Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
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 methods of fishing by the eagles.  First is the "swoop and grab" you have seen in TV nature films.  The second is the less spectacular "kerplunk and heave."  They literally land in the water and float there for a moment, wings splayed.  It's not very dignified, not eagle-esque.  Then they heave themselves back into the air grasping their prize.  Finally, there is "stun and drag" which happens in shallow water.  I have posted photos of this at Fidalgo Island Crossings.

Not every fishing attempt ends with a meal:

One morning last year, I found this 20 inch (51 cm) Humpback Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) on my front lawn.  I suspected this male in breeding condition was the lost pray of squabbling eagles.  I left it there but when I came home from work, the fish was gone.  In addition to hunting fish, the eagles are also scavengers.

I feel privileged to share habitat with these beautiful birds.  When I built the house, I made the decision to leave as many of the large fir trees as possible.  The eagles' visits are the rewards for that decision.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


"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)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Snow Day

Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)
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.

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
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 talking-to.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
Flickers are more wary and will never come around if I am in view.  This appears to be the same Flicker, with her uncharacteristic markings, who has visited before.  While exhibiting yellow-shafted wing and tail feathers and tan face, she lacks the red nape mark of the eastern yellow-shafted race.  While the yellows do visit here in the winter and there are hybrid intergrades, my best guess is she is a juvenile red-shafted with immature coloration. 

Notice how a little sunlight has already begun to perk up the rhododendron.  The variety is 'Kristin,' an R. yakushimanum cross.  As I write this on Thanksgiving morning, the snow is falling lightly again.  Warmer air off the ocean is already moving in and by mid-day, it is supposed to turn to very welcome rain.  The birds and I will enjoy getting back to normal.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ain't No Mountain High Enough...

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
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 the neighborhood must have a tree and the squirrels are using my yard to store their harvest.

Called "tree rats" by some, these are intelligent and resourceful creatures.  If you don't believe it, check out the videos of obstacle courses from the UK, where the Easterns have also been introduced.  I have added a squirrel feeder to the mix of feeders in the front patio.  They must open a lid to get to the goodies.  This keeps the Steller's Jays from stealing all the peanuts.  My gang expects a daily treat and will wait on the picnic table until it comes.  Some bird folks go to great lengths to discourage the squirrels.  Here on South Fidalgo, we all just try to get along.

Friday, November 19, 2010

House Finch

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

The House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) is native to the southwestern United States and Mexico.  According to BirdWeb, they prefer edge habitat and have followed human alterations and agricultural expansion.  They arrived in western Washington in the 1950's and are now common throughout the state.  In 1940, caged birds from the illegal pet trade were released in New York.  This became a source of territory increase in the East.  Bird lovers may have also played a role in their expansion.  House Finch distribution is apparently associated with the presence of bird feeders.  They outcompete Washington's natives, Purple and Cassin's Finches, and are the major cause of the Purple Finch's decline in western Washington.  American Goldfinches, our state bird, do not seem to be similarly affected.

iBird tells us that a group of House Finches is known as a "development."  Male House Finches bear the rosy colorations...

These colors are due to diet and as with Flamingos, I assume are caused by beta-carotene.  Since the females must eat the same diet as males, I could not find an explanation why their feathers are not similarly colored.  Does the old "hormone excuse" come into play?  Full coloration comes in the second year.  There is also a yellow variant, and this fellow may be a first season example...

But the rosy-hued males are far more common...

Even without the colors of the male, female House Finches are also attractive little birds...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Little Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)

These charming little birds are common year-around residents on South Fidalgo.  Our coniferous woodland habitat probably accounts for this.  The Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens) was the very first species caught on my newly installed BirdCam.  They are frequent and fearless visitors.  If I am working on the front patio they will come to the feeders there without trepidation.  Then they try to run me off with their "chip-chip-chip" calls.  I like the lack of intimidation towards people by these little guys.  They usually come singly, but once in a while I get two or more at the feeders...

Sometimes all is not peaceful on South Fidalgo.  When a third Chickadee arrives, he displays by puffing up his head...

Is he trying to run off the other birds the way they try to run me off?  Of course, his companion is having none of it...

OK, I'm outta here...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Last Look

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

Ordinarily, I probably wouldn't have noticed this bird at the feeders.  The closeup afforded by the BirdCam reveals an American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) taking on winter coloration.  With grayish tones on the front and sides, it is probably a female.  Our state bird, they are abundant on South Fidalgo in the spring and summer.  In the fall, however, they always disappear, apparently preferring warmer climes.  This may be one of the last stragglers.  In somewhat awkward lighting, I caught four shots of her on October 19th, then none after that.  Here is one more...

Varnish Clam

Varnish Clam (Nutallia obscurata)

From Fidalgo Island Crossings, most things on the beach come in shades of gray and other earth tones.  In such a setting, something glowing purple catches your eye.  These are the empty shells of the Varnish Clam (Nuttallia obscurata), a recent immigrant from Asia.  The outside of the shell is nondescript and can be seen at the larger shell's 10 o'clock position.  It does look as if it has been varnished.  They are thought to have been first introduced into the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver, B.C. in the late 1980's.  The dumping of ballast water by Asian transport ships is the probable source.  These empty shells were spotted near Similk Bay.  They are the likely victims of predation by Dungeness Crabs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) takes a break from foraging off the South Fidalgo shore.  They are daily visitors and I have noticed an interesting behavior while they feed.  The birds will space themselves respectfully 100-200 feet/30-60 meters apart along the beach.  They become alarmed if they get too close together and quickly rearrange themselves.  While they seem to prefer foraging in isolation, they nest in crowded rookeries that can number several hundred pairs.  This bird is probably from the March's Point Heronry with nearly 400 nests at the present time.  When running, you can see what is happening there on the live Heron Cam.  Another rookery can be found on Samish Island nearby.  The local birds have some rather expensive tastes which include Japanese Koi from my pond.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
A bird slightly longer than the suet cage identifies a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens).  The very similar Hairy Woodpecker is about 2 inches larger.  I have caught him before, but until now, always with his back to the camera.  At least we get a good look at his red mark.  Females lack the red mark on the back of the head:

Female Downy Woodpecker with a Trio of Juncos

Downies are North America's smallest woodpeckers.  Nevertheless, in their black and white garb, they are also among the handsomest of birds.  I have never seen more than one at a time, but if you encounter a group, call it a "descent," "drumming" or a "gatling" of woodpeckers according to iBird.  Here on South Fidalgo, they are common visitors at the feeders in fall and winter.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

From Fidalgo Island Crossings, the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is among the commonest birds visiting the feeders, and one of my favorites.  In the spring, they love to drum on the metal chimney cap of my fireplace. 5:30 in the morning.  A lack of moustache mark in this bird identifies a female, but other markers are problematic.  In the West, our resident Northerns are the Red-shafted race, but Yellow-shafteds are known to visit Washington in the fall and winter.  She appears to have yellow-shafted tail feathers, but lacks the red nape mark of the Yellow-shafteds.  My best guess is she is a juvenile Red-shafted Northern Flicker who has not yet acquired adult coloration, or a hybrid intergrade.  I would appreciate hearing from anyone with a better idea.

According to iBird, a group of flickers is called a "guttering," "menorah," or a "Peterson" of Flickers.  I have experienced Petersons of up to seven birds at a time at the feeders.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)
If you are seeking "cute," consider the Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis).  But don't be misled by looks.  This athletic little bird is all business.  You will never catch them in an idle moment.  They are also fearless.  If I am working near the feeders, they boldly fly in without concern.  iBird reveals some interesting facts:
  • An extended hind toe and short tail aid in running around the sides of trees.
  • They hoard food by hammering it into the bark of trees.
  • They put sticky pitch around their nest holes, apparently to discourage predators, pests or rivals.
  • A group of nuthatches is know as a "jar."
On South Fidalgo, they are more numerous in the fall and winter, apparently migrants from their mountainous nesting areas.  They prefer conferous forests and dig nest holes in dead trees or snags.  Males have a black cap.  Females have a gray cap and their rust undersides are paler.

A Dark-eyed Junco shares the feeder

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Hatching a New Wildlife Blog

Welcome.  This blog is an offspring and the parent is Fidalgo Island Crossings.  About a month ago, I acquired a BirdCam.  The device automatically photographs birds coming to feeders in its range of vision.  It began to produce results immediately.  It was soon apparent that the BirdCam photos might take over the blog entirely.  The site was beginning to stray from its primary weather theme and lose its focus.  Thus, Wild Fidalgo was hatched.  This website will explore the wildlife found on and around Fidalgo Island, Washington USA.  The island is located smack-dab in the center of the Salish Sea Ecosystem.  This is one of the most diverse and prolific wildlife habitats in North America.  Enjoy your visit here and check back often for new posts.