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Showing posts from 2015

Sleeping Slugs, Wary Squirrels and Crotchety Jays

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As usual, if I go hiking to find something specific, I usually find something else instead.  This morning, I headed to Ginnett Hill in Deception Pass State Park.  My quest was to check out midsummer wildflowers.  Last year, they were prolific, but it looks like now is too early.  There were basically none to speak of.  Instead, I had some interesting wildlife encounters.

I spotted several Banana Slugs(Ariolimax columbianus) on the trail.  The two sleeping on the cut end of a fallen tree were the most interesting.  My theory that Fidalgo Island slugs have no spots is now officially refuted.  Ginnett Hill is in the Fidalgo section of the park.


Shortly after beginning the hike, I encountered this Douglas Squirrel(Tamiasciurus douglasii).  It was notable that he wasn't barking at me.  Persistent chattering and scolding is their usual demeanor when humans enter their territory.  Unlike the Eastern Gray Squirrel which has been introduced, this is one of the two native squirrels of wes…

Family Values

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Every spring, I take several hikes into the wild rhododendron grove in Deception Pass State Park to photograph the blooming.  After Tuesday's visit, I went over to West Beach and Cranberry Lake in the park.  I have found the East Cranberry Lake Trail to be a great spot for viewing wildlife.

The trail passes by a small, marshy island.  A narrow waterway extends between the trail and the island.  There is evidence of beaver activity in this section of the lake.  I have wondered if the island had actually been created by the beavers.

As I moved along the trail, I spotted this Canada Goose(Branta canadensis) sitting silently and motionless in the waterway.  The bird kept an unwavering eye on me, but didn't move a muscle.  This struck me as odd behavior.  Usually, they either ignore you totally or get very noisy and upset.  Although it looked healthy, I wondered if it was ill.  After a few photos, I continued on my way along the trail.


On my return back along the same trail, with …

Lawn Statues

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Some people buy plastic deer statues to put in their gardens.  I have the real thing.

About six months ago, I set up the BirdCam as a "trail cam" in the west side yard.  My goal was to try and catch the deer passing by on their way to the beach.  The trail that ran down this side of the yard when I bought the property turned out to be a deer trail.  Despite building and landscaping, they continue to follow the same path after 28 years.

Until now, the BirdCam caught several shots of me walking around the yard, but no usable photos of the deer.  I did catch some night shots but they were just vague outlines with glowing eyes.

Finally, patience paid off.  The BirdCam captured two decent photos yesterday morning.  This is the one I liked the best.  I wish I knew what had caught her attention.  She appears very interested in something over to the left.

These are Columbian Black-tailed Deer(Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) a subspecies of Mule Deer.  I have had to learn to garde…

American Coot

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I have lost track of how many times I have hiked on the dike at Wiley Slough.  It provides a trail deep into the wetlands of the Skagit River Delta.  The site is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Despite all those visits, yesterday was the first time I have ever seen an American Coot(Fulica americana).

At first, there was just one.  Then a second bird appeared and joined the first one.  When the two entered the slough and began to swim, I spotted a third one that joined them from the opposite shore.


American Coots are about the size of a small chicken.  They are said to be common and abundant in wetland areas throughout the Puget Sound Basin.  The Skagit River Delta would appear to be ideal habitat.  It consists of sloughs, marshes and ponds where the Skagit River drains into Puget Sound.  Water levels will fluctuate subject to both river flow and tidal action.  There is a mixing of fresh and salt water.  This is an important rearing habitat for Chinook Salm…

Salamander Season

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Meet Ensatina eschscholtzii, the Ensatina Salamander.  I found this one under a large piece of bark on the North Trail in the Kukutali Preserve.  It was about 5 inches/13 cm long and didn't move a muscle when it was exposed.  A map showing location is linked at the bottom of this post.  I don't believe I have ever seen one of these before making this an important find for me.

Ensatina means "like a sword."  Eschscholtzii may refer to Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, a nineteenth century physician and naturalist who explored Alaska and California.

Initially, I misidentified this guy as a Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile).  But that species has large parotid glands behind the eyes.  My salamander does not.  What clinched the ID was the obvious constriction at the base of the tail, unique among Washington salamanders.  It is clearly visible in the photo.  This little amphibian has some other unusual characteristics:
They do not have lungs.  Instead, they abso…

Dances with Sparrows

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Last Friday, January 30, I was in the Kukutali Preserve.  I hiked out to the south beach off Flagstaff Point.  Because it is a fragile ecosystem, the point itself is off-limits to visitors, but access to the beach is permitted.  I was there to see if the resident Oystercatchers were around, but not on this day.  Instead, I encountered a pair of Song Sparrows(Melospiza melodia) exhibiting some odd behavior.

The two birds were positioned about six feet (2 meters) apart.  The one on the shore was swelled up with neck tucked in looking rather like Jabba the Hutt ("heh-heh-heh").  He was flipping his wings up, first the left one, then the right.


This was the object of his attention, a second Song Sparrow on the beach perched on driftwood.  At first, I thought I was witnessing courtship.  Although January seemed a bit early for that, it was a very spring-like morning.  This entire winter has been warmer than usual.

When I got home and started to research the behavior, I discovere…

Three Good Bets for Winter Birding

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There are no certainties in birding, but there are places where it is possible to come close.  In the very heart of the Salish Sea, Deception Pass State Park offers great spots for viewing three special birds.


Black Oystercatchers(Haematopus bachmani)

During the fall and winter, look for them at West Beach resting on the large rock just offshore from the parking lot.  Mid to late morning seems to be the best time.  This is one of the few spots where they can be viewed inland from the Pacific coast.  The numbers that congregate here are also unusual.  Laid back, peaceable and a bit quirky, I consider them the most charming of all shorebirds.


Bald Eagle(Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Also at West Beach, there is a resident pair of Bald Eagles that can often be seen perching at the edge of the Dune Forest.  Like most predators, eagles spend a lot of time resting.  They can usually be seen in the tallest trees at the north end.  Look carefully, because they tend to blend right into the trees.…

One More for Kukutali

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From the Kukutali Preserve, I was able to add another creature to my Kukutali Bestiary today.   As usual, I heard this Pileated Woodpecker(Dryocopus pileatus) before I spotted him.  I have heard them often over there, but have never been able to get a good look at one.  When I have managed to locate them, they usually skitter around to the other side of the tree to hide.  This one seemed comfortable going on with his work while I took his picture.

This is a male, identified by his red mustache or malar stripe.  Females have a black mustache.  Also, the red crest of the male extends down over the forehead.  In females, the forehead is black.

When they're working on a hole like this, they don't go ratta-tatta-tatta like Woody Woodpecker.  It's a more methodical and resonant tap...tap...tap...tap.  It's very common to hear that sound echoing in these woods.  The other sound they make is their distinctive call.   It resonates through the trees evoking something almost Ju…

Gulls Are Hard

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Gulls can be notoriously difficult to identify.  They change appearance with age and the season.  To add to the complexity, some species readily interbreed to produce hybrid offspring.

This is the case with Washington's Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls.  According to Sibley, hybrids of the two may be more abundant here than either of the two individual species.

This is why I am calling this one a hybrid of the Western Gull(Larus occidentalis) and the Glaucous-winged Gull(Larus glaucescens).  Both species have dark eyes, pink legs and a heavy bill with a red spot.  The wing tips of the Wedstern are black while those of the Glaucous-winged are light gray like the mantle.  This bird's wing tips are dark gray.  Of course, I could be completely wrong.  Like I said, gulls are hard.


In the Kukutali Preserve, there is a driftwood log that that juts out over the beach.  It is propped up on a large rock.  There is always a gull perched on the end of it.  I will go out on a limb here a…

Lonely Trumpeter Swan

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There have been some events since the previous post (about the eagle).  The brand new Canon 100-400L II lens I received just before Christmas turned out to be defective.  I returned it and received the replacement lens yesterday.  Today I took it our for a shake-down cruise and hit the wildlife jackpot.

I was hiking along the East Cranberry Lake Trail in Deception Pass State Park.  It skirts the shoreline between West Beach and the East Cran picnic grounds.  In a lagoon next to the trail, I spotted this Trumpeter Swan(Cygnus buccinator) just quietly floating there alone.


If you're familiar with the park, you will recall the marshy island with the trees at the edge of the lake.  The swan was near the trail just inside this island.  I fully expected the bird to bolt at my approach, but it didn't.  Instead, it remained very still allowing me to take some photos.  Then, very slowly, it began to glide smoothly past the island and out into the lake.

Trumpeters can be difficult to d…