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The Early Bird and the Worm

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The other day, I made an early morning visit to West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  There is a short trail from the parking lot that heads over to the amphitheater and the beach on Deception Pass.  I wanted to see how the bridge looked.  On the trail, I ran into this fellow, an American Robin(Turdus migratorius).  I was surprised that he allowed me to get as close as I was without flying off.  He wasn't even paying attention to me.  Sometimes park critters become accustomed to having people around.


Then I noticed why he was standing his ground.  He was working on an earthworm for his breakfast.  They are one of the annelids or segmented worms.  From my observations, they are a favorite food of Robins.  When I am planting or digging in the garden, the birds will gather in a perimeter around me.  As soon as I leave, they will fly in to snatch the goodies I kicked out of the soil.  They have learned to observe and exploit my behavior.


Apparently, this Robin is part house cat. …

Seven Swans....Relaxing

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Actually, it was more like seventy swans relaxing yesterday along Best Road in Skagit County, Washington.  I had the 100-400 mm lens mounted on the camera.  From where I stood, this forty or so was all I could fit in the frame at 100 mm.  I spotted this group of Trumpeter Swans(Cygnus buccinator) while heading home after hiking on Fir Island.


Our mornings have been chilly since New Year's, with mostly sunny skies.  It was only about 26° F (-2° C) at the time of these photos.  That's frost on the grass adding a silvery tinge.

Tundra Swans(Cygnus columbianus) also visit this area in the winter.  If you get a close look, the two species are easy to tell apart.  The crown of the head on Trumpeters is flattened with the plane parallel to the beak.  On Tundra Swans, the crown is more dome shaped.  Tundras usually also have a spot of orange or yellow on the beak near the eye.

The grayish birds are juveniles.  They will turn white like the adults before the spring migration.  The fac…

Mycophagy

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Mycophagy (my-COUGH-a-gee) is an interesting word derived from Greek meaning "fungus glutton."  Our native Banana Slugs(Ariolimax columbianus) are apparently mushroom epicures.  Hiking the North Trail in the Kukutali Preserve I spotted the mollusks dining on our local portobellos.  With October, the rains have returned, and damp weather seems to bring out both slugs and mushrooms.


All along the trail, I found evidence of mushroom munching.  It was obvious the slugs relish these mycological delights.

I do not recommend following their lead.  I don't know enough about mushrooms to declare these safe for people to eat.  What is dessert for slugs could be deadly for humans.  It seems the slugs have evolved to cope with potential toxins produced by the fungi.  It is well known people have not.


At this point, allow me to editorialize.  Wherever I hike, I find smashed and dead Banana Slugs.  Hikers seem to be going out of their way to kill them.  This is ignorance manifest.

P…

Madronas and Deer

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The Madronas at Deception Pass are amazing this year.  I have never seen the abundance of fruit on the trees like they have right now.  Yesterday, I went over to the State Park to get some photos of the trees.  While at the top of Goose Rock, I made a couple of new friends, a pair of young Columbian Black-tailed Deer(Odocoileus hemionus columbianus).  As usual, I went hiking to find one thing, and ended up finding something else unexpected.  Surprise encounters like this are always the best.


The pair were not fully grown.  If I can use the observations from my own yard, I am guessing these are siblings.  After they leave their mother's side, they will stick together for a few years until they mature.

Another habit exhibited by deer is a tendency to follow the same trails and routes from day to day.  I have also seen this in my yard.  That would mean this pair could be frequent visitors to the top of Goose Rock, the highest point on Whidbey Island.  The summit is 484 feet (148 m)…

American Goldfinch

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The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis. a.k.a. Carduelis tristis) is the Washington State Bird.  I have been trying to get a decent photo of one for almost 10 years.  That makes this encounter yesterday in the Kukutali Preserve somewhat momentous for me.

These are wary, fast moving little birds that will flee at the sight of a human.  Up until now, I have only been able to observe them from afar or using the BirdCam.  This bird allowed me to stand within about 10 feet/3 meters while he took a meal of Hawksbeard seeds.


From these photos, notice how he never took his eye off of me.  If I had made one wrong move, he would have been gone in an instant.

This is a male, identified by his bright yellow breeding plumage and black cap.  Females are a duller olive brown color and lack the black cap.  In winter, both genders are olive brown.  I usually see them in small groups or "charms," but this bird was feeding alone.


The State of Washington refers to it as the Willow Goldfinch.  …

Black Oystercatchers Nesting

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I consider the pair of Black Oystercatchers(Haematopus bachmani) that make their home in the Kukutali Preserve to be friends.  I have been watching them since 2011, the first time I visited.  I'm fairly certain I have been seeing the same birds every year.  According to Seattle Audubon, "Males and females appear to form long-term pair bonds, and the pair returns to the same territory year after year."

I was in the Preserve yesterday and found them in their usual spot, where they appear to be nesting now.  They seem to nest later in the season than other birds.  I'm not certain, but perhaps it's a shorebird thing.  Land birds are pretty much done with that now, or even getting ready for a second brood.  Oystercatchers lay their eggs in a simple scrape in the rocks, above the high tide line, according to the iBird app.


While I walked up the beach to the west, I pointed the camera at some gulls that were still quite a distance away.  Only then did I spot the Oyste…

Pigeon Guillemot

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This week's visit to the Kukutali Preserve, brought another "first sighting" for me.  Just offshore of the Flagstaff Island beach, I spotted this pair of Pigeon Guillemots(Cepphus columba) in their elegant breeding plumage.  At first I saw just a single bird (above), then realized there was a second nearby.  They are year-around residents of the Salish Sea.


Pigeon Guillemots are birds of inshore waters around rock shores.  According to Seattle Audubon, they nest in rock caves or crevices or under driftwood.  Given these preferences, this pair could well be nesting somewhere here in the Preserve.  Pairs may join small colonies or nest singly.  These are diving birds that use their wings to propel themselves underwater.  Their diet includes fish, mollusks and crustaceans.


These are not ducks.  Guillemots are grouped in the family Alcidae, which includes puffins, auks and murres.  This black and white plumage is typical of the group.  Once in a while, I caught sight of the…