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

Shevlin Park and Black Butte

Last weekend I went on a solo-trip to Bend that started at 2:30 am. I would have started at 2 am but I thought I’d sleep in a little.

Sounds like a good idea, right? I thought so. I wanted to get the three hour drive from Portland over with and hoped to arrive at Shevlin Park near sunrise to maximize birding time. Bonus was seeing the Great Horned Owl from the car on the drive there (sadly, no pics).

Shevlin Park

What a great park! It’s Bend’s largest park at 647 acres with miles of hiking through beautiful pine forests. I read up on the many woodpeckers that call the park home, and was excited to start the morning with a sapsucker.

Red-naped Sapsucker

I thought I would get better views of the bird, but this was all I got before it flew away and turned invisible. The messy black and white barring on back and red patch on the nape makes me want to call it a Red-naped Sapsucker, but I didn’t get a good look at the throat, and where is the white stripe on the side? I feel more comfortable just calling it Generic John-Doe Sapsucker.

Thankfully other woodpeckers like Lewis’s Woodpeckers abound in this park, and there is no mistaking this bird.

So easy to identify

So easy to identify

And the star of the park in my opinion, and one of the reasons I put it at the top of my list, is the Pygmy Nuthatch!

Pygmy Nuthatch

Yay tiny nuthatch! New bird! Not the easiest to take photos of, but so fun to watch. It was hopping in,on, and around a snag shared with a pair of Lewis’s Woodpeckers.

Lewis's Woodpecker

Calliope Hummingbirds were sighted at the park recently, but I only found Anna’s. Still stunning.

Anna's Hummingbird

I listened to Wilson’s and MacGillivray’s Warblers that I never saw, but I did see one flycatcher.

Gray Flycatcher

If you’re lucky, you see a bird. If you’re really lucky, you see a bird sing. If you’re really really really lucky, birds will give you a little something extra. This one gave me a tail-wag. I have never been so happy to see a wagging tail because that is the diagnostic move of the Gray Flycatcher. Empidonax identified!

I got a few other birds including Black-headed Grosbeak and House Wren, both delightful year birds.

Black-headed Grosbeak

House Wren

I wrapped up hiking at the park when it became too bright and late in the afternoon, and after I started turning Eurasian Collared-Doves into Clark’s Nutcrackers (one of the birds I really wanted to see).

Not a Nutcracker

Right colors, wrong bird

I set up camp at Cold Springs Campground in Sisters, took a quick nap to recharge, then set off again to find a particular woodpecker. I walked through the thick Ponderosa Pine at the campground while listening to Mountain Chickadees and Chipping Sparrows when I heard tapping. I adhered to the good advice from Jen’s blog and followed the pecking sound.

Huzzah! White-headed Woodpecker!

White-headed Woodpecker

White-headed Woodpecker

Oh how I love this bird. It’s like something out of a fairy tale. Birds like these don’t exist. No, but they do! Here’s an exciting video of this one excavating:

I slept soundly that night. But when I woke up the next morning, I had nutcrackers on the brain. It’s funny how that works. See one good bird and you want to see another. I checked eBird and saw recent Clark’s Nutcracker sightings at Black Butte and it looked like the perfect four mile round-trip hike.

When I drove towards the butte it looked like this:

Black Butte

After driving another 10 miles (5 miles up a narrow gravel road), I got to the trailhead at 6 am. Too late for sunrise, and as it turns out I too late for any sun at all. As soon as I ascended the trail, clouds moved in and I could barely see the trail.

Foggy trail

Through the haze I found foggy Fox Sparrows and heard many others singing their lovely song.

Fox Sparrow

About this time, I heard a noise behind me and a man walked up the trail. He asked if I had heard him blow his whistle. He had no hiking gear but he did have a safety whistle around his neck. I told him I thought I’d heard something, and he told me he blows his whistle to let the little critters know he’s coming through. Okay then.

I didn’t reply and he hiked on. It was too early in the morning for crazy people, right? Or at least dangerous crazy people? I considered turning around and returning to my car. But…nutcrackers. So I hiked on.

The clouds continued to roll in. If I waited long enough I got very brief looks at the mountains in the distance. It would be a beautiful hike on a clear day.

The clouds hate me

No so much this day. It rained. I pushed on. The wind blew harder. I kept going. Slowly. So slowly that I saw Whistle Man returning back down the trail. Oh boy.

He said he’d wondered what happened to me. Then he explained he carries a whistle because he’s scared of mountain lions and bears. We chatted about hiking, birds, the terrible weather. He said his name was Jerry. It got colder and he moved on down the trail while I continued upward. Dodged that one.

I made it to the top of the butte but the wind was blowing even harder by then and there were no birds in sight. I could barely even see the fire lookout.

Fire Lookout

I returned down the trail, nutcrackerless and defeated, passing more people hiking up the trail along the way. The lower down the butte I went, the sunnier it became.

I got back to my car and found a note on the windshield.

Note

Hilarious. Instead of a Clark’s Nutcracker I found a Jerry.

Bird watching IS fun!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Johnson Road

Regardless of the grey overcast skies over Memorial Day weekend, I set out on an adventure to Johnson Road, hot with warbler fever. Johnson Road is in the middle of nowhere, but it was the center my universe this weekend since Hermit Warblers were sighted there recently. The forest land surrounding the road is owned by Weyerhaeuser who permits public day-use recreation. The road is also not far north from Stub Stewart State park, one of my favorite state parks and also the site of my first birding trip.

I arrived early on the scene.

Johnson Road

It was kind of eerie to be alone in the middle of nowhere…in a place where people leave the remains of…ceramic frogs?

WTH?

WTH?

Weird. But once I heard the birds chirping, I forgot about the remoteness and creepy frog head and it was game on!

Dive-bombing left and right were Rufous Hummingbirds.

Rufous Hummingbird

From the treetops fly-catchers chirped, sang, and chased after insects.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

This one above is an Olive-sided Flycatcher. How do I know that? Because it sang, “Quick, THREE beers.” I’m thankful for my Warblers and Flycatchers class and my birding by ear trips with Audubon. Also note, the bird’s bulky build and dark “vest.”

Here’s another flycatcher:

Willow Flycatcher

This smaller one with two light wing bars ( and sometimes a thin eye-ring- none in this case), sangFitz-bew” so I know it to be a Willow Flycatcher.

Also in the treetops (and more recognizable) were Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and a Bewick’s Wren.

A surprise treat low in the shrubs was a peek at this Swainson’s Thrush (I think it’s a Swainson’s – buffy eye-ring, lack of the rusty-contrasted tail associated with Hermit):

Swainson's Thrush

I also heard warblers, lots of them all around me. I had flash-backs of the Western Meadowlark incident at Coyote Labyrinth hike when I heard birds, but never found them, and I wondered if today would be the same.

Indeed, it was looking to be a repeat story for new warblers until far off I spotted it.

Far away

It never fails to spark that cheesy 1970s Carole King song in my head, “So Far Away”…

A teeny moving spec that my eyes and camera had to work really hard to see, but the payoff was worth it. A MacGillivray’s Warbler! Neat! Oh, you can’t see it? A closer look:

MacGillivray's Warbler

MacGillivray's Warbler

MacGillivray's Warbler

Looks like he’s serenading the Rufous Hummingbird on the higher branch. Such a cool bird! I hope to hear and see more of these little fellas up close on future birding trips.

One last bird I came upon on the drive home was another flycatcher. I will share too many pictures of this one.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

While it did not sing, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m calling this one an Olive-sided Flycatcher based on its bulky build, large bill, and “vest.”. My best flycatcher sighting to date! Cheers to that!

FITZ-bew and more beers!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey