Black Oystercatcher at Kukutali Preserve
Just across Skagit Bay from my home is Kiket Island and the smaller Flagstaff Island attached to it by a tombolo. The islands now comprise the Kukutali Preserve. It is owned and operated jointly by the Swinomish Tribal Community and Washington State Parks. Until this week, access to the Preserve was limited to small guided groups by reservation only. It is now open to the public and I made my first unescorted visit last Tuesday. You can read about my visit and the history of this newly opened nature preserve at Fidalgo Island Crossings.
With a good low tide, I returned this morning with a specific objective. I wanted to see if the Black Oystercatchers (haematopus bachmani) I first met three years ago are still living at Flagstaff. I spotted a pair calling and flying low over the bay towards Skagit Island on Tuesday.
Sure enough, today I was rewarded by another encounter with one of my old friends. Oystercatchers are non-migratory, form long-term pair bonds, and are known to live 15 years or more.
This is the Oystercatchers' habitat. Isolated rocky islets in northern Puget Sound are some of the few places they are found inland from the Pacific coast. Flagstaff on the right is a flat piece of volcanic stone surrounded by a rocky beach. The beach provides mussels, limpets and clams which make up their diet. I photographed their clam opening technique for a previous post. They nest at the edge of the island above the tide line in a simple scrape on the ground.
Looking west, the Deception Pass Bridge can be seen from here. Flagstaff Island itself is a fragile lowland meadow habitat with thin soil. It is protected and off-limits to visitors. Check the information posted at the Preserve entrance to find the red zones where visitors are not allowed. Note that only Swinomish tribal members and the Oystercatchers are permitted to harvest shellfish on these beaches.
I first spotted him while hiking along the south beach. He was casually walking up the beach towards Flagstaff Island. With my 18-200 mm lens, I was able to keep my distance.
Suddenly, he took wing and flew towards me. So much for keeping my distance. I have remarked before how laid back and affable these birds seem to be. They don't act like they care about the presence of people in their territory. Living in isolated places, they may have never developed a strong fear of humans.
He sauntered up to within 10 feet of me and decided to take a rest. This was not my first close encounter, but I was still astonished. Although they don't appear disturbed, people should never try to approach them. Remain still and quiet and let the birds come to you if they feel comfortable. Always stay well away from their nesting sites.
Apparently, this was not quite the right spot. He got up and continued his trek towards Flagstaff coming even closer to me. While they are strong fliers, these are shorebirds that never swim. Their feet have long, stout toes specifically designed for walking on rocks and barnacles.
He continued up to the edge of Flagstaff Island. Notice how well camouflaged he is there. Now this looks like a good spot to rest for a while. The stones have been warmed by the morning sun and he can keep an eye on that silly human taking his picture.