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Saturday, January 18, 2014

81 vs. 82

After a pleasant start to the New Year here on San Juan Island, we were treated to a couple weeks of windy, stormy weather which greatly decreased the birding opportunities. We're finally seeing some calmer skies and even a little bit of sunshine, but for many days the most beautiful part of the day was first thing in the morning when we had some dramatic skies before another gray day of rain:

January sunrise over Egg Lake

This past week I got out to do a little birding on one of my lunch breaks and turned up my first house sparrow (81) of the year. Interestingly, it seems like this invasive species is becoming harder and harder to find in recent years, after I remember it being abundant during my childhood.

Yesterday afternoon I took a hike at Cattle Point, where I found a flock of about 20 house finches (82). As it turns out, the rise and fall of these two species, who happen to be next to each other on my 2014 year list, may in fact be related. Citizen science data from projects like the Christmas Bird Count and Project Feeder Watch have shown that house finches may be out-competing house sparrows. Here on the west coast, house finches are native, but on the east coast where they have been introduced, they're actually considered an invasive species as well. The interaction between populations of these two species is actually one of the first documented cases of an invasive bird species impacting other bird species on a population level. We suspect this happens in other cases - like that of the European starling - but the data just hasn't been there to prove it. Read more the house sparrow vs. house finch interaction from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology here.

Looking towards Goose Island from Cattle Point
Today I did one of my monthly bird surveys at False Bay Creek, where the flooded fields this time of year lead to the presence of waterfowl species like northern pintail, green-winged teal, northern shovelers, and American wigeon.

Flooded False Bay Creek
Luckily due to the extra water, the cows are kept in the adjacent field this time of year. Honestly I'm always a little scared of them when I do my survey while they're in the same field as me!

You stay on your side of the fence, I'll stay on mine
The coolest find of the day was a northern shrike. I've never seen one on the island in a place other than the south end, until today!

There are a few more opportunities for the year list here on the island this month, but it's unlikely I'll reach 100 this month without going off island, which it looks like may not happen. Next month, however, I have a pretty incredible trip planned that will not only seriously boost the year list but will result in A LOT to blog about, so stay tuned!


eileeninmd said...

Great post and I love the photos. The sunrise is gorgeous. It must be an awesome place to bird!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Like the cow - I too have had trouble with cattle on a bird survey will probably never see Mrs McG leap a fence again!

Ooh trip off-island...interesting, can't wait for the news.



Vera said...

I LOVE the sunrise photo!