February birds cont’d

A majority of my February was spent obsessively looking for screech owls on Mt Tabor. I made about a dozen trips at various early-morning and late-night hours but all I could come up with is a lone Barred Owl calling early one the morning.


 
My search continues.

Outside my five mile radius, however at Oak’s Bottom I struck gold.

Or silver actually. While hiking, I happened to notice a slightly silver feather pattern peeking out of the side of a tree that I was about 85% sure was an owl. I was confident enough to return at sunset to see what happens after dark.

Oaks Bottom at sunset

Sure enough.

Right on cue just after sunset, a sleepy Western Screech Owl peeked its head out! It’s the first one I’ve found on my own. And only the third I’ve ever seen. The first was at this exact park (in a different tree) two years ago on a Birdathon trip. It’s quite possible this is the same owl, or that owl’s partner.

Minutes later as the sky darkened, the owl woke up and looked out further.

I had brought Tomas along with me and together we watched this incredible creature wake up and survey its surroundings. Not wanting to disturb it, we decided to leave before it exited the trunk.

Just as we turned around it flew out over our heads and perched on a low shrub nearby. It called it’s ping-pong call for a few minutes (and another owl nearby responded!) before it then darted into the darkness to hunt. We were ecstatic as we hiked out.

Then Tomas said – look!

It was right next to us along the trail! So tiny, about the size of a soda can. In the dark we could barely keep track as it flew down to the water, and we heard a splash as it caught something (a fish?), then we quickly lost track again. I felt incredibly lucky.

A daylight search on Mt Tabor turned up Fox Sparrow, Red-breasted Sapsucker, and Band-tailed Pigeon to add to my 5MR.

Welcome back pigeon

And on a trip to Broughton Beach I found Brewer’s Blackbird, Horned Grebe, Killdeer, and one early morning I was lucky to find a flock of Horned Lark.

Back at home one rainy day I birded from our bedroom window and managed to see an American Goldfinch hanging with the Lesser Goldfinch.

Sometimes it’s nice to bird from bed when it’s so dreary outside.

Lesser Goldfinch

From the window I also saw a rare sight of two Anna’s Hummingbirds at the feeder at once. That never happens.

And did I mention my Townsend’s Warbler is back?

They sure do make these rainy days brighter.

Lights me up every time. Hope things dry out soon! Marching on to spring…

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bike Touring San Juan Islands- Lopez Island

This summer I finally conquered a trip that had been on my bucket list for a decade: Bike Touring San Juan Islands. Sounds exotic, right?

Ferry Time

It was actually way easier and more familiar than I thought it would be. Though traveling by ferry was different, the ferry schedule was easy to follow. Like a bus on water, the trips between islands are short (about an hour), on schedule, and free after the first ticket purchase (a very reasonable $13.25/person + $2/bike). The most difficult part was awkwardly tying the loaded bikes in the slanted and sometimes crowded cargo area.

Go by Ferry

Tomas and I planned two nights on each island Lopez, San Juan, Orcas, and Shaw.

Lopez starts steep, but then levels out into one of the most bike-friendly of islands. Spencer Spit State Park with excellent bike-camping sites is only 4.5 miles from the ferry dock. And Lopez Village, full of supplies, beer, and ice-cream is 3 miles west of the park.

Spencer Spit State Park

Spencer Spit also has one of the best public beaches on the islands. And beaches bring birds. Gulls of course.

California Gull

California Gull – dark eye, long strait narrow bill with red/black gonys spot

Mew Gull - dark eye, small round "pigeon" head with petit bill

Mew Gull – small round “pigeon” head, yellow legs, petite bill

But there were a couple of small surprises. Like Least Sandpipers. They have greenish-yellow legs (poor light in this photo), and small slightly drooping bills.

Least Sandpiper

And they are usually seen in smaller numbers as compared to other peeps, like Western Sandpipers. Which were also present in larger flock style.

Western Sandpiper

They settled briefly and I could see the differences from the least. Westerns have black legs and a somewhat stouter slightly longer drooping bill.

Western Sandpiper

Practicing peeps. I need to remember to look at the legs. About this point it started raining. But before it started pouring I saw a pretty little Savannah Sparrow in the driftwood.

Savannah Sparrow

And its giant adopted relative, Brown-headed Cowbird.

Cowbird and savannah

Then it poured and I saw two Caspian Terns, but I didn’t stay long to watch them before running for cover from the rain. And that is when I met the wettest chickadee ever.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

It cracked me up.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

So much so that I laughed out loud on the trail and a little girl came up to ask what I was looking at. I pointed out the chickadee and asked, “Do you see him?” She laughed and said, “Yes, or her.” Good point.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Also in the flock were Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, an Orange-crowned and Yellow Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, and Brown Creeper. None of which I got great photos of. So here’s a picture of bunnies by the bike lane.

Bunnies

So many rabbits on Lopez Island.

Rabbit sea

They’re cute, but the introduced European Rabbits wreck havoc on native grassland habitat for meadowlarks, voles, and butterflies. Especially on small island ecosystems. They’ve been a major problem on San Juan Island too, but controlling them is controversial because they are “charismatic cuddly fauna.” From this 2012 article:

“For years, nearly 500 toothy, grass-guzzling, invasive rabbits transformed San Juan Island’s American Camp prairie into what the National Park Service dubbed ‘a moonscape. But the agency two years ago backed off plans to shoot and trap the animals after a public outcry. The Park Service is conducting a more detailed environmental analysis.”

I wonder if we’ll ever learn. Here’s Rabbit Tales, an interesting read on the history of rabbits on San Juan Island.

Tomas and I made it to Shark Reef Sanctuary, a short hike along the coast, hoping for a whale or good pelagic bird sighting, but there were only harbor seals, an angry bee, and a nice view of our next island destination.

Shark Reef Sanctuary

Leaving Lopez the next day, I stopped at several ponds and waterways on the way and found Green-winged Teal, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Pintail, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Goldfinch, Lincoln’s, Song, and Golden-crowned Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and a Black-headed Grosbeak which was the most unexpected sighting.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Lopez was a great start to our island adventure! I couldn’t wait to explore San Juan Island next.

Birding Lopez

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Steigerwald

I took a trip to Steigerwald Lake NWR to see what the Purple Martins were up to.

They were busy being birds.

Purple Martin

I love listening to them chatter. Wonder what they’re saying?…

I was a bit confused by their plumage. In fact, while taking these photos, another birder on the path asked me what kind of birds they were and I wasn’t positive they were all martins.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

A little Googling reveals that, like some birds, Purple Martins have “delayed plumage maturation” and it takes two years for their adult plumage to come in. So, some of these could be subadult males. That explains their plumage.

But what explains their attitude?

Purple Martin

More obvious males were visible at the nesting “gourds“.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

Purple Martins, the largest North American swallows, migrate from South America (Brazil, Argentina, Peru) and feed on large insects like dragonflies. 40 nesting gourds are maintained at Steigerwald that had a successful 90% occupancy rate in 2014 according to USFWS. Nice to know they have a place to nest here.

Other species seen on this trip:

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey