Showing posts from January, 2011

Fraternal Order

"The meeting will come to order.  We have a guest speaker today.  Seagull will talk about anchor buoy hazards in Skagit Bay."

Spotted Towhee

In the same family as Sparrows and Juncos, Towhees are the largest birds of the group.  The Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) is our western Washington representative.  The bird originally called the Rufous-sided Towhee was divided into Eastern Towhee (P. erythrophthalmus) and the Spotted Towhee.  White spotted markings on the wings distinguish the latter.  Our local oreganus race shows the least white spotting among regional groups.  Draw a line from the western border of Minnesota south to roughly define the territories of the two species.  Both Easterns and Spotteds may have the unusual fiery red eyes.

They are midway in size between Sparrows and Robbins.  Male Spotted Towhees have black markings and females dark brown.  Pronounce their name TOE-hee or TOE-ee.  These are very congenial citizens around the feeders that never use their size to intimidate other birds.  They also seem less wary than other birds.  If I am working in the yard, they will go about their business near…

Dark-eyed Junco

Like the swallows to Capistrano and buzzards to Hinckley, the Juncos return to South Fidalgo every fall.  This event adds another chime to our seasonal clock.  The Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) has always been one of my favorite birds.  They are not flashy or brightly colored.  Nevertheless, their tasteful, muted tones gives us one of our most attractive little birds.  Ours are the "Oregon" variant with a black hood for males and gray hood for females.  Take a pair of these charming birds, add a snowy holly branch, and you have a perfect Christmas card image.

In other parts of North America, your Dark-eyed Juncos may look completely different.  Depending on region, they also come in "Slate-colored," "Pink-sided," "White-winged," "Red-backed" and "Gray-headed" variants.  At the moment, they are all considered the same species, an indication they possess a high genetic diversity.  Even among the local birds, there is variat…



Since November, the Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) visiting the BirdCam station have all appeared to be of the "Yellow-shafted" morph.  The bird above clearly has yellow-shafted tail feathers, gray crown and tan cheeks.  The problem has been the lack of a red nape chevron also characteristic of the Yellow-shafteds.  Hmmm.

Some references put Yellow-shafted birds in the East and Red-shafteds in the West with hybrids found in the Great Plains or Rocky Mountains.  This is obviously too simplistic.  More complete sources indicate that the Yellows are found in the eastern U.S., western Canada and Alaska.  No doubt, we benefit here from our proximity to western Canada.  We are only 30 miles/48 km due east of Victoria, B.C., and about 50 miles/80 km south of Vancouver.

Beginning New Year's Day, Red-shafted Northern Flickers started to visit the station.  This bird has red (or red-orange) tail highlights and gray cheeks.  He also has the red malar (moustache) of a male.  …


Just a couple of pals hangin' out at the rhododendron watchin' the snow melt.
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

Snow on Sunday

Red-breasted Nuthatches make a warm spot on a snowy Sunday.

Nest of Bandits

"Banditry" is the collective noun for a group of Chickadees.  Presumably, the term refers to their masked appearance, not their behavior.  When they are not relishing suet, they like to eat the seeds from Douglas Fir cones.  I also see them picking at the cone-like catkins of Red Alder.  Only the most agile and athletic can negotiate these food sources.

Fox Sparrows at Wiley Slough

Fir Island is the delta of the Skagit River and Wiley Slough is a small piece of it.  It is part of the huge complex of tidal marshes and wetlands where Fir Island borders Skagit Bay.  A system of dikes keeps the island from going underwater when the Skagit floods.  After 33 years in the area, I thought it was about time for a visit.  I was blown away by the beauty and magnificence of these wetlands.  I have never seen anything like them before.

You can park at either the Fish and Wildlife headquarters or the boat launch and walk atop the dike.  The trek is about two miles/3.3 km until the path ends in marshes and muck.  Boots are needed to go further.  By far, the most numerous birds this day were the Fox Sparrows (Passerella iliaca).  It is not an exaggeration to estimate the numbers seen in the hundreds.

This fellow was working very hard, vigorously scratching and digging in the gravel.  I believe he was stirring up weed and grass seed.  He was completely absorbed in the task, unaf…


For 23 years, I have scanned the waters of northern Skagit Bay trying to catch site of whales.  A visit by the Southern Resident Orcas (Orcinus orca), in particular, has been a quest which has eluded me.  I have written about this longing in a post at Fidalgo Island Crossings.  It includes wonderful photos by Monika Wieland of Orca Watcher.  Perhaps 2011 will finely bring success.

Harbor Master

From Fidalgo Island Crossings, I spotted this Heron standing watch at the Cap Sante Boat Haven the other day.  This is downtown Anacortes, Washington and he's obviously a city bird.  I am only about 20 feet/6 m from him.  The birds at home on South Fidalgo would never let me get this close.  Another shot reveals the context of the photo:

Lesser Snow Goose

At first you hear them in the distance.  As they come closer the sounds become a symphony, 10,000 woodwinds tuning up.  The geese are coming!  In the winter cold, nature aficionados rush to pull off their gloves and get their cameras ready.

The Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) is one of the miracles of the planet.  They are an international treasure.  The Wrangel Island Flock nests in the Siberian Arctic of Russia.  From October to April, however, the flock comes to North America to spend the winter.  You can set the cosmic clock by their arrivals and departures.  They divide their time between the Skagit and Fraser River deltas, moving between them.  The geese are citizens of three countries.

Most of Fir Island, Washington, the Skagit delta, is diked to protect working farms.  The habitat also includes salt marshes and wetlands along the Skagit Bay shoreline.  Various produce crops and feed corn are grown in the summer.  After harvest, winter wheat and other cover crops are pla…

Deception Pass

From Fidalgo Island Crossings, a winter visit to Deception Pass State Park produced a couple of wildlife photos.  At Cranberry Lake, this Cormorant in black winter plumage dries his wings in the low winter sun.  According to iBird, captive birds will take the same posture after feeding, even when their feathers are not wet.  At the parking lot, one of the park rangers reminds visitors to follow the rules:

Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus), smaller cousins of the American Crow, make their living as beachcombers.  Meanwhile, Canada Geese take a break at the edge of the lake to wish everyone a Happy New Year: