Thursday, September 25, 2008

Super Pod Returns to the San Juan Islands

Yesterday, what appears to be members of all three pods of southern resident orca whales returned to the west side of San Juan Island. Though far offshore and incredibly spread out (so much so photos were not even an issue)- we were able to see K's, J's and L's traveling towards the Island. At last sighting (approx 5:45), most of the whales had headed North, with some remaining to forage off the west side near Hannah Heights. So nice to see them this time of year! No pics, but here's a few from months gone by ... keep in mind that yesterday the water was ANYTHING but blue- we finally had some rain, lots of mist on the water and gray skies- but hey, even paradise needs a little rest from the sunshine once in a while!!

And just after I posted this blog we had a moment of sunshine with just enough moisture in the air to allow a brilliant rainbow to appear for a few moments...the island you see is Discovery.

Even though the whales were back in town,  I dragged one of my whale buddies off the west side to attend the opening/release party of a local band at Bella Luna's Blues Night. Wow! The music was fantastic and the crowds were out the door! Cant tell you how much I love these guys- great blues, awesome rhythms and great rapport with the crowds.  Wednesday nights at Bella Luna in the winter months are one of few things we look forward to (as far as winter goes- not much going on here in the colder months!). But great Blues by local islanders and lots of camaraderie is certainly high on the list!!!. And the pizza we had for dinner? Yum! Try the Luna's to die for! (And no, I am not just saying that 'cause it is named after an iconic's really good!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Save Mar Vista Resort Petition Update

As of this writing on September 21, 2008, there are 250 signatures! See below for details on The Mar Vista Petition in need of community support! Thanks and have a great (if not rainy) day! Sandy

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Save Mar Vista Resort Petition

Standing atop the jagged shorelines of San Juan Island, the steep hills rising giddily on the Island's west side adjoining False Bay, there is a sanctuary that reminds one of days gone by. As you take in unparalleled views of the Olympic mountains and enjoy the unforgettably magnificent sunsets reflecting across the pristine waters of the Haro Straits- you cannot help but be reminded of what our settlers must have encountered many years before.  Watching the orange sun setting over Victoria, whispers of the past echo in your ears, along with tiny footprints of raccoons, river otters and the occasional flap of eagle wings soaring overhead. Located on the West Side of San Juan Island is one of the most beautifully untamed waterfront properties on the island. With over 2000 feet of waterfront, gravel beaches and accessible rocky shorelines, many visitors and residents have long enjoyed the open prairie, wooded areas and stunning views across the Haro Straits in one of the prime land based whale watching spots in the San Juan Islands. The place of which I speak is Mar Vista Resort, a quaint little resort on forty westside, waterfront acres with eight fully-furnished cabins- private beaches boasting seals on every outcropping and deer at every turn. We're talking an outright sanctuary here.

And all of this may just be about to change. On March 10, 2008, Emelia Lee Bave, 97, died peacefully at home at her beloved Mar Vista Resort on San Juan Island. She had been active in the arts and well known on the island for her "Pig War" plays in the 60s and 70s.  With her passing has come a tragic finale...Mar Vista has been placed on the market - price tag $11,400,000. 

There has been a petition started to save the land from development. In the San Juan Islands, there is an organization called the San Juan County Land Bank, created in 1990 by Islanders who agree it is important to ensure that the distinct character of life in these islands will endure. The Land Bank Mandate? To preserve in perpetuity areas in the county that have environmental, agricultural, aesthetic, cultural, scientific, historic, scenic or low-intensity recreational value and to protect existing and future sources of potable water. The Land Bank's mission is a reflection of the community’s broad values united by a powerful vision: Care of Place. It demonstrates how strongly connected islanders feel to the unique landscape of the San Juan islands, and a prevailing awareness that the mark we make on the land is what most profoundly influences the legacy we leave future generations. Every Islander in the county contributes to the fund for the continuation of crucial stewardship efforts.

The following factors must be met for the Land Bank to pursue a project:

The property must provide an important conservation resource.

• The property's identified conservation resource(s) should be vulnerable to adverse change.

• The proposed project must adequately protect the identified conservation resource(s) of the property.

• The acquisition should make effective use of the Land Bank's limited funds and resources.

• There must be general public support.

Recently, a petition was started to "save" Mar Vista from adverse development.
As of this writing there have been 187 signatures added since it's inception on September 11, 2008. If you care to support the preservation of a relatively intact ecosystem it is asked that you visit the site, review the public outpouring of support and sign if you believe in seeking a more authentic life grounded in nature and spirit and the preservation of what few areas remain that deserve protection from our ongoing development.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Birds of the San Juan Islands

Some days in the Islands, it's not all about the Southern Resident community of Orca whales- who, by the way, made their way south on the west side of San Juan Island last evening and then seemingly disappeared this morning. The best guess is that the members of J Pod who were accompanied by several L Pod whales may have just headed back out towards the Pacific Ocean.

So what's left to talk about, eh?  Well, it is no secret that the San Juan Islands are home (or for some species a vacation home) to many migratory and local birds. The variety of bird habitats found here, from the ocean coast and inland waterways to the forested hilltops creates a great spot for watching many endangered and rare birds-from Bald Eagles to Hutton's Vireos, Warblers, Spotted Owls to Marbled Murrelet.  It's quite easy to begin a love affair with bird-watching right here on San Juan Island- in any season.

Juvenile Great Blue Heron Poster print
According to Mark Lewis, the senior author of "Birding in the San Juan Islands," some of our specialty species include three species of cormorants, including the Brandt's and Pelagic; virtually all species of North American waterfowl, including Harlequin Ducks and Trumpeter Swans; easily accessible nesting Peregrine Falcons; a pair of breeding Bald Eagles for each mile of shoreline; rocky shore specialists such as Black Oystercatchers, Wandering Tattlers, and Surfbirds; a dozen species of gulls, including Thayer's; a variety of alcids, including Marbled and Ancient Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres, and Tufted Puffins; and a variety of smaller sought after species, such as the Rufous Hummingbird, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Hutton's Vireo, Varied Thrush, Townsend's Warbler, "Sooty" Fox Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Red Crossbill.

But this week it wasn't about the Murrelets of Auklets-it was about an interaction with an Accipiter Hawk, a young Coopers Hawk to be exact. Cooper's Hawks are frequently sighted around the San Juan Islands.  Like its smaller look-alike the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawks feeds mainly on birds, which it chases relentlessly through the woods- or simply tends to stalk at bird feeders. It also takes small mammals, lizards and snakes. Interesting fact? During incubation and the early stages of brooding the young, the male bird does all the hunting, bringing food to both his mate and the nestlings. Cooper's Hawks mature rapidly for birds their size; a full 25 percent of young birds breed the year after they are hatched, and the rest the year after that.

The other day, I was lucky enough to have a close encounter with the youngster pictured below. Not too long ago, a nest of swallows fledged, apparently leaving plenty of bird scent behind. This hawk sat on the perch for almost 1/2 hour trying to figure out how to get into the house. He wasn't half as interested in my camera as he was in trying to catch a quick meal. 

Coopers Hawk Miss You Card card

Other cool birds on the islands? Well, here are some shots...and if you're headed out for a visit be sure to keep you eyes peeled to the skies!

American Goldfinch Stickers sticker
Birds of the San Juan Islands Collage print
Baby Cedar Waxwing Stamp stamp

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Here Today Gone Tomorrow..The Southern Residents Outdo Themselves!

Wednesday evening was perhaps one of the most beautiful nights of the summer. With the clouds whispering over the Haro Straits, the water was absolutely dead calm. The repetitive cheers of Harlequin ducks could be heard echoing across the shores amidst the calls of bullfrogs and Belted Kingfishers. As the sun began to fall beyond the terrain of Vancouver Island, so did the hope that the orca whales would make a pass on the west side with enough light remaining to commemorate the pass in photos. Jeanne Hyde had called to let me know the whales had been spotted- so I made my way to Lime Kiln to see the approaching superpod.

Sometimes the lighting is perfect or the seas lay down in such a way that the fins of the whales come into focus by themselves- no talent needed, the photograph takes itself. Other times, you have to put the "perfect photo" aside and simply revel in the moment- whether it is a close pass to shore where the orcas play in the kelpy shoreline or where the sounds of their blows echoing off the waters literally takes your breath away. It's not always about the shot, although that has been a hard lesson to learn. Tonight was one of the latter...

With the sun fading, the first dorsal fins came into view. While many whales passed miles offshore, we sat in reverence as several groups passed very close to the shoreline, the golden waters embracing the shadowy profiles and the blows echoing across the waters. The pass brought a hush to the crowd...each of us experiencing the interaction in absolute silence. It's so difficult to describe a moment like where you are absolutely awed by the orcas and the overwhelmingly majestic beauty of the Islands. And while we watched, two perfect fins sliced through the waters, a harmony created by 50+ years at one another's sides. It was Granny (J2) and Ruffles (J1)- the matriarch of J pod and her constant companion for the last 50 years, gliding through the oceans side by side, their exhalations echoing to our ears. It was such an emotionally beautiful pass, just a couple of photos to commemorate- but one that will linger in my mind as almost ethereal.
Orcas in the Sunset Poster print

Orcas Whales In The Sunset- Granny and Ruffles print
Returning home to the now dark Straits, I couldn't allow the moment to end. I sat outside on the shoreline, listening with awe as the blows echoed across the straits, some close to shore at my feet, others surely headed towards Discovery Island..and many in between.  Even the most seasoned whale watcher can still be awed, as well it should be with these magnificent creatures.
The Seattle PI wrote and beautiful series on Granny and the whales' plight which is truly worth reading. This six-part special report both chronicles the long life of Granny, the respected elder in her Northwest orca pod, and examines the weak regulations, spotty enforcement and political foot-dragging that have put local orcas in jeopardy. Enjoy! Until next time...Sandy

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day in the Islands- And the Superpod Returns!!!

As another summer tourism season comes to a close this weekend, we call to an end a season of chilly weather, intermittent rain (a good thing here!) and blazes of glory in black and white. Yes, I am talking about those beloved and endangered black and whites known as the southern resident community of orca whales. On and off since my last post, we have had members of all three pods visiting the Haro Straits, often spending the entire day on the west side of San Juan Island and north. (Did you know the Center for Whale Research has an OrcaCam on the West Side?  Click here for details! You can also listen to the whales as they glide through our waters by clicking here and visiting Orcasound! )

When tides were strong we struggled to even find the whales in the rough seas- their blows barely topping the crests of some pretty large waves. Tides rushed them past the lighthouse towards the Fraser River- making photos pretty much impossible! If the seas were 5-7 feet I would not be surprised!

But there were also calm days when the seas laid down and the clouds mirrored themselves on the Straits. The whales' exhalations (blows) could be heard for a mile- but they were FAR offshore and directly in the sunlight, surrounded by at one count 49 boats, both pleasure and commercial. Lots of milling and foraging and slowly traveling south...with an amazing amount of social and tactile behavior. Lots of rolls and peck slaps, whales rubbing up against one another and breaches galore! This time the tides were slack and the whales took their time heading to the islands- three hours to be exact! Lots of pleasure craft in the vicinity- and behaviours were absolutely awful! Thanks to Soundwatch, the worst of the groups were chastised and educated. Rumor has it, several were even reported to NOAA! 

And then there was today---no one could find the southern residents. Most of the tour operators headed North to follow a group of Transients. I was sitting at my desk and happened to see a sailboat passing by far off the shore in the middle of the Haro Straits. the lighting was just beautiful and I took a moment to watch the sails as they passed- when suddenly a large splash approximately 3 miles offshore caught my attention. I ran upstairs to look through the scope and sure enough- there were fins..4 at first...but upon further inspection, they were everywhere! The residents were returning for another day of fishing in the waters around the islands!!! I called Jeanne Hyde to tell her- and she called Soundwatch to let them know. Within 10 minutes there were 6 privately owned boats ON TOP OF THE WHALES! While there is a huge amount of excitement to encounter a pod of whales in the wild on your way home from a great weekend in the Islands, it is horribly frustrating to watch the utter lack of consciousness of those having the encounter. These boats literally kept their engines running while intermingling with the returning group of orcas- lack of education is one thing but outright thoughtlessness can be destructive. The whales made it through and Soundwatch was soon on the scene- and all was well yet again in the Haro Straits!
*NOTE: The boat pictured above just happens to be in the photo- a photo posted because of the youngster's face! Having re-read the blog, I do not want to give anyone the impression this operator did anything wrong, he was just a background boat!
The southern resident orcas are magnificent creatures currently being protected by the United States as an Endangered Species. The weekend has had wondrous moments intermixed with fear and concern- but all in all, we're just glad to have them here.  In August of 2007 we went for close to three weeks without a sighting- so it's all good!!!!  If you're interested in more photos from the islands, please visit my gallery at Zazzle. Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read this blog and makes the whales a part of your life, in whatever part of the world you live!! Happy Labor Day and may your September be brilliant!
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