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Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Weekend Trip to the Saanich Peninsula

This weekend we made a quick trip over to the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island, BC. We visited the Butchart Gardens, my first time there. I was really glad we arrived about an hour before sunset, because that gave us time to see the gardens in the daylight (and also to avoid the mad rush of people coming just for the lights!). We especially enjoyed the Japanese Garden, which would be closed after dark.


One thing I've really grown to love about macro photography is that regardless of the day (or the weather or the light) you can almost always find something interesting to photograph. It was a pretty gray afternoon with fading light, but there are always little wonders to be found.



We took a full walk around the gardens in the fading light. It wasn't quite dark enough for the nighttime photos we were hoping for of the Christmas lights, but there were still some opportunites for pictures.



As darkness continued to descend, the lights became more and more spectacular, and they really go all out.



The most spectacular vista at night is the overlook of the sunken garden
And it's no fun to photograph so many colorful lights without playing around with some abstract long exposures...


This morning before catching the ferry back to our home island we headed down the peninsula in search of a flock of common redpolls that's been seen regularly in a certain neighborhood. Of course as luck would have it they didn't turn up in the hour we were there, but we still saw more than 15 bird species in a walk around the neighborhood.

Anna's hummingbirds now overwinter on San Juan Island, too, but I'm always amazed at how many I see on Vancouver Island - they are everywhere!


Even though the redpolls were a no-show, I did manage to add one species to my photo year list. I've seen sharp-shinned hawks a handful of times this year, but never cooperative enough to get a picture of - until now. I've seen or heard 196 bird species this year, and have managed to photograph 188 of them. I was hoping for a 75% success rate so am amazed to be at about 96%!


Then back at the ferry landing we had a flock of very cooperative hooded mergansers bathing nice and close.


It was quick trip, but always nice to do some exploring, and the sunshine made for an especially nice pick-me-up!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Winter Wildlife and December 2nd with J-Pod

Overall, the weather has been windy and rainy, not conducive to much outdoor activity. It hasn't stopped us from getting out there completely, as a couple weekend ago we went off island to do some birding, and successfully saw two different owl species.

Snowy owl at Sandy Point near Ferndale, WA
Short-eared owl hunting on Fir Island in Skagit County
With some family visiting over the Thanksgiving holiday, we went down to check out the foxes at South Beach. This one provided a welcome splash of color in an otherwise very gray landscape on a very gray day!


We've also been able to do a lot of bird-watching from the comfort of our own home due to some very active bird feeders, which we have been keeping a closer eye on than usual with the start of Project FeederWatch. Thanks to the counts we've been doing, we realize we get visits from about a dozen species a day totaling about 60 birds! The vast majority of these are a huge flock of juncos, but we also regularly get visits from four different species of woodpeckers.

Pair of hairy woodpeckers

Anna's hummingbirds have been steadily expanding their year-round range northward over the last couple decades. Ten years ago it was rare to have one overwinter on San Juan Island; now, it's commonplace. For the first time I'm getting them as regular visitors to our feeders during the winter. How do they survive without blooming flowers? These adaptive little guys eat insects and sap - though they aren't above sugar water, either!

Anna's hummingbird - in December!

This afternoon (December 2nd) we got word of orcas in San Juan Channel. They were heading away from us, but a bit later a friend on shore saw them turn around, so we headed out to Reuben Tarte county park to take a look. A few others were already there looking, and surprisingly, the first whales they pointed out to us were a pair of humpbacks! Shortly thereafter we spotted three orcas in the distance heading down San Juan Channel. They were spread out and far away, but since we didn't see any others, we assumed they were transients. Later in the afternoon, however, we got a chance to hop aboard a boat out of Friday Harbor with Maya's Legacy Whale Watching. We thought we needed to go a ways to catch up with them when I spotted a whale right near Point Caution just north of Friday Harbor. I zoomed in on the first photo I took and spotted a large "finger" on the saddle patch - something you don't see on transients! It was J17 Princess Angeline and her youngest J53 Kiki.

Surprise! Residents! J17 Princess Angeline and J53 Kiki in San Juan Channel
The whales were very spread out both north-south and across the channel, but slowly more and more came into view. It's amazing the energy and mood boost that comes from seeing whales, especially apparent this time of year when the winter dolrums have set in. 

J35 Tahlequah
J40 Suttles
Some of the whales practically went right into Friday Harbor! I've seen whales right near Friday Harbor from shore, but I've never had the opportunity to photograph resident killer whales with Friday Harbor in the background before. Another item off the orca photographer bucket list! ;)


As the daylight was fading the last two whales we saw approaching were L87 Onyx and J45 Se-Yi'-Chn. The colors of the sunset were becoming more spectacular and we were all crossing our fingers for a perfect surfacing from them in the amazing lighting. Of course, right when the sky looked like this they took a long dive.

Beautiful winter sunset....but what happened to the whales?
After surprising us by doubling back, we did finally get a look at the big male Onyx in front of Friday Harbor. The light had changed by then, but I'm not complaining - at least it wasn't dark yet! It was pretty awesome to see him right off the Friday Harbor ferry terminal, complete with ferry at the dock!

L87 Onyx and a ferry at the dock in Friday Harbor
Unexpectedly seeing J-Pod and L87 was a thrill that helped make up for the long stretch of dreary days. Luckily it looks like there's a lot of sunshine in our near future, so hopefully I will have more photos to share again before long!