[Tweeters] San Juan Islands over the weekend

Matt Bartels mattxyz at earthlink.net
Tue Jun 9 07:57:36 PDT 2009

Hi Tweeters -
I spent the weekend over on San Juan & Orcas Island, in San Juan County. Despite the hassles of ferry waits and such, I'm surprised at how rarely any birds are reported from San Juan Co -- Though I had nothing rare this weekend, the breeding birds were out in force.

After catching a friday night ferry and camping out, I began birding Saturday morning along 'the long skinny lake', just north of Lime Kiln Park, at the base of Mt. Dallas. Birds included: WOOD DUCK, PIED-BILLED GREBE, WARBLING & CASSIN'S VIREO, BROWN CREEPERS, ORANGE-CROWNED & WILSON'S WARBLERS, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, WESTERN TANAGER, BAND-TAILED PIGEON & MOURNING DOVE, PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER and the first of many OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHERS.

4th of July Beach [in American Camp Park]:
Looking north along the beach, I spotted PURPLE MARTIN on the nest boxes attached to the pilings there. Also had BEWICK'S WREN, BUSHTIT, & CEDAR WAXWING. A later visit added SURF SCOTER & GREATER SCAUP [one] , out on the water.

South Beach at American Camp had VESPER'S SPARROW along the road [along with SAVANNAH SPARROWS], and out on the water several RHINO AUKLETS, PIGEON GUILLEMOTS, PELAGIC CORMORANTS, and a couple sharp-looking PACIFIC LOONS.

Up at the American Camp Visitor Center, I saw HOUSE WREN, RED CROSSBILL PURPLE FINCH, GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, & TURKEY VULTURE [almost all of which turned up repeatedly throughout the day after that, in addition to Olive-sided Flycatchers].

My best sighting at the visitor center was a birding group -- Barbara Jensen was leading a local Audubon trip that included Gary Bletsch! After the group broke up, Barbara gave Gary & I good suggestions on places to look for San Juan birds. Thanks!


Moving back over to the west side of the island, I stopped a couple times at English Camp, first to see the OSPREY at its nest [right where it is described in the Opperman ABA book [chapter by Barbara J, above]. Along beginning of the entrance road to the park, I dug out a MACGILLIVRAY's WARBLER that Gary had tipped me off about, as well as another CASSIN'S VIREO and more WESTERN TANAGERS.

After dinner, I waited for the sun to set at American Camp -- Beginning at 9:00pm, I heard COMMON NIGHTHAWAK 'peent' away a few times, but it never came into view.

Final bird of the night, just before going to bed, was a BARRED OWL along the same 'long skinny lake' where I started the day. It flew in low to a tree not 10 feet away from me and startled me by doing one of those wails -- apparently I wasn't brushing my teeth properly.

Sunday [7 June], before catching an early ferry to Orcas Island, I got a response from a GREAT HORNED OWL along Boyce Rd. [never obliged with a view,alas].

Orcas Island was overall a little less birdy, but still quite good. Up on Mt. Consitution, I couldn't stumble across the targetted Sooty Grouse or Chipping Sparrows, but I did have plenty of TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS, VG SWALLOWS, and heard HERMIT THRUSH & VARIED THRUSH. Lower down, near Crystal Falls, a PILEATED WOODPECKER called, and a couple MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS were singing away.

Richardson's Marsh, on the southwest edge of the island, looks like a great place to return to. While I was there, I called in a VIRGINIA RAIL, watched a few HOODED MERGANSER moms w/ ducklings, and had my only STELLER'S JAYS.

My final loop was along Dolphin Bay Rd - Killebrew Lake Rd -- this habitat looks great, but I didn't turn up anything new -- more WARBLING VIREOS, a couple CASSIN'S VIREOS, CEDAR WAXWINGS , BH GROSBEAKS.

Overall, it was a great couple days of birding. When Michael Hobbs asked recently about must-see WA natural spots, I think the ferry rides around the San Juans would definitely rank right up there as quintessential Washington.

Matt Bartels
Seattle, WA

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