Monday, January 27, 2014

A Murder at West Beach

Northwestern Crow

October 11, 2013 was a big day for wildlife at West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  A half dozen Bald Eagles were fishing just off the beach.  The Mayor was working his pine grove and the Heermann's Gulls, had joined all the other sea birds at "Fraggle Rock."  Not to be outdone, about a dozen or more Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus) were patrolling the beach next to the picnic grounds.  Such a group of crows is called a "murder."  Other collective nouns for crows include "cauldron," "congress," "horde" and "muster" according to iBird Pro.

While I watched the crows doing their crow chores on the beach, one fellow seemed to be more interested in studying me.  That's him in the photo above.  I'd be curious to know what he learned.

Northwestern Crow

Northwestern Crows make their living beachcombing the intertidal areas of rocky shores.  For this reason, these Corvids could be classified as shorebirds.  Their diet includes snails, clams, mussels and other aquatic life.  Like gulls, they are known to drop shellfish from the air onto hard surfaces to crack them open.  The parking lot and sidewalks at West Beach are littered with these broken shells.

A stone cairn (right) provided one park visitor with a moment of reflection.  The effort has probably been lost to the tides, but was preserved by the photo.  Crows are very intelligent and observant creatures.  I wonder if they were attracted to this spot by the cairns.

Northwestern Crow
Northwestern Crow

This fellow was holding bits of grass in his beak.  For whatever reason, he seemed very proud of his trophy and wanted everyone to see it.

Northwestern Crows are distinguished from the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) by their smaller size and seaside habitat.  Some authorities believe the Northwestern is a subspecies of the American Crow.  For anyone accustomed to seeing American Crows, the size difference is obvious.  Brachyrhynchos means "short-billed," while caurinus apparently means "northwest."

Northwestern Crow

Meanwhile, this guy continued to study me.  The intelligence of crows is well known.  Their success as a species has been attributed to their ability to learn how to exploit the human environment.  A Murder of Crows is an amazing documentary from PBS which reveals just how intelligent they are.  (Sorry about the advertising.  This is apparently the depths to which PBS has been forced to sink so the wealthy can have their tax cuts.)

Monday, January 13, 2014


Gregarious is a good word to describe Canada Geese (Branta canadensis).  They like to gather together in groups with their own kind.  This is Cranberry Lake in Deception Pass State Park.  Two years ago, they gathered together here to such an extent, the park had to close the swimming beach.  Too much you-know-what in the water.  After steps were taken (that we probably don't want to know about), the beach was reopened last summer.

Several collective nouns are used to described groups of geese like this:  flock, gaggle, blizzard, chevron, knot, plump and string.  I think it depends on whether the geese are flying, swimming or just hanging out together for some of these terms.  For example, a chevron of geese refers to the V-shaped formation they assume while flying.  I have seen blizzards of Snow Geese when 5,000 or 10,000 of them launch into flight.  It is truly a snowstorm.

As an experiment, this is the same photograph using the compressed .jpg format.  The first photo is in the uncompressed .png format.  I want to see if there is any difference between the 1.06 MB png photo vs. the 428 KB jpg version.  Different monitors will also produce different results.  I would appreciate hearing from anyone who can see a difference.  The smaller jpg photos will load much faster on web pages, but the png photos may look better.  Please let me know.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Song for the New Year

Song Sparrow

On December 30, I walked the trail from East Cranberry Lake to West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  This is a very easy 1 mile/1.6 kilometer hike.  About half borders the lake and beaver marshes.  Then it crosses the road and runs through the woods next to the huge Cranberry Lake Campgrounds.  It ends near the West Beach parking lot.  This route offers a lot of wildlife potential including beavers and the diverse waterfowl of Cranberry Lake.

Next to the lake, near the end of the trail, this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) was singing his heart out.  Obviously, they don't just sing during the breeding season.  Maybe they also do it for fun.  Song Sparrows in this region have darker plumage than other parts of North America.  This one is also puffed up a bit in defense against the chilly morning temperatures of late December.