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

Bird of the Year

Each year the American Birding Association declares a “Bird of the Year.” The 2015 ABA Bird of the Year was the Green Heron. I had some fun Green Heron encounters, but my favorite bird of 2015 was the Rufous Hummingbird. (Amusingly, RUHU was 2014 ABA Bird of the Year).

The Yellow-breasted Chat and Northern Pygmy-Owl were close runners-up. The chat was certainly the coolest vocalist in the bunch and the pygmy owl sightings were most surprising. But meeting the handsome Rufous brought me such joy. It was one of those encounters I’ve read about. You research a bird, imagine it, and then when you see it in real life, it blows you away. The Unicorn Effect. Fittingly, it has a horn of sorts.

Rufous Hummingbird

The 2016 ABA Bird of the Year is the Chestnut-collared Longspur. This longspur’s range doesn’t quite extend to my neck of the woods, but I wouldn’t rule out a sighting. I might have to fly to it though.

ABA Bird of the Year

On the BirdNote podcast, I learned the “first bird of the new year” is also a thing. The first bird you see becomes your “theme bird.” It sets the tone for things to come or reveals a new perspective. The first bird I saw this year was a Chestnut-backed Chickadee. I’m not superstitious, but I am happy to play along and pay homage to chickadees. They certainly bring me plenty of cheer.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

I’m curious what other birds will star in 2016! Stay tuned.

Tweets, chirps, and chestnut-chickadees,

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