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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