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Showing posts from 2016

Mycophagy

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Mycophagy (my-COUGH-a-gee) is an interesting word derived from Greek meaning "fungus glutton."  Our native Banana Slugs(Ariolimax columbianus) are apparently mushroom epicures.  Hiking the North Trail in the Kukutali Preserve I spotted the mollusks dining on our local portobellos.  With October, the rains have returned, and damp weather seems to bring out both slugs and mushrooms.


All along the trail, I found evidence of mushroom munching.  It was obvious the slugs relish these mycological delights.

I do not recommend following their lead.  I don't know enough about mushrooms to declare these safe for people to eat.  What is dessert for slugs could be deadly for humans.  It seems the slugs have evolved to cope with potential toxins produced by the fungi.  It is well known people have not.


At this point, allow me to editorialize.  Wherever I hike, I find smashed and dead Banana Slugs.  Hikers seem to be going out of their way to kill them.  This is ignorance manifest.

P…

Madronas and Deer

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The Madronas at Deception Pass are amazing this year.  I have never seen the abundance of fruit on the trees like they have right now.  Yesterday, I went over to the State Park to get some photos of the trees.  While at the top of Goose Rock, I made a couple of new friends, a pair of young Columbian Black-tailed Deer(Odocoileus hemionus columbianus).  As usual, I went hiking to find one thing, and ended up finding something else unexpected.  Surprise encounters like this are always the best.


The pair were not fully grown.  If I can use the observations from my own yard, I am guessing these are siblings.  After they leave their mother's side, they will stick together for a few years until they mature.

Another habit exhibited by deer is a tendency to follow the same trails and routes from day to day.  I have also seen this in my yard.  That would mean this pair could be frequent visitors to the top of Goose Rock, the highest point on Whidbey Island.  The summit is 484 feet (148 m)…

American Goldfinch

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The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis. a.k.a. Carduelis tristis) is the Washington State Bird.  I have been trying to get a decent photo of one for almost 10 years.  That makes this encounter yesterday in the Kukutali Preserve somewhat momentous for me.

These are wary, fast moving little birds that will flee at the sight of a human.  Up until now, I have only been able to observe them from afar or using the BirdCam.  This bird allowed me to stand within about 10 feet/3 meters while he took a meal of Hawksbeard seeds.


From these photos, notice how he never took his eye off of me.  If I had made one wrong move, he would have been gone in an instant.

This is a male, identified by his bright yellow breeding plumage and black cap.  Females are a duller olive brown color and lack the black cap.  In winter, both genders are olive brown.  I usually see them in small groups or "charms," but this bird was feeding alone.


The State of Washington refers to it as the Willow Goldfinch.  …

Black Oystercatchers Nesting

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I consider the pair of Black Oystercatchers(Haematopus bachmani) that make their home in the Kukutali Preserve to be friends.  I have been watching them since 2011, the first time I visited.  I'm fairly certain I have been seeing the same birds every year.  According to Seattle Audubon, "Males and females appear to form long-term pair bonds, and the pair returns to the same territory year after year."

I was in the Preserve yesterday and found them in their usual spot, where they appear to be nesting now.  They seem to nest later in the season than other birds.  I'm not certain, but perhaps it's a shorebird thing.  Land birds are pretty much done with that now, or even getting ready for a second brood.  Oystercatchers lay their eggs in a simple scrape in the rocks, above the high tide line, according to the iBird app.


While I walked up the beach to the west, I pointed the camera at some gulls that were still quite a distance away.  Only then did I spot the Oyste…

Pigeon Guillemot

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This week's visit to the Kukutali Preserve, brought another "first sighting" for me.  Just offshore of the Flagstaff Island beach, I spotted this pair of Pigeon Guillemots(Cepphus columba) in their elegant breeding plumage.  At first I saw just a single bird (above), then realized there was a second nearby.  They are year-around residents of the Salish Sea.


Pigeon Guillemots are birds of inshore waters around rock shores.  According to Seattle Audubon, they nest in rock caves or crevices or under driftwood.  Given these preferences, this pair could well be nesting somewhere here in the Preserve.  Pairs may join small colonies or nest singly.  These are diving birds that use their wings to propel themselves underwater.  Their diet includes fish, mollusks and crustaceans.


These are not ducks.  Guillemots are grouped in the family Alcidae, which includes puffins, auks and murres.  This black and white plumage is typical of the group.  Once in a while, I caught sight of the…

Eyes of the Day

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I'll begin with a mystery.  On a hike in the Kukutali Preserve, I couldn't help but notice all the daisies blooming along the road.  A dark object on one of them caught my eye.  Looking closer, I knew I should get a photo of it.  I figured out it was a Harvestman, but I don't know what kind.

Another name for them is "Daddy Longlegs," but this is like no Daddy Longlegs I have ever seen.  Wikipedia says, "typical body length does not exceed 7 millimeters (0.28 in)."  This one was at least twice that size.  I do get the delicate little Daddy Longlegs in my house.  They seem to like my shower.  My house guests, however, have tiny bodies that are under a quarter inch long.  Perhaps Kiket Island grows them extra large and robust.  I would enjoy hearing from anyone who can provide more information about this big guy.

Harvestmen are arachnids like spiders and scorpions, but of a different order, Opiliones.  They have eight legs like other arachnids, but unlike…

Heron Luncheonette

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On Memorial Day I hiked around the Kukutali Preserve.  It is a favorite and convenient spot for me, quick and easy to get to and I always find something interesting there.  At the end of the hike, I headed back along the tombolo connecting Kiket Island to the mainland.  There is a lagoon on the north side of the tombolo.  Over the bank separating the roadway from the lagoon, I spotted a Great Blue Heron(Ardea herodias) giving me the eye.

In itself, seeing a heron around here is not unusual.  What did strike me as odd, I was well inside the "escape zone" from which herons will usually flee, barking in protest.  This one did not flee, however, but remained in place watching me.


As I continued along the tombolo, I got even closer and was able to get a better view of the bird.  It was wading belly deep in the lagoon.  Still, it did not flee from me.  It just stood there motionless.


Then, quite suddenly, the bird plunged its head into the water revealing what was going on.  This…

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

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Last Tuesday I went hiking and picture-taking at the Kukutali Preserve.  I headed out to the far end of the beach off Flagstaff Island to check on the Black Oystercatchers.  I noticed a pair of brown birds sticking together on the root of a large driftwood tree.  They would fly up occasionally, then return to their perches on the root.  When they flew, they resembled swallows, but when perching, I didn't recognize what they were.

They steadfastly kept their backs turned to me.  This was frustrating my efforts to get a decent photo.  One of them held possible nesting material in its beak.  The story was emerging.  They were building a nest nearby, but did not want to reveal its location to me.  For as long as I stayed on the beach, they would stick to their perches on that root with their backs turned.


I got a few shots (of their backs) then left so as not to disturb them any more.  When I got home, I took a good look at the photos to try and ID them.  I discovered they were North…

A Wary Eye

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I was back hiking at the Kukutali Preserve today.  While crossing the tombolo to Kiket Island, I met this Colombian Black-tailed Deer(Odocoileus hemionus columbianus).  Our local indigenous deer, they are a subspecies of Mule Deer.  While I was hiking in, she was heading in the opposite direction on the beach next to the tombolo.

It is not uncommon to spot deer on beaches around here.  Those that pass through my yard are usually heading to the beach.  I suspect they go there to add a little salt to their diet.

We didn't stop to chat.  In this case, I believe she detoured to the beach when she spotted me.  From her expression and brisk pace, I could tell she was not happy with the encounter.  Once we passed, she climbed up to the tombolo road behind me and we each went our separate ways.

Goose Rock Mourning Doves

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I am in the midst of my annual Pacific Rhododendron photo hikes in Deception Pass State Park.  These wild, native rhodies are blooming now providing some incongruous color to favored Pacific Northwest forests.  Usually, I encounter more than flowers on these hikes.  Yesterday, after visiting the rhododendron grove, I continued up the Goose Rock Summit Trail.  Along the way, I met a pair of Mourning Doves(Zenaida macroura), Washington's only native dove.

These extremely wary birds always flee in terror when humans approach.  While one flew off into the trees, its mate perched on the trail uphill from me long enough for a photo.

Until about two years ago, Mourning Doves were daily visitors in my garden.  I suspect they nested somewhere nearby, perhaps even in the yard.  They were especially fond of safflower seed.  They came to the feeders and liked to hang out on the basement patio to get some sun.  Then, the non-native Eurasian Collard Doves moved in and took over the 'hood.…

Homecoming

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These Black Oystercatchers(Haematopus bachmani) have come home to their nesting site in the Kukutali Preserve.  When I visited the island this morning, I was treated to a little courtship song and dance.


They always leave their nesting site during the winter to join their friends over on Fraggle Rock at West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  But now they are home for the summer to raise a brood of youngsters.  Pairs are monogamous and usually return to the same isolated nesting sites every year.  I have been observing this pair since 2011.


Note that I am taking these picture from a good 100 feet/30 meters away with a telephoto lens.  Visitors to the Kukutali Preserve should be respectful of this nesting site.  If you come to visit, please be careful not to disturb the birds.