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

Eastward to Walla Walla, part II

Day 2 in Walla Walla I arrived at Bennignton Lake early enough to see the sky full of stars and to hear a Great Horned Owl pair hooting, “Who’s awake? Me toooo.

Bennington Lake

The trail system is fantastic. 20 miles wind through 600 acres of woodlands and meadows surrounding the lake. The lake was set up by the US Army Corps of Engineers for flood control in the 1940s.

One section of trail is referred to as “owl alley” by local Audubon members because of the frequent owl sightings. I was hoping to find one or two. Upon researching, I learned long-eared owls nest in the park and there were recent ebird sightings, “one did not flush and sat nicely for great views!” I could only imagine.

I saw Killdeer on the lake shore, and mergansers and geese on the lake. In the hardwood forests Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers were busy collecting insects. Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrow, and Bewick’s Wrens were singing their hearts out. Does this mean it’s spring already?

Dark-eyed Junco

White-crowned Sparrow

Bewick's Wren

I saw the Mountain Chickadee sporting the white eye-stripe!

Mountain Chickadee

And the Northern Harrier hunting, as per usual.

Northern Harrier

I found a row of pines that looked pretty owly. Sure enough, pellets, bones, and whitewash littered the ground.

Pellets

Pellets

But, alas, no owls were home. Or if they were, they were invisible. That’s probably more like it. Still, it felt good to practice tracking skills.

Upon leaving the park, I saw a Townsend’s Solitaire absorbing BTUs from a solar panel.

Townsend's Solitaire

Then I heard a soft, faint hooting. I was all over it and scoured the trees until I found them.

Great Horned Owl

Yeah! Two Great Horned Owls! (One in the lower left). These must be the two I heard earlier near the parking lot when I arrived. Good times at the lake.

Great Horned Owl

On the drive home I got some good looks of my other bird love (and last year’s obsession), the Western Meadowlark.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

And just because, I made a quick stop at Balch Lake, past Lyle, Washington. The lake provides habitat for the protected pond turtle, and is also home to dozens of Lewis’s Woodpeckers!

Lewis's Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker

These fellas are highly entertaining and I’d recommend checking out this site for some great looks. I’ve heard there is also an Acorn Woodpecker granary nearby, but I’ve yet to find it. Yet.

Can’t get enough!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

October-November yard birds

Who’s excited about Downy Woodpeckers in their yard? This gal!

Confirmed male.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

And female.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

 

Downy Woodpecker

Pretty exciting news. I hope they stick around. And I hope they make little downy chicks in the spring for cuteness’ sake.

This week has been all about gobs of Pine Siskins eating gobs of sunflower seeds.

Pine Siskin

(and a House Finch amidst the drama)

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

I still find the Pine Siskin entertaining. They were, after all, one of the first new-to-me birds I identified at home when I put the feeders up in January. It’s neat to realize how far I’ve come since then. A couple of weeks ago, there was an exciting day when I counted 14 bird different species in the yard. Including a Western Tanager (Yellow Warbler).

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Other highlights from that day:

Bewick’s Wren

Bewick's Wren

Bewick's Wren

Black-capped Chickadee.

Black-capped Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

House Finch

House Finch

House Finch

I also saw this Swainson’s Thrush that looks to have a puncture on its side. Though I’ve not heard it from the house, I have a soft spot for these birds because of their beautiful song. I hope this one recovers okay.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson's Thrush

The Western Scrub-Jays were also nearby.

Western Scrub-Jay

Western Scrub-Jay

Western Scrub-Jay

And one of my all time favorite yard friends, the Anna’s Hummingbird in all of its amusing postures. Narwhal or hummingbird?

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

So much personality in a tiny feathered package.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

One surprise in the neighborhood was this Red-tailed Hawk perched and looking around while crows mobbed it.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

I’m curious if this apex predator is just passing through or looking for a more permanent residence. I’ll keep an eye out.

This morning, I walked outside to Pine Siskin, Dark-eyed Junco flocks, a Song Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrows, and a Varied Thrush! This was the first time I’ve seen a Varied Thrush in the yard. I startled it and it flew away before I could get a photo. Hopefully next time!

It’s a bird-iful day in the neighborhood!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey