Posted by: atowhee | March 12, 2008

Up North


Pigeon Guillemot in drydock, as captured by Calvin Lou.

We’ve been on a brief excursion up I-5 from Ashland, past Eugene, through Portland and around the ashy flanks of Mt. St. Helens.  From there we spent a night in Seattle and thence on to the San Juan Islands. 

Best roadside birding: hundreds of Trumpeter Swans in the green fields of Skagit County.  And along the way, an occasional Bald Eagle.  It should be the I-5 official birxd if Interstate freeways ever get mascots.  Especially in the Willamette Valley north of Eugene where we have never failed to see at least one.  When we stayed on Lopez Island, admittedly a few miles west of the freeway, there was once a kettle of four rising up on a mid-day thermal thanks to some unforecasted sunshine.

There were ocean birds in Lopez Sound and off Anacortes, including Cassin’s and Rhino Auklets and numerous Pigeon Guillemots, back from their mysterious wintering waters.  Red-breasted Mergansers were scattered among the islands, a bird we don’t get often around inland Ashland.  Black Oystercatchers, Pelagic Cormorants, Bufflehead by the score, Surf Scoter, various gulls with Glaucous-winged being both the largest and most numerous. One Pacific Loon, one Common.  It could’ve been a birdlist from any winter day in San Francisco.  Except for the Bald Eagles, and a trio of river otters fishing in the sound.

Oh, and the Crows are all Northwestern Crows with their hoarse voices and stubby bodies.

Lopez Island had its handful of grazing Trumpeters, a crowd of Canada Geese and on March 8th a flock of V-G and Tree Swallows circling in late afternoon over Hummel Pond.  Perhaps newly arrived on migration and hungry for the first crop of flying insects.  The house where we stayed had feeders, within minutes of putting out food: Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Song Sparrows, a Junco, Red-breasted Nuthatches.  Then we were discovered by the local Pine Siskins who’d come and sit on the deck railing and pick seeds for minutes at a time.  Unusual for such a small bird, not nervous or fussy.  Stolid, steady, confident as they’d fend off the larger sparrows and Junco.  The local Fox Sparrow and Spotted Towhee stayed down in the brush.  Didn’t see a single jay in three days on the island. 

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