Showing posts from 2012

Holiday Eagles

December has been mostly wet and dark, not great conditions for wildlife photos.  Finally, a pair of Bald Eagles came calling this morning.  Literally.  I can always tell when they stop by from inside the house.  They chatter to me, "Hey Dave, come out and take our picture."  From the ground, I didn't realize there were actually two eagles perched in the tree.  Can you spot the second one behind the foliage?

Their perch was about 70 feet (21 meters) above the ground and roughly 125 feet (38 m) from my position.  When the eagle took off, I managed to get one quick shot.  I realized there were two only after the second one followed.  I am fortunate to have two hunting perches, one on each side of the yard.  The birds use them to spot fish out in Skagit Bay.  They also use them as loafing perches where they can just hang out for a while.  I think that's what was going on today.

Collective Nouns

This rock is one of the little gems in Deception Pass State Park that visitors might overlook.  It is located at West Beach just off shore from the parking lot.  As you can see, it is a favorite roosting spot for gregarious shore birds.  During the time I watched and took photos, more and more birds continued to arrive and join the gathering.  For want of a better name, I informally dubbed it "Fraggle Rock" on a previous visit.  Does anyone know if this landmark has an official name?

On the left end of the rock, I spotted a "sunning" of Cormorants in the company of gulls.  These are either Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) or Pelagic Cormorants (P. pelagicus).  A better look at their bills would have been helpful to distinguish them.  They dive underwater for fish and will literally swim with their webbed feet to catch their prey.  When they have had their fill, they will roost like this to dry their feathers, preen and socialize.  You might spot c…

Brown Creeper

Several years ago, I think in the '90's, I saw one Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) in my yard.  I have never seen another one since.  This morning, I was hiking along the dike at Wiley Slough over on Fir Island.  I was taking a brand new Canon 7D camera out for the first time.  I spotted this little fellow scooting around the side of a Red Alder right next to the trail.  He was very fast and kept moving away, but I managed to get this one quick shot.  The fast response of the 7D was a big help.

Brown Creepers are permanent residents in Washington.  According to Seattle Audubon, there are two subspecies, separated by the Cascade Mountain Range.  These are small, woodland birds that feed on insects, spiders, their eggs and pupae they find in bark crevices.  A thin, curved bill is the perfect tool for this diet.  They will hunt in a spiral pattern around the trunk.  I can vouch for the acrobatic abilities of this little bird.  Nests are in tree cavities or behind bark which ha…


Autumn Blue Heron
She is dancing with the wind
Taking flight with me

Skagit River Delta, Fir Island, Washington

Quiet visitor
Softly singing with the wind
Music of the earth

Skagit Bay, South Fidalgo Island, Washington

Wood Duck

While hiking the dike in the Skagit Wildlife Area on Fir Island, an opening in the vegetation revealed this handsome Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) swimming in Wiley Slough.  Wooded areas in the Skagit delta wetlands provide ideal habitat.  These "tree ducks" are monogamous, solitary nesters.  Up to fifteen eggs will be laid in the cavity of a tree and incubated by the hen according to iBird.

He was joined by his mate and the pair quickly disappeared behind the vegetation lining the dike.  This is a public hunting area, so the birds are wise to skedaddle.

Wood Ducks were almost hunted to extinction around the turn of the nineteenth century.  Efforts to restore populations included installing nest boxes in breeding areas and allowing beaver populations to increase.  Beavers help build the habitats desired by Wood Ducks by creating fresh water marshes with their damming.

As an aside, I see the terrific iBird Pro app for Android devices is currently on sale for $4.99 US at the Google …

More Fall Migration

The Spur Dike along Wiley Slough in the Skagit River delta has become one of my favorite spots for exploring.  There always seems to be something new to discover there.  Maybe this is a benefit of the Washington "Discover" Pass.  On my last visit a week ago, I came upon this group of long-billed wading birds in the marshes south of the dike.  At the time, I wasn't sure what they were.  This was a busy, active bunch, about a dozen in all, moving quickly as they probed the shallow waters with those specialized bills.  The moved along in unison like a troupe of caffeinated dancers.

With bright morning sun, the lighting and shadows were terrible for both photos and for identification of the birds.  When I got home, I hunted through my bird books and internet sites to try and determine what they were.  With some reservation, I have identified them as Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca).  As usual, please correct me if I am wrong.

UPDATE  As it turns out, I was wrong, and…

Fall Migration

For the past twenty-five autumns, I have observed Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) stopping for a visit on South Fidalgo Island.  While we have year-around resident geese in the area, the only time I see them here is during September and October.  This tells me that these visitors are stopping by on their annual migration.  The geese routinely come to the spot where a small stream drains into the bay.  Here, they can get a drink of fresh water, refuel with a seaweed snack and catch a snooze.  I have come to look forward to this annual event.  It is a part of the natural rhythm of the neighborhood.

I also see the V formations and hear the woodwind sounds of Canada Geese flying overhead.  They are always moving to the west following the South Fidalgo shoreline towards Deception Pass.  I suspect they will head out the Strait of Juan de Fuca to join other flocks in the Pacific Flyway.

Groups of between five and thirty birds will spend a couple of hours resting on the beach.  Then they wi…

Bushtits at Deception Pass

The first day of October and Deception Pass State Park have given me beautiful weather and a first sighting.  In a small grove of Shore Pines at West Beach, I spotted a half dozen tiny birds making a chattering ruckus in the branches.  From their size, I first thought they were wrens.  When I noticed the light gray coloring, I wasn't sure what they were.

These fast moving, active little birds were difficult to photograph in the branches, but I managed to get a few shots.  I hoped a couple would turn out to be useful.  When I got home, I identified them as Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus) using iBird Pro's* search function.  This is a handy tool I have used several times.

This is an adult female bird in the photos, identified by her light colored eyes.  Males and juveniles have dark eyes.  According to Seattle Audubon, they live in "mixed coniferous and deciduous areas with shrubby growth."  That describes the dune forest at West Beach to a T.

The most interesting fe…

First Junco

Like the swallows to Capistrano and the buzzards to Hinckley, the Dark-eyed Juncos return to South Fidalgo Island every fall.  I caught this lone female bird at BirdCam-One this past week.  While it is not my best BirdCam photo, the occasion of the first Junco's appearance is too important to pass up.  Another chime of the cosmic clock has sounded.

Over October, they will become one of our most abundant wintering birds.  In March, they will begin their migration to breeding grounds at higher elevations.  By the end of April, they will all be gone again.  Meanwhile, this charming little sparrow will provide us a bit of warmth through the winter.

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon Junco) Junco hyemalis

Pecking Order

An adult Gull is relaxing and enjoying some morning sunshine.  His perch is an old piling near Ala Spit, off Whidbey Island, Washington.

When joined by a juvenile, the adult assumes a more alert stance.  The juvenile takes a groveling, submissive posture, as if to say, "please, do you mind if I join you."

The adult will have none of it, however, and evicts the juvenile from the piling.  The youngster has learned a coming-of-age lesson about pecking order in the world of gulls.

Heron Saves the Day

I drove across Deception Pass to Whidbey Island this morning to see if I could spot any wildlife.  My first stop was Ala Spit where I spotted a "parcel" of Black Oystercatchers, six in all.  The sun was right behind them which ruled out a decent photo.  They were not going to let me get close, either.

The next stop was West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  I took a stroll around the Sand Dunes trail.  As usual there were a lot of gulls and crows, but not much else going on.  Even my reliable old friend the Douglas Squirrel, the "Mayor of West Beach,"  was nowhere to be seen.

Heading back to the parking lot, I spotted something moving behind the reeds growing at the edge of Cranberry Lake.  I practically walked right into a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) patrolling the shallows at the edge of the lake.  They have the habit of freezing in place when alarmed.  This makes them great photo subjects.

I was amazed how close the heron was allowing me to approach.  …


My neighbor sent me this photo for help with identification.  I know it's a Flycatcher, but I am not sure what kind it is.  The photo was shot on South Fidalgo Island at the northern end of Puget Sound in Washington State.  My best guess is Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) but that is only a guess.  Can anyone help identify this Flycatcher?  My neighbor and I thank you for your help.

UPDATE:  In comments to the post, both Dan McShane and Jill's friend Ian Paulsen have confirmed that this is indeed a Pacific-slope Flycatcher.  I also contacted the Seattle Audubon Society and this was their response:
...I believe I agree with you that the photo is of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher.  As you know they can be notoriously difficult to i.d., but this one so nicely shows a slight crest, an eye-ring that tapers to the back of the head (or The white eye-ring extends to the back in a teardrop shape. ), and the buffy wing-bars of the juvenile. Seattle Audubon publishes the great…

Slugfest: Ariolimax columbianus

After a month and a day with no measurable rainfall, it finally rained last night.  My weather station recorded 0.07 inch (1.8 mm).  Some are surprised to learn that during July and August, the Pacific Northwest is one of the driest places in the country.  My garden is testament.

After early morning overcast, the skies quickly cleared.  It looked like a good day to check out Deception Pass State Park nearby.  Now that school is in session and most of the tourists are gone, may I declare that the park is all mine again?

I crossed the Deception Pass Bridge and headed over to West Beach and Cranberry Lake on Whidbey Island.  I found it breezy with surf rolling in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, an aftermath of last night's rain system.

I set off on the Sand Dunes Interpretive Trail.  As usual, a couple dozen gulls were in Cranberry Lake for their morning swim.  Northwestern Crows were patrolling the outer dunes.  There were no Canada Geese this day, but their legacy remains.  Their,…


In nature, it is not always "Peace in the Valley."  It's hard to know why these Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) appear to be quarreling.  They are known to be territorial during the breeding season, but that's over now.  I believe they are first season juveniles, but that's a guess.  I am used to seeing more gray striping around the eyes.  Over the last two months, I have been seeing a lot of juveniles at this BirdCam station.


Arguably, the film Predator gave us one of the greatest movie creatures ever.  It took cunning and some luck for Arnold to defeat it.  Our wildlife gardens can also contain predators that are as malevolent and ruthless as that alien creature in the movie.  Domestic cats that are allowed to run free are known to exercise their predatory instincts.  One blogger did the math and came up with an estimate of 1.7 billion birds killed by outdoor cats annually in the United States.  If you think that is an overestimation, divide it by 1,000 and the number is still too large.

If cat lovers are not feeling a little concerned by that number, perhaps they will take notice of these figures:
Free-roaming cats live 1 to 3 yearsIndoor/outdoor cats live 6 to 8 yearsIndoor only cats live 20 years or more
My neighborhood serves as an example.  When I first moved here, there were several cats, perhaps a dozen, that roamed the area.  I came to recognize them, Black Spot, Scruffy, Gray Stripes, Calico, Sc…

Black-headed Grosbeak

The Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) in the Cardinal family is one of our summer birds.  They breed in all of the western U.S. states and southern British Columbia, but spend their winters in Mexico.  Males are handsome devils, with orange breast and neck, black mask and a tortoise shell pattern on the wings and back.

Melanocephalus literally means "black headed" in Greek, but this refers specifically to the male's coloring.  Female and juvenile Black-headed Grosbeaks have paler buff undersides and white eyebrow stripes.  A thick bill is designed for cracking open seeds. They also like insects, spiders, fruits and berries.  They are one of the few birds that can feed on the Monarch Butterfly in their Mexican wintering grounds.  Monarchs accumulate noxious chemicals in their bodies from their milkweed diet that most birds avoid.

Locally, these birds can be attracted to feeders with suet, safflower seed, apple slices and peanuts.  They prefer a forest edge…