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Showing posts from 2014

An Eagle for Boxing Day

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On the day after Christmas, Boxing Day is observed in many English-speaking countries around the world.  For some reason, it is well known, but only erratically observed in the United States.  Mostly, we use it as an excuse to take another vacation day after Christmas.

My Christmas present this year was a new Canon EF 100-400mm II telephoto lens.  Among the first subjects I wanted to photograph with it were the Black Oystercatchers on "Fraggle Rock" in Deception Pass State Park.  Winter is the best time to find them there.  On Boxing Day, I headed over to the park with the new lens.

When I got there, I was pleased to find several dozen Oystercatchers on the rock.  Just as I was getting ready to shoot, some ignorant, yahoo tourist started throwing things at the birds.  This is the second time I have observed this behavior in the same spot.  The gulls weren't bothered, but all of the Oystercatchers flew off, about fifty in all.  My shoot was over before it started.  I do…

Giving Eagle His Space

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Recently, I hiked the Bowman-Rosario Trail out to Rosario Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  At the beginning of December, we had a stretch of clear skies and cold temperatures.  For me, this is ideal weather for hiking and exploring.

Big rocks out in Bowman Bay are visible from the trail.  On the map, I believe these are the ones identified as Gull Rocks.  Usually, they are populated with dozens of cormorants, a real spectacle.  These are diving birds that like to gather together in such places to dry their feathers, preen, rest and socialize after fishing.  Such a group is called a "sunning."  On this morning, however, there were no cormorants.  I spotted just a single bird, a Bald Eagle(Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched on the rock in the early December morning sun.


Here's a closer view of the eagle taken further along the trail.  I doubt this is a good vantage point for spotting fish in the bay.  Like other predators, eagles spend a lot of time just loafing.  The…

Get Out of My Yard!

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Encountering a Douglas Squirrel(Tamiasciurus douglasii) is always an adventure.  Sometimes they are indifferent or even curious and engaging. Other times, they can be aggressive and territorial.  I ran into this fellow on the Bowman-Rosario Trail in Deception Pass State Park.  The reaction was hostile and noisy.  I heard his angry barking and scolding first.  Then he came right up to me to challenge my presence in his territory.  From the look in his eye, it was obvious that I was not welcome here.

Does anyone recognize what he is carrying?  It looks like a chunk of dried conifer sap.  Whatever it is, it must be something good to eat.  He was not about to give it up.  Chasing off intruders should never interfere with a good meal.

Life and Death at Kukutali

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December 1 is the meteorological beginning of winter.  In northern latitudes, winter is the season of cold, stillness and darkness, when much of nature seems to die.  True to form, ours has come with subfreezing temperatures and even some snow in places.  In the north Puget Sound area, we have been getting clear skies and bright sunshine along with the cold temperatures.

For some reason, I love hiking in cold weather.  With a day off work and a beautiful day, I headed over to the Kukutali Preserve to check out the wildlife.  I didn't get much past the parking lot before spotting this Eastern Gray Squirrel(Sciurus carolinensis) enjoying the fruits of a Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna).  This tree is a native of Europe that has become naturalized in the Pacific Northwest.


As I mentioned, our overnight temperatures have dropped below freezing.  It was about 26° F (-3° C) when I left home.  A skim of ice had formed on the surface of the salt water lagoon next to the road to Kiket…

January Sparrows

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We have been getting January weather for the past couple of weeks.  Sub-freezing temperatures, blue skies and sunshine are typical for early January.  This is not typical for November which is usually our rainiest month.  Days on end of blue skies and sunshine in November is simply weird.  Local wildlife is also looking a lot like January.

The breeding range of the Golden-crowned Sparrow(Zonotrichia atricapilla) is British Columbia, the southern Yukon and western and southern Alaska.  Then they spend the winter in southwestern B.C., along the western US coast to northern Baja California.  They are regular visitors to my feeders at this time of the year.  They are fond of safflower seed.


I spotted this bird yesterday in the Kukutali Preserve patrolling the south beach near Flagstaff Island.  Green stains on the beak reveal finding something good to eat there.  This is the bird's winter plumage.  In the breeding season, it has a black cap that surrounds a bright yellow crown.


The N…

A Parcel of Oystercatchers

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A group of Black Oystercatchers(Haematopus bachmani) is called a parcel according to iBird Pro.  I found this group resting on Fraggle Rock this morning.  Recall, this is the name I gave to the rock just offshore at West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  I have never been able to find an official name for it.


This is a favorite late morning resting spot for shorebirds, especially gulls and cormorants.  During the fall and winter, Black Oystercatchers also like to congregate here.  They come to rest and socialize.  It is always a peaceful gathering.  I have never seen any squabbling among the different species here.


Humans, of course, bring another story.  While I was taking photographs, these people started throwing rocks at the birds.  They didn't stop until every bird was driven from the rock.  Apparently, they thought that was appropriate behavior.  The birds were gone and my photo session was over.  That kid learned a perverse lesson from her parents today.  I hope his hea…

Cooper's Hawk

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Sometimes the wildlife watches you.  This morning I hiked the dike at Wiley Slough in the Skagit River delta.  I went to try and catch Cedar Waxwings.  This time of year, they enjoy the ripe Pacific Crabapples that grow along the dike.  The Lesser Snow Geese have also returned to Fir Island.  Some shots of them would also be welcome.  Alas, there were lots of American Robins, but no Cedar Waxwings and no Snow Geese.  I headed back to the parking lot without a single photo.  Then, this small hawk flew right up to me.  He perched on a branch and took a good look as if to check me out.

This is a juvenile Cooper's Hawk(Accipiter cooperii).  It is one of the three Accipiters that occur locally.  They come in three sizes, small, medium and large.  The Northern Goshawk(A. gentilis) is the largest of the group.  The Cooper's is the medium sized bird, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk(A. striatus) is the smallest.


After getting a couple of photos, I continued on my way along the dike.  The b…

Got Him!  Belted Kingfisher

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For three years, I have been gunning for this Belted Kingfisher(Megaceryle alcyon).  Such as it is, I finally got a photo this morning.  This is a male.  Females have a rust colored band across the belly.  The characteristic white spot in front of the eye is clearly visible.

They are fairly common here wherever there is fresh or salt water.  They can hover in place over the water much like a hummingbird.  When they spot prey near the surface, they dive straight down and snatch it in that long bill.  Their favorite food is fish, but they also like frogs, tadpoles, insects and crayfish.  I usually hear them before I see them.  Their noisy ratcheting calls resemble the sound of a fishing reel.  They love to make that noise when they are flying or hovering.

The species name alcyon is a variation of halcyon.  In Greek mythology, this was a kingfisher that calmed the winter sea to lay its eggs in a floating nest.  The myth led to the use of the word to mean peace and calmness.  In fact, Ki…

European Garden Spider

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Last weekend while scouting rocks for International Rock Flipping Day, I noticed this young lady by my entry porch.  I snapped a couple of photos and returned to my rock hunt.  When I took another look at the photos, I realized what a beautiful creature this is.

She is a European Garden Spider(Araneus diadematus).  As the name implies, she is an immigrant from Europe and not a native North American arachnid.  Nevertheless, this has become one of the most familiar spiders seen in the Pacific Northwest.  They are most prevalent in late summer and fall.  Other common names include Diadem Spider, Cross Spider and Cross Orbweaver.

Orbweavers (family Araneidae) are the spiders that build wheel-shaped spiral webs.  The third pair of legs are specialized for building orb webs.  They are of little use out of the web.  The web is not the spider's home.  It is a trap for catching food.  This spider will build a new web early every morning.


Cropping the photo for a closer look reveals a hair…

Been Living Under a Rock

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Yesterday was International Rock Flipping Day.  This has become an annual event to encourage people to get outside and explore the natural world.  Nature bloggers, in particular, go out to favorite spots to see what is going on under the rocks.  This is also meant for families to provide their children a little STEM-ulus to explore science in their own backyards and beyond.

My plan was to head to the beach at low tide for my first IRFD post.  While I waited for the tide to go out, I did some practice flipping in the garden:


It's been pretty dry here since June.  So far, it has only rained once this month and conditions in the garden are quite arid.  I didn't expect to find much.  Our ubiquitous Woodlice were nowhere to be found.  I did discover this beetle under a stone at the edge of a gravel path.  I had some problems identifying it.  Click or right-click the photo to see it full size.  Based on image searches, it could be one of the North American native Rove Beetles(Ocyp…

A Kukutali Bestiary

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Imagine a place, a small island perhaps, where much of the wildlife of a region can be found.  What would it be like to experience a dozen or more wildlife encounters in just a couple hours of exploring?  Such a microcosm of the Pacific Northwest exists and it's a stone's throw from where I live.  You can literally walk a mile and find forest, wetland, beaches, tide pools, driftwood fields, salt marsh, rocky balds, grass meadows and a pocket estuary.  It also happens to be a significant Native American cultural site.  All of these things can be found in a 96 acre/39 hectare preserve just waiting to be explored.

The Kukutali Preserve opened June 16th, 2014.  Over the past three months I have made several visits.  During this short time and in this small site, I have acquired an amazing collection of wildlife sightings and photographs.  To reveal what an amazing place this is, I decided to post them all at once.

Along the Road

From the parking area, Kiket Island is accessed by f…