily! The most recent addition was just added this morning when I heard a varied thrush, which I take as yet another sign that fall is coming.

Finally, we had another unexpected addition the yard list just last week - a northern alligator lizard!

This is the only confirmed lizard species in the San Juan Islands, and as I had never seen one in all my years here I had almost given them up as being mythical. That said, now I find out several friends see them at their houses regularly! But this was quite a surprise for me, and a welcome one. This guy was quite a bit larger than the western fence lizards that are the reptilian species I've most often encountered along the west coast. They can obviously thrive in colder, damper climates than some other lizard species, and apparently they eat the likes of snails and spiders. I hope he becomes a regular visitor!