Goose Stepping Crows

I was back in Deception Pass State Park this week watching crows at West Beach again.

This pair of Northwestern Crows(Corvus caurinus) came marching by in an orderly, military manner.  Their steps were in perfect unison as if a marching band was playing.

Zooming in on the above photo reveals feathers and fibers being carried in their beaks.  I presume these are being collected for use as nesting materials.  This is apparently a cooperative effort by the pair.

Northwestern Crows could be classified as shorebirds. They nest and make their living around salt water beaches and estuaries.  It is common to spot them foraging for mussels, clams  and snails on rocky beaches at low tide.  They are distinguished from American Crows by a smaller size and deeper voice.

Up With the Crows

Two days ago, we experienced a fairly significant wind storm.  It is an odd time of the year for this.  Such a storm is typical for November, but not April.  Early yesterday morning, I headed over to West Beach in Deception Pass State Park to see what the surf was like.  The conditions there can be just like open ocean.

Off the Strait of Juan de Fuca it was still windy in the park, with only moderate surf.  Next to Cranberry Lake, I encountered a pair of Northwestern Crows(Corvus caurinus).  One was perched on the bench of a picnic table.  He was preening wet, spiky feathers.  Apparently, he had just finished a bath in the lake.

"Do you mind?"


Northwestern Crows are a bit smaller than their cousin the American Crow and have a deeper voice.  They nest and make their living around salt water beaches.  Like gulls, they will fly up and drop mussels, clams, and snails onto rocks (or concrete sidewalks) to break them open.  You might catch a couple dozen patr…

The Early Bird and the Worm

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

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 (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.


Madronas and Deer

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

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.  …