Showing posts from 2010

Seagulls 101

I was at Deception Pass State Park today in the West Beach/Cranberry Lake area.  On arrival, I was greeted by this youngster in the parking lot.  I think his unique dark coloring, sooty cheeks, dirty pink legs and black bill identify him as a juvenile Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) in his first winter.  Gulls always stand nicely for their portraits.

There are 97 species of gulls worldwide, with 49 occurring in North America.  Most take four years to reach their adult plumage.  Their state of maturity is classified 1st winter, 2nd winter, etc.  The Western Gull is not commonly seen in the Puget Trough region of Washington.  Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucescens) are more common here, but their juvenile plumage is much lighter.  They are known to hybridize with the Westerns.  In general, Gulls are very difficult to identify.  The distinct coloration of this fellow is a big help.

We tend to take these intelligent, sociable and resourceful birds for granted.  They are so common, we…

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Working around some melting snow, this Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens) deftly picks the seeds out of Douglas Fir cones.  These little birds are abundant on South Fidalgo this time of year.  They prefer living in coniferous forests.  Their cousins the Black-capped Chickadees favor deciduous trees.  Both are seen in my yard, but the smaller Chestnut-backs are far more abundant.

These little birds are fearless.  They will come to the feeders even if I am nearby.  I get a good scolding in the process.  I am putting up some nest boxes to see if I can get these little guys to rear some young in my yard this spring.  They line their nests with animal fur and lay clutches of 5 to 9 eggs.

Canada Goose

A recent news article caught my attention.  Canadian biologists are recommending that populations of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) be eliminated from Vancouver Island.  Eliminated?  They assert the birds have done significant harm to the habitat of the island.  This damage, they believe, is a threat to other wildlife including the very important salmon resource.

I have always enjoyed the annual fall visits by the geese to South Fidalgo.  They are large, beautiful and graceful, one of nature's greatest achievements.  While they have become year-around residents locally, I only see them in small groups during September and October.  I believe these are travelers on migration.  A stream flows onto the beach near me, drainage from the wetland across the road.  The birds often stop here for a drink of fresh water, a seaweed snack and a bit of rest.  A very pleasant scene is created by geese sleeping in the sun with heads tucked under wings.

To Americans, I think, this bird is one o…

Fox Sparrow

The Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca) is a winter resident on South Fidalgo Island, but they do not breed here.  Their breeding range is coastal British Columbia and Alaska.  Ours are the western "Sooty" races, fuliginosa and unalaschensis.  The wings, back and head of local birds are solid dark brown with brown speckled white breasts.  There may be some gray on the cheeks.

Across North America, there are wide variations in colors and markings locally.  These fall into three color groups, Sooty, Red and Slate-colored.  Among the largest of the family, Fox Sparrows are common feeder visitors during the winter.  They accept most commercial seed including safflower.  It is possible to confuse them with Song Sparrows which are year-around residents.  The local "morphna" Song Sparrow race is smaller and distinguished by gray streaking and mottling and slightly redder coloration:

Processing BirdCam Photos

BirdCam photos do not come from the camera ready to post.  A bit of work is required to get them in shape.  Conditions for a perfect shot don't always exist.  The first chore will be weeding out unusable pictures, the blanks, blurs and butt shots.  When the lighting is poor, such as early morning, late afternoon or on dark, overcast days, many of the photos will end up blurred or hazy.  While weeding photos, I rename the good ones by adding the species to the photo name.  The best also get three dashes.  "WSB0364Towhee---" would be a great Spotted Towhee shot.  This makes them easy to find later.

Next, comes a bit of simple photo editing.  This solves the problem of getting a great capture but a mediocre photo.  I am not very good at this, so I do very little of it, but I have learned how to improve the BirdCam shots.  Do not edit your original photos.  Always work with a copy, so if you screw it up, you can discard it and start over.  At the moment, I am using Windows …

Mourning Dove

I did not expect to catch a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) at the BirdCam feeder.  I have only seen them ground-feeding the seed spread on the basement patio.  Sometimes they also like to just "rest" on the patio.  Apparently they find safflower seed irresistible.  I am not sure why they are called "mourning."  Perhaps it is due to their mournful calls.  They also seem to have a sad, almost pathetic aspect.  It is my instinct to feel sorry for them, only because of their appearance.  They are good sized birds, larger than a Robin and about the same size as a Northern Flicker.  The are extremely wary and will fly off in terror at the site of me.  There is a whistling noise in their flight with a flash of white in their tail feathers.

This is Washington's only dove species, and we also have one native pigeon.  The only difference is size, pigeons being larger and doves smaller.  They are common, year-around visitors to my yard, as these December photos attest.…



I thought I would try some safflower seed at the BirdCam.  I read that the squirrels and starlings don't like the taste.  The Eastern Gray Squirrels have been getting a little greedy at the BirdCam lately.  Sure enough, one of my resident Grays showed up right on schedule expecting to find sunflower seeds.  When a squirrel gets angry, it flicks its tail up and down:

If nothing else, squirrels are persistent.  We use the word "dogged" for tenacious stubbornness, but "squirrelled" would work just as well, aside from its meaning to hoard:

The ploy seems to be working, but the squirrels still check back occasionally, I guess, to see if I changed my mind:

While the squirrels might be disappointed, several of my regular birds seem to be enjoying the new fare.  These include Juncos, Towhees, Song Sparrows, English Sparrows and Mourning Doves.  When summer comes, I hope to attract some of the rarer birds, Crossbills and Grossbeaks, with safflower seeds.

Double-crested Cormorant

An orange patch at the base of their bills identifies a pair of Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus).  They appear to be in a state of mutual admiration.  While normally thought of as sea birds, Double-cresteds are also found around lakes, ponds and rivers throughout the US and south-central Canada.  These birds were spotted at Whistle Lake in Anacortes, Washington.  After diving for fish, they are sometimes seen standing with wings outstretched to help dry their feathers.  Perching on a branch like this is not an easy task for a web-footed bird.

Whistle Lake is located in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands.  This is a unique program which preserves about 2,800 acres of forest, meadows and wetlands in a natural state.  A network of old logging roads and trails offers nature lovers a Northwest wilderness experience, all within the Anacortes city limits.  The complete Whistle Lake Adventure was posted at Fidalgo Island Crossings.

Checking It Out

Changing the feeder at the BirdCam station always creates a period of adjustment.  Birds that were accustomed to finding suet, may be surprised to find it replaced with sunflower seeds.  Winter regulars are coming to check it out.  The Flicker seems puzzled by the change.

Our always-faithful Juncos, on the other hand, are delighted to find sunflower seeds.

Chickadees also readily accept sunflower seeds with their usual panache.

This is our Pacific Northwest race of Song Sparrow called "morphna."  They are darker and redder than in other locations.

 Finally, a handsome House Finch enjoys the new entree.

Bald Eagle

I am going to brag a little here.  I live in a place that is regularly visited by Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).  It is a joy every time.  Both this and the next photo were shot from my yard this weekend.  There are two hunting perches, one on each side of the property, that afford them a good view of Skagit Bay.  They come almost every day, announcing their arrival with their chattering calls.  They don't seem to mind if I am working in the yard.  I like believing they feel comfortable and safe here.

They often come in pairs to spend time on the perches.  Sometimes, they just come to loaf.  Spring is courtship season and that also happens in my trees.  Talk about a ruckus when that's going on.  This also involves cartwheeling free falls high over Skagit Bay, with talons locked together.  They don't nest on South Fidalgo.  The actual location of their nests, however, will remain between the the birds and me for their protection.

I have observed three different me…


"Birds of a feather flock together" gives way to "all are created equal."  Here is a gallery of BirdCam multicultural group shots from October and November, The Enlightenment in action.  Some in this country should take a lesson.  This is a list of the birds in the photos:
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)House "English" Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Snow Day

An unseasonal cold snap brought temperatures in the upper teens and twenties and two inches of snow to South Fidalgo Island.  This is the result of our unique version of a nor'easter.  We were fortunate as some areas got as much as ten inches of snow.  With all its hills, Seattle was virtually shut down for a day.  Notice how the rhododendron has reacted to the cold temperatures.  The shriveled and drooping leaves will reconstitute as the weather warms again.

The birds don't get a snow day and an interesting mix of visitors came into the BirdCam's view yesterday.  The camera caught a Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Spotted Towhee and Northern Flicker, small, medium and large.  In the midst of the snow storm on Tuesday, I had twenty to thirty Towhees in the basement patio feeder area.  They dart around constantly making them hard to count accurately.  The Chickadees are fearless.  While checking the camera during the snow fall, one flew to the feeder and gave me a stern talki…

Ain't No Mountain High Enough...

I lived here almost twenty years thinking I was watching Western Gray Squirrels (Sciurus griseus) raiding the bird feeders.  After all, this is the West, right?  When I actually did a little studying, I discovered the Westerns have become relatively rare in Washington due to habitat loss.  They only live in nut-bearing deciduous forests, which are also becoming rare here.  There is a patch of Garry Oaks south of Tacoma and some spots in eastern Washington where the Westerns survive.

The critters I am observing on South Fidalgo are Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis).  They were introduced here and are not at all threatened.  They like to hoard food and I get peanuts, sunflowers and corn coming up all over the yard.  Apparently, they have not learned the chipmunk's trick of biting off the germ before burying their treasure.  They also create little caches tucked in crannies on my porches, decks and patio.  Last year, I dug up a walnut buried in the garden.  Somebody in t…