2birdfeature #2

Bald Eagles and Great Horned Owls weren't the only raptors on Protection Island, turns out. There was also a nest of Northern Harriers tucked away in the grassy heart of the island. I missed the male (a bluish-grey almost owl-looking hawk) because his family duty had already been fulfilled. Males typically stick around to feed the female while she's incubating her eggs and then maybe two weeks after the eggs hatch. But I did catch the female on several occasions. I should actually say that she caught me with her "kyeh kyeh kyeh" chatter. She wasn't overly fond of me existing on the same island as her nestlings. 20130621-DSCN0552

20130621-DSCN0551

20130622-DSCN0565

20130622-DSCN0564

I suspect that this is the closest I ever came to discovering where her nest was. She was not happy about it.

20130621-DSCN0554

20130621-DSCN0553

I donated all the bird carcasses I found during my stay on the island to the Burke Museum in Seattle, WA. One of those carcasses was unfortunately (and fortunately, at the same time) one of the harrier chicks. Harrier nestlings often wander around their nest after they get their sea legs and this one wandered a bit too far and was likely killed by an eagle or owl. I think it was one of only two chicks, which is a small brood for a Northern Harrier. The size of the brood is directly related to how well voles reproduce prior to harrier breeding. If it's a good vole year (lots and lots of voles to snack on), there will be more eggs in the nest.

The second bird today will be the Northwestern Crow. What do these two birds have in common? They both wanted me to get the hell away from their nests and did not hesitate to tell me so. The Northwestern Crow is smaller than other crows (see Making My Way to Protection Island for more on these crows).

20130624-DSCN0636

If you like posts in the middle of the week, let me know. Next time, we return to Newfoundland to scope out the winter birds of Quidi Vidi Lake.

Making my way to Protection Island

Before I was a castaway on Protection Island for the summer, I stayed in Port Townsend, WA for several days. This area is lush with mature trees and has the rare dichotomy of both large mountains and vast ocean. There is a tangible placidity in this area of Washington. A neighboring city, Sequim, has one of the oldest populations in the United States. Nobody drives quickly. Every lawn is well-tended to. There are many drugstores. And the cops are very bored, I assume. Retired folks flock to the cities surrounding the capital, Olympia, because of the temperate climate. There are no temperature extremes of any sort, only occasional light humidity.

In some ways, Port Townsend reminded me of my hometown because there were no mainstream hotels nor chain restaurants. I became quite good friends with the young manager of the small, family owned motel that I stayed at in a matter of minutes. His well received continental breakfast consisted of black coffee and store-bought muffins. More than anything, his building was a perch for gulls, a lookout point to the marina and a back porch for the passers-by on the beach who stopped intermittently to dig for clams. I would like to go back someday, without the pleasant anxiety of my approaching field season, and let the tranquility take me.

Port Townsend was my introduction to hybrid Glaucous-winged/Western Gulls. They have many colonies around Puget Sound.

Also, I had grown rather accustomed to the dinosaurian crows in Newfoundland. If you're not familiar with the island effect, or  Foster's Rule, species on an island are oftentimes much larger than their mainland counterparts. This is mostly because of their increased access to food and habitat and decreased exposure to predators. Once in a while, this rule gets flipped on its head if indeed, the island has little food and/or many predators. In the case of Newfoundland though, the coyotes are much larger and the crows are nearly the size of ravens. The species of crow inhabiting Washington, the Northwestern Crow, is much smaller with tiny white whiskers on its face.

There was a racket outside of my motel room each morning that puzzled me for a day or two before I found these European Starlings. This pair of attentive parents always checked in on their chicks like this:

Stay tuned as I make my way across the ocean to the island in the next installment of the tale of my field season last summer.