Friday, April 29, 2016

Goose Rock Mourning Doves

Mourning Dove

I am in the midst of my annual Pacific Rhododendron photo hikes in Deception Pass State Park.  These wild, native rhodies are blooming now providing some incongruous color to favored Pacific Northwest forests.  Usually, I encounter more than flowers on these hikes.  Yesterday, after visiting the rhododendron grove, I continued up the Goose Rock Summit Trail.  Along the way, I met a pair of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura), Washington's only native dove.

These extremely wary birds always flee in terror when humans approach.  While one flew off into the trees, its mate perched on the trail uphill from me long enough for a photo.

Until about two years ago, Mourning Doves were daily visitors in my garden.  I suspect they nested somewhere nearby, perhaps even in the yard.  They were especially fond of safflower seed.  They came to the feeders and liked to hang out on the basement patio to get some sun.  Then, the non-native Eurasian Collard Doves moved in and took over the 'hood.  I have not seen a Mourning Dove since.  That's why I was especially pleased to spot this pair in the park.

There has been concern that the Collared Doves would displace the native Mourning Doves.  That seems to have been the case in my yard.  The interlopers were probably attracted by the feeders.  We put them up to attract birds to our yards, but feeders can also have negative effects.

Besides a beautiful call that sounds like a tenor recorder, Mourning Doves make a whistling noise when they fly.  It would be a shame to have this music disappear from our natural environment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Black Oystercatchers

These Black Oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) have come home to their nesting site in the Kukutali Preserve.  When I visited the island this morning, I was treated to a little courtship song and dance.

Black Oystercatchers

They always leave their nesting site during the winter to join their friends over on Fraggle Rock at West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  But now they are home for the summer to raise a brood of youngsters.  Pairs are monogamous and usually return to the same isolated nesting sites every year.  I have been observing this pair since 2011.

Black Oystercatchers

Note that I am taking these picture from a good 100 feet/30 meters away with a telephoto lens.  Visitors to the Kukutali Preserve should be respectful of this nesting site.  If you come to visit, please be careful not to disturb the birds.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Kiket Island Towhee

Spotted Towhee

The Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) is one of my favorite birds.  They always look confident and happy and they love to sing.  Instead of fleeing, they will often sit still long enough to get a photo.  They seem to like watching us while we watch them.  This is another appealing trait for me.

Look for them along forest edges.  They can be seen year-around foraging in dense thickets of shrubbery or in leaf litter on the ground.  Sometimes you will hear them scratching in the leaves before you see them.  They will be looking for insects, spiders, seeds and fruits.  I caught this one in a Nootka Rose thicket on Kiket Island.  I think they might like those rose hips.  For bird feeders, the Towhees in my yard are especially attracted to safflower seed.

Spotted Towhees are the largest of the New World Sparrows (Emberizidae).  The black feathers reveal this bird to be a male.  The back, head and wings of females will be dark brown.  Found throughout the western states, birds in different regions will show different degrees of "spottiness."  Our local oregonus race tends to be the least spotted, although we are seeing spottier birds due to immigration and interbreeding.  Red is the true color of the eye, not a camera artifact.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Eagle Morning

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Last week, I drove over to Fir Island to visit the Skagit Wildlife Area wetlands.  It had been closed for several weeks for construction of a new pumping station.  I was glad to be able to get in there once again.  This is part of a complex system of dikes and drainage sloughs that prevent Fir Island farmlands from being flooded by the Skagit River.  Fir Island is actually the Skagit River delta where it flows into Puget Sound.

This portion of the delta is a state wildlife refuge administered by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Mixed uses include hiking, duck hunting, bird watching and dog training.  It offers the unique feature of hiking out into the wetlands atop the spur dike.  There has been an ongoing program of restoration here to improve Chinook salmon spawning and rearing habitat.  This has become one of my favorite places to explore and view wildlife.

On last week's visit, everywhere I looked, there were Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).  There were mostly juveniles, but also a few adults.  Altogether, I saw ten to fifteen birds either perching or flying.

Bald Eagle Adult
Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagles
Juvenile Bald Eagle

The bird in the first photo was the only one I could get fairly close to.  He was perched about 20 feet/6 meters directly above the dike trail.  He was surprisingly tolerant of me walking beneath him.  The rest of them were quite far out in the marshes.  To get photos, I had to strain the limits of the camera and lens, and then do some cropping to bring them in closer.

I met the Fish and Wildlife guy at the new pumping station.  He wasn't sure why there were so many eagles around the site.  He said they often hang around to snag the injured ducks that are lost by the hunters.  But there has been no hunting due to the construction closure.

Juvenile Bald Eagle

I spotted this one landng out in the tidal marshes.  At the time, I didn't notice the second bird flying just above the cattail line.

Juvenile Bald Eagle

This is another view of the juvenile bird in the first photo.  He had me going for a while.  With so much white on the breast I started to doubt he was a Bald Eagle.  Was he really a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk?  But then I realized that was the beak of an eagle, not a hawk.  Also, this bird was twice the size of any Red-tailed Hawk I had ever seen.  This was a Bald Eagle juvie with a lot of white.

While I was watching, he apparently spotted breakfast.  He took a run, but then looped around and returned to the same perch with empty talons.  Not every attempt at prey is successful.

Northern Shrike Prey?

I found something else interesting along the dike trail.  This partial bird carcass was skewered on a twig.  I knew the Loggerhead Shrike did this with its prey, but they don't occur here.  The Northern Shrike, however, is a rare winter visitor.  Shrikes have the habit of storing their prey in this manner for later consumption.  Could this be what I was seeing?  Sometimes we don't actually see wildlife, but instead, find evidence that it has been around.

New Blind Just For Bird Watchers

This is a new blind on Wiley Slough that Fish and Wildlife has installed for bird watchers.  The sign on the back indicates no hunting allowed from this one.  Inside, a couple of chairs have been thoughtfully provided.

Mount Baker and the Skagit Wetlands

Mount Baker stands watch over the Skagit Wildlife Area wetlands.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Oystercatcher Hangout

Black Oystercatchers
Black Oystercatchers and Friend

Solitary pairs of Black Oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) nest on solitary islands above the high tide mark.  A simple scrape in the rocks is all they require.  Locally they can be found around the rocky shores of the San Juans, Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands.  Pairs are monogamous and return to the same nesting sites every year.

During the fall and winter, however, they give up their isolation and come together in flocks or "parcels."  One spot where this can be observed is at West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  They can be seen mid to late mornings on the large rock just offshore from the parking lot.  I have unofficially dubbed this "Fraggle Rock."

Black Oystercatchers and Gulls

On my visit yesterday, I watched as more gulls flew in to join the party.  I have never witnessed squabbling between gulls and Oystercatchers.  Mixed groups always appear amicable.

Black Oystercatchers and Gulls

More gulls continued to fly in.  Peace continued, but it started to get too crowded for the Oystercatchers.  They began leaving, flying off the rock with their rapid, high-pitched calls.  They appeared to be heading over to Lighthouse Point across Deception Pass.  When I returned after my hike up the North Beach Trail, only gulls remained on the rock.  All the Oystercatchers were gone.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sleeping Slugs, Wary Squirrels and Crotchety Jays

As usual, if I go hiking to find something specific, I usually find something else instead.  This morning, I headed to Ginnett Hill in Deception Pass State Park.  My quest was to check out midsummer wildflowers.  Last year, they were prolific, but it looks like now is too early.  There were basically none to speak of.  Instead, I had some interesting wildlife encounters.

I spotted several Banana Slugs (Ariolimax columbianus) on the trail.  The two sleeping on the cut end of a fallen tree were the most interesting.  My theory that Fidalgo Island slugs have no spots is now officially refuted.  Ginnett Hill is in the Fidalgo section of the park.

Shortly after beginning the hike, I encountered this Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii).  It was notable that he wasn't barking at me.  Persistent chattering and scolding is their usual demeanor when humans enter their territory.  Unlike the Eastern Gray Squirrel which has been introduced, this is one of the two native squirrels of western Washington.  The other is the Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus) which is threatened due to habitat loss and competition from the Eastern Grays.

My entire hike was accompanied by a symphony of birdsong.  About half way along, the Steller's Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) were really angry to see me on the trail.  Their instrument was the ratchet in the percussion section.  Their protestations were noisy and defiant but they refused to pose for a picture.  Instead here is a BirdCam photo from my yard:

This is Gimpy Toe.  If you look closely at his right foot, you'll see why.  He's been a frequent visitor at the feeders for a few years now.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Family Values

Canada Goose

Every spring, I take several hikes into the wild rhododendron grove in Deception Pass State Park to photograph the blooming.  After Tuesday's visit, I went over to West Beach and Cranberry Lake in the park.  I have found the East Cranberry Lake Trail to be a great spot for viewing wildlife.

The trail passes by a small, marshy island.  A narrow waterway extends between the trail and the island.  There is evidence of beaver activity in this section of the lake.  I have wondered if the island had actually been created by the beavers.

As I moved along the trail, I spotted this Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) sitting silently and motionless in the waterway.  The bird kept an unwavering eye on me, but didn't move a muscle.  This struck me as odd behavior.  Usually, they either ignore you totally or get very noisy and upset.  Although it looked healthy, I wondered if it was ill.  After a few photos, I continued on my way along the trail.

Canada Goose

On my return back along the same trail, with a different view of the island, I discovered a second goose sitting on a nest.  Now I understood what was going on.  This was a female brooding her eggs.  The first bird must have been her mate standing guard.  I think I am very lucky I wasn't attacked.  At this point, I spotted her mate dabbling out in the lake.  He apparently felt it was safe to leave her side and go for a snack.

Canada Goose

Today, I returned to the East Cranberry Trail to see how things were going.  Sure enough, I found her dutifully brooding her eggs.  I am sure this bird is mom.  According to iBird Pro, incubation is carried out by the female and will last 25 to 30 days.  Again this morning, I spotted dad out feeding in the lake.

Canada Goose

Canada Geese mate for life.  They will choose a new mate only if one dies.  This devotion is also seen during migration.  If a bird becomes ill or injured, its mate or a companion will stay behind until it recovers or dies.

When the goslings hatch, I am not sure the family will stick around the nest site for long.  The young quickly begin to swim and can eat the same food as the adults.  I'll be returning to this site several times to see how things progress.

UPDATE:  Thursday 05/07/2015

Canada Geese

Last Saturday, this was the scene at the East Cranberry Lake nest in Deception Pass State Park.

Canada Goose

Yesterday, I returned to the nest site again to check on the geese.  I wondered if the eggs had hatched yet.  I have been seeing pairs of Canada Geese with goslings in my neighborhood and in other areas of Deception Pass State Park.  Looking through vegetation along the trail, I spotted the gander standing on a log in the waterway.  He also spotted me and came alert.  Again, I wondered if this meeting would remain amicable.

Canada Goose

I continued along the trail and spotted his mate on the nest taking a snooze.  Apparently, the eggs have not yet hatched.

Canada Goose

The noise of my camera shutter woke her.

Canada Goose

Now I noticed the gander move into the water and begin to swim.  I was certain he was coming after me.

Canada Goose

I could tell he was agitated and he began to honk.  But his attention was not on me.  Something further to the left had gotten him riled.  Then with a sudden, violent bolt, he flew up and around the south end of the island.  The power of his wing beats created a shock wave in the air.  Some other geese had perched on the island and my gander was having none of it.  With a lot of scolding, he ran them off.  It became clear to me that for the time being, that island was his.

He might be less aggressive once the goslings hatch.  In the past, I have seen several family groups foraging together.  According to Wikipedia, "although parents are hostile to unfamiliar geese, they may form groups of a number of goslings and a few adults, called crèches."  These are colonies in which adults provide care for the offspring of others.

UPDATE:  Tuesday 05/12/2015

Abandoned Nest

Yesterday, I returned to the East Cranberry Lake nest site to check on the geese.  I found the nest abandoned and the parents gone.  I presume this means the goslings have hatched and the new family has moved on to the next phase, raising the young.

Across the lake, at the West Beach picnic grounds, I found several family groups doing just that:

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Canada Geese