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

Tabor Time

I love Mt Tabor Park.

Tabor Park

Warblers love it too. And that’s what I’d come to see. Yay spring migration! Unfortunately for me, instead of seeing warblers I only heard most of them. I mean, yes, that’s still a good thing, but it can be maddening to hear something so beautiful and not match the sound to the bird. The few I did see, I failed to get decent photos of.

And to make matters worse, the only flycatchers I saw *weren’t* singing.

Why won't you let me love you?

Why won’t you say something?

I quickly remembered how hard warblering is. I tried to relax and slowly take it all in. I listened to the sounds of Cassin’s Vireo, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Wilson’s Warblers while I watched American Robins, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Lesser Goldfinch.

Early Bird

Early Bird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Bird

Drab Bird

Such a Drab Bird

MowTown Bird

MowTown Bird

I both heard and saw Band-tailed Pigeons. Always a treat up there.

Band-tailed Pigeon

And I spent a long time with these stationary Northern Flickers.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Sweet cheeks!

Sweet cheeks!

Northern Flicker

M’Lady

At least some birds were cooperative.

Another treat was finding a Chipping Sparrow!

Chipping Sparrow

We played peek-a-boo in the grass until it flew up and perched on a branch.

Chipping Sparrow

Eye Candy

Cool bird to find here. I hadn’t realized their trilling song sounds so similar to Dark-eyed Juncos, so I may have passed them up before.

I watched a Red-breasted Sapsucker hard at work on a bigleaf maple tree.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

And a Red-tailed Hawk hard at work hunting prey. Good bird.

Red-tailed Hawk

There were other people birding at the park, and with their help, I was lucky enough to see a Hermit Warbler for a brief moment, but sadly, no pics. The only warbler picture I got is this embarrassingly grainy, fuzzy picture of a Wilson’s Warbler. Oh well.

Wilson's Warbler

Maybe next time I’ll ask for directions.

The warblers went that way

The warblers went that way

In the mean time, I’ll keep looking and listening!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Epic Summer Trip Part I: Conboy Lake NWR

No one warned me about summer birding.

Okay, someone warned me, but I didn’t think it could be this bad. Okay, it’s not “bad” exactly, but it’s pretty challenging. In the morning, there’s approximately one minute to find active birds before it becomes too damn blazing hot outside. And that one minute is around 5:00 am.

Conboy NWR

The birds have paired up and aren’t nearly as vocal as they were in early spring. And now they’re molting, looking rough, and hidden within the full-on tree leaves.  Oh right, AND there’s a new generation of barely identifiable juveniles.

What are you??

What are you?? Vireo??

It’s no wonder some birders take the summer off. Or so I’m told.

Since this is my first summer and I feel I’m still getting started, I’m barreling through to see what I can find. This particular epic journey started at Conboy Lake NWR in Washington. The place is great. I went on a Saturday and had the entire refuge to myself (everyone else staying cool at the coast?). Anyways, it was birdy, challenging, and gorgeous.

Here’s some of what I saw as I hiked solo along the Willard Springs Trail.

Townsend's Solitaire

What the hell funny looking bird is that? Oh right, juveniles. Took me a while to figure it out, but it’s a juvenile Townsend’s Solitaire. Thank goodness for that bright white eye-ring. A couple more cool shots of this cool bird.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend's Solitaire

Further along the trail, I spooked a flock of juvenile (or first-year) Red-winged Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird (juveniles)

Red-winged Blackbird (juveniles)

In the shrubs I saw a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. And yes, since it’s a “brood parasite,” that’s probably it’s step brother or sister (or adoptive mother?), the Common Yellowthroat to the lower left.

Brown-headed Cowbird and Common Yellowthroat

The parents must be taking good care of their great big baby.

Common Yellowthroat (female)

Common Yellowthroat pair

Common Yellowthroat

Another juvenile that took some effort to identify was this Dark-eyed Junco. It revealed it’s identity once it flew and I saw the tell-“tail” white outer tail feathers.

Dark-eyed Junco juvenile

I saw one juvenile woodpecker and based on the darker shade overall, I think it’s a Red-breasted Sapsucker. I think.

Red-breasted Sapsucker juvenile

But then a molting woodpecker flew to the same treetop. Update: consensus on this woodpecker leans toward Red-breasted Sapsucker. [I think this one is a Red-naped Sapsucker based on the red nape and white “mustache.” The white “eyebrow” isn’t clear but maybe it’s still growing in? Then does this make the nearby juvenile a Red-naped Sapsucker too?] Not sure.

Red-naped Sapsucker?

A closer look of the molting bird. Hm.

Red-naped Sapsucker?

A few non-juvenile birds who made an appearance.

At one point, an intriguing bird flew overhead that I couldn’t catch on camera. I stopped by the refuge office to chat with the volunteers to see if they knew what it could be. I drew a helpful picture of the bird. It looked like this, except the vertical dark lines are white. See? Helpful. They had no clue what it was (and I don’t blame them).

Common Nighthawk Drawing (2)

It might have helped if I’d remembered to draw the body in. I figured out what it was after I left, a Common Nighthawk. Pretty much identical to my drawing. I would love to some day see one closer.

ID the bird

In total, two new birds (Cassin’s Vireo and Common Nighthawk) and another maybe new bird (Red-naped Sapsucker). No glimpse of a Long-eared owl (a beginner birder can dream), but a good start to an epic adventure. To be continued…

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey