Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rhinoceros auklet, they say

On a blustery day what I like to do is go for a long walk or so it seems for today, when any sane person was holed up with a book and an endless supply of hot tea, Scott and I decided we should head to Alki to see what Poseidon was up to. To be honest, the waves were a lot less crashing than we'd expected. It wasn't really all that windy while we were out either and, at least for the first hour or so, it wasn't actually raining. But once the rain started, it was pretty serious about soaking us through and through. I truly feared hypothermia by the time we got home and into dry clothes.

 It was certainly a fine day to be out, aside from the brush with death and, assuming that the clever people of Facebook are correct, I added a new bird to my life list: a rhinoceros auklet! It was a ways out and I initially thought it as a pigeon guillemot but then it became apparent it was something else. My photographic evidence isn't great but it definitely had a bright white belly which was obvious when it dove, which it did a number of times.

There were a number of the more usual suspects out and about as well, including a pair of bald eagles, several pods of Barrow's goldeneyes, a few buffleheads, some western grebes, many double-crested cormorants, and, of course, western gulls. I admit I am rarely moved to take photos of gulls, in fact I don't usually bother with what *type* of gull it is that I see but sometimes they're just so determined to be noticed that, well, I notice and am moved to photograph them.

Eventually the rains moved in. Oddly, it was at this point that we encountered four or five people with large cameras mounted on tripods, covered in plastic, with their very large lenses pointed towards downtown. I am a monkey-see, monkey-do sort so I pulled my camera out from where it was tucked into my jacket to take a quick snap of the skyline myself. I'm not sure I'd risk thousands of dollars of photo equipment for such a photo, however; it's not like it's something you can't see most days of the week.

Maybe we go out in such weather just so we can enjoy the comforts of home more when we return. It certainly seems a more cheerful place than the outside world, even on so wet a day.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Owls of Eide Road

Short-eared owl
I'm distracted by this (an upcoming work function) and that (an impending Superbowl game that will, one way or another, likely cause pandemonium in my city and make travel to and from the work thing potentially challenging) but what I want to do is to write about owls. Well, to post photos of owls. It seems that my vague rule, guideline, about not making special trips to see birds doesn't apply to owls though, in all honesty, I think I presented the scheme of getting a Zipcar and driving north as "looking for snow geese" or possibly "just getting away on a mini-expedition." But, in the end, we made the likely owl spot our first stop and the sun was setting by the time we returned to the car to eat the sandwiches we'd been carrying around for some hours. Not so much on the snow geese front but oh! such owl action.

Owl in flight; neither I nor my camera could keep up
It was swell to stand on the edge of a large field watching short-eared owls glide across the landscape, periodically seeming to have engine trouble, fluttering awkwardly to the ground. The "falls" were actually dives after prey, we assume, but they didn't seem very successful unless they managed to snatch and eat their victims very, very quickly. On a few occasions there were brief aerial battles between a pair of owls, or an owl and a harrier: more kitten fights than anything to the bloody death. All of it was mesmerizing to watch, either while clutching a thermos lid of hot coffee or viewing the birds upclose and personal through binoculars.
Long-eared owl
The big noise for the mammoth-lens-toting types seemd to be the long-eared owl that was trying to get some sleep in some brush, and I'm not saying that I wasn't beyond pleased when it emerged from its hiding place to fly, in stages, away from its tormenters to land not far from where we were walking back to the car, but the short-eared owls were the more gobsmackingly beautiful of the two species. The short-eareds flew with such grace (aside from that diving business) and had such remarkably beautiful wings. I could, I think, watch them for hours. At one point one landed in the tall grass and it was striking how utterly it blended in with its surroundings when its head was turned. Of course, when you could see its eyes, well it was clearly a creature with very large eyes.
Mysterious floating mountains in the fog

The short-eared owls didn't have the skies over the fields entirely to themselves; there were also at least two, and likely more, northern harriers working the habitat. They didn't seem any more lucky than the owls but, my, they were gorgeous creatures too. We'd seen female harriers before--I think last Superbowl Sunday, at the   Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge--and she was lovely but yesterday we also saw a male northern harrier and he was quite stunning. Sadly, I got no brilliant or even relatively good photos of them. Still I can't complain when I did get owl photos and some evocative scenery snaps, and I did get to see the amazing birds in action.

Some driving tips: Eide Road, which requires a Discover Pass, is between Stanwood and Camano off highway 532. You take the Camano Island exit off I-5 and drive west for a few miles (beyond Stanwood). Eide Road is halfway across a bridge (across Leque Island, I think). They're doing a bunch of construction and you have to drive half a mile further along to where you can get turned around and head east on 532 so you can make a legal turn onto Eide. Then it's a mile or less down the road. Park where the other cars are and then follow the road/path, keeping an eye out for the birds. 

Some of the walk will be muddy. You may also see greater yellowlegs
Not the greatest photo ever of a couple of greater yellowlegs
and a variety of sparrows and wrens.