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

3 Days at Cape Lookout

After 19 days straight of rain in Portland, I was itching for sunshine. My chance came last week when the forecast promised “sunny and nice.” So I ditched work and headed for the coast. Thanks to the Blue Heron French Cheese Company’s generosity, I parked my car at their Tillamook location and biked the remaining 13 miles to Cape Lookout State Park.

Here goes llama

I can’t say enough about the hiker/biker campground at Cape Lookout.

Camp style

It’s so damn wonderful. There is one drawback though to camping on the Oregon coast that I forgot about: crafty raccoons (is there any other kind?). I awoke to suspicious noises at 3:30am, looked outside the tent, and saw the burglars going through my bike buckets. I shooed them away and went back to sleep.

The pattern repeated several times over the next few hours until I finally got up to look at the damage. They’d stolen my organic saltine rounds and punctured a hole in my water bladder and a couple of other food bags. Could have been worse. This incident reminded me there are new food lockers installed on site, so I used them over the remaining days to safely store my goodies.

I could have spent three days hanging in the hammock, listening to Brown Creepers, Steller’s Jays, and Downy Woodpeckers at the campground, but now I had a good excuse to bike the 10 miles to Netarts for duct tape. And to bird along Netarts Bay.

Bike

I easily picked up Bufflehead, Horned Grebe, and Common Goldeneye along the way…but hey, what’s that sleeping bird in the corner?

Mixed Waterbirds

White-winged Scoter

This sleeping beauty is a White-winged Scoter! Sweet, a new bird!

White-winged Scoter

About this time, an older gentleman hopped out of a parked truck across the street, and crossed over to chat with me about birds. He was looking for a White-winged Scoter (he actually pronounced it “Skoo-ter” – glad I’m not the only one!). I pointed the bird out to him and he was pretty excited. In turn, he told me about an (immature) Bald Eagle perched in a fir tree farther up the road.

Bald Eagle

Nice. A good ol’ fashioned bird exchange.

I continued along the bay, and got my best ever look at a (non-breeding) Eared Grebe. Dark cheek, dusky neck, peak over the eye, fluffy backside.

Eared Grebe

I still struggle remembering the differences between Eared (above) and Horned (below) – white cheek, white neck, whitish tip on bill, peak behind the eye, less fluffy backside.

Horned Grebe

I find this photo comparison from Cornell Lab of Ornithology helpful.

eared vs horned

I also saw more than a couple of loons.

Common Loon

Common Loons that is. One looked like it was even still wearing a bit of breeding plumage. Such a pretty bird.

Common Loon

A few of the other birds I saw along the bay included Surf Scoter, Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, and Pelagic Cormorant.

The next day, I hiked from the campground to Cape Lookout Hike and back, looking for whales and birds and such. No whales this time, but I did see Common Murres swimming far below.

Common Murre

And the most exciting part of the hike was getting buzzed by my first Rufous Hummingbird of the year! I saw three total, including this lovely lady.

Rufous Hummingbird

What a cool place to find them. Later, at the campground I saw two more. I was rich in rufous.

While on the hike, I also saw Fox Sparrows, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Flicker, Varied Thrush, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, and a Peregrine Falcon that zoomed by too fast for a picture. Here’s a cooperative Fox Sparrow instead:

Fox Sparrow

I forgot how long the hike is from the campground (10 miles round trip!). My sore feet told me to lay around like a walrus, but there was something surprisingly lacking from this trip. Gulls. Where were they?

Beach

Granted, there was less beach due to high water, but still, I expected more than Western Gulls, especially since last time in September I’d seen such a variety. Apparently I did it right the first time, because late summer/early fall is the best time to see multiple gull species on the Oregon coast.

But that’s okay, because I saw the happiest Western Gull ever.

Western Gull

Western Gull

Western Gull

So happy.

While looking for gulls, I also saw a pair of Bald Eagles.

Bald Eagles

Wait, why are they screaming?

Bald Eagles

OH.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

So happy.

The final morning, I left the coast early enough to hear Great Horned Owls hoot and for minimal traffic to pass me on the road. I had enough time before I had to get back to Portland for one stop, so I aimed for Fenk Road along the south side of Tillamook Bay near the Trask River.

Creepy road

I traveled down the creepy farm road, past the cattle, and the guard dog.

Guard dog

Then I parked next to the pile of garbage, got out and wandered across the levee road, and trudged through a marshy field. It was all worth it, because far across the pasture, perched on a Douglas-fir, I saw the white blob I was looking for.

IMG_9518

A White-tailed Kite!

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

The bird “hover-soared” kind of like a Kestrel, while it hunted above the nearby field. Too bad it was too dark for decent pictures. But it didn’t matter, because after a weekend of sunshine, hummingbirds, hiking and biking, followed by a White-tailed Kite?

I didn’t even care that the rain was back.

White-tailed Kite

So happy.

Tweets and chirps!

Audrey

Happy New Year!

I managed to squeeze in a few more birds at the end of 2015. On Christmas Day I went to Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. I hadn’t visited since June and what a difference record winter rains make.

Before

Before

After

After

The trails were completely flooded with water, but looking around the upland part of the park I still saw many birds: Fox Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Spotted Towhees. On a tree nearby I also saw Red-shouldered Hawk!

Red-shouldered Hawk

Say, whaaa? Curious because I didn’t think Oregon was included in their typical range. Bib of dark streaks, rufous underparts, black and white bands on tails. I’ll take it!

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

It eventually ended up in the same tree as this unhappy Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk

Looking up in fury

The stare-down proved too much for the Red-shouldered Hawk and it flew away (giving a glance of its rufous underwing coverts) while it called “kee-aah, kee-aah, kee-aah!” in disgust.

I returned to the bird feeders by the main building and got an up-close and personal visit from an Anna’s Hummingbird. This flashy fella and I became besties.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Okay, maybe not. Back to the trees I saw a Northern Shrike! Nice! Or, rather, not nice. This predatory songbird “feeds on small birds, mammals, and insects, sometimes impaling them on spines or barbed wire fences.” Yikes.

Northern Shrike

I had hoped to see White-throated Sparrows but insted came up with Golden-crowned Sparrows that sort of look like tan-striped White-Throated Sparrows. It needs yellow lores, stronger facial marks, and a mottled breast. Nice try.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

I left and went to Fernhill Wetlands since it is close by. I had not been before and I’ll have to try again once the water recedes.

Flooded

The road was closed as was the gate to the park. But I was able to admire Ruddy Ducks, Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Ducks, and Scaup in the nearby flooded farmlands. And, wait, what is that larger bird-blob in the middle?

Mixed waterbirds

Canvasback! A new species. What a great silhouette.

IMG_6173

I walked along nearby roads, still not finding White-throated Sparrows, but I did find a handsome Lincoln’s Sparrow. This and the Canvasback made the trip worth it.

Lincoln's Sparrow

The next morning I set off for Vancouver Lake in Washington. This turned out to be a disappointing spot not for lack of birds, but because the air was ripe with gunfire.

Hunters

Hunters. Even though I was in a “safe” hunting-off limits section of land, it was close enough to hear plenty of shooting. I have to say, I was unnerved listening to gunfire while birding. I’ve heard it before, but never this close, loud, or rapid. I stayed just long enough to see a few birds before I couldn’t take it anymore.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

And another Red-shouldered Hawk!

Invasion of the Red-shouldered Hawks

Invasion of the Red-shouldered Hawks

I saw one new species at Vancouver Lake, Eared Grebes. (Common Merganser on the left for scale).

Eared Grebe

The last day of the long weekend I considered going to Sauvie Island to look for White-Throated Sparrows again, but I couldn’t take the idea of listening to more shooting. So I headed the complete opposite direction towards Franz Lake in the Columbia River Gorge. This was a good choice.

A herd of elk along the way!

Elk

And swans. Peaceful, graceful, lovely swans.

Trumpeter Swan

I read Tundra swans like to winter at the lake and I rounded out my year learning the difference between Trumpeter and Tundra Swans.

Trumpeter Swans have a larger bill with red on the lower mandible.

Trumpeter Swan

While Tundra Swans have a small yellow “teardrop” on the lore.

Tundra Swan

Subtle differences. Below is Tundra on the left, Trumpeter on the right.

Tundra and Trumpeter

The swans were a perfect way to close out 2015.

Time to do it all over again!!!

Tweets, chirps, and cheers to 2016!

Audrey