Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dungeness NWR, WA, Birds

Mt. Baker looms over the Lighthouse at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.
The Dugeness National Wildlife Refuge along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, just north of Sequim, Washington, is a rich habitat for wildlife, in particular of the avian persuasion. It serves as an important refuge for marine life, but also is a year round home for many birds as well as a vital stopping off point during the migration periods. A link to a website about the refuge is below...
During my short day visit in early August, I was able to spot a couple of dozen different species of birds ranging from sea and water birds to land birds and raptors.
Backlit by the morning sun, a Cedar Waxwing poses, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.
Some of the birds I observed were:
Raptors: Bald Eagles, Osprey, Northern Harrier
Sea and Water Birds: Canada Geese, Mallards, Cinnamon Teals, Gadwalls, Pigeon Guillemots, Great Blue Herons, Western gulls, Belted Kingfisher, Glaucous-winged Gulls, Killdeers
Land Birds: Spotted Towhees, Cedar Waxwings (Above), Pileated woodpecker, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, American Robins, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Common Raven, American Crow, Northern Red-shafted Flicker, Mourning Dove and a surprising Eurasian Collared Dove.
Some photos below...
A Glaucous-winged Gull, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.

Northern Flicker, Red-shafted variety, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.

Osprey, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.

Pigeon Guillemots, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.

A young Spotted Towhee,  Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.

White-crowned Sparrow, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.
I am sure that early August is probably a slow period for birdwatching, but I enjoyed my visit there nonetheless, and hope to make another trip during a migration month some year.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pigeon Guillemots, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA


The famous sand spit, the world's longest, at Dungeness National Willife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.
A Pigeon Guillemot with a meal of a crayfish, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012. 
While spotting Bald Eagles from the high ridge above the coastline of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge (Top), I noticed some tiny dark spots in the water just off the shore in the bay. I was too far away for my 150-500mm Sigma Lens to pick up what the spots were and I couldn't tell if they were moving or if the wave action passing over some black mud clumps made it look like they were moving. So I climbed down from the ridge and hikes along the shore until I reached the location. There was lots of mud clumps, but sure enough weaving in and out of some of the mud clumps were two Pigeon Guillemots, unmistakable with their bright red feet paddling in the water. Both were successful hunters, as they propelled themselves closer to where I was standing on the beach, I could see that one of them had a red crayfish in its bill (Above), and when the other had a either a short eel or a long fish in its bill (Below).
Two Pigeon Guillemots with their prized catches, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.
Pigeon Guillemots are medium-sized seabirds with black body and large white wing patches interrupted by black bars. Their bills are black, pointed, and long, good for catching its prey. Their bright red legs and feet can be easily seen even while under the water's surface. Pigeon Guiilemots feed on crustaceans, mollusks and marine worms as evidenced by my photos.
Another Pigeon Guiilemot coming in for a landing, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA; 8/4/2012.
Word must have gone out about the good hunting, because within minutes of finding the two additional Pigeon Guillemots flew in and joined them. I was lucky to try to capture their landing maneuvers in a series of photos (Above and Below)...
The same Pigeon Guillemot bearing its red feet, ready for splash down...

... one hop and ...
... and splashdown, creating two small wakes, one on either side...
After the 3rd Guillemot landed, a 4th also appeared and came in for a landing ...
Ready for splash down...

... walking on water ...

... and then there were four... "Hey, where's our dinner?"
Pigeon Guillemots feed along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean, in summer stretching from Southern California to Northern Alaska, but in the Winter months concentrating their territory mostly along the Canadian British Columbia coast and across southern Alaska and throughout the Aleutian Islands.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bald Eagles in Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA


An adult Bald Eagle patrols its territory along the shorelines of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Dungeness NWR, WA; 8/4/2012.
In early August I was fortunate to take a day trip to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge on the northern shorelines of Washington State. While there, I was able to spot our Nation's majestic Bald Eagle in various stages of growth. Within minutes of hiking up to the ridge overlooking the shore, I spotted a full grown adult (Above) flying along the beach. Unfortunately it didn't fly any closer, as it turned its course away from my vantage point.
Two "baby" Bald Eagles, not yet left the nest, Dungeness NWR, WA; 8/4/2012.
Later in the day, I located a large Eagle's nest built on some dead branches in a Spruce tree overlooking Dungeness Bay. Two young eaglets (Above) were perched on some branches on the edge of the nest. It looked to me like they were old enough to fly and leave the nest, but a local birder who had been monitoring the nest said that they hatched in late June which made them about 6 weeks old at the time. The italicized information about Eagle growth below came from the American Bald Eagle Information website:

"Eaglet Growth - The young birds grow rapidly, they add one pound to their body weight every four or five days. At about two weeks, it is possible for them to hold their head up for feeding.
By three weeks they are 1 foot high and their feet and beaks are very nearly adult size.

Between four and five weeks, the birds are able to stand, at which time they can began tearing up their own food. At six weeks, the eaglets are very nearly as large as their parents.

At eight weeks, the appetites of the young birds are at their greatest. While parents hunt almost continuous to feed them, back at the nest the eaglets are beginning to stretch their wings in response to gusts of wind and may even be lifted off their feet for short periods.

At three or four weeks, the eaglet is covered in its secondary coat of gray down. In another two weeks or so, black juvenile feathers will begin to grow in. While downy feathers are excellent insulators, they are useless as air foils, and must be replaced with juvenile feathers before an eaglet can take its first flight, some 10 to 13 weeks after hatching."

Bald eagles build their nests in large trees near rivers or coasts. A typical nest is around 5 feet in diameter. Eagles often use the same nest year after year. Over the years, some nests become enormous, as much as 9 feet in diameter, weighing two tons. Even when a nest tree falls or a strong wind blows a nest down, the established pair usually rebuilds at or near the site within a few weeks if it is near the breeding season. The nest may be built in a tree, on a cliff, or even on the ground if there are no other options available.
A juvenile Bald Eagle, Dungeness NWR, WA; 8/4/2012.
There was also a juvenile Bald Eagle (Above) hanging around the same area, Juveniles will not reach sexual maturity until four to five years old, at which time they will grow in their white head and tail feathers. The adult (Below) was perched in close proximity to the nest, and was probably a parent to the two young eaglets in the nest, and perhaps even the parent of the juvenile (Above)

An adult Bald Eagle perched close to the nest, Dungeness NWR, WA; 8/4/2012.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gray Jay, Mt. Baker Wilderness


A Gray Jay begging for handouts at Picture Lake, Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA; 8/7/2012.
Of the many times I have seen Gray Jays since I've joined the birding ranks, I have never gotten a decent picture of one until finally this summer, while I was exploring in and around the beautiful Mt. Baker Wilderness in Washington State. As visible as Gray Jays are, I found it astonishing that I had no clear pictures of one - just blurry, and half hidden images. It seems that they are always visible and in good photo op positions when I don't have a camera ready. And when I do have a camera ready to take a picture, they are out of sight.

Mt. Shuskan reflected in Picture Lake, Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA; 8/7/2012.
While driving up to the end of the road leading into the Mt. Baker Wilderness, Val and I were drawn to Picture Lake which had a fantastic view of Mt. Shuskan reflected in its surface (Above).  When we reached Picture Lake and there was another party of people enjoying the view with a couple of Gray Jays squawking and begging for handouts only within a few feet of them in the open.  "Great," I thought - finally a chance to get a Gray Jay in my photo album. It only took me a minute to reach the lookout where the people and Jays were. I made sure I had my camera ready, but by the time I arrived, the people were already further down the trail and the Gray Jays disappeared. I hung around for a while and one appeared briefly - long enough to get the picture (Top of page), but that was it. It didn't give me any more looks, although they were clearly around - but hidden in the spruces that surrounded the lake. What is it about me and Gray Jays? All I want is a picture. No other Jays are this difficult for me.

Bagley Lakes, Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA; 8/7/2012.
Another beautiful view of the scenery in the Mt. Baker Wilderness.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

American Pipit, Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA

Mt. Baker, as seen by the long entrance road, Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA; 8/7/2012.

American Pipit already out of its breeding colors, with a meal ready for its baby, Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA; 8/7/2012.
My first trip to the Mt. Baker (Above) Wilderness was fantastic. It was a beautiful area with lots of snow even a week into August (Below). This was a nice vacation away from the sweltering heat of the Midwest, where we were just a week earlier - in the 100 degree weather of Northern Illinois.

I enjoyed the snow at the end of the road leading into the Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA; 8/7/2012.

Bagley Lakes Trail, Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA; 8/7/2012
One of the cool trails that I hiked was the trail to Bagley Lakes (Above). It was on this trail that I found an American Pipit (2nd from top). It gave me some good looks, would fly away then come back, and chipped at me for quite some time. I knew then when it kept coming back that there was either a nest or young Pipit in the area. It was probably too late in the year for a nest, so I listened for a young Pipit to answer back to its mother's call.
A baby American Pipit, Bagley Lakes Trail, Mt. Baker Wolderness, WA; 8/7/2012.
And sure enough, soon I heard another bird chipping, and the sound was very near. After scanning the ground for a couple of minutes, I found it. The baby Pipit (Above and Below) was sitting in an open area not far from me, squawking at its mother but clearly not trying to fly away from me. It looked fully fledged enough to fly.
The same baby American Pipit, Bagley Lakes Trail, Mt. Baker Wolderness, WA; 8/7/2012.
The only other time I remember seeing an American Pipit was in Rocky Mt. Nat Park a couple of years earlier. These are high altitude birds that nest and breed on the tundra. They are found scattered about the Rocky Mt. highlands into Canada and Alaska. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Damselflies at Lodge Lake, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA

What I think is a Boreal Bluet Damselfly, Lodge Lake Trail, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
A few posts ago I featured my series of attempts at trying to get a sharp pic of a Lance-tipped Darner Dragonfly in flight ( ), which was quite a challenge for me.  At the same edge of the Lodge Lake there were also a large number of damselflies of which were much easier to photograph as they landed and stayed still for me. I am not altogether sure what their exact identification is, but I narrowed them down to three good possibilities: Boreal Bluets (Above), Common Blue Damselflies (Below), and Northern Bluets. All three fit the general appearance of the damselflies I observed and all seemed to be considered residents of the northwest region; however, not being an expert of the Odonata order of insects, I am not versed in the minute markings on a damselfly's thorax and abdomen to be able to identify them with any certainty.

A group of what I have identified as Common Blue Damselflies, Lodge Lake, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
The Common Blue Damselflies (or at least what I think are) were all over the place, as evidenced by the photo (Above) with four alit in the same spot. There were at least three more just above the couple on the top right hand corner,  but I zoomed in too close to capture all seven together.
A close up of the pair of Common Blue Damselflies in the couple position, Lodge Lake, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
The pair of Common Blue Damselflies (Above) coupled together in a position just before they move into the "wheel" position for mating.
An unidentified damselfly coming in for a landing, Lodge Lake Trail, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
There was one damselfly (Above and Below) that I wasn't able to find any photo anywhere  similar to its appearance, which was quite different from the Common Blues and the Boreal Bluets. This damselfly was more of a turquoise color and the tip of its tail did not have the wide blue band - it was darker.
The same damselfly after it alit on a stem,Lodge Lake Trail, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
Even after it landed and I captured a more clear photo, I still was not able to identify this guy.

If there are any readers out there who know the true identifications of these damselflies that I have photographed for this post, write in and set me straight.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

More Olympic Peninsula Nat. Park Beach Birds


Early mourning at Ruby Beach, Olympic Peninsula National Park, WA; 8/3/2012.
Keeping my theme of Coastlines along the Pacific shore of the Olympic Peninsula National Park, today I post pics from our couple of hikes to two more Beach locations.  Yesterday and the last couple of weeks I featured bird pics from Kalaloch Beach. Today I feature Ruby Beach and Second Beach, both just up the coast from Kalaloch.  The marine layer was thick over Ruby beach; therefore visibility was poor and birding came at a premium. But as the sun rose higher in the east, it cast a Nice pinkish glow on the Western fog (Above).
The Northwestern Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Ruby Beach, Olympic Peninsula National Park, WA; 8/3/2012.
One of my lucky finds was in the Ruby Beach Parking Lot.  I saw a small congregation of birds in a spruce tree chattering and flitting about. Even though the beach itself was socked in by the fog, the Parking Lot was more than 50% in the sun, as a large hole in the mist opened up.  It turned out that this flock was of Chestnut-backed Chickadees (Above), which were a nice new addition to my Life List. In the Midwest where I am from all we have are the Black-capped variety (Below). Chestnut-backs are slightly smaller than the black-caps, but were just as lively flitting from branch to branch and from tree to tree in high energetic bursts. Except for their reddish brown backs and scapulars, and more reddish underneath (Black-Caps are more buffy yellowish underneath), their faces are almost identical with black caps and throats.
The Midwestern Black-capped Chickadee, Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 5/26/2012.
After leaving the fogged-in Ruby beach, we tried our luck further up the Olympic coast in the LaPush area, and hiked out to Second Beach.  The hike out to Second Beach started in bright sun, but as we neared the Beach we could see rolls of mist pouring through the trees of the forested trail (Below).
Misty sun rays pour through the Forest of the Second Beach Trail, LaPush, Olympic Peninsula National Park, WA; 8/3/2012.

Second Beach, Olympic Peninsula National Park, WA; 8/3/2012.

When we arrived on the Beach, the fog and sun were basically divided by the coastline. The foggy marine layer stretched parallel with the shore while the blue sunny sky lit up the forest (Above). It was like being in two weather patterns simultaneously, which made for some interesting photo compositions (More below).
Misty Trees on Second Beach, Olympic Peninsula National Park, WA; 8/3/2012.
The same misty tree silhouettes as seen through some driftwood roots on Second Beach, LaPush, Olympic Peninsula National Park, WA; 8/3/2012. 

A back lit Stellar's jay on the forested trail leading to Second Beach, LaPush, Olympic Peninsula National Park, WA; 8/3/2012. 
Even the few bird photographs I took had a misty quality to them, as is the Stellar's Jay that wouldn't cooperate and land in better light for a portrait. but as it turned out, I ended up liking the back lit Jay.

Other birds that I observed in the misty forest (with no notable pics) were: American Crows, American Robin, Cedar Waxwings, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Common Ravens, Downy Woodpeckers, Oregon Juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Stellar Jays, Northern Red-Shafted Flickers, White-crowned Sparrows and Song Sparrows.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Many Disguises of the Song Sparrow; Olympic Peninsula Nat. Park

Which coat shall I wear today?

A dark Song Sparrow from the Northwest, Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula Nat. Park, WA; 8/3/2012.
Last week I posted some photos of many Sea Birds hanging around the shorelines at Kalaloch Beach in the Olympic Peninsula National Park from last August.  The area was also very rich with a variety of shore and land birds as well.  The Kalaloch area not only had some fine beach habitat, but also included some nice woodland and grassland areas. Some of these I observed along the coastline include: Bald Eagles, Spotted Sandpipers, Ospreys, belted Kingfishers, American Crows, American Robin, Barn Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Cedar Waxwings, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Common Ravens, Downy Woodpeckers,  Oregon Juncos, Rufus Hummingbirds, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Stellar Jays, European Starlings, Mourning Doves, Northern Red-Shafted Flickers, Spotted Towhees, and many types of sparrows, including Fox, House, White-crowned, Chipping, Savannah and Song. It was this latter sparrow, the Song Sparrow, that actually gave me the most trouble with identification.
On a dark gray early mourning I was returning from a hike on the beach, when I noticed some dark birds flitting in and out of the bushes along the dirt path leading up from the beach. After a few minutes of waiting for one of them to appear in a clearing, I was able to get a few shots (Above). I guessed these were either the Sooty versions of the Pacific Northwest Fox Sparrows or the Pacific Northwest versions of Song Sparrows, which are darker than the Song Sparrows I am accustomed to back in the Midwest (Below). I was leaning towards the Song Sparrow as my ID, but after reviewing my photos later in the day, I actually wasn't very sure about my Song Sparrow ID.  In the Northwest, both the Song and Fox are dark, but the bill seemed too dark and the back too streaked to be a Fox Sparrow. It had a small yellow spot at the base of the bill, which I thought could be an underdeveloped yellow lower mandible of the Fox, but the streaked back and dark legs pointed away from being a Fox.  No other type of Sparrow made sense, so by default I deemed it to be a Song Sparrow. It still seemed too dark for a Song Sparrow and the black legs and bill with the small yellow spot at the base also seemed out of character. But it still made the most sense out of any other Sparrow that be found in this location.
A Midwest Song Sparrow, Horicon Marsh national Wildlife area, WI; 6/16/2012.
Another Midwest version of the Song Sparrow, Nygren Wetlands, Rockton, IL; 4/5/2012.
As seen in the photos (Above), Song Sparrows in the Midwest are a bit lighter and have more definition in the streaks on their back, wings and flanks. They also have more contrast in their head stripes.
A Song Sparrow in the Southeast, Cherokee, North Carolina; 6/11/2010.
Song Sparrows in the Southeast (Above) are very similar to the Midwest, but seemed a bit lighter overall.
A very red version of a Song Sparrow from the Southwest, San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/10/2012.
But the song Sparrows from the Southwest Are much redder on their back and side streaks as well as their head stripes (Above).
Song Sparrow, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/13/2011.
Yet another look of the Song Sparrow comes from the California Coast, where the stripes on the head, back, breast and flanks are almost black in contrast with the whiter breast feathers. These Song Sparrows (Above and below) were on the beach of Crystal Cove State Park a year ago.
Another California Coast version of a Song Sparrow, Crystal Cove State Park, Newport, CA; 6/13/2011.