Morning song

One of the surest signs of spring is the new birdsong that we hear in the morning. Like lilting lifting music it pulls out of bed and on to the patio with a cup of hot coffee. Close eyes and listen.

Warblers, vireos, finches…

For a prairie boy though it is the warbling song of the Red Winged Blackbird ( Agelaius phoeniceus ) carrying me back to carefree times on the marshes and byways of my youth. More than once these fiercely territorial birds took offence to my bike (couldn’t have been me.)

Harbingers of spring. It will lay two or three eggs taking  ten to twelve days to hatch.


Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescens

Look closely! See that bright red spot on the bill. That is known as a breeding spot. It appears on sexually mature and active male and female Glaucous-winged Gulls at this time of year. (Ain’t that a ten pound name for a gray wing?) The breeding spot really has not much to do with breeding. Rather, the small spot near the end of the bill is associated with chicks feeding. They peck at it in order to stimulate feeding.

One of the fun challenges of identifying these gulls is the hybridization that occurs with the Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) in Puget Sound. In Alaska it is the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)that can mate with them.


Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani)

Is it a bird, is it a plane or is it something else?

From the initial description I said it was probably a merganser but something didn’t add up. And the description “like a crow with a flaming orange bill” was a dead giveaway. They are moving from the shorelines to the offshore islands for breeding and nesting at this time of year and really are interesting bird to watch.

They feed on a variety of mollusks using their powerful bills to pry open oysters, clams and mussels. Their nesting habits are really curious. A simple depression and camouflaged eggs makes them really hard to spot, even for experts.

The Audobon Society  has more information and has this bird on its watch list. Its sensitivity to oil spills in particular make it vulnerable. People wandering around its nesting sites is also very dangerous.


Varied Thrush – Ixoreus naevius

BirdWeb – Varied Thrush

So we all know that what we know as the Robin is really the American Thrush? After our wild snowstorm (November 26, 2006)we set up our regular winter feeding station. And we watched the regular winter visitors – juncos – chickadees and such.

And so when the red breasted bird showed up I thought robin. And then I saw that there was kind of a checked pattern to the tail. Spotted Towhee and then he turned and I saw a dark collar. Not a Towhee – one of the birds that are new to me since I came out to Washington.

So off to the web and clearly a Varied Thrush after some sleuthing. This thrush is common but rarely seen. It loves the underbrush and wilds of forested areas unlike its near neighbour that thrives on urban and suburban lawns. I got some lovely pictures.


Balancing Business and Ecology…

ScienceDaily: Mixing Exploitation And Conservation: A Recipe For Disaster

Near and dear to my heart are those stories and studies that look at finding the balance between human survival – business and the ecosystem in which they exist. This study was done in Holland with an exquisitely ecosystem adapted bird. The red knot is a sandpiper like bird that depends on cockles to fuel its travels. 50% of the population flies through a small area. Harvesting the cockles using suction dredging is harming the population is the conclusion.

A couple of things that came to mind as I read the study. One of the important findings was that the density of cockles wasn’t changing in the dredged area. Now this might be considered an important indicator that the harvest was indeed sustainable. The kicker is that the nutritional value was going down. The result was that the a portion of the red knot population couldn’t eat enough to get the energy they needed for migration.

The second thing that rang through my mind was something a forester friend said to me as we negotiated land use for his employer. The problem with the environmentalists “ecosystem approach” to planning is that it doesn’t take into consideration the largest user on the land – man. His schtick was that we needed think about the impacts that man had on the land. Not to stop them – necessarily but to consider and plan for them – try to see all the impacts and plan for them.

A note to the reader. While I intend to focus on the particular species and ecology of the San Juans – I also want to use this space to bring in issues and information from across the globe that will impact this fragile space. Feel free to tell me to take a hike. That’s what comments are for.