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

Painted Hills I

They don’t call the Painted Hills one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders for nothing.

Painted Hills

The eight wonder is why I’d never visited before.

Painted Hills

Painted Hills

Truthfully, I never liked the desert. It’s hot, dry, exposed, I’m more of a lush, green forest kind of girl. But that’s what birding does. It opens the world up to possibility even in remote places. Like nomads, Tomas and I spent three days exploring Oregon’s vast east, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, that includes three units: Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock.

Highlights included listening to Bullock’s Orioles chatter along the John Day River at our campsite while hanging out with a nesting pair of Osprey.

Osprey

Osprey

And watching the Osprey boldly dive after a Golden Eagle that came too close to the nest perimeter.

Osprey and Eagle

At a random rest area along U.S. Hwy. 97 I found my first Lark Sparrow. What a striking facial pattern!

Lark Sparrow

I hiked along the Blue Basin Rim Trail in the Sheep Rock Unit and saw Say’s Phoebe, Western Kingbird, more Lark Sparrows, and a new hummingbird!

Black-chinned Hummingbird

All hummingbirds are Anna’s to me until proven otherwise, and it wasn’t until I was able to examine the photos more closely that I could see a thin bit of iridescent purple under the black chin, positively ID’ing the Black-chinned Hummingbird!

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Other birds I saw on the hike:

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

Gray Flycatcher

Gray Flycatcher

And I met a new-to-me flycatcher, the Ash-throated Flycatcher! Identified by habitat (open, arid areas), the pale grey chest, pale yellow belly, and long rusty tail.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Under the eaves of the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, we got up-close views of nesting Cliff Swallows. Here’s a nice look at the buff-white forehead patch.

Cliff Swallow

At the Painted Hills picnic area I followed a short trail along a creek and heard Yellow Warblers, House Wren, and I got a few looks at these summer visitors.

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

Willow Flycatcher

Western Wood-Pewee

And an Admiral Butterfly for good measure.

Admiral Butterfly

We spent one night at higher elevation in the Ochoco National Forest and camped near a magical field of camas.

Blue Camas

Blue Camas

The forest bustled with songs of Mountain Buebird, Cassin’s Finch, Chipping Sparrows, and Lark Sparrows.

Lark Sparrow

In the morning, I followed a buzzing “Zee-zee-zee-zee-dee-du-dee” until I laid eyes on a tiny Townsend’s Warbler.

Townsend's Warbler

On the way out of the campsite, I caught a glimpse of my first of year Western Tanager!

Western Tanager

I didn’t want to leave my new happy place. But we had more desert to see.

Proceed No Further

Tweets,

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