Thursday, January 20, 2011

San Juan County 1/16

My first ferry ride of the year!  I will admit that I am still a kid with ferries.  I'm on a boat!  WooHoo!  Never mind that it was pitch black as we left Anacortes...

Actually from when I was leaving San Juan Island, but better than an all dark picture...
Got to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, and grabbed some dinner at the Blue Water Bar and Grill - right near the ferry terminal.  Good chowder, and a very cool bar (a fairly faithful remodel of a 1906 salloon) and I ended up next to a couple who were from Renton and Issaquah originally.  The bartender was from San Juan originally, spent some time in Kent, "..and then I came back..." she said as if she was a little puzzled by the decision.  I don't know that I could do island life - it seems that a ferry commute, despite my stance on ferries, is not as energizing as I might imagine.  Staying on the island could feel isolating, especially when business is so seasonal.  Still... it was very hard to leave the island at the end of the trip... but I'm getting ahead of myself a little.

How often is it cheaper to stay somewhere than it is to get there?  Ferry: $40.  Room: $35.  The Wayfarer's Rest is a hostel in Friday Harbor, which may be quite busy in the summer, but I had the whole place to myself on this night in January (not unheard of in the off-season, I hear).  Full kitchen - wish I'd brought some eggs!  Grabbed a shower, and called it a night.

Got up early again for owls - something I'll feel obligated to do during this year if I feel like I've got a chance to see an owl I haven't for the year.  15 owl species can be seen in Washington in a good year (Snowy, Spotted, Northern Hawk-owl, Western Screech-owl, Burrowing, Barn, Barred, Short-eared, Long-eared, Northern Saw-whet, Northern Pygmy-owl, Flammulated, Boreal, Great Horned and Great Gray.  Great Horned are common on the island, so I drove San Juan Valley Road a bit - listening and calling... nothin.

American Camp - San Juan Island

Got to my dawn destination after that - the American Camp Visitor Center.  Walked out to the wide open fields and as soon as it started to get light - Short-eared Owls!  As it got lighter, they continued to swoop over the fields, stopping now and then to chase what I'm assuming were bunnies.  First time I've been able to see these owls hunting in good light... and I forgot the camera. Ah well.  Just kept watching them until they gave up for the morning.  I did some birding at South Beach at that point - nothing out of the ordinary, but an Eagle perched on a snag while I scoped the water.

Approaching Cattle Point Light
My next big stop after that was Cattle Point.  I have a few happy memories of this place.  I first came here with Bre to see the Cattle Point Lighthouse (and also Lime Kiln - not visited on this trip), and in my first year of teaching, we also came here for our ninth grade trip, which coincided with a lunar eclipse.  We drove the bus out to Cattle Point at night, and were treated to the moon rising in eclipse.  One of the most beautiful sights I've seen.
Cattle Point Light

Prickly rose bushes were pretty common

Cattle Point was the best stop of the trip for sea birds.  They were out a bit too far for good pictures, but I had Pacific and Common Loons - dozens of each - Harlequin Ducks, Marbled Murrelets, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemots, Buffleheads, Red-breasted Mergansers, Pelagic Cormorants and Double-crested Cormorants.  In addition, walking the path to the lighthouse led me to House Finches, Golden- and White-crowned Sparrows, as well as a Merlin and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Bailer Hill Road and San Juan Valley Road run east-west across the farmland in the middle of the island.  Driving through here, I found a lot of ducks, including Canvasback at Lake Zylstra, and Geese, including Canada and Cackling.  I made a run up Roche Harbor Road after grabbing lunch in town, and found some Trumpeter Swans on one of the lakes.  Also found a perfectly fine telescope for $25 at the thrift store on that road.  Sadly no good mugs...

Went to the ferry terminal to wrap up my trip, and learned that the 2:50 ferry was walk-on passengers only.  I had another hour and a half!  First thing I did was to return to American Camp to look for a bird I knew would be hard to find on my other trips this year - Black Oystercatcher.  I hadn't seen any on the rocks earlier in the day, but decided to walk down to Grandma's Cove from the visitor center.  Success!
Black Oystercatchers!  Saw some more from the ferry flying overhead

Grandma's Cove
 Made one more stop on the way out - Jakle's Lagoon (below), then it was time for a nap while waiting for the ferry.  Good trip to the island, and 50+ species for the day.  I was sad to leave - I don't get up here often enough.  Happily, Bre's idea of travel also includes places like this.  I'll be back.

So happy to get home after four days out, but they were good days, and I had three counties 'done' with 39 birds or more seen in each.  A couple weeks away from a trip to the Southwest corner - Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark and Wahkiakum -  in early February.
Leaving American Camp - the moon peeking out

Jakle's Lagoon


  1. Hi Tim - I'm loving the photos, comments, and the whole concept! Didn't know we had 15 owls here! I understand a Northern Hawk Owl has been hanging around Riefel Sanctuary these days...

    Happy Birthday!

  2. Thanks Deb! I've heard about their visitor! Will have to get a passport with the photo ID, eh? Will hope to see a Snowy Owl in another week or so when we visit Chelan. Fingers crossed!