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Seasonal Notes from the San Juans: May

Like many writers, I keep a (sometimes) daily journal about my life and the natural history events, largely bird related, that I experience. The following blog posts, organized by month are excerpts from my summer living and working the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Enjoy!

5/21 – I woke up listening to robins singing. Seconds later it’s alarm calls and the mew of towhees. Start of my yard list is as follows: Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, Wilson’s Warblers, Townsend’s Warbler, Pileated Woodpecker, Rufous Hummingbird. Violet-green Swallows investigating the house for cavities though there are none as this is a new house with no inlets for them.

5/22 – My home feels like camping. I woke up at 4:30 to the sound of robins filtering through open windows. Swallows are everywhere at the ferry landing and guillemots are twittering from beneath the ferry dock. I went to sleep to the sound of chorus frogs, voices that rise and fall for no reason that is apparent to the human observer. I almost got back up and went out to find them, but thought better of a good night’s sleep.

5/23 – Windy day out on the water Kayaking. Probably the first of many rough days around Kellet Bluff on the West side of Henry Island. As we approached the bluff a Bald Eagle made several passes at the water with talons outstretched. I assumed this was an agnostic display for the other eagle sitting nearby. Down along the bluff’s rocky edge a head popped up. A Steller Sea Lion with a fish. Call me crazy, but I think the eagle may have been trying to startle the sea lion into dropping its catch. No luck, and the eagle went off with nothing to show for it’s bravado. Kayaking certainly provides a nice vantage point.


5/29 – Growing up in proximity to the Sound, lucky enough to have opportunities to explore it, I have a childhood familiarity with intertidal species. Familiarity doesn’t mean good comprehension. I can tell a chiton from a limpit and kelp from eel grass, with the briefest concepts of their natural histories, but there lies the extent of my knowledge. Today I saw three species of stars, blood, purple ocher, and sunflower. I held all three and saw the differences in their textures. I thought about the gradients they live in and about what’s going on under the surface unbeknownst to most of us. This is a start.


5/30 – It occurred to me that every gull I’ve seen since I moved to Shaw has been Glaucous-winged or a hybrid with a Western Gull. This came to me when someone on my trip asked if I knew what species of gulls we were looking at. For most birders that’s a “duh” sort of realization, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. Almost any other gull is off breeding somewhere else.

At the Henry Island cormorant rookery, we watched two peregrine falcons make loops at the birds below. They screamed, flew close, but made no contact. Sitting above the rookery on the bank and in the trees, they watched the cormorants go back and forth in their daily routines. One bird was definitely a female and both were in definitive plumage; was this a pair out for a lark with cormorants? Or were these real efforts to take a pelagic cormorant for food? They seemed too large to carry. Their proximity to the cormorants, rather than diving from high above to surprise them, convinced me these falcons were merely playing or practicing.


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