Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Royal Visit

Golden-crowned Sparrow at Wiley Slough

I was on Fir Island last week hiking along the Spur Dike Trail at Wiley Slough.  This is always a good place for bird watching, but it was unusually quiet on this morning.  Sub-freezing temperatures may have been responsible for that.

Along the edge of the dike, I did encounter a small group of Golden-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla) foraging on the frost-covered ground.  There were five altogether, busily scratching in the grass.  Such a group of Golden-crowneds is called a "reign."  I guess this helps them maintain a regal bearing.  They appeared to be eating seeds and other bits of vegetation.  They also eat shoots, berries, flowers, buds and insects, according to iBird Pro.  In my yard, they are attracted to feeders containing suet or safflower seed.

BirdCam Photo, South Fidalgo Island

I also caught a Golden-crowned Sparrow at BirdCam One in my yard last week.  They winter in a strip from Vancouver Island, down western Washington, Oregon and California.

The photo above provides an interesting comparison between a BirdCam JPEG and the raw photos from my dSLR.  I am just now learning to process photos shot in the raw format.  I think it has obvious advantages.

Their breeding grounds include Alaska, the Yukon Territory and British Columbia.  They nest in a hollow dug in the ground, well-hidden in vegetation.  Males and females are similar.  In the breeding season, they have a large, prominent black cap to the eye line surrounding the bright yellow crown.  Cheeks and breast are gray.  During the winter, as you can see, the black cap becomes less distinct and the breast and cheeks become light brown.

Deception Pass State Park in another place to spot wintering Golden-crowned Sparrows.  They don't seem to be abundant in this area, so I always feel lucky when I see them.  The Spur Dike Trail is located at the Skagit Wildlife Area Headquarters Unit.  Visitors should remember to bring their Discover Pass and display it in their vehicles.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Skagit Valley Winter

Trumpeter and Tundra Swans spend winters in the fields of the Skagit Valley of Washington State.  They have become one of the iconic images of winter here.  Just over a year ago, I posted photos of Trumpeters shot from the same spot.  This year, the birds were farther from the road, but the group was much larger.  The first task was to figure out if these were Trumpeters again or Tundra Swans.  For that I severely cropped a photo to get a closeup view:

A flat crown of the head sloping evenly with a straight bill, and the lack of a yellow spot in front of the eye reveals these to be Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) once again.

The fields last year were grass covered.  This year they are muddy and bare.  We had a bit of drought during the summer and fall before the rains came with a vengeance.  This may explain the difference.

In the adjacent field just north of this group, there were two more larger gatherings.  I estimate there were 200 birds or more altogether.  I don't recall seeing such large numbers in past winters.  Considering that by the 1930's Trumpeter Swans were considered extinct south of Canada, they have made a remarkable comeback.

If you want to view the spectacle yourself, find them between Burlington and Anacortes south of Highway 20.  Look along Best Road between the highway and Chilberg Road past Christianson's Nursery.  I have seen them consistently in this area all winter.  If you come, please remember your swan etiquette:  Park completely off the road, stay off of private property, don't try to approach the birds and keep your dog in the car.